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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I was inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but I was strongly advised against it. In so far as the amendment would provide clarity in this context, it would provide "un-clarity" elsewhere. I am reliably informed that it is well established in law that the phrase,
"IMPOUNDING TO CREATE LARGE RESERVOIRS
The Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales shall have the power to refer planning applications for the creation of large reservoirs to a public inquiry." The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I thank the Minister for several contributions that he made during the discussion of a similar amendment in Committee. Having taken account of that, I have tabled a simplified version of an amendment that we tabled in Committee. The amendment relates to impounding to create large reservoirs and takes account of the impact that that will have on the social fabric of rural communities in the area of the reservoir and on the rural environment. Often, large reservoirs in the West and the North take up scarce flatland that, in fact, sustains the adjoining uplands. Often, it is the only flatland in the area. It is an important issue in Wales and the North of England, in particular, where such flatland is very precious. The planning process is at the heart of the amendment. In Committee, the Minister was able to allay my fears to a large extent. Applications will go through a proper planning process, using the planning powers of local authorities and national parks, where they are the planning authority. The Minister also said that it would be possible to make appeals to the Secretary of State in England and the First Minister in Wales. As it happens, the Secretary of State and the First Minister often announce the result of appeals made to them, usually through an inspector that they have appointed. I thank the Minister for stressing those points. The amendment takes account of all that, but it would insert a powerI would like it to be a dutyfor the Secretary of State in England and the First Minister of the Assembly in Wales to refer planning applications to a public inquiry. That is the one point on which I need some satisfaction from the Minister. The ability to refer planning applications to a public inquiry is important. If there is an enormous reservoir that causes great destruction, there must be participation by the public, who should be able to make representations in a public consultation. That is particularly important for local representation.
We are dealing here with major, highly controversial planning changes, in the form of large reservoirs. We do not know what a "large reservoir" is. There is a definition of "small reservoir" floating around in the Bill25,000 cubic metresbut there is no definition of a large reservoir. That should be determined. Whatever happens, the creation of a large reservoir will, inevitably, be controversial. For those directly affected, it is almost bound to be an intolerable imposition. That is the reality.
A public inquiry would permit all the issues to be thoroughly explored. It would bring everything out into the open, so that the public can, if necessary, assess the overall background. There can still be only one decision. I have a shrewd ideait cannot be a certaintythat no water undertaking will put forward an application for such a major reservoir without having a strong case, driven by necessity, for so doing. It is inevitable that, in the end, one party or the otherthe local community or the water utilitywill be dissatisfied with the answer. Another dreadful reality in this circumstance is that relatively few sites are
Having said all that, I support the principle of the amendment, but I am fairly confident that I know the planning system well enough to believe that something of this nature could not be installed without a public inquiry. I have no doubt that the Minister will make that clear in his response.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Livsey described what happened when large reservoirs were created in Wales. Since then, there has been the introduction of the Aarhus Convention in the European Union, which is supposed to ensure that the public have a much greater say and more rights in terms of input into decisions of this kind. It would be very helpful if the Minister could make some reference to that in his reply.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not want to delve too much into the painful aspects of Welsh history or the merits or otherwise of public participation in planning decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right. I appreciate that this amendment has been changed somewhat, but it is unnecessary. In all those circumstances, there would be a public inquiry because planning permission for a new large reservoir would have to be sought from the local planning authority, as per normal. Indeed, there would probably be a compulsory purchase dimension as well. It is impossible to conceive of such a proposition that would be uncontroversial. Therefore, there would almost certainly be a public inquiry. Indeed, if the proposed reservoir were of regional or national significance, as it probably would be, the "call-in" powers would be used were there not to be a public inquiry.
The Aarhus Convention, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred, relates to public participation in decision making, which, in the UK context, would mean public inquiry. Although it is not directly applicable yet, proposals are still in preparation to give effect to those principles. That also points to having a public inquiry. Therefore, in all circumstances, for a large reservoirI agree that there is a definitional issue, but the noble Lord's amendment does not help us with thatit is inconceivable that there would not be a public inquiry. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.
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