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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I shall respond first to the point raiseby the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) about proceedings on Thursday, 26 May. The matters that he has raised are, strictly, matters for the Chair. It is for Madam Speaker to choose how to organise the debates on such a day. In my experience, she normally takes into account the possibility that there could be an interruption of business at 11 am. It is for precisely that reason that a number of debates are scheduled to last three quarters of an hour rather than half an hour. There is scope to adjust without anyone being squeezed out if there is an interruption of business. It is not for me to say how Madam Speaker will choose to arrange business today week, but I venture the thought that she will certainly take account of what the hon. Gentleman has said in making her decisions on that occasion.
It is no part of my purpose to prevent the hon. Gentleman from having an Adjournment debate that day if he is so fortunate--tiresome as it may be, knowing the hon.
Column 1021Gentleman, when we discover the subject that he wishes to raise. I should be the last person to wish to deprive him of the opportunity to be tiresome.
Although I well understand why the hon. Gentleman raised his latter point, I cannot add sensibly to what I said, which he has reasonably accurately reported, in my exchange with him this afternoon in business questions. The only thing that I will say is that I do not believe, and I would not expect Hansard to show, that I said "only" the opinion of the House. I merely made the factual point that the motion was framed as, and undoubtedly has the effect of, an expression of opinion by the House. I do not mean in any way to demean or diminish the motion by making that point, but it needs to be taken into account. The motion cannot change the Sessional Order--this is the point I made this afternoon--that the House has passed, which governs the amount of time available for private Members' Bills.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of Government time being given. On a number of occasions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government think that the right way now in which to proceed is for them to introduce proposals for consultation with a view to assisting in the drafting of legislation that they feel would achieve workable and practical progress in the cause of advancing the rights of disabled people. That is the right way in which to proceed.
Question put and agreed to.
Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) : I present a petition on behalf of more than 300 of my constituents who are resident in Talbot Park. Their concern is to achieve an amendment of the law relating to town and country planning and, in particular, to the use classes orders. They are concerned that under class 2 of the use classes orders, no consent is required for a change of use for premises that may be elderly persons' rest homes, homes for the mentally infirm, children's homes or youth homes. In some cases, a fundamental change of character may arise from a change of use.
They are especially concerned that a change of use from an elderly persons' rest home to a home for young people who have been in trouble with the law may occur without any consent being required. Such a home would be fundamentally in conflict with the nature of the locality. Such a change should, therefore, require planning consent. This is similar to the issue that the Government recently addressed in relation to changes of use from hotels to hostels. An amendment to the use classes orders is required. My constituents also ask that rigorous standards should be laid down regarding location, staff qualifications and adherence to standards and that regular checks are made on such property.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I am grateful to have the opportunity tonight to address the House on a matter that is causing immense anxiety and concern to my constituents in Ambleside in the Lake district--the proposals made over the past five years to develop the former bus station. I am especially grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment for being here to answer the debate. I know that it is his 15th wedding anniversary and I hope that the debate will not delay him too long from taking his wife to dinner.
I am also especially grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham). The first knows Ambleside very well and has long connections with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East is a constituent of mine and also knows the Lake district very well.
I suppose that many of my colleagues in the House have visited Ambleside, that small, historic, idyllic market town in the centre of the Lake district. It is a place that is one of the glories of England, and lies at the hub of several valleys and roads, all of which reflect the great heritage of that part of the world. One road goes to Grasmere and to Wordsworth's various homes ; a second goes to Great Langdale and the mountains ; a third goes to Hawkshead and Coniston, with memories of Beatrix Potter, Ruskin and perhaps Donald Campbell ; a fourth goes to Windermere, the home of Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" ; and finally there is the steep struggle up Kirkstone pass over to Ullswater, where Wordsworth's daffodils are now ending their annual delight. The story which I want to draw to the attention of the House began in May 1989, when the former bus station in the centre of Ambleside was closed. The bus station was an important asset to the town. It allowed buses to unload the thousands of local people and tourists who continually throng the streets of Ambleside in a way which did not disrupt the already serious traffic congestion through the town, which is a consequence of all those historic roads to which I referred earlier.
The site came into the hands of developers who, in the past five years, have made no fewer than 16 planning applications to develop the site into shops and offices. During those five years, there have been two appeals. The former Secretary of State, Chris Patten, reserved his powers and threw out the first appeal, and, a little later, the second planning appeal was thrown out by the inspector himself.
In June, there is to be yet another appeal--the third--on two current applications which have been rejected by the Lake District special planning board. I understand that the Minister tonight cannot and must not comment on the merits of the scheme. I think all of us, including my two hon. Friends, understand that, and it may be that we will be fortunate enough to hear what they have to say if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the Secretary of State being in the position of judge and jury, everyone will understand if the Minister refuses to comment on the merits.
Column 1023Suffice it to say that I have opposed all the various applications during those five years, and I remain totally opposed to the current proposals. All of them have involved, in my view, top-heavy development to that small but precious community. The proposal which is the focus of the appeal which will be heard during the next few weeks will involve the construction of either 17 or 21 new shops or offices. I have been informed that, if the proposal went ahead, it would increase the retail and commercial floor space in Ambleside by up to a maximum of 25 per cent. That must be top-heavy development. Traffic through Ambleside is already congested, especially during the tourist season. Car parking space is inadequate, as it would be even with the few extra parking spaces which are included in the current proposals.
We cannot ignore public opinion in a case of this kind. Public opinion has throughout been passionately opposed to the great series of planning proposals. Massive opposition has been mounted, and will undoubtedly manifest itself at the forthcoming inquiry. I hope to be able to present a petition to the House after the Whitsun recess. It is not yet complete, but I hope that the petition will be signed by almost 8,000 people. I shall refer to the petition later. I know that my constituents will be presenting similar petitions to the Prime Minister's office, the Department of the Environment and the Department of National Heritage during the Whitsun recess. The latest figures, which I received this afternoon, are important and so far there are 7,774 signatures on the petition. Of that figure, 2,564 live in the Lakes parish, which is the area immediately around Ambleside. The total electorate of the Lakes parish is 4,856. Therefore, local signatures constitute well over half the number on the electoral roll. I have had an estimate from the organiser of the petition that three quarters of the residents of Ambleside have signed it.
What ought to be done with the site ? I believe strongly that there is a need for more car parking, and also a need for bus station facilities on the site. It is an area which has high rainfall and at the moment buses stop in the open street. That is highly inconvenient, and there ought to be some facilities to deal with people who have buses to catch and to use.
My view is that much the best proposal--planning permission for it on the site has already been granted--is that of the local Herd-Lawson trust for a scheme for open car park space. Sadly, the developers have refused to sell to the trust for that purpose.
That leads me to the basic purpose of this debate, which is to protest at the way in which the current planning laws can allow a small and relatively defenceless community--such as the one in my constituency in Ambleside--to find themselves under almost continuous siege for a period of five years, with no prospect of ending that siege at the site in the future. It really cannot be right or fair for a Goliath of a developer to keep up a continual drip-drip of semi-repetitive planning applications which would destroy the timeless magic of this small town. But--I say this with confidence--my constituents are veritable Davids, and will battle on to preserve their heritage.
I can sum up their attitude by quoting from a letter written by Elizabeth Braithwaite, who is a passionate opponent of the developments. She is chairman of both the Lakes parish council and the South Lakeland district council. She says :
Column 1024"We are unable to stand aside and watch our traditional Lakeland town being ripped apart and millions of visitors from across the globe would never forgive us if we did nothing."
That is a most passionate objection to the scheme, regardless of the seemingly never-ending nature of the proposals.
In addition, there is a new and what I regard as serious matter which was drawn to my attention only today. As background, at an early stage of the saga, an official of the Lake District planning board--impertinently, in my view--announced that the board ought not to reject what he knew was already a highly controversial proposal. In spite of that official's comment, the board put him firmly in his place when it considered the matter, and it rejected the proposal for the third time. Its members did as they have done bravely and consistently throughout this saga.
Today I have received evidence that the board's officials have used their independent highways consultants in ways that I find preposterous. First, they have used those consultants to prepare plans for the developer. The members of the board are opposed to those plans. Secondly, this has been done at public expense. I understand that they are prepared to pay the fees of the independent consultant for preparing plans for the developer. Thirdly, members of the board have not been informed of that. Indeed, the papers have been kept in separate files.
I have no idea whether the practice that I have described is illegal, but I find it outrageous, given that there is a fundamental difference of opinion between the board and its servants in a matter of clear sensitivity. Furthermore, it is clear from a letter which I have in my hand dated 17 May from the independent highways consultant addressed to Mr. David Brockbank, who is the chairman of the development control committee of the Lake District planning board and who will conduct the board's case at the forthcoming inquiry. The letter says :
"The scheme still offends the fundamental design principle of segregating traffic and pedestrians, but this cannot be reasonably challenged on the historical evidence made available to me." As I understand it, that means that as a result of previous appeal decisions the independent consultant was so boxed in that he was forced to put his name to a scheme which is fundamentally flawed. How can that possibly be right ? Surely each appeal ought to stand on its own under our planning law. I particularly want my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on that tonight.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain to us his view about the unfair arrangements which seem to be inherent in our planning law. I should like to ask him to reconsider our planning law. Of course we understand that he may not be able to respond to all our points tonight, but I hope that he will take them into consideration and will write to me as soon as possible and comment on the various matters that I have raised which cause great concern to me and thousands of my constituents.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on bringing this matter to the attention of the House this evening. The very name of his constituency evokes strong emotions in people all over the world who know and love the Lake district. He referred most eloquently, but also realistically, to the kind of town that Ambleside is. As he described the roads which enter and leave that little town, each one was clearly in my mind.
Column 1025The development of a top-heavy shopping centre in the middle of the town would have a horrendous effect not only on the town but on the traffic pressures with which Ambleside already has considerable difficulty.
In mentioning my wish to participate in the debate, my right hon. Friend said that I had had a connection with Ambleside and the Lake district for many years. That is so. For more than 30 years I have known the place and been hugely fond of it. My first married home was there. I am a trustee of Brathay hall, a training centre which offers development training for young people and for managers. Large numbers come each year to the centre and benefit from it. Through my trusteeship I have a continuing interest not only in Ambleside but in the national park which is the Lake district. The work of Brathay hall is possible only because of the unique environment that the Lake district provides. I speak from a constituency at the other end of England. As my right hon. Friend spoke for his constituents, perhaps I speak for all the hundreds and thousands of off-comers who go to the Lake district because of the uniqueness that it offers and who go to Ambleside because it, too, is unique.
However inadequate our planning laws may be in dealing with the problem, we have to call a halt to unsympathetic and out-of-scale development in small places such as Ambleside. Otherwise, those who follow afterwards, as the eloquent letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Braithwaite demonstrated, will never forgive those directly responsible for such applications, Ministers who review them or Members of Parliament who have an opportunity to speak and act against such development.
The number of people throughout Britain who know the Lake district and Ambleside is great. Only a few minutes before the debate I had a meeting with an individual who lives in Kent and is a senior member of the Southern regional health authority. When I mentioned the debate to him, he immediately expressed his horror, knowing Ambleside as he did. That is just one example of what the public will feel about the development.
I heard only tonight from my right hon. Friend some of the detail of the planning application behind the appalling action taken by the officers. All planning authorities face difficulties from time to time when officials, following the exact planning regulations, feel compelled to recommend acceptance of a planning application even though the elected members are against it. I am delighted that the elected members have had the sense to turn down all the applications, and quite properly too.
The additional information that we have received about how the officers of the planning board have used public money is appalling if it is correct ; that cannot be right and it must clearly be investigated.
I hope that all that I have said today will add to the pressure--for that is what there must be--ultimately to see the planning application firmly turned down on appeal and action taken by the Secretary of State for the Environment to find some way of preventing communities such as Ambleside being put under siege year after year because developers will never take no for an answer. It is unfair that any group of people, let alone that particular town, when there is wide interest throughout the country in maintaining it as an active and viable community as it is now, which is not a problem, should run the risk of being overwhelmed
Column 1026by unsuitable development. Clearly, action must be taken, if necessary by reviewing the current planning laws on this issue. 8.9 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) not only on his success in gaining the Adjournment debate but on the eloquent and moving way in which he spoke and put the arguments and concerns of so many of the local residents. As my right hon. Friend said, I speak as a constituent of his, as a lover of the Lake district and as a close neighbour of David Brockbank. I have known David Brockbank for many years and have much respect for him. He gives his time to work as chairman of the development committee. I have supported development in areas of high unemployment in this country, but Ambleside certainly would not fall into that category. I have followed the saga in the pages of the Westmorland Gazette for some time now. In fact, I received a fax today containing some of its recent entries. Today, I have been extremely concerned to hear from David Brockbank, and now from my right hon. Friend, about the actions of the officers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) said, this case is extraordinary. Members are giving up their time to represent the interests of residents, and officers are apparently taking matters into their own hands and spending public money in the way they have decided that they want to spend it, but not in the way the members have said ; the officers have not consulted anyone. I find it extraordinary that the matter has not been discussed with either the present chairman or the former chairman of the committee.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look into the whole question of whether the officers have acted ultra vires. If they have acted improperly, presumably the district auditor should examine what has happened. I imagine that if the officers have acted improperly, they will have to pay the fees out of their own pockets because they took it into their heads to spend public money without consultation. It seems that they have not even had the courtesy to discuss the matter informally with the chairman of the development committee, let alone put it formally to the committee that they would spend money in that way.
I have not followed all the ins and outs of the fight that has been going on for five years, but the feelings of the residents are clear. As someone who loves the Lake district, it is clear to me that the members should be supported in their view and I welcome the opportunity for my right hon. Friend to bring the matter to the attention of the House today. I also welcome the support that he has received from my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks and I add my support to the request expressed today that the whole matter should be examined properly. If there has been any wrongdoing, it should be followed up with full effect.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I begin my thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) for his kind comments at the outset of his remarks. For the reasons to which he alluded, I am grateful for the early hour at which this debate has come
Column 1027before the House. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the care with which he has raised, on behalf of his constituents, the question of possible future uses for the former bus station site in the centre of Ambleside. He has explained clearly the concerns of a great number of his constituents--which I know he shares-- about proposals for the redevelopment of the site. He has taken up those concerns with Ministers on a number of occasions over the past six years or so. As the presence and comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) make clear and symbolise, this issue is of concern to a much wider area than simply Ambleside. That is not surprising for a town of such character in the heart of the Lake district.
As my right hon. Friend explained, Ribble Motor Services operated the Ambleside bus station and depot for many years. After carrying out a review of its overheads, the company found that it was not economic to maintain and retain the station, so in 1987 it decided that the station should be closed. That decision took effect in May 1989. Alternative facilities were provided elsewhere in the town by way of bus-stops for passengers wishing to use the bus services which the company continued to operate to and from the town. Subsequently, Ribble Motor Services sold its interests in the site.
Since then, a number of planning applications have been made to the Lake District special planning board with regard to the site. Some of these have been by other parties seeking to establish the principle of development for what might be described as social uses. However, the applications which have caused most concern have been those made first by Gainsborough Properties and subsequently by Dimples Estates--the company which I understand now owns the site. They are keen to obtain planning permission for shopping development, which they see as the best use for the site and, obviously, the development which they consider as developers to be in their best commercial interests.
I know from the letters which my right hon. Friend and a number of his constituents have sent to us that these planning applications have aroused a great deal of opposition from local people. They have opposed all the planning applications made to the board.
I appreciate the objections made by local people about the proposals, which include concern about the adverse effect which new, additional shops in the town might have on the livelihood of existing shopkeepers ; concern about the design of the new buildings proposed and the possibility that they would obscure much valued views of the surrounding hills ; concern that additional shops might attract more traffic and congestion to Ambleside ; and concern that redevelopment of the site should be resisted so that the site can partly be used again one day as a bus station. My right hon. Friend made those concerns clear, as have many of his constituents in letters to us. I make clear straight away that the latter option of returning the site perhaps to a bus station is not a matter which I have power to influence. It is entirely for Dimples Estates to consider whether it might seek to reopen the site as a bus station and try to attract bus operators to use it again, or whether it wishes to redevelop the site for some other purpose, subject of course to obtaining planning permission for its proposals.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that the company has again exercised its statutory right of appeal to the
Column 1028Secretary of State against decisions made last year by the planning board to refuse permission for shopping and other development on the bus station site. Arrangements have been made for a planning inspector to hold a public inquiry, which is scheduled to open on 7 June, to hear the views of all interested parties about those particular proposals and to decide, in the light of all the evidence presented to him, whether the appeals should be allowed and planning permission granted or refused.
My right hon. Friend will also be aware that in the past two months or so the planning board has refused two further applications for amended development proposals for the site.
The thrust of my right hon. Friend's comments this evening was as much about the planning system generally. The purpose of the planning system is to regulate the use and development of land in the public interest. Of course, different people and different interest groups have different views about how an area should develop. I am sure that the House will be aware that every local planning authority, including the Lake District special planning board, must prepare a development plan. It is intended that the whole of the country should be covered by development plans by 1996.
Development plans have a key role to play in reconciling the different demands. They set the framework within which individual planning decisions are taken. The Lake District special planning board is no different from any other local planning authority in that respect. It has responsibility for drawing up the development plan for its area and for deciding planning applications in accordance with that plan, unless there are good reasons why it should not. Any applicant who proposes a development which is clearly in conflict with the plan would need to produce convincing reasons to demonstrate why permission should be given. However, applications which conform to a plan's requirements should generally be allowed unless they would cause harm to interests of acknowledged importance. Of course, the development plan is not totally prescriptive. There is always scope for other considerations. Sometimes a departure from the development plan may be justified. If a plan proves not to be relevant in a particular case, the application will be decided on its merits. The plan is intended, however, to give a measure of certainty about the kind of development that will be permitted. It must provide a firm basis for consistent planning decisions and that is in the interests of all concerned.
In short, if an application is in accord with the plan it will generally be allowed. If it is not in accord with the adopted plan it will be refused and that refusal would be reflected in an appeal. Everyone who has an interest in an area has a part to play in drawing up the development plan for that area ; that means local people and conservation and amenity groups, as well as business and developer interests. Local planning authorities must consult all of those groups and give everyone concerned a chance to have their say. In that way, local people have a chance to influence the future pattern of development by making their views known as the overall framework is put in place.
I mention all those details about development plans because they are important as regards this issue. The Lake District special planning board placed its local plan on deposit on 17 March. The plan does contain a policy which
Column 1029provides that within defined central shopping areas shopping development will be permitted, subject to certain criteria being met.
The bus station site is shown as being within the central shopping area of Ambleside. It follows that the Lake District special planning board intends, in its local development plan, that shopping development would be permitted within that area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and local residents would have taken note of that. The formal objection period ended only on 29 April, so the planning board has not yet completed a full analysis of the objections and representations it has received on the planned proposals. I am sure, however, that my right hon. Friend and others will have noted carefully those proposals.
There are circumstances in which people feel that their concerns and interests are not being taken into account when a decision is made on an application. It is understandable that they turn to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Ministers responsible for planning and press us to intervene. Parliament has given the Secretary of State the power to call in a planning application for his own decision if he feels it necessary to do so. In calling in a planning application, however, the Secretary of State is effectively taking the decision away from those who represent the interests of local people.
Planning is essentially a local matter and the planning Acts provide for applications to be dealt with by local planning authorities. We believe that it is wrong to interfere with that local decision-making process, unless such intervention is absolutely necessary. Our policy on calling in planning applications is therefore very selective. Each case must, of course, be considered on its merits. We will in general only call in applications if they raise planning issues of more than local importance. To put that into context, last year we called in only 101 applications out of a total of nearly half a million. To put that into perspective, it represents less than one fortieth of 1percent. of all planning applications. Of course, where proposals are turned down by the local planning authority--or are not decided within a certain time--applicants have a statutory right to appeal to the Secretary of State. Although all planning appeals are decided in the Secretary of State's name, most of them are adjudicated on and decided by independent inspectors working for the Planning Inspectorate Agency.
Only about 200 of the 200,000 or so appeals received each year are decided by Ministers. Those are usually appeals that are large in scale or especially controversial. The precise criteria were published in the Government's response to the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on the Environment. They include proposals for residential developments of 150 or more houses, proposals that raise important or novel issues of development control and those against which another Government Department has raised major objections. In line with that policy on the recovery of appeals, arrangements have been made for a planning inspector to hold a public inquiry into the appeals made by Dimples Estates against the planning board's decision to refuse permission for shopping and other development on the bus station site. As my right hon. Friend fairly acknowledged, to all intents the matter is now sub judice because an appeal
Column 1030is pending. As he made clear, he and other hon. Members appreciated that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits or otherwise of the proposals that are the subject of the two appeals as it would not be right for me to make any comments that might be seen to prejudice the decision on them. Nor would it be right for me to comment on the proposals which the planning board refused recently and which may yet come before the Secretary of State for determination on appeal.
I am nevertheless confident that the inspector appointed to hold the inquiry will be well aware that we are keen to ensure the highest quality for our built environment and for existing town centres, which are of key importance to urban quality. Government policy on the subject is set out in two planning policy guidance notes, which have recently been published and widely welcomed : PPG6 on town centres and retail developments and PPG13 on transport.
Our planning guidance seeks to protect and enhance the viability and vitality of existing town centres in both urban and rural areas through polices that strengthen existing centres, avoid both the sporadic siting of shopping units and large retail developments in out-of-town centres, and promote development at locations readily accessible by means other than the private car. Translated, the latter means existing town centres, which are also accessible by good transport.
My hon. Friend raised a number of matters. He asked whether anything can be done to prevent developers from making repetitive planning applications merely to wear down the resistance of the responsible local planning authority and local residents, such as those in Ambleside, who have campaigned hard against development proposals that they do not like. The answer, as I shall explain in a minute, is yes.
There is no limit to the number of applications for the same or different developments which an applicant can make. One might feel it unlikely that a local planning authority would reverse a decision made recently in respect of a similar development proposed for the same site. The applicant may be able, however--perhaps after informal discussions with the authority's officers and others--to adjust the scheme to take into account previous criticisms, or even to provide further information or arguments that might lead to a different decision on the same scheme. In any event, an applicant is entitled to apply again and to have any new application considered by the authority.
The law contains protection from repetitive planning applications for local communities, however. As the House may recall, in the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 we added--for the reasons that my right hon. and hon. Friends raised this evening--powers for local planning authorities to decline to determine certain types of repetitive planning applications. The circular that we issued at the time made it clear that our intention in introducing those powers was, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, to allow authorities to prevent repetitive applications from being used to wear down the resistance of local communities.
I entirely agree with him. No local community should feel that it is under siege from repetitive planning applications and the law gives them protection. Those powers can be used when the same, or substantially the same, proposal has been rejected by the Secretary of State on appeal, or following call-in within two years prior to the date of the application and when there have been no significant changes in the development plan or other relevant considerations.
Column 1031We made it clear that authorities should use those powers only where they believe that the application in question is intended to exert pressure by submitting repeated similar applications. If an application has been revised in a genuine attempt to take account of objections to earlier proposals, it should not be regarded as a repetitive application for the purposes of those powers and the applicant should be given the benefit of any doubt.
It is for the Lake District special planning board to decide whether or not those powers apply to any of the Ambleside bus station applications. I understand that the special planning board has considered that question in relation to the applications, but reached the view that none of the bus station site applications is repetitive. That is a decision that they are entitled to make. I have no power to direct them or even to take a view.
The Lake District special planning board, having reached the view that the applications made so far by Dimples Estates are not ones to which those special provisions apply, must proceed to determine them in accordance with normal procedures ; that is, the board must publicise the applications and carry out necessary consultations on the applications.
The relevant development control committee then decides the applications, having regard to the requirements set out in section 54(A) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, that the determination shall be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. It will be guided by the report prepared by its officers setting out details of the development proposed of the responses received as a result of the publicity and consultation exercise of how the proposed development accords or otherwise with relevant development plan policies and of its officers' recommendation on whether planning permission should be given.
It is right that the board should have a full appraisal of the applications with a clear recommendation from its professional officers, but of course the final decision is and must be entirely a matter for the board and it makes the final decision and gives the reasons for that decision.
Column 1032My right hon. Friend is understandably concerned at the way in which officers of the planning board--if what he says is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it--appear to have employed at public expense their highway experts to act for and on behalf of the developers in preparing the application.
Clearly, from the information that my right hon. Friend has been able to give the House this evening, I am not in a position to judge the wisdom of such a course, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so without having seen the full facts, but clearly if there are matters of concern as to whether those officers have been acting within their powers, or have been acting properly, my right hon. Friend may well wish to refer them to the district auditor. One of the most important features of the planning system is that local people generally should have confidence in the integrity of the system. If there is anything which in any way undermines the integrity of the planning system, it is right that any suspicion or concern be addressed to the appropriate body--in this case the district auditor.
In the circumstances, I am sure my right hon. Friend will again appreciate that it would not be right for me to comment more generally upon this particular case. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and his constituents will continue to keep the planning board aware of their views and, of course, will make appropriate representations to the inspector during the appeal inquiry which will be held shortly so that their views can be taken into account in the determination of the applications coming before the board or the appeal coming before the inspector.
I know that my right hon. Friend will keep me informed of his and his constituents' views in any cases which may come before the Secretary of State for decision.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Nine o'clock.
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