WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
Andrew Bennett, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, BRIAN HACKLAND, Director of Town and Country Planning, MIKE ASH, Deputy Director of Planning, and JEFF CHANNING, Divisional Manager, Planning Policy Division, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.
(Lord Falconer) I am Charles Falconer, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, with responsibility for planning, housing and regeneration. Brian Hackland, on my far right, is the Head of the Planning Department. Jeff Channing is Head of Planning Policy within the DTLR; and Mike Ash is the Chief Planner within the DTLR.
(Lord Falconer) Could I? Thank you very much indeed for the opportunity to participate in this inquiry. The planning system should promote environmentally-friendly development which is sustainable, socially and economically; without that development, we will not deliver policy outcomes such as social inclusion, greater competitiveness and improved infrastructure. The Planning Green Paper addresses the issue of whether the system, as opposed to the particular policies, of planning is effective to deliver those outcomes. Its conclusion was that it did not, because the system is slow, rules-driven, as opposed to proactive, overcomplex, unpredictable, lacking in adequate community engagement, underresourced and not user-friendly, insufficiently connected to the wider policy aims of central and local government. The analysis of what is wrong and the need for change has been widely accepted by the respondents to the Planning Green Paper, and, by way of example, the National Trust "welcome the debate triggered by the publication of the Planning Green Paper and recognise that the land use planning system needs reform." English Nature "supports the need for reform, the planning system needs to respond better to the community and deliver the outcomes it requires. We welcome means of speeding up the system and making it more customer-focused and inclusive, less arcane and adversarial." Whilst there is this widespread support for the principle of change, the consultation process has thrown up considerable debate about the detail; those details are very important, and that is why we sought as wide a debate as possible about them. But underlying the Planning Green Paper is the belief that simply tinkering with the present system will not produce the degree of change required to make the system work effectively. Whilst we strongly support a plan-led system, can the problems identified earlier be solved, for example, by stronger central guidance, changes to the development control process, some legislative changes; we believe not. There has to be a culture change; that does not mean removing the good bits of the system but it does mean the depth of change required has to be fundamental. As Professor Grant said, I think, to this Committee last week, words to the effect that incrementalism has not worked. Look at the history. In 1991, the plan-led system was introduced with a view to increasing the importance of plans and to encourage local planning authorities to speed up their production. All local authorities were supposed to have had a plan in place by 1996; as at December 2001, 45 local authorities have still to adopt their first plan, 214 plans are becoming out of date with few signs of review. Numerous initiatives have been tried, to make the system work better, as it stands, changed regulations, advice issued, planning statement 1998, PPG12, 1999; none of these has delivered the necessary change in the efficiency of the process. Throughout the nineties, there has been repeated ministerial exhortation to change, Ministers have toured the country sharing best practice, best value has targeted the worst-performing authorities. Whilst individual authorities improve, the overall position on plan-making and development control does not. Could I ask you, at a convenient moment, to look at the figures for resolution of development control, applications over the last ten years, which I have made available to the Committee, and basically they show no substantive change in the process, in terms of timing, over those years. To deliver the necessary change, Government must demonstrate its determination to ensure the planning system reflects the goals of simplicity, reasonable speed, community engagement and connection with other outcomes sought, whilst delivering sustainable outcome. That change to be delivered also requires a properly-resourced planning system, that is one where local planning authorities have enough properly-qualified and experienced employees, high quality strategic planning is done at regional and, where necessary, sub-regional level, and central government resolves both the strategic and the case-led issues quickly and convincingly. In delivering the fundamental change required, we must ensure we deliver the change in a way which does not paralyse the planning system, provide excuses for delay, or lead to disruption whilst change is introduced. Good and clear transitional arrangements are vital to the success of the process of change; there must be clear, sign-posted, orderly change, the users of the system and those engaged in making it work must know at each stage of the process what is required of them. Without fundamental change we will not achieve change, but fundamental change will not be delivered by a big bang but by thoroughly thought-out changes, introduced clearly and methodically. We intend to produce a policy statement before the parliamentary recess, in which we will set out the changes we intend to pursue, in the light of the consultation; we will seek legislation at the earliest opportunity so that the momentum for change is sustained and the uncertainties reduced. At the heart of the reforms must be a clear understanding of what we are planning for, and I have in mind in setting this out in the legislation as a statutory purpose for planning. I am not going to prejudge what it might be, indeed officials are currently discussing a form of words, but what we have in mind, in the Bill that we propose, is something that will clearly reflect the objective of planning to promote sustainable development. Mr Chairman, we very much welcome the opportunity to debate the issues and focus on what change is required.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
(Lord Falconer) We are very much in favour of local decisions being taken by local people, but it is too slow, first of all, and I would refer you to the chart I handed round at the beginning; it is too rules-driven, as opposed to proactive, so, when an application is made now, what happens is, the planners, instead of asking the question, what is right for the area in accordance with local and regional policies, reach for the rule books and try to work out what the rules prescribe. It is overcomplex, people do not understand what guidance the planning system is given, it is unpredictable, people do not know what results it will produce, it lacks adequate community engagement. It is underresourced, go round local planning authorities and they will frequently say they are very understaffed, dependent upon agency staff; it is not user-friendly, whether you be an objector or an applicant, people say that the system does not encourage a greater understanding; and it is insufficiently connected to the wider policy aims of central and local government.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) Yes, I have.
(Lord Falconer) Of course, quality has got to be an equal consideration to time and timeliness and predictability and certainty as well; but the message I am getting back, in relation to local planning authorities, is, it is not just a question of its taking time but they are significantly underresourced, unable to give the time to the important decisions, where the quality of those decisions will have the most material affect on the community.
(Lord Falconer) Parish councils are not statutory consultees at the moment. We would envisage a system where any major applications which affected a parish would be, obviously, notified to a parish, and it would be up to them to respond as they think appropriate. We are not remotely reducing the role of parish councils, because, as I say, they are not statutory consultees at the moment.
(Lord Falconer) That is one of the problems.
(Lord Falconer) What we are proposing, in essence, is PPGs, which is national statements of planning policy, regional planning and district planning; where the gap between region and district is too wide on particular issues then we can see it might be appropriate to have a sub-regional tier, but that will not be in every part of the country and it will not be based on counties. I was not quite sure what you were saying when you said "national policy" then "revised policy statements".
(Lord Falconer) Those would be very specific to individual, major infrastructure projects, they would be perhaps one or two projects in a year, at the very most, they would not relate to the, as it were, everyday planning application or development plan issues for local authorities. So I think it would be slightly mistaken a position if you said that was a new tier of planning; it is no more than saying that you make a statement about, for example, what airport policy for the nation is.
(Lord Falconer) In relation to a development control application, I would envisage that, because there would be considerable publicity in development control applications, amongst the people who would be told about it would be the parish council, and they, like anybody else, would be entitled to respond, which is the current position.
(Lord Falconer) What we think the right approach to take is that the policies themselves should be short and clear. I think, though I will be corrected if I am wrong, the current situation is that the present statement of national policy in PPGs stretched to 852 pages, over 852, and that seems, to me, to be too long.
(Lord Falconer) Indeed; and, you described it as a tension, there are creative discussions going on to get to the right answer, and, of course, precisely the drafting of a document like that will lead to great debate. The aim should be as short as is consistent with providing sufficient certainty, 852 pages overall is too long; if we are going to reduce the total from 852 then that means taking individual PPGs and making them shorter.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know, I am not sure what the right number of pages should be; it must be short enough to be digestible, long enough to be sufficiently certain.
(Mr Ash) I was going to add only that the key point is greater clarity about what the policy is, with greater flexibility as regards local authorities taking account of what is guidance, which they can follow and they have a choice over. So it is a matter of, I am not going to hazard a guess, indeed, I do not deal with it so I do not know what the length of this particular document was likely to be, but the key focus of the policy change has got to be getting clarity about what is policy which should be followed.
(Mr Hackland) Can I help on the specific of PPG17. My understanding is, the current length is nearer to 15 than three, if the specific answer helps you.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
(Lord Falconer) It will cover the main issues in relation to planning, covered by the suite of papers published with the Green Paper, and that would be, in principle, the development plan process, the development control process, compulsory purchase, tariffs and major infrastructure projects.
(Lord Falconer) The fundamental basis of the Planning Green Paper documents is that the planning system needs fundamental change, and that means looking at the whole of the planning system, rather than looking at bits of it. We were very keen to ensure that there was a proper debate about what changes should take place, therefore the balance that was sought to be struck in the documents was between providing enough proposals for people to bite on, but at the same time not being too prescriptive, because the detail of this, we believe, is incredibly important. There will be things, even after July, that will require further consultation, and we will make that clear in the policy statement that comes in July.
(Lord Falconer) No. I did "Whi..." and then changed to "policy statement." But the approach to having a Green Paper then policy statement was one that was used, as I think you know, Chairman, in the housing area, before the last election, where a Green Paper was produced and then a detailed policy statement was produced. The reason we are doing it that way is so that there is clarity about precisely where we have got to at each stage, because, in the planning system, certainty, people knowing there they stand, what the process involves, is very important.
(Lord Falconer) No, there will not, there will be a policy statement, that will indicate whether or not further consultation is required and what it is about, and then the next stage, subject, obviously, to timing, will be legislation.
(Lord Falconer) Of course, yes. I think, in principle, the ones that would require change would be about development planning, if we are introducing a Local Development Framework, making a Regional Spatial Strategy statutory, that is one that would require statutory change, as with the abolition of the structure plans. I think also major infrastructure projects would require legislation, as would tariffs. But there are some other things as well; so can I write to the Chairman with that.
(Lord Falconer) There will plainly be a timetable involved at some stage. I would envisage broadly the earliest that you could get the legislation to be obtained, obviously, would be in the session '02-'03. If, and it is a big if, legislation was obtained during that session, the earliest that that could commence, that legislation, would be the beginning of 2004, so legislative change would not come into effect before 2004, and even when legislative change was implemented there would need to be a period of transition, when one moved, for example, from current development plans to Local Development Frameworks and Regional Spatial Strategies.
(Lord Falconer) We have indicated, in the Planning Green Paper, that it would take two years to deal with some of them, not all of them; it is quite a long process. We would envisage doing, I think it is, four or five in the first two years, but could Jeff deal with the detail of that.
(Mr Channing) As the Minister says, we set out the proposals, the priorities, for review in the Green Paper, and we have a timetable for reviewing the other ones; and I think the easiest way - - -
(Mr Channing) The easiest way, I think, would be if we sent it to the Committee.
(Mr Channing) It is a forerunner of where we are going, yes.
(Mr Channing) We issued a consultation version in the middle of last year, and I think we waited then for the Select Committee's response, towards the end of last year, before starting off on it.
(Mr Channing) I hope, by the summer.
(Lord Falconer) Subject to this, I think it is quite important to keep the momentum of change going. It is difficult in something like the planning system to float the idea of change and then to have long pauses between each stage of it.
(Lord Falconer) That is a matter for the business managers; obviously, that is right. If it gets into next year's programme then, in answer to Helen's question, there would not be time for pre-legislative scrutiny; if it does not then there would.
(Lord Falconer) Yes, there would need to be time, there would need to be further consultation. Let me give two examples where there would need to be further consultation. First of all, on the detail of the parliamentary procedure, in relation to major infrastructure projects, there will not be, I anticipate, a detailed parliamentary procedure available by the end of July, because there will need to be very considerable discussion with both Houses of Parliament and the House authorities as to what the appropriate procedure would be. But that would not necessarily prevent a decision in principle being made as to whether or not it is right to proceed with that aspect of the major infrastructure projects. Another example is tariffs; you can have various methods of calculating tariff. I think we need to consult in detail on the various methods by which you calculate the tariff and went ahead with the tariff system, and again I think the detail of that would need to follow July. But I think that would not prevent decisions being made, in principle, by the summer recess.
(Lord Falconer) That, I think, is why the transitional arrangements have to be absolutely clear. People need to know at each stage what is required of them, and there needs to be detailed guidance about how, for example, a local authority would move from a local development plan, or a unitary development plan, to a Local Development Framework. Of course, we are not going to get rid of all of the glitches that come from change, but ultimately a question has to be asked, do you think, because of the problems of change, you should not try change, or do you think the benefits you get from change are worth the inevitable areas of destruction that you will suffer during the process of change; and, at the moment, we believe that the risk of change is outweighed by the benefits we think we can obtain.
(Lord Falconer) No. Very many of the things that have been done in existing UDPs would still be of very considerable value in a Local Development Framework. For example, the core policies in Part 1 of a UDP would be of real value in relation to the Local Development Framework; for example, decisions being made about particular housing sites would still be of real value to the thematic action plans that were referred to in the Planning Green Paper.
(Lord Falconer) Of course, none of it is of no use, but what we are seeking to focus on, in the plans that we envisage, is the critical identification of priorities, rather than the planning process covering too many sites and too many details, thereby slowing up the process of the delivery of the plan and making it very difficult to revise it, because there has got to be a complete revision before you have got a revision that anybody can rely on.
(Lord Falconer) I am not sure that we are that far apart. We think the end of the process has got to be a fundamentally different system. We do not believe that you get there by a big bang, you have got to get there step by step, because certainty and an absence of disruption is important. But, if, as we believe, the position is you need a much simpler, less complicated, more proactive system, you ultimately do need fundamentally to slim it down, and you can only get there by the sort of change, over time, that we are proposing.
(Lord Falconer) We would take some powers in best value, which already exist, would be some of them, but I think it is much more fundamental than simply saying, are you really, really, really going to get cross from the centre about this, because the history of the nineties indicates that Government has always said, "We really are going to enforce these time limits for plans, or for dealing with development control applications," and the statistics provided at the beginning of this - - -
(Lord Falconer) Because we simplify the system fundamentally.
(Lord Falconer) Then we have best value powers to force them; but, more significantly, - - -
(Lord Falconer) We are using the best value powers as best we can, in order - - -
(Lord Falconer) Because the system that we are proposing is simpler. If you do not change the system then you are right, that you will not make progress using the powers you have already got.
(Lord Falconer) There is plainly a real resources problem.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know whether they are a triumph for local authorities, they indicate that, over the last ten years, in relation to the time it takes to deal with development control applications, the figures have remained pretty steady, and I understand the position is that 90 per cent of local authorities do not deal with 80 per cent of their applications within the time proposed in the standard. So that target has been missed for the last ten years. I utterly and completely acknowledge that resources are one part of it, but I am quite sure that resources are not the only part of the story and there needs to be both increased resources, in local planning authorities, and change in the way that the system operates.
(Lord Falconer) The other 30 or 40 per cent of what?
(Lord Falconer) Yes, we have, and, indeed, because you are absolutely right to say there is a difference between, as it were, the domestic application and the application for a huge development, one needs to refine the targets to reflect the differences in time that it takes. Jeff, could you just deal with what our analysis shows, as to the extent to which those that are missing are the bigger sorts of cases.
(Mr Channing) The information was actually set out on page 35 of the Green Paper, which analysed the distribution of major commercial and industrial decisions, compared with minor and compared with other groups of applications, and that is why the Green Paper proposes that the targets for a large application should be slightly extended in time.
(Lord Falconer) Your description of planning departments is one that is reflected, I think, right across England, not in every local authority but it is a problem everywhere. We need, do we not, in order to deliver the change, to have a commitment to change from the centre, the necessary changes in the system and the increase in resources that is required, and we need to get those resources into local planning authorities as quickly as reasonably possible. That has got to be done in parallel with the changes in the system.
(Lord Falconer) Indeed, and it will need, I think, a greater number of qualified planning officers, and I think it will need a change in the perception of planners, who, whereas 30 years ago they were regarded as high status employees in local authorities, I think their status has gone down in local authorities over the last few decades; that will take time. But, on the quickest legislative track, the commencement of legislative changes could not occur before the beginning of 2004, and then there would need to be a period thereafter in which the changes brought about by legislative change would then have to be gradually introduced. So it is a period of years that is required to get the change done, but I do not think it is impossible to have both the increase in resources and the changes in the system going on in parallel.
(Lord Falconer) There is not a detailed framework in place, obviously, at the moment; but we need, in parallel with the reform process, to discuss with the local authorities, the professional bodies, institutes of higher education, how you do expand the planning profession. Mike, do you want to say anything about this?
(Mr Ash) I was only going to add the fact that, as part of the transition that the Minister has talked about, we will need to help that process as best we can. Now what we have, for example, coming out soon is a Good Practice Guide on the preparation of development plans; now this is something that we were doing under the old system, it predates the Green Paper. Research consultants have produced this for us; we have asked them to add a commentary into their document which would indicate those elements of it which would flow across into the new arrangements when they - - -
(Mr Ash) No; but it helps the existing staff in doing the job that has to be done, that is the key point.
(Mr Ash) Can I carry on. We have that in process. The Planning Officers Society are revising their guide on how policies can best be produced in the new system. We propose to issue advice over the summer to the degree to which local authorities can, within the constraints of the existing law, start moving in the direction of the new arrangements. We have been approached by a large number of district authorities who want to move on to the new system, and what we propose to do is work with them, in a pilot way, to try to work out how best to manage this process and what additional advice and guidance authorities may need. So all of that is in addition to what we may do through the sorts of measures that the Minister has already referred to, to work with the Royal Town Planning Institute, for example, who are doing their investigation into training of planners, to look at the delivery of people into the system, how that can be encouraged, how that can be better prepared for the task ahead, etc.
(Mr Ash) It is very difficult to give you an estimate of that. Clearly, we need more information about what is out there at the moment, and also to what extent people might be redeployed within the system.
(Lord Falconer) Could I help you there. There is a report by Arup about the need for additional planners in local authorities, that is a detailed analysis of it which the Government commissioned. Can I provide that to the Committee, which I think might be of assistance in relation to addressing the very issues which I know you are interested in. I cannot give you, off the top of my head, the precise figure per local authority, but it is precisely that sort of issue that it addresses, and, obviously, that is an important document, in the context of addressing what additional resources are required.
(Lord Falconer) No, it is not; it is not remotely. I think, in terms of the way that the planning - - -
(Lord Falconer) In terms of outcomes, we are specifically saying that the planning system does not connect in enough with the other outcomes sought by local or central government. I do not think that leads to the conclusion that you then absorb the whole planning department into the economic development department. They have got to work closely together, but there have got to be, I believe, independent planning departments in local authorities.
(Lord Falconer) A change in the law would come into effect in 2004, but there would need to be a transitional period thereafter.
(Lord Falconer) I think it would be a mistake to rush off now to universities and start to suggest what extra courses they have, when the precise detail of the changes is not yet clear.
(Lord Falconer) Absolutely right, I could not agree more with that.
(Lord Falconer) I think it is going to have to be the following September and thereafter, but it has got to be done in a methodical way, we have got to know the shape of the changes, which means listening to the consultation now, making the announcement in July and then working in tandem both on the increased education process and the increased resources process, and developing the changes in local authorities.
(Lord Falconer) It will take time, yes, but that is not a reason (a) for not embarking on the change, and (b) making sure that the timetable of change reflects the need for ensuring you have got enough staff. So take, for example, the points that you are making, assume legislation, at the earliest, could be passed with effect from 2004, there would still need, as I have said, probably to be a three-year period between 2004 and 2007 before you could transit from the current system of development plans to a totally new system for development plans. Between now, 2002, and 2007 we need all these strands to be operating in tandem, and that is what we are working on.
(Lord Falconer) I think it would be unwise of me to talk about the detail of any bid I have made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
(Lord Falconer) I think it would be wrong for me to talk about the detail of that - - -
(Lord Falconer) Of course; planning is a significant - - -
(Lord Falconer) You may not. Although you do it in a very seductive and tempting way, I think it would be a great mistake for me to start setting out the detail of discussions that are going on between my Department and the Treasury. So, tempting as you make it sound, I - - -
(Lord Falconer) Do you know more than I do?
(Lord Falconer) We are being filmed, so it is okay, Chairman.
(Lord Falconer) I am, yes.
(Lord Falconer) First of all, I do believe the system is underresourced and I do believe it needs more resources. I do believe as well that there needs to be fundamental change in the system. I do not believe that one is necessarily dependent on the other, but I believe simplifying the system and making it easier to operate will bring its own gains, whatever the resources position is. However, I strongly believe that there should be more resources in the planning system. There have been discussions about resources. There are three places where additional resources can come from. First of all, greater fee income from those using the planning system; you know that on an interim basis we have increased fees by 14 per cent, we have made it explicit that that is an interim fee increase and the fees may go up further. That is one source. The second source is the reallocation of resources within local authority spending, so local authorities can choose to spend more of their money on planning. And the third source, obviously, is more money from central government. A combination of all those three, I hope, will produce more resources into planning. I cannot tell you the precise level of the bid that has been made because I do not think that would be appropriate; but I accept completely the proposition that is coming from the Committee, that there does need to be more resources into it, and I am happy to share with you the, as it were, expert advice, that is the Arup report that we have got, on that. And the figure I was going to tell you was, because Brian passed it to me, that report shows that between 1996 and 2001 there has been a shortfall of in the region of £240 million in planning departments.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know if that is the right percentage, but Brian is saying yes.
(Lord Falconer) I am saying there are three separate possibilities, extra fees - - -
(Lord Falconer) I think there needs to be new resources for planning. I am not saying where it should come from, necessarily, because it could come from fee income. I also think that, in certain cases, individual local authorities should spend more than they are currently spending on planning.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) Yes; but I think, in some cases, local authorities are not, in particular individual cases, spending enough on planning.
(Lord Falconer) Yes; and they have got to identify their priorities.
(Lord Falconer) Even in the context of the identification of those priorities, I am saying, in certain cases, they may well not be spending enough on planning.
(Lord Falconer) I am the Minister for planning, and there is a best value element to that.
(Lord Falconer) No. I think it is for local authorities to make their own decisions about how they divide the money given to them by central government. I think, in certain cases, local government, in exercising that discretion, are not spending enough on planning; but I am not in favour of any sort of ring-fencing in relation to planning money.
(Lord Falconer) It would be, as it were, the benchmark against which developers would judge what the planning gain they have got to provide is; in very many cases, it would be all that they would have to provide. I recognise, however, that there will be certain sites where, instead of actually paying a tariff, it will be sensible to extract a benefit in kind, for example, affordable housing, because in very many parts of the country, where there is pressure on housing, the scarcity of sites makes it sensible for the local authority to say, "Although the tariff is X, the sensible thing is for you to provide that tariff by building X number of affordable houses on the development you are doing."
(Lord Falconer) Money for the planning department?
(Lord Falconer) I had envisaged that the tariff system would not be for process within the local authority; instead, it would be for specified matters, like infrastructure, housing, schools, etc.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know how complicated it would be; we very much hope that a simple system can be developed, and we would need to consult about the detail of the system. But there needs to be a system that reflects precisely the sorts of distinction that you are saying. It is vital that the tariff does not choke off development; that means, plainly, there are certain sites, because of the low land value and the lack of attractiveness to developers, that there would be little or no tariff, equally, there would be other sites, because of the high land value and the attractiveness to developers, that would attract a higher tariff. I also think you are right in the implication of your other question, which is, where you are dealing, for example, with a greenfield site, as opposed to a brownfield site, the tariff on a greenfield site should be higher than that on a brownfield site, to reflect the greater difficulty, very frequently, of developing brownfield sites. Now I do not think it is impossible to develop a system which would allow local authorities to work out what the appropriate tariff in their area should be, based on differing land values in one part of the country from another. The gain from doing it would be, once you had done that, you would have a clear and transparent system as to what was expected, and you would deal with the problem, which is the most commonly cited problem about 106 at the moment, which was nobody knows where they stand, it takes too long to negotiate, a long period of negotiation, quite frequently chokes off development, to the detriment both of the community and the developer.
(Lord Falconer) I do not think, and the people I have spoken to make this clear, that it is either impossible or a system that would be overly complicated to develop a tariff system, based upon central guidance, which local authorities would be able to apply.
(Lord Falconer) I think there would be various possibilities as to precisely how you would do it, and there needs to be a consultation about the detailed matters.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) Do you mean, do they get more money from central government if they have got low...
(Lord Falconer) That is the current position; if you look at development in low land value areas, they cannot get the Section 106 agreements - - -
(Lord Falconer) The same pressures will exist on poorer land value areas as they do at the moment, namely, you are obviously going to get less tariff from poorer land value areas. Those poorer land value areas inevitably will be pressing central government for resources to reflect the difficulties that they are in.
(Lord Falconer) I do not think changing from Section 106 to a tariff system fundamentally changes that issue.
(Lord Falconer) No; that was not what I was saying. I was saying that the tariff system has to reflect differing land values in different parts of the country, because a tariff sustainable, and you know this, in one part of the country would not be sustainable in another part of the country.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know. I think one needs to do a considerable amount of work in relation to actually setting what the figures are, and I do not want to, without having a proper basis for saying what the precise levels will be.
(Lord Falconer) As I say, I think it is best if I do not, as it were, go into any detail in relation to - - -
(Lord Falconer) Or even a broadbrush.
(Lord Falconer) I am sorry, if and insofar as you thought my answer - - -
(Lord Falconer) Was saying that I was rejecting that option, I was not. I was simply trying to say, and I did not make it clear, there is always going to have to be some element of an independent planning department in every local authority, for reasons of propriety and the way that the system works. That does not mean that there cannot be very considerable savings and efficiencies from a better-integrated operation of the system within a local authority.
(Mr Ash) Can I make a point. One of the key Green Paper proposals is that the Local Development Framework becomes a spatial strategy, as opposed to being a narrow, land use strategy; now that, in itself, means that there will be greater integration between these various parts of the local authority that you talk about, in order that the spatial implications of what they are doing is reflected in that Local Development Framework. So it will encourage that process. Can I also make the point about resources, prioritising within local authorities. I think there is an important point to be made here, which is that one of the reasons why it gets a low priority at the moment, the development plans process in particular, is because of all the problems that the Minister has already pointed to, about delay and the length of time it takes to put things in place. If local authorities really believed that this was central to their activity, was flexible and could deliver what they wanted in their core strategy, they would give it higher priority and they would put more resources into it; that is part of the thinking behind the ideas for changing the way the system operates that we put forward.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Mr Ash) I cannot speak for the other areas, but we will give planning a better chance, is what I will say.
(Lord Falconer) There is always a dialogue, is there not, between central government and local government, in relation to how they spend their money. I want to make it absolutely clear, ultimately, in relation to unring-fenced grant, and planning is unring-fenced grant, we have no intention of changing that, it is for them to identify what their priorities are. But I think it is perfectly legitimate for central government to say, "I think, in some cases, what you are saying about other priorities does not justify the low amount of money that you are spending on planning."
(Lord Falconer) It is not a tax, it is not a stealth tax.
(Lord Falconer) As far as the amount of money given to local authorities is concerned, it is currently done on a formulaic basis, which takes no account either of Section 106 or tariffs, and there is currently a process going on where the allocation of local government money is being readdressed, and an announcement is going to be made sometime in the future, in relation to that. I do not envisage that that formula would include taking account of tariffs received.
(Lord Falconer) It was still, I think, a pretty clear answer, that tariffs did not play a part in the formula.
(Lord Falconer) Yes, I can, and, indeed, none of the proposals that we have made would seek to reduce the amount of public engagement in the process. We would wish to increase it, and we would wish to increase it at an earlier stage as well. So, for example, in relation to either planning inquiries or in relation to deliberations by planning committees of applications, we would thoroughly welcome the widest possible public access, and greater publication, for example, of the dates of planning committees and greater publication of information about planning applications. Also, separately, we have encouraged in the Planning Green Paper and proposed levers to achieve this, that the community be consulted by the applicants a lot earlier than they are at the moment.
(Lord Falconer) Sometimes they do at the moment. Where there is a planning inquiry, I think it is absolutely critical that the process of the planning inquiry makes the community feel that they have had a proper opportunity to have their voice heard. I think a problem with the current system is, and it is not just in relation to planning inquiries but also other examinations that go on, there is a consultative process which, on the face of it, allows people's voice to be heard, but it is quite low down the priorities. So you can see in quite considerable numbers of planning inquiries about development plans, but, whilst individual members of the public can say things, it is really the big battalions who dominate the hearings, because it is commercial interests or local authorities who actually, as it were, set the agenda for the inquiry.
(Lord Falconer) But there will still be a Local Development Framework and we make it absolutely clear that that Local Development Framework must be prepared only after the community has been engaged in the process of its development. What we are saying is that a formal public inquiry may not be the best way to do it. We go further and say that the Local Development Framework must also contain a statement of community engagement, which means that changes to the plan, or development control applications, have got to be dealt with in a way that the community have a genuine opportunity to have their voice heard.
(Lord Falconer) Before an action plan can be adopted, there must be a process by which the community's voice has been heard. What is the best way for that to occur; it will vary from place to place. It might be a planning for real exercise over a weekend, it might be public meetings, it might be publication of proposals in local newspapers, or in the local media; it will vary from place to place. I am quite sure that the current system, whereby there might be a notice put on a telegraph pole, or an advertisement put in a local newspaper, is quite frequently not enough; but I do not think that there is a one size that fits all, in relation to how you engage the community. I think the critical point is that we are utterly committed to ensuring that a community is properly consulted before those sorts of plans are agreed.
(Lord Falconer) I have had detailed discussions with Ministers in DEFRA, in particular the Minister of State with responsibility for the environment, and I have seen him, in fact, with the CPRE, I have also seen separately other of the groups to whom you have referred, and indeed I am seeing them again tonight, to discuss the details of the proposals. DEFRA is fully supportive of the proposals that we are making, and the Ministers in DEFRA are fully supportive, I am sorry, just to make it absolutely clear.
(Lord Falconer) That was a slip of the tongue on my part. I would like to make it absolutely clear that they are supportive.
Chairman: That is useful information; thank you.
(Lord Falconer) What I had heard was that groups like the CPRE were concerned that there was not enough focus in the Green Paper on the importance of sustainable development, and on the importance of an environmentally-sustainable planning policy. Now the Green Paper is trying to deal with the system rather than the substantive policies, but I think it would have been better if we had had more reference to that, and I think the way that one seeks to reassure is to make it absolutely clear that, in any legislation that comes forward, we will put, four square, on the face of the legislation what the statutory purpose of planning should be, to reflect those concerns that the RSPB, the CPRE, the Friends of the Earth, the National Trust, have had. And, without drafting, we should specifically say, the purpose of planning is to promote sustainable development, which means environmentally-sustainable, economically-sustainable, socially-sustainable, to meet the very point that the groups have made to you and to other people.
(Lord Falconer) I think the statutory objective would say words to the effect, the purpose of planning, of land use planning, is to promote sustainable development.
(Lord Falconer) Yes; and the question is, do we need then to identify what is meant by sustainable development, do we then go on and say, i.e. development which is sustainable, both environmentally and economically, do we need to go further. Because, I think you are right; sustainable development can mean so many things to different people, therefore we need to solicit views, and officials are talking to the various groups that Helen referred to, before she rushed out of the door, as to what they think the right definition of a statutory purpose should be.
(Lord Falconer) I think we probably need to go further than saying sustainable development, for the reasons that you say. Paul is saying, what is the objective of planning at the moment.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) The objective of planning is to promote sustainable development.
(Lord Falconer) Sustainable means sustainable environmentally, economically and socially, i.e. the development has got to promote the environment, it has got to have an economically-sustainable future and it has got to make a significant contribution to the social fabric.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) It is very difficult to, as it were, provide a definition without going into such detail that it then simply becomes a lawyers' beanfeast.
(Lord Falconer) They did not, no; but I do not blame them for that, because I think it is, as Oona and Paul are saying, quite difficult.
(Lord Falconer) I would be quite loathe to comment on individual applications, but, for example, one very good example of unsustainable development overall would be significant out-of-town shopping centres, that have an overall effect that does not sustain urban centres, will not be sustainable in the long term because of transport problems, and that is why PPG6 strongly speaks out against them.
Chairman: The business parks?
(Lord Falconer) I think, sustainable development involves the planning system making precise decisions about what is sustainable. I do not think, if it is what people want, that is a good enough basis for making planning decisions.
(Lord Falconer) No, but what I am dealing with is the point that has been made by a lot of groups, CPRE, Helen made the point - - -
(Lord Falconer) And I think we have got to wrestle with that problem, because we do need people to be absolutely clear that we are committed - - -
(Lord Falconer) I do not know, is the answer to that; but I think we need to have a pretty long discussion, there needs to be a detailed discussion about what the drafting of the statute would be. I suspect that the drafting is not going to satisfy everybody, but I think it is very, very important that something is put into the statute to give the signal.
(Lord Falconer) The Regional Spatial Strategy and the Regional Economic Strategy, in the new system that we propose, should be consistent; therefore, what the Regional Economic Strategy is saying should be reflected, where appropriate, in the Regional Spatial Strategy. That means that before the regional planning body produces its RSS there should have been consultation with the Regional Development Agency, so that there is consistency between the two, because if there is an inconsistency or a divergence between the two then there are two documents pointing in different directions in relation to the delivery of state policy.
(Lord Falconer) Obviously, if there was a directly-elected Regional Assembly, they would have a very, very important role to play in relation to planning. Indeed, I do not know if you know, but there is a White Paper coming, on Regional Governance, on Thursday, which may have things to say about this.
(Lord Falconer) It does, yes, but I cannot tell you what, unfortunately. I would like to but I cannot.
(Lord Falconer) Of course I agree with what it says, yes.
(Lord Falconer) Yes, they will, where necessary. I think, the reason why we think structure plans should go is, you should remove an unnecessary tier of planning; that tier of planning does not apply already to 40 per cent of the population, where there are single-tier authorities. Counties are not the right geographical boundary in which to determine strategic planning. Region and district should be the two vital planning bodies, but where the gap between the two is too large then you may need some sub-regional planning. What are the precise borders of that should be determined on a case-by-case basis; and there certainly would not be a need for a sub-regional body in every case.
(Mr Ash) Can I just make a small factual correction there. Under the regions as they are at the moment, there will be 67 district or unitary local authorities who will be involved in the South East region, in their new regional - - -
(Mr Ash) Sixty-seven.
(Mr Ash) What other ones?
(Mr Ash) No, there are not; well, sorry, there are the counties, in the South East, which I have not included in the 67, but you may be looking at the figure for the old region, which encompasses areas which are now part of the Eastern region. So your point is still valid, it is still 67 bodies that have to work together; what the Minister is saying is that, within that region, the regional planning body may well have to devise ways of producing spatial distributions, for example, of housing numbers within sub-areas of its region, working with groups of authorities.
(Mr Ash) There is a need, and there could well be a need, in very big regions, such as the South East, for elements of the Regional Spatial Strategy to have sub-regional chapters, if you like, which would deal with sub-regional issues within those areas. It would all be done within the regional planning body and it would involve the local authorities, including the counties, quite possibly, because they will still have transport and other functions, within that framework.
(Lord Falconer) They will come from the Regional Spatial Strategy, the region would then distribute them around the districts, as it does at the moment, in 40 per cent - - -
(Lord Falconer) There will be nothing in-between, unless there is a particular area where it is appropriate to have a sub-regional planning body that distributes within that sub-region, and there might be cases for that, like, for example, around Cambridge, where there is very considerable housing growth going on, where it might be sensible to have a body that spans the area around Cambridge.
(Lord Falconer) First of all, you can object at the Regional Spatial Strategy level. If there is a sub-regional element as well, you can object at that stage; if there is then a development control application, you can object at that stage, though you are right to say that, if it has been distributed by the Regional Spatial Strategy, by the time the development control application is made the issue will not be about whether, it will be about the how.
(Lord Falconer) Well I think it is a lot quicker than - sorry, can I just correct one thing I said, because Mike is whispering in my ear. The Local Development Framework would also be a decider of where, within the district, housing should go, so if X number of houses are distributed to a district, that does not mean they are distributed to a particular site in the district, that is to be decided by the Local Development Framework. And the Chairman's question was phrased on the, if I want to object to houses being built outside my front door, or my back window, I cannot remember which, then I have got to object at regional level; well you have got the option at region to say it should not be as many houses, and you have got the option at Local Development Framework level to say, even though, in my district, there is going to be X number of houses, I do not want them outside my front door.
(Lord Falconer) In relation to the Local Development Framework, there will have to be public engagement.
(Mr Ash) Yes; at the regional level, the model is very much what exists now, for regional planning guidance, which is a public examination.
(Mr Ash) It is a public examination into the objections that have been made, that is correct.
(Mr Ash) As it is with structural plans.
(Lord Falconer) Can I just answer Bill's question, it was quite important; how is our system going to be quicker. Look at the current system, where you have the region setting out the level of housing and distributing it to counties, who then, in two-tier areas, distribute it to the districts. In the South East of England, RPG9 set the level for the counties, where it was two-tier authorities; now some of those counties are making proposals in relation to their structure plans which have lower figures than that distributed to them by RPG9, a regional planning body, as approved by the Secretary of State. So what is now happening, under the current system, is, as it were, the issues that it was thought had been resolved some years ago are now being reopened again, in relation to it. So what you have got is a system which currently allows issues to be fought and refought. Does that delay the building of housing on sites which are in accordance with the Government's policy of brownfield first, greenfield second, well, I suspect that, if the issue is fought and refought, it does. Our system will be clearer.
(Lord Falconer) To Surrey, or a district?
(Lord Falconer) It will be taken at regional level; the regional planning engagement will, inevitably, as we have made clear, involve the counties being a part of the decisions that are being made.
(Lord Falconer) Surrey County Council will be involved in the process of preparing the regional plan. Surrey County Council have, one would imagine, elected members will be engaged in the regional planning body.
(Lord Falconer) It does not have a right of veto at the moment, as to what houses come to Surrey.
Chris Grayling: No, but it does on where they go.
Chairman: I am sorry, we are going to have to move on.
(Lord Falconer) Very much so, yes; engagement, really.
(Lord Falconer) Very much so.
(Lord Falconer) I would say that the right thing to do, in relation to it, is to see what the nature of the response would be. I do not know if that is a reference to the response we have had to the Planning Green Paper; in some proposals, there are sort of 90 per cent on the yes/no answers, which say, "Yes," to some of our proposals, and 90 per cent - - -
(Lord Falconer) Not intentionally, it was not.
(Lord Falconer) No. We provided you with Smith and Williams' analysis of - - -
(Lord Falconer) Exactly; exactly. That exactly summarises it, and that is my answer to - I am sorry, could I withdraw the, I am not sure it says it is a shambles, it says: "It should be emphasised that this report represents only a partial analysis of the responses to the Green Paper, many of the standard responses that have been qualitatively analysed have been initiated and influenced by organised campaigns. We suggest that, in order to gain a more complete picture, focus should be put on the reasoned responses rather than the yes/no ones, or the ones that are parts of campaigns." So it does not quite say any reference to shambles.
(Lord Falconer) With respect to the reference to shambles, I think it is quite close, yes.
(Lord Falconer) No, they did, in some.
(Lord Falconer) (The economic ?) development controls definitely were getting sort of 90s, on our side, and I think we have got to do it on both sides of - - -
(Lord Falconer) Yes. And I think that is a point that has come out pretty loud and clear from the consultation, that an aspect of doing it in those sort of thematic action plans might lead to it being too fragmented. I think it is absolutely vital that there be some sort of plan that brings it all together.
(Lord Falconer) A plan, Mr Betts, is what is required.
(Lord Falconer) No, you can call it a unitary plan, but the reason why it is called a unitary development plan at the moment is because it is a unitary authority, so it would not be that appropriate for a non-unitary authority. But Clive's point I accept, which is that there is too much fragmentation in the detail of the proposal, we do need to bring it all together to provide the sort of clarity that is implicit in the question that Clive asked.
(Lord Falconer) I could not agree more, and I think that we need to reflect that in the proposals that we adopt.
(Lord Falconer) They have clearly got to have a right to be heard, in relation to it; whether it requires a full-blown public inquiry I am not sure. There must be a proper opportunity for their point to be heard; they have got to feel they had a fair crack of the whip before a decision was made.
(Lord Falconer) There will be one plan that will identify, for example, housing, for example, the green belt, for example, major employment sites.
(Lord Falconer) There will be maps, yes, exactly, but it does not necessarily follow, from that, that every part of the district to which the Local Development Framework relates has got a specific designation.
(Lord Falconer) Many will not, I suspect.
(Lord Falconer) Sometimes they might and sometimes they might not; they might want no change and they might just want - what we are trying to develop is a situation where, instead of a lot of time being spent on detail that ultimately did not matter, what the plan, which Clive referred to, produces is an indication of what are the important sites involved, important in terms of green belt, important in terms of employment, important in terms of housing, but that what you do not focus on is trying to cover every single part of the district with a designation.
(Lord Falconer) The other way round.
(Lord Falconer) I do not see it as being remotely impossible for there to be a Local Development Framework being developed, which, in effect, involves identifying the sorts of things I have said, very major sites, green belt boundaries, where appropriate, housing designation as well, that going on, in parallel with a process where particular parts of the district are developing an action plan, for example, because it is a city centre site, where a major regeneration is required, for example, because it is a village or a parish and has a particular view about its future, I do not see the two as being remotely inconsistent. But the action plan has, plainly, broadly, got to fit in with the broader designation that comes from the Local Development Framework. Precisely what the sequence would be, I think, would depend on place by place, but the principle would be the action plan has got to fit with the basic designations.
(Lord Falconer) The conflict will be resolved by a process of community engagement; if they do not resolve the conflict then, ultimately, it will be for the local authority to decide what should be there. That will be subject to a, this is the wrong word, call-in power by the Secretary of State.
(Mr Ash) We do envisage that there should be, as the Minister has said, a core statement of policies, which should deal with a large amount of the development control activity that the authority undertakes. There will then be, within that core, the certain proposals, which arguably were too fragmented in the proposals for topic-based action plans, which could be brought together, then there will be the area plans. What we are looking at, and this relates to a number of the topics the Committee has talked about this morning, is whether there should be some form of what we have called a Local Development Framework scheme, in other words, a project plan; that the authority should set out, at the start of the process, what its timetable is for producing the core statement and the timetable is for producing action plans, what areas will be covered by action plans, so that there will be clarity for the local population, in terms of what the various components are of the Local Development Framework, and what the timetable is, that they can expect to be consulted on those.
(Lord Falconer) That may be the case, I would not like to say that will always be the case. I suspect it will emerge from the circumstances of the particular place.
(Lord Falconer) Not if the areas that you focus on in your Local Development Framework are, in reality, the ones where issues will arise. The difficulty at the moment is, a considerable period of time is spent on resolving zoning for sites where, in practical terms, no issue is likely to arise as to what is to happen to them. Because it takes so long to deal with an 'across the board' plan, you end up with plans being - - -
(Lord Falconer) Yes, but very, very frequently, as you know, the plan will not provide an answer.
(Lord Falconer) It is obviously very difficult to say. Take the example of Terminal Five, the application was made in 1993 for permission to build Terminal Five and it was eventually resolved by the Secretary of State in, I think, November 2001; so it took eight years. Part of that period of time, 1993 to 2000, was spent with a public inquiry going on about it. We would envisage that the parliamentary time taken to address the issue, should there be a Terminal Five, would take a parliamentary session. I believe that that would cut down by years the process it would have taken to deal with Terminal Five. I cannot identify precisely how many years, but it would definitely reduce it by years.
(Lord Falconer) I am not quite sure what work you are referring to.
(Lord Falconer) Obviously, you can tell from my bewildered look that I am not quite sure what you are referring to. Can I look into that?
Chairman: You can certainly let us have a note about it. But it does seem a little odd, if you are so convinced that time can be saved, that your officials did not let you see this useful piece of research.
(Lord Falconer) I gave evidence yesterday to the Procedure Committee, down the corridor, and the discussion went on the following lines, it is for Parliament to decide precisely what form of scrutiny they would apply to the issue, it would be more, I suggested, like a select committee than it would be like a private bill committee, so it would not be a committee where, as it were, there was a promoter and objectors, and the promoter and the objector were represented by counsel and could cross-examine witnesses, it would be an inquiry led by the committee itself, who would determine what evidence they needed to hear and what advice they needed to get. It would involve a process whereby the committee would need to be properly resourced, in order to properly inform itself as to the issues; so it would be more like a select committee hearing than a sort of semi-court case that private bills quite frequently become.
(Lord Falconer) No; a judgement would have to be made by the committee about who they heard from, just as the public inquiry makes that judgement, but it is perfectly able to identify what a representative body of objectors would consist of. I do not think it is an insuperable obstacle or burden, that.
(Lord Falconer) The first issue is how long would the parliamentary process take, and the committee and discussions indicate that a parliamentary session is a reasonable period of time to assume it would take Parliament to assess proposals like Terminal Five. If one knows that then that can form the basis for comparison between how long Terminal Five did take and how long the prospective parliamentary process would take.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know. I think it would vary from individual application to individual application.
(Lord Falconer) I do not know how long it would have taken. I think there would have been periods of time when there would have been quite considerably intensive sittings, where, for example, it might have been necessary for the committee to have gone down to the environs of Heathrow to take evidence from there, and that might have involved some days down there, taking evidence. I think it would be, from time to time, quite intensive.
(Lord Falconer) No, I have not, but I have received advice in relation to the Channel Tunnel Rail Bills, and they are quite a good indication that - - -
(Lord Falconer) I do not know, I have not asked them if it was a rewarding experience. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is a very good example of Parliament, over a period of time, in effect, approving a major infrastructure project. The process would be different from what we are proposing, because it would only be the principle that Parliament would address on our proposals, rather than the detail, which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill had to address as well.
(Lord Falconer) I think you might be right about that. I think the timescales given in the red document, the major infrastructure proposals, might well be too short, and that was the discussion we had yesterday with Mr Winterton's Committee. The impression, from talking to the Committee, and I do not want, in any way, to say this is what they are thinking, a parliamentary session to deal with it did not have the feel of being too short a period both for those engaged in the locality to put their point of view across and Parliament to reach an informed view about the issue, it did not seem too short. But that is one of the purposes of the consultation process. A process that lasted 60 days for consultation and 42 days in parallel for hearings probably was too short.
(Lord Falconer) It was a proposal made so that people could comment on it. People have now commented on it and we have listened and indicated what our view was; but I think it was too short.
(Lord Falconer) I think it is clear, from all that has been said since the document was produced, that it would be inappropriate for there to be whipping. What do you do about, as it were, inexplicit whipping; you refer to the fact that local authorities have planning committees, they do not vote along party lines, even though, in many cases, it will be known that the party in power wishes a particular scheme to go ahead. You will always have the risk of a democratically-elected body, which is not being whipped, being subjected to the allegation, well, even though it is not whipped, it is being done on party lines. As long as we continue with a democratically-based planning system, which we should, that risk is there; but I do not think that it is necessarily - - -
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer) It is like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, is it not; the Channel Tunnel Link was a decision made by Parliament, without whipping, it was the Government's policy of the day to support the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, it was supported by large majorities, with people other than MPs from the area objecting.
(Lord Falconer) Is that right? Mr Ash has told me the reverse, but (that could...it - inaudible - ?).
(Lord Falconer) It would be entirely a matter for the House to decide how it peopled the committee. It would plainly be wrong for me to suggest how it should be done.
(Lord Falconer) Presumably, it makes a choice as to who goes onto select committees, at the moment.
(Lord Falconer) Unless you tell me this is a terrible thing to say, I would not have thought there was anything objectionable about the business managers discussing between themselves who might be appropriate for such a committee.
(Lord Falconer) Well then, the question is, I think people have confidence in the independence of select committees.
(Lord Falconer) It was set up to reduce the time from the point at which the Inspector reports to the Minister till the time the Minister takes his decision. We envisage that it will halve the time within two years that it takes decisions to come out of central government on called-in and recovered appeals. I think the present average length of time is, is it 29 weeks; can I confirm, I think the reduction we are after is from 22 weeks to 11 weeks.
(Lord Falconer) Yes, and I think that one of the aspects about planning reform is that central government has got to get its act together and demonstrate that it can actually produce change, in order to be a convincing driver of change in the other parts of the system as well; and the example is a well-taken example.
(Lord Falconer) It was set up on 2 April. It is only dealing with new cases from 2 April. We will obviously report in six months, and then again in six months, as to what the results are, in relation to it; but I would hope that you would see material improvements in the timing by the end of the first year.
(Lord Falconer) Yes; and they have made the same representations to me as well. The purpose of charging pre-application fees was to try to improve the service that came from the statutory consultees, and if the evidence is that it would not improve the service then, obviously, it would not be a proposal to proceed with. But there needs to be some process by which the standards are improved, because sensible local authorities in major applications will wait for the significant statutory consultees to respond, because if it is one that has a material effect on the environment then obviously you would sensibly wait for the Environment Agency; if it was a Grade 1 listed building, you would not wish to form a view before you had heard from English Heritage. What is the process, therefore, by which one does lead that not to become a bottleneck; and I think what one has got to look at is things like identifying where the really important applications are, trying to make it easier for the bodies to actually identify those that they have really got to focus on. I had a conversation last week, for example, with English Heritage, who said, one of the problems is they have got lots and lots of applications they have got to deal with but 99 per cent of them do not raise any real issue at all, whereas a few do, and it is identifying a process whereby you can actually identify those that give rise to the real need for consultation and those that do not. And I am not sure we have actually cracked how we do that yet.
(Lord Falconer) I do not think that would be right. But, again, I come back to the basic proposition. If they are paid for pre-application discussions, that is only of value if the money is then used in a way to quicken up the process as a whole; and what you are hearing, I am hearing, from some statutory consultees as well, and they are saying it may not quicken up the process, therefore is it worth doing, and we need to consider that quite carefully.
(Lord Falconer) I think, if there is more publicity given to planning applications, and, in particular, the more we expand, for example, the planning portal, so that everybody knows what planning applications are current, - - -
(Lord Falconer) A balance has got to be struck, has it not, between, on the one hand, the waiting for a response from the sorts of statutory consultees that Christine has referred to, and making sure that their expertise is available.
(Lord Falconer) I would like to make it absolutely clear, I do not know how quick or fast the Garden History Society is, in relation to responding, but one of the points that was made in relation to statutory consultees was that the range was such that they quite frequently provide a bottleneck in relation to planning applications.
(Lord Falconer) I know the names that were given to me, in relation to those that delayed it, and I would be quite unwilling to, as it were, name and shame them.
(Lord Falconer) Because there were widespread statements made by significant numbers of planning authorities that they had difficulty with particular statutory consultees. I was not provided with statistics that indicated that was right or that was wrong, but it was a pretty oft-repeated remark, and therefore it is something I think it is legitimate to consult about, and a balance has got to be struck. Talking to the statutory bodies, like English Heritage, they are also saying, "Yes, we do need to change the system by which we are consulted, because we are spending a considerable amount of time and money on something that is not producing results." So English Heritage say they spend millions on this, and 90 per cent of what they do has no impact.
(Lord Falconer) What would you say about saying to the Garden History Society that they should be told of all relevant applications; would that be enough?
Christine Russell: I do not think they want to be told. I think that they feel that they do respond within the 21 days.
(Lord Falconer) But would not the right thing to do be, I could be wrong about this, if they know of an application then they can identify those that they want to respond to and those that they do not.
(Lord Falconer) It has been made clear in the Planning Green Paper that they are not about, the implication of your question is they are about creating low quality development areas, that is not what they are about, they are about creating quality developments. The criteria for development within a Business Planning Zone would be set, clearly, it would be low impact development of high quality, and not the poor development characteristic of earlier sorts of planning zones like this. They would require an Environmental Impact Assessment, and that will obviously present a safeguard.
(Lord Falconer) I think, if you spoke to a number of housebuilders, they would acknowledge that, for example, housebuilding developments in the past - - -
(Lord Falconer) No, I have not actually ever seen that, but if you spoke to housebuilders they would acknowledge that some of the developments done not so far in the recent past could not be described as high quality development.
(Lord Falconer) Because, for example, you could identify a Business Planning Zone on a brownfield site, you could set the criteria, you could thereby reduce the amount of bureaucracy that had to be gone through, in order to develop on that site, as long as the criteria were satisfied. It could become a positive promoter of them.
(Lord Falconer) There are significant numbers of bodies who have said, and the CBI is one, that the planning system has inhibited competitiveness and has inhibited economic growth over the years, because the system is more complicated, less speedy than it needs to be when taking quality decisions, less certain in its outcome; thereby making many businesses, who might, for example, have a choice to make about whether they site employment possibilities and development here or in other countries in the world, choose other countries in the world.
Sir Paul Beresford: Mandy Rice Davies had a statement that covered that (CPR ?).
(Lord Falconer) Obviously, lots and lots and lots of people have, yes, but that does not mean - - -
(Lord Falconer) You will know that there is a range of people who say that the planning system, habitual users of the system, lighthouse-builders, say that it inhibits development, the CBI have said it inhibits development; all of the people - - -
(Lord Falconer) They have, yes, but this is not an agenda simply to deliver for business. It is a vast package.
(Lord Falconer) We would envisage, as I said, making the statement before the summer recess. I do not know what the precise timing of the actual decision-making would be in the Comprehensive Spending Review, so I cannot give you concrete timing. In relation to the resource issue, plainly, the earlier the better. In terms of our policy statement, a report by the last weeks of June would be impactable on the decisions made and announced by the summer recess.
(Lord Falconer) I thought I was the responsible Minister for the cost-cutting review, I could be wrong about that.
(Lord Falconer) Yes; subject to there being some - - -
(Lord Falconer) No, no; subject to thinking, just addressing the question whether or not it would be inappropriate. I think that will be fine, yes.
Chairman: Right. Well, on that note, can I thank you very much.