Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
QC, MR MIKE
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
80. Under Erskine May, when the Secretary
of State is unable to take a decision for whatever reason there
is a special joint committee set up.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Under the Highways Act?
81. Under any Act. This particular case refers
to a bypass scheme in Stoke on Trent. The difficulty I have had
is that there appears to be a conflict in the two documents before
us and the evidence you have given this morning. The first document
is "Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change" where
you say that there will be a new parliamentary procedure for approving
projects in principle before detailed aspects are considered at
a public inquiry. You also say that there will be robust arrangements
for prior public consultation. In the major infrastructure projects
at paragraph 19 the terms of reference are that Parliament will
consider the principle of the need for and location of a project.
What type of parliamentary procedure do you envisage because that
was a fairly straightforward case. It took us three and a half
weeks including one site visit. Why do you think a parliamentary
committee on a particularly complicated project is going to spend
any less time looking at it than a public inquiry? What type of
parliamentary committee? Is it that type or is it going to be
a different type of parliamentary committee that you are looking
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the procedure
to be used, what the document proposes as a basis for consultation,
though it is a matter for Parliament to decide, is the sort of
process used in regulatory reform orders. I am not clear what
the statute or process you are referring to is. I have in mind
the one used on regulatory reform type orders which would involve
a parliamentary committee having received a series of documents
setting out the proposal and the objections to it, there being
a timetable for that. It would then consider it in such a way
as it thought was appropriate. We believe that would be a very
much quicker process than a public inquiry process because it
would focus on the principle, the location and the need for the
82. You are overturning a fundamental principle
of planning law that planning authorities should take a local
decision to affect the local people living near that project.
Parliamentarians by definition have to declare that they have
no vested interests. They will not be familiar with the area and
they will therefore not be bureaucratically accountable for where
that location is.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I am not. The current
situation in relation to every single major infrastructure project
over the last decades was that the Secretary of State called it
in from the local authority, so the decision currently is made
by the Secretary of State after a public inquiry. These proposals
will involve the decision in principle being made in effect by
83. The difficulty the Committee is in is that
major infrastructure projects in both paragraphs 29 and 30 seem
not to lay down very precise rules and yet you seem to be saying
that they would absolutely be necessary. Perhaps you would like
to go away and give us a very detailed explanation of what it
is you think you have told us today.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept the point you
are making. It is not detailed in the major infrastructure project
document. It sets out a possible way because we took the view
that ultimately the precise procedure to be used is a matter for
84. You do not think uncertainty causes very
great difficulty in planning?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Uncertainty in the result,
at the end of the day, as to what the procedure
85. How you get to a result. You do not think
uncertainty in that confuses applicants?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed I think it would.
What we have done is put down one particular proposal as to how
it should be done.
86. Perhaps you would like to give the Committee
a detailed note on the various alternatives because you must have
thought about it in very great detail.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have. I would be more
than happy to do that.
87. Could you answer my question? Why are parliamentarians
better qualified than a planning authority to take these decisions?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Currently, planning authorities
do not take major infrastructure decisions. They are taken by
the Secretary of State. Where it is a major infrastructure project,
we think it appropriate that Parliament and the Secretary of State
be involved in the decision.
88. You do not think NIMBY will be a factor?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have taken the view
that Parliament should decide or assist in the process of making
the decision about whether major infrastructure projects are acceptable.
89. I want to go back to what local residents
will decide and what Parliament will decide. Could you explain
why local residents would get more involved with what you have
set out than they currently do with the UDP, because although
I think we should simplify things the UDP is quite a powerful
mechanism for community involvement and I do not see anything
that powerful in the Green Paper.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local development
framework would have to specify the statement of community engagementi.e.,
one of the issues which would have to be addressed in the local
development framework was how you would engage the community both
in updating or changing the local development framework and in
relation to individual applications for planning control. It would
be one of the things that had to be set out. Secondly, there would
be a positive benefit to any developer in consulting the community
before any planning application was made. Thirdly, we would wish
to increase the resources available to bodies like Planning Aid
so that the community in the appropriate case would have the benefit
of expert assistance. Fourthly, by simplifying the process, you
make it much more accessible to the community as a whole.
90. How will people see that their views have
been taken into account?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to individual
applications for planning control, the earlier they get engaged
in the process the more likely they are to influence what actually
happens. The easier the process by which the local authority consults
the community again at an earlier stage, the more likely an individual's
voice will be to affect what occurs. One of the problems at the
moment is because it takes so long to produce a local development
plan, once it is produced, the process by which it is changed
is very complicated and very long. Local authorities are quite
unkeen for understandable reasons to get engaged in it. If you
have a process that is simpler, it will be much easier for those
necessary changes to occur. Where you are dealing with action
plans, which is what this consultation document also refers tofor
example, in an area that needs regenerationthe process
for producing the action plan will not be a process that is necessarily
district wide; it will only be neighbourhood wide if it is for
a particular neighbourhood so you would have a process much more
focused, closer to the community, by which you produce that action
91. Would not the ease of updating the local
development framework increase the power of local authorities
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think so.
Remember, the local development framework has to include a statement
of community engagement. The process by which it is updated can
only take place once the local authority has gone through all
the right processes for engaging the community. We would also
very much want to involve local strategic partnerships in the
process by which the plan is drawn up so that you engage the community
that way as well.
92. At present when an application comes in
for a particular development, the UDP has defined what the land
can be used for and therefore most of the argument, if it is a
development in keeping with the UDP, will be about the nature
of the development and the community will be consulted. Under
your proposals, if there is no land use laid down for a particular
area, the proposed application comes in and the arguments will
be about whether the development should go on at all and it will
take a lot longer, will it not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there is no action
plan, that is right. If you have a system whereby the local development
framework does not have a site specific use for that particular
site and you have not got an action plan it will take however
long it takes.
93. There will be an argument about where as
well as the nature of the development?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
94. You move back one step rather than forward.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In certain cases, I suspect
the control application would not necessarily take longer but
you would have a clearer plan because the plan will have been
produced much quicker.
95. I would like to know what evidence you have
based this utopian vision on because at the moment local communities
only tend to get involved in the planning process when there is
a planning application that has been submitted that will affect
their neighbourhood. Why have you this confidence that local residents,
local communities, local tenants' groups or whatever will get
more engaged and more involved proactively in preparing these
community plans and frameworks than they are at the moment in
the formal process of developing local plans?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with your first
proposition. The time at which neighbourhoods most get involved
is when there is a particular application for a particular use.
We hope that people will become more engaged in the development
of the local development framework because the people drawing
it up have to focus on the issue how do we engage the community
for this process. Secondly, it will be simpler. Therefore, the
process will be one which it will be easier for people to engage
in. Thirdly, where an action plan is involved, it will involve
an issue about what happens to the neighbourhood at neighbourhood
level, so it will be closer to the community than many development
plans currently are.
96. Do you not accept that at the moment someone
buying a property in a certain area has a sense of security knowing
that the nice meadows in front of them will remain as meadows?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
97. You are developing a system that gives rise
to a lot more insecurity than there is at the moment.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is
right. The system that we are proposing is about how the process
works. It is not, for example, threatening the green belt. It
is not, for example, threatening the environment. It is all about
how the process works, not about the basic policies.
Sir Paul Beresford
98. I think what she is getting at is you have
told us about a system that is quicker and you have the plan.
If an application comes in that does not fit the plan, you can
very quickly go through the procedures and go back a step to change
it. Hence the insecurity that Christine Russell has mentioned.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What is the point of a
system that goes through every single site in order to get a development
plan which leads to years and years of delay? Surely the right
balance to strike in relation to that is to have a development
plan that deals with the critical issuesnamely the principlesdeals
with those areas where there is likely to be applications or issues
about land use. You then have a plan that is usable, simple and
that deals with the main issues, rather than the current system
where sometimes you do not have a plan at all and if you do have
a plan it is quite frequently so large and complicated that it
is inconsistent with other layers of the process.
99. If someone buys a house, they have a pretty
good idea, if there is an area of vacant land next to it, what
could potentially be built on there. Under your system, there
is no area plan and people would have no idea whatsoever.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) People will know what
the basic policies are.