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Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in support of the new clause and, in particular, of the part concerned with preparing guidance for the planning of land use.
The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs conducted a detailed study of rural housing in Wales and considered the extent to which existing local authorities were or were not complying with existing local and structural plans.
One of the great problems arises from the fact that the Government have decided to ensure that all district councils prepare new local plans--a process that is now well on course. I am delighted that, at last, after many years, the Government have insisted that those new development plans are drawn up. The great difficulty is that now new plans have to be drawn up by the new unitary authorities, so at the very time when local authorities
Column 795which have in the past resisted drawing up local plans are busy doing exactly that, the Government have introduced a Bill which will mean that they will have to draw up, on the basis of new boundaries, entirely different plans consisting of two parts--one a strategic plan and the other setting out the details of what is intended for public consultation.
The difficulty that that poses for the Welsh Office and for the Government is very clear : to what extent will they intervene in the internal affairs of a local authority when that local authority plainly does not follow Government guidelines ?
When we examined the situation in rural Wales, we came across a few district councils that regarded Welsh Office interference in their affairs as extremely unwelcome and considered that the policy planning guidelines were not there to be acceded to. We questioned officials from the Welsh Office on this matter, particularly in relation to Dinefwr borough council. An answer given by Mr. Gregory in his evidence to the Select Committee on 16 June 1993 was extremely helpful in pointing out the Government's position when the draft plan is being prepared by the local authority--and, in view of the Government's proposals, the new unitary authorities.
I am anxious to explore with the Minister the question that arises from Mr. Gregory's sentence. I realise that that gentleman has moved on to greener pastures and I congratulate him on his move to the Department of Health. At column 195 of the Select Committee report, he said in relation to the way in which draft local plans are being drawn up by district councils :
"Our practice is to ask the authority to explain why it is appropriate in these circumstances, since it does not appear to be, and if the authority cannot explain it, and where personal canvassing is the only reason, it is very difficult for them to do so, then either the authority changes the boundary or we enforce a change.". 6.15 pm
What interests me in relation to the Government's proposal is that, when the chief planning officer for the borough of Dinefwr gave evidence in his letter of 6 July 1993, he identified 14 villages within that borough where the local planning committee had decided to overrule the officers' recommendations regarding significant parcels of land that would now be included in the draft local plan for housing development.
Mr. Gregory said that, if the authority continued to proceed in a certain direction, the Welsh Office could be entitled to or could decide to enforce a change. I am interested in the relationship between the new unitary authorities with a new plan and the power of the Welsh Office to enforce that change.
If the local unitary authority is to have the power to determine planning applications with no reference to the county structure plan, will the Welsh Office increase its intervention and its scrutiny of planning in Wales to ensure a consistency across the Principality that plainly did not exist in recent times, as the Select Committee inquiry demonstrated ?
The new clause represents an attempt to set up a system which replaces the council city structure plan--which will not exist because the counties will not exist--with a
Column 796system of checks and balances to ensure some consistency across wider parts of Wales rather than simply within the local authority area.
A fundamental unfairness exists whereby some individuals can get planning permission within a local authority area, entirely against both the local plan and the structural plan, whereas other individuals are unable to get such permission. The clause seeks to address that fundamental issue by trying to establish a system that would help the Welsh Office to avoid the additional burden that any Government Department would attempt to avoid. The clause attempts to ensure that there is fairness within Wales--fairness which, as the Minister knows, did not exist in 1991 when the Select Committee considered the subject in detail.
Is the Minister confident that, under the proposed changes, all the new unitary authorities will have deposited both parts of the new plan by the end of 1996-- I refer not to the plans that they have been drawing up but to the new plans--so that there will be some consistency ? Secondly, to what extent may we be sure that the Welsh Office will no longer need to watch carefully what each unitary authority is doing in planning terms because checks will exist within them ?
It is over-optimistic of the Welsh Office to assume that, if the new clause is rejected, sufficient powers will not only exist but will be used by the Welsh Office to ensure consistency throughout the Principality. We need a replacement for the county structure plan. To rely on the new plans drawn up by district councils without a county structure plan to ensure a fair system throughout Wales will be to create a major problem.
Let me use the analogy of voluntary arrangements among Welsh district councils with regard to waste disposal. The Minister and I spent many happy hours in the Select Committee considering that vexed issue, which took us into consideration of leachate, methane gas and other environmental problems. We also spent many happy hours investigating those problems in situ in different parts of the Principality.
In that instance, there was tremendous inconsistency in the regulation of waste disposal as between district councils. Finally, voluntary agreement was reached between three sets of Welsh district councils, to try to establish a degree of consistency. The difficulties were legendary. I will not describe all 286 landfill sites in Wales that existed in 1987. The majority of district councils were superb in the way that they performed their duties. But some were not. When the voluntary groups existed, certain district councils within them were reluctant to accept from an officer financed by them all instructions as to the action that they should take. I visited some landfill sites and saw leachate entering neighbouring streams ; the prosecuting authorities took companies to court and those firms were fined for endangering the life forms in rivers polluted by leachate from tips.
Plainly, the voluntary system did not work. That point applies equally to the provision before us. The Welsh Office needs to play a far more proactive role in carefully examining draft local plans and to use its powers to direct local authorities not to permit development outside village boundaries contrary to planning guidelines.
I cite the example of policy planning guidance note 7 and annexe E, in respect of bungalows and other homes for retirement farmers in Wales. At present, the Select
Column 797Committee is devising a questionnaire that will be sent to every Welsh district council asking for details of contraventions of that planning guidance.
We already know that since January 1992, in Montgomery district council, three retired farmers have had new homes built on land that they owned. Will the Welsh Office force those farmers to demolish those properties because they are in direct contravention of the Welsh Office PPG ? If so-- and I appreciate that Montgomery might not survive--the new clause may not be necessary. If it is the Secretary of State's purpose, after the Bill receives Royal Assent, quickly to move in, enforce his powers and direct those few miscreants in Wales to demolish their properties, new clause 17 may be unnecessary. If, however, the Secretary of State allows his PPGs to be flouted as they occasionally are in different areas, the new clause will be necessary to protect people from renegade local planning committee members who give permission as a result of personal considerations being uppermost in their minds.
I can do no better than to refer again to the clear message given in many of the local government commissioners' reports--that although only a small percentage of Welsh district councils are guilty of that practice, their actions bring the whole planning system into disrepute. The commissioners' 1991-92 report stated :
"One council granted consent for some 48 per cent. of those applications, which were significant departures from the council's own approved policy."
One report on a complaint against the council in question observed :
"Such a situation can only reflect adversely on the council's credibility as a planning authority."
The Minister has kindly addressed that issue, and I am sure that he will do so again. However, it is vital that the Welsh Office takes a far more interactive and active role in ensuring that planning policy guidance is followed consistently across Wales, so that when draft local plans are drawn up they are closely scrutinised and development approval for a local planning authority member's land contrary to the recommendations of the local authority's own officers will not be tolerated.
The balance between local democracy and central Government is critical. I hope that the Government will either use their powers to ensure consistency or put in place a system to replace the county structure plan as a check, if it happens that the local development plan that the Bill proposes is ineffective. If the new clause is accepted, the Welsh Office will be let off the hook and local democracy will be able to remain paramount. But I am sure, as the Minister is aware, that the people of Wales are not happy with the situation whereby certain councils have been able to give planning permissions without close reference to the law, the statutes and policy planning guidelines. It gives me great pleasure to support the new clause.
Mr. Llwyd : I speak as a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. It has been a somewhat sobering experience over the past few months to undertake the research and investigation to which the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) referred. There were quite shocking instances of breaches of planning regulations, which, apparently, were dealt with in a very unsatisfactory manner, and with no regard whatever for normal planning guidelines.
Column 798I moved a not dissimilar amendment in Committee, which was supported by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and other Welsh bodies that are actively involved in planning issues in Wales. The core point is that we must have some strategic view of planning in Wales, otherwise we could end up with 21, 22 or 23 different unitary development plans and a very queer patchwork throughout Wales. Another obvious point arising from the new clause is that environmental issues cross development boundaries, and are vitally important ; they do not adhere to a particular boundary.
The new clause is highly necessary. Those who are far more proficient than I am in planning matters feel strongly about it. They feel that the current safeguards in the Bill are not appropriate or strong enough and that we might well be left in a very haphazard position were the scenario referred to by the hon. Member for Gower to come about. I sincerely hope that the Government will give further thought to that important issue.
Will the Minister give me an assurance regarding the amendment that I tabled in Committee about the role of community councils ? Since tabling that amendment, I have received upwards of 170 responses from community and town councils in Wales, all of them, bar two, supporting it. The Minister may recall that I said that there should be better consultation with community councils and that, if a community or town council wants to meet planning officers, that meeting should take place before any decision is made. I recall the Minister's words. He told me that either a similar amendment would be tabled on Report--which is today--or those words would be incorporated in guidelines issued to the new unitary authorities in their consultation process with the community councils. I trust that the Minister can give me some assurance on that. I fully support the purport of new clause 17.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : I thank the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) for his concise and thoughtful speech. I well recall the much longer debates that we had on the subject in Committee, and his speeches then. I want to give him the assurance that he seeks about the relationship between the new local planning authorities and community councils. I am confident that the arrangements that we have in mind, particularly the guidelines that we intend to issue, will produce exactly the right form of consultations, and that we will see a better arrangement to ensure that the important views of community councils can be heard by the local planning authorities.
I welcome the interest of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who is Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. His Committee's inquiries into planning have resulted in a useful working together for the Welsh Office, drawing on the work of the Select Committee. We are taking forward a process of monitoring departure applications, and I am sure that that is exactly the additional monitoring that the Committee wanted us to do. I am grateful for its assistance in that matter.
I am confident that the concept of unitary development plans will be a much better arrangement. It draws together the differences between what is now being done by the county councils and the district councils under one arrangement. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I am
Column 799confident that there will be timely progress in taking forward the unitary development plans, building on the work that has already been done by the existing councils.
Each local planning authority will be required to address strategic issues during the preparation and adoption of its unitary development plan. Policies related to the urban and rural economy, transport, planning, environment and conservation are among the topics that will be included in part 1 of the plan. Land use proposals will figure in part 2.
Under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, authorities will be required to consult adjoining authorities on strategic and other cross-boundary issues. Two or more neighbouring authorities may wish to prepare jointly their unitary development plans. That will be a matter for them. The quality of planning, however, will not be improved by mandatory groupings of authorities. Nor do I feel that they will be helped by having to issue guidance to themselves, because the new clause is very narrow, and the only object that would be achieved by that would be the preparation of joint guidance. Accordingly, I urge the House not to accept the new clause.
Mr. Morgan : That was a disappointing reply, but given the firmness with which it was delivered, it would be pointless to press the matter to a Division. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn .
No. 11, in page 1, line 21, leave out from areas' to end of line 23 and insert
shall be as set out in Part I of Schedule 4 and shall be counties, save that a county may become a county borough under the provisions of section 245A of this Act.'.
Government amendments Nos. 41 to 47.
No. 16, in schedule 1, page 52, line 5, leave out Part I' and insert Parts I and II'.
No. 17, in page 53, leave out lines 15 to 19.
Mr. Morgan : I am grateful to have the opportunity to move on to the question of the Government's persistence in their erroneous ways of attempting to divide the new world of unitary local government in Wales into two classes. The Government are, perhaps, wedded to two-tierism. We are a two-tier society. We have a two-tier health service and now we are to have two-tier local government in Wales--on the one hand through an attempt to rationalise Wales by having unitary local government and, on the other, the absurd attempt, which, in spite of all our attempts, so far has been resisted by the Government, to break up local government and make it class conscious almost before it comes into existence under the new unitary scheme. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will see, with reference to amendments Nos. 16 and 17, which come at the end of this
Column 800group of amendments, the schedules on pages 52 to 55 of the Bill lay out the names of the new authorities as though they were two cricket teams to be played against each other--as though they were gentlemen and players or, in some way, a class A and class B of new local authorities.
There is no purpose to that at all. It is purely related to status, not to function. I should have thought that the whole spirit of the Bill would follow the principle that we are trying to persuade those new local authorities to think about their functions as being 100 per cent. of the job in front of them, not their status. To make local authorities status conscious from day one and to discriminate between two groups of local authorities so that they have different status is patently absurd and absolutely not what the Government should be doing. Any casual glance at parts I and II of the schedules makes that quite clear. That is why in amendments Nos. 16 and 17 we abolish the distinction between part I and part II. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which we are initially discussing, are the ways of bringing that into the text of the main part of the Bill.
Government amendments Nos. 41 to 47 are minor technical amendments, relating to the freedom of authorities to drop such words as "county" and "shire" from their titles. We need not spend much time on them ; our time should be spent asking the Government yet again to reconsider the grouping of authorities into two classes.
A particularly absurd aspect of the proposals is the fact that, although class A is clearly meant to be more important than class B, authorities can ask to move from class A to class B--in other words, they can ask to downgrade themselves to the second division--but cannot do the reverse. Authorities currently listed in schedule 1 are, in effect, being told, "You are the important ones, but if you decide that you want a mayor"--or, in the case of the cities of Wales, Cardiff and Swansea, a lord mayor ; that is their historic right--"you must move into the second division."
That is patently absurd. The fact that authorities should be placed on a pedestal and then asked to lower themselves from the first to the second division if they want the status involved in having a lord mayor beggars belief. It would be much simpler to recognise cities' historic rights--and those of county boroughs, which, being already in the second division, automatically have mayors. The fact that Cardiff and Swansea are being required to ask the Secretary of State's permission to move into part II and, as it were, downgrade themselves because of the discriminatory nature of the legislation makes me wonder what the Government thought that they were doing in dividing the schedule into two parts, listing about 22 areas.
The Government should try to simplify and rationalise the Bill. The Secretary of State should employ the intellectual incisiveness for which he was famed as a university student. He should consider whether the Bill would be neater if it concentrated more on the functions of local government and less on the difference between the first and second divisions.
It would be better to create a single class of unitary authorities. The cities could then have their lord mayors, areas whose historical or geographical orientation makes them counties could have their chairmen and chairwomen, and historic boroughs could have their mayors : no authority would have to jump from one class to another. It is not necessary to draw up two classes. All that is necessary is a schedule listing all the local authorities in
Column 801Wales, so that none is distinguished on the basis of status, but the title of each clearly implies whether it is an historic shire, an historic city or an historic borough.
The present "division 1" contains both present cities and present shires ; it is not as though different types of authority area are being described. Division 1 contains shires and cities, while division 2 contains boroughs. If a city wants a lord mayor, however, it must jump from the county list to the borough list. That underlines the absurdity of the Government's obsession with creating two classes. They originate from a class-ridden society, and they are now creating another.
The list of local authority titles should be simple and rational. There is absolutely no purpose in dividing the schedule into two parts, comprising two apparently counterposed lists of local authorities which will be set aside from day one as though they differed in status--as opposed to powers. We do not want status-conscious local authorities ; we want function- conscious authorities, anxious to do a job and orientated towards providing services for their citizens. The schedule starts the Bill off on the wrong foot, and will have the same effect on local authorities. I hope that the Government will reconsider.
Mr. Hain : I wish to press the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on a specific issue--the title of the new Neath and Port Talbot unitary authority. That title excludes a significant part of the new authority : upper Lliw, the upper Swansea valley and the lower Amman valley.
Schedule 15 states :
"The name of a Welsh principal area shall not be changed under this section before 1st October 1996 except with the consent of the Secretary of State."
Let us suppose that, having been elected--even with "shadow" status--a new unitary authority decides that, in order better to reflect its composition, it wishes to change its name. I see the Secretary of State nodding appreciatively : that is an unusual experience for me, and it may harm his reputation, but I hope that he will consider this matter sympathetically. Such action would be well received, and would provide certain reassurances. The right hon. Gentleman nods again ; this is becoming dangerously repetitive. As the Minister will appreciate, there is a proud tradition in the upper Swansea valley--which contains such towns as Ystalyfera, Pontardawe and Cwmllynfell--and the lower Amman valley, which contains Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Those towns--and even the little village of Rhiwfawr--do not feel that they can easily be associated with Port Talbot ; they have a certain association with Neath because they are in the Neath constituency.
I realise that playing around with names on the Floor of the House of Commons could be seen as a dangerous pursuit for a sitting Member of Parliament ; playing around with boundaries is dangerous enough, but playing around with names may be even more hazardous. I do not seek to impose any alternative name on the new authority--that is a matter for the new members--but the Bill contains an unsatisfactory element, in that it excludes a sizeable slice of the new authority which has an important tradition and identity and proud local communities.
Suggestions have been made, and I pass them on without prejudice in any direction. "New Glamorgan" has been suggested ; some have even suggested "the Neath
Column 802Valleys"--a certain territorialism may be involved there. I do not think that Port Talbot would be terribly impressed. There is, however, a serious problem : the title of the new authority must give it an identity that is known to the outside world.
I understand why the Secretary of State may have gone for this option. At least Neath and Port Talbot are two relatively well-known names in Wales-- Neath is, anyway--in terms of rugby and politics. That gives the area an identity : investors and visitors know where it is. I can see the logic. A more anodyne name such as "New Glamorgan" might run the contrary risk of making the area relatively anonymous. I understand the difficulties involved, but I hope that the Secretary of State will give sympathetic consideration to any request not just from the fully constituted operational authority but from the shadow authority to set itself up on an entirely fresh basis, taking into account the important local feelings of pride and identity that exist in the upper Lliw valley. Certainly, the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has nodded vigorously at me suggests that he will do so.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : The nomenclature of the areas presents a special problem for my constituency. Although Newport is generally happy with the Bill's provisions, it faces a unique problem : there are Newports in Wales and throughout the world, as a result of which much confusion has arisen. A couple of months ago, I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, in which he stated that he would visit an agricultural college in my constituency. I wrote back to say that I would be to happy to meet him and search for it and that, if we could not find it, he could meet the local Child Support Agency action group so that his trip would not be entirely wasted.
Newports are constantly confused. To establish the identity of the area, it should be given another name. For most of this century, the area was called Newport Monmouthshire. Since 1974, it has been known as Newport Gwent, which has become the established name. We are told by the Post Office, however, that once the Bill is enacted, we shall have to start calling it Newport, Newport, to which some objections have been made.
We commonly refer to our neighbour, the city of Cardiff, as "Newport, far west", which might be a suitable title if it is considering changing its name.
The problem, which dates back through the history of Newport, is what to call ourselves. There is only one Casnewydd in Wales : Casnewyyd Ar Wysg is the Welsh version of Newport. The River Usk flows through the town. Usk means water and is found in the word "Eskdale". One popular suggestion is that the town should change its name to Newport on Usk, which has a certain attraction and might be popular.
Our status is not accepted as permanent. Newport has long aspired to becoming a city. Newport County, a football team of great renown, is sadly no longer with us. Perhaps we could call ourselves Newport City and wait for the Queen or whoever is in charge of such matters to vest city status on Newport. The name of Newport presents special problems which no other areas experience.
Newport has an enormously important and unique history in Wales. Certain parts of it are booming, despite the policies of the Government, in whom we are all beginning to lose faith, especially after the last couple of
Column 803days. Newport still has a great future and a rugged, robust personality and character. Those matters must be borne in mind.
Mr. Gwilym Jones : Amendments Nos. 41 to 47 respond to an amendment tabled in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans). After consideration, we have decided that it would be right to give the new councils a degree of flexibility to determine their official title. In addition to the titles of county council and county borough council, the amendment would create a third form of plain council. It does not alter the legal status of the new authorities--they will still be counties or county boroughs--but it will permit an authority to be known simply as a council, as in Monmouthshire council or Pembrokeshire council. I commend the Government amendments to the House.
I noted the concern of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) about the title of the authority now designated as Neath and Port Talbot. He will recollect that in Committee we passed an amendment that shortened the period in which the new authorities would require my right hon. Friend's permission to change their title. I assure him that my right hon. Friend remains sympathetic to any application, even while the authority is in shadow form. We are prepared to consider whatever application is made.
I recognise Newport's aspirations to become a city. Speaking as a citizen of the capital city of Wales, I regard that as a fine aspiration. On the basic conundrum about the title of the authority for Newport, I can but leave that with the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn).
I assure the Opposition that there is no difference between county and county boroughs in terms of status, functions or
responsibilities. The two designations were chosen because they are resonant of the traditional pre-1974 structures of local government, when county boroughs were unitary authorities and the administrative counties were responsible for almost all significant functions of local government in non-county borough areas. There is no reason, therefore, to pursue amendments Nos. 10, 11, 16 or 17.
Mr. Morgan : That answer was absurd. There was no difference before 1974. If one had two-tier local government, one had two-tier local government. The boroughs in the old county areas and the counties split functions between them. It is not valid to say that the counties were so predominant in their areas that they were almost all-purpose authorities-- they were not. Anyone who was involved in borough government before 1974 knows that the counties and the boroughs split their functions. They were unlike county boroughs of Cardiff, Newport Swansea and Merthyr.
My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) made some valid points about the need to recognise the contribution that the upper Swansea valley has made to cultural life in Wales. I have strong family connections with that area, which has produced more Welsh rugby captains per head than any other part of Wales : I list only Claude Davey, R.H. Williams, Clem Thomas, Clive Rowlands and Gareth Edwards. The contribution of that area, therefore, should be recognised. I shall leave it to my
Column 804hon. Friend and his constituents to work how that should be done. Perhaps a petition could be presented to Her Majesty, provision for which is included in clause 245.
If one comes from Cardiff, the issue involving Newport is a much trickier question. I have suggested that Cardiff may become known as the Latin quarter of Newport, although not in proceedings in the House. Cardiff is losing some of its industry, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said, Newport remains very much part of the world of work and industry--not something that I necessarily approve of.
The question of city status for Newport is affected by the problem that I referred to earlier. The schedule has been broken up into parts 1 and II. Inevitably, Newport will read the list. As the biggest and most historic town in division 2, it will naturally ask how it can be promoted to division 1. There is no provision to permit that. Cardiff and Swansea can apply to leave division 1 and go into division 2--they will have to if they are to have lord mayors. How will Newport get from division 2 into division 1 ? That is a great difficulty.
Newport has a great history, including something of a football history. In Frederick Raphael's "Glittering Prizes" the bright young things at Cambridge were asked whether they would prefer playing football to working for the BBC, Shell or BP. One said that he would have given up all the A- levels in the world to score a hat-trick for Newport County reserves. As Newport had been bottom of the Football League for five years running at the time, that was a mark of how they valued football above academic prestige, despite the glittering prizes of the Oxbridge world.
The problem would be solved by removing the distinction between part I and part II in the schedule. If the Government resist, I hope they will listen to the world of local government and will recognise that status in the new Wales does not count but function does. By the time the Bill goes to the other place, I hope that they will have thought again. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made : No. 41, in page 2, line 45, after Council"' insert or the word "Council"'.
No. 42, in page 2, line 45, leave out Anglesey' and insert Cardiganshire'.
No. 43, in page 2, line 46, after Council"' insert or "Cardiganshire Council"'.
No. 44, in page 3, line 6, after Council"' insert or the word "Council"'.
No. 45, in page 3, line 7, after Council"' insert or "Caerphilly Council"'.
No. 46, in page 3, line 9, after Sirol"' insert or the word "Cyngor"'.
No. 47, in page 3, line 10, after Caerffili"' insert or "Cyngor Caerffili"'.-- [Mr. Gwilym Jones.]
and Sir Faesyfed
The districts of Brecknock and
Government amendments Nos. 76 to 82.