Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
QC, MR MIKE
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
120. The core policy has to subscribe entirely
to that. Okay. Community strategies are the new element you have
brought into the planning paper and they are linked in some way
to core policies and planning decisions. There may be real benefit
but would you accept that this will lead to planning refusals
occurring for a wider variety of reasons than hitherto because
people will indicate within their community strategies reasons
why the planning development cannot go ahead?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The reference to community
strategies is to try to ensure that what you do with land use
reflects better other policies that local authorities may have.
That is not ultimately to change what the land use policies are
but to ensure that they better connect with what goes on in other
areas of policy. I do not think that would lead to more refusals
or grants than previously.
121. I was not thinking of more; I was thinking
that the range of reasons people may cite, the material considerations
they may bring in, may be broader than hitherto.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is
necessarily the case. The position is that in preparing your land
use development plan you should have more regard than you do at
the present time to community strategies. That will not mean that
there is a wider range of reasons for refusal because, in considering
a particular planning application, you will still have to have
regard to the local plan or the local development framework. That
local development framework will have been brought into existence
after consideration of such things as community strategy.
Mrs Dunwoody withdrew and Mr Bennett took
122. Could I ask why you have placed an obsession
almost on the speed with which a planning decision on a major
construction project should be taken?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have always said
is that the decision should be made, whether it be in relation
to a major infrastructure project or in relation to an individual
application, within a reasonable time, and the reasonable time
will vary from project to project and application to application.
I would not regard it as an obsession, but I regard it as one
thing which has been said very frequently by people engaged in
the planning system, that the planning system does take too long
to reach conclusions both in relation to what the Local Plan should
contain and also whether or not particular applications, whether
they be for major infrastructure projects or whether they be for
ordinary planning applications.
123. Is there not a very good reason for that,
being the lack of space in this country for development?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why should that lead to
a delay in making a decision?
124. Because if you take my own constituency
as an example, we have virtually no brownfield sites which are
not on flood plains, even on the presumption under your policy
that we should build on a brownfield site even if it is on a flood
plain, which I do not necessarily agree with, but also we do not
wish to take the greenfield sites, so we are effectively running
out of space. I believe that the starting point in the Department
was looking at the speed with which decisions are taken on similar
projects in France and Germany and the reason that they can decide
quickly is that if one site is deemed to be appropriate for a
number of very good reasons, notably the residents, and I am thinking
of Strasbourg Airport, one of the reasons why the fast-speed rail
service was not agreed and the track was not laid was because
Air France felt that they would lose market share on Paris to
London, one of their key routes. Was that the starting point,
that you looked at the speed of some of the Continental decision-making?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. We obviously took
account of what other countries did, but that was not our starting
point. We think it should take a reasonable time, ie, the time
it takes for there to be a proper examination of a major infrastructure
project, for example, and long, long delays in relation to that
are bad for the community just as much as they are bad for business,
for the national interest because it blights land for years and
years and years if you cannot take a decision. You rightly identified
many problems that the planning system faces, like, for example,
in certain cases a shortage of brownfield land, but those problems,
whilst they require proper and adequate investigation and proper
and adequate opportunity needs to be given for the community and
the applicant to express their views, it does not mean that the
system needs to take many, many, many years to resolve those problems,
thereby blighting the community just as much as preventing what
may in some cases be sensible development. Do we not need a system
that is able robustly and within a reasonable time to say no just
as well as to say yes?
125. How would the motorway status being agreed
for the A1 from Bramley(?) to Barton be speeded up under your
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, I do not know whether
that would be a major infrastructure project or not.
126. It has certainly been hugely delayed. Perhaps
you could do a note separately on that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
127. In your Planning: Delivering a Fundamental
Change, the Government is minded to take away completely the
strategic role of county councils in County Structure Plans. Is
this the first move to abolishing county councils?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it is not. That proposal
is made exclusively on the basis of what leads to a more effective
planning system and if we are serious about making it simpler,
then one of the steps that needs to be taken, and there was widespread
agreement on this, was the need to remove some of the layers or
one of the layers of plan-making, and the county council Structure
Plan layer was one that it was possible and sensible, we believed,
to remove. That does not mean that counties will not have an important
role to play when, for example, the Regional Spatial Strategy
is being drawn up.
128. Coming back to the planning system, the
process is quite clear that, say, for any industrial use, certain
areas of a local authority will be reserved for that purpose and
people generally know that is where that purpose is going to go.
In addition, is it not the developer in putting in an application
who is going to determine where development goes because they
will judge their site in respect of that with particular leave
for anything in his path?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If in a particular area,
you want heavy industrial or industrial or manufacturing development
to take place, there is absolutely no reason why the relevant
local authority should not identify such an area as an Action
Plan area where that sort of development is specified.
129. And it would not happen outside that area?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The implication of it
being put there would be that it would happen inside that area
and if the local authority wish to specify, after going through
the appropriate procedures, that as a matter of principle that
sort of development should not be permitted, except in that particular
area, that would be a conclusion they can put as one of their
statements of principle in the Local Development Framework.
130. Where there is no area Plan, then there
will be simply the situation where the developer decides what
happens or takes a lead in what happens by putting an application
in so there will be nothing before that? The application will
simply go in and then be looked at according to the applicant's
relevance to the site, so in principle yes, but there is no particular
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The application made when
there is no Action Plan will be determined in accordance with
the principles laid out in the Local Development Framework. If
in the example that you posit the particular area wanted only
manufacturing development in one particular place, which was covered
by an Action Plan, then, as I say, that could be specified in
131. Then we can talk about certainty in terms
of, say, local residents not being certain of what is going to
get built on the site next door to their homes, which is invaluable,
but for developers as well as for businesses, is this not going
to be a more uncertain system because then they put in an application
on sites when they have no idea in principle whether the local
authority might be minded to grant permission, but you as the
local authority decide whether it is relevant and proper for that
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will know in principle
because the Local Development Framework will set out the principles,
but there is a fundamental disagreement between us.
132. But for that application for that site?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a fundamental
disagreement between us which, if I may say so, as it were, is
the undercurrent of all of your questions which is that unless
you have a system which is site-specific for every single site
in the country, you are going backwards because then you will
not know what is happening when you make an application and you
will not know what is going to happen next door to you. That approach,
we believe, has not been successful because the effect of that
approach has been you have got a long, drawn out and complicated
process which has led to considerable delay in Local Development
Plans being produced, the numbers of Local Development Plans not
being produced at all and the very many Local Development Plans
that are being produced being out of date. I have got a note here
from Jeff on my right which says that 214 Plans are now going
out of date out of 362 authorities, so the approach that is implicit
in your questions simply leads us back to the problems that we
have got at the moment, so you need to address the problems and
that is what we are seeking to do in relation to this proposal.
133. I agree with that, but it is whether this
is the right way. Is not the difference that currently, however
long-winded it is, decisions on uses for particular sites are
taken in the context of the overall Plan, whereas decisions on
uses of sites will be taken in the future on the basis of an individual
application in isolation of anything else?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, they will be taken
in the context of the principles set out in the Local Development
Framework and, where there is an Action Plan, in the context of
that Action Plan which is much better than being taken in the
context either of no Plan at all or in the context of a Plan that
may very well be out of date.
134. Can they not just choose to refer to the
Action Plan for the whole of the area?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, they could if they
wanted, but then you would be going back to the position where
you have got the problems that you have got at the moment.
Sir Paul Beresford
135. Is it not like in places like London where
they have all got their UDPs, so they just put a new title on
it and call it an Action Plan and what is the difference?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it will
happen like that.
136. How will you stop them doing that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the process is intended
to lead to a much quicker time-frame for Local Development Plans
to be produced.
137. Are you just praying that it will happen?
There will not be a mechanism that will make it happen?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the mechanism that
will prevent it happening, the ultimate fall-back is the Secretary
of State can intervene at the end of the day.
Sir Paul Beresford
138. Which applies now.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which applies now, but
he cannot intervene when there is nothing to intervene in, when
there is no Plan.
139. In London they all have their Plans. Let's
use a specific example. Everybody knows a heap of bricks called
Battersea Power Station, so take us through the procedure where,
say, a new application went in for some reason. What would happen
in your plan that is different from now?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I answer that in a
moment, but Mike would like to respond to the previous question.
(Mr Ash) Well, I will refer to that as well. The point
we want to get across here is that if you look at, say, UDPs in
London, what you tend to see is within those Plans there will
be policies that apply throughout the area to provide a framework
for development control and there are specific areas where there
is change happening, where there are new developments being concentrated
and Battersea Power Station is clearly a change area. Nothing
is happening at the moment, but it has got the potential for development,
so on that basis, then the local authority would designate that
area as for an Action Plan and draw up an Action Plan setting
out the proposals for the use of that site.