Examination of Witnesses (Questions 657-659)
SIR MARTIN DOUGHTY, SUE COLLINS AND JONATHAN PRICE
WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2002
657. Good morning. Can I welcome you to the second session of our inquiry and ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
(Sir Martin Doughty) I am Martin Doughty. I chair English Nature.
(Sue Collins) Sue Collins, Director of Policy, English Nature.
(Mr Price) Jonathan Price, Senior Planning Advisor at English Nature.
658. Thank you very much. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Sir Martin Doughty) I will say a short introduction, if I may. Firstly, to say what we think about the existing system. We think it has quite a lot of merit and it has stood the test of time in many ways but it is under-resourced in places and it has produced outcomes with variable speed and of variable quality. We think the present system is not anti-development, as the Green Paper may wish to suggest. Certain aspects of the present system we think are not satisfactory: the growth of planning advice has been over-detailed and has grown like topsy in recent years. We very much support a plan-led system: we would not wish to go back to the 1980s, for instance. We support a statutory regional planning tier, but we think that is inextricably linked to what happens to regions in terms of overall government and therefore to the White Paper on regions which is promised for later in the year. We are concerned at the strategic capacity of particularly smaller shire district councils to produce local development frameworks, particularly in the knowledge that I think about 40 have not even managed to produce a local plan yet. We are not wedded to county structure plans but we are particularly concerned at the loss of county council expertise if the counties do not have some sort of statutory role, and we think there is too big a gap between the regional frameworks and the local development frameworks, particularly in two tier areas. We believe that sustainable development should be the key to moving forward and should be stated in a far more prominent way than it has been in the Green Paper, including particularly references to biodiversity, quality of life, health and well being. The final point we would like to make in this introduction is that we obviously have concerns at the splitting of environment and planning when DEFRA and DTLR were created. DEFRA is the champion of sustainable development; DTLR has the planning responsibilities. We believe there needs to be a very robust dialogue between the two departments and we have not really seen evidence that that is actually taking place.
659. In your evidence you have suggested the Government is too pre-occupied with removing any obstacles to productivity and in turn is prepared to sacrifice the environment. What do you mean?
(Sir Martin Doughty) I have used the phrase "sustainable development", which I am sure others have used, and we need to define what that means. In my view, it is most simply described as: the aspirations for particularly economic development should not be at the expense of the environment and should preferably enhance the environment. The tone of the planning Green Paper is that the present system is holding back development and it therefore gives the aspiration to free up the system so that developments can go ahead, and that gives us fears that the environment will be less favoured in such a system.