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Mr. St. Aubyn: I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) and I share his confusion about the Government's true intentions. I speak as one who, for several years, served on a local authority planning committee in central London. I was serving when the old GLC was abolished and recall that, in our part of London, there were peals of joy at that unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, which second-guessed and oversaw all our planning decisions, being done away with. At that time, the planning committee for Westminster council was considering early proposals for the development of Covent Garden, and I

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well remember what a blessed release the abolition of the GLC was to those of us who wanted a new and thriving Covent Garden, because it meant that the proposals would not suffer further delay by being subjected by that authority to trial by fire.

My concern about section 21A(9) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which the Bill would add to that Act and the amendment would delete from the Bill, is that there appears to be no limit on how detailed the powers of the mayor might become. I agree with my hon. Friend that development activity in London would be curtailed and discouraged, and that it would cost more. I am sure Ministers understand that the longer and more uncertain the planning process, the harder it is to justify. Therefore, the developers' profits must be much greater before they are prepared to take a risk.

11.15 pm

It is worth considering what has happened to London in the years since the abolition of that centralised planning authority. Has London fallen apart? Has its pre-eminence vanished? On the contrary, for the past seven years, European business leaders have voted London the best city for business. London has left cities such as Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt in its wake. That is what has happened since that centralising force was abolished and the planning process was speeded up. That is a great tribute to the wisdom of the central London boroughs, which understood exactly what businesses needed and how to balance those needs.

I remember a proposal in the early days to return to residential accommodation some of the houses in central London that were developed into offices after the war. That happens all over the place now, but it was a rather revolutionary idea in the early 1980s. I have no doubt that the Greater London council would have stopped that change of use in its tracks. It would have regarded the proposal as appealing to the overly wealthy without recognising that there is an important constituency in central London that helps businesses to thrive and with which the local council--in this case, Westminster--was far more in tune than the GLC.

There is also a confidentiality aspect. In the course of our discussions, which enjoyed cross-party agreement within the council, we became aware of the extreme commercial sensitivity of the matters under consideration. We were advised by our officers that, if certain information was revealed to the wider world, it could have an impact measurable in tens of millions of pounds in today's money. To the council's great credit--it was also proof of its probity--that did not happen. By retaining the confidentiality of all concerned, a change of policy and a very satisfactory result was achieved in central London. Many former offices became residential accommodation, in line with the wider planning process, and the wider needs of London and the heritage lobby, which has not stopped singing the praises of that policy.

Imagine what would happen if such a proposal were advanced under this Bill. What reassurances can the Minister provide that confidentiality will be maintained? How may we be assured that a future mayor of London, who may not be in tune with the planning needs of a particular borough, will understand the import of such a decision? How can we be sure that a mayor of London

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who is hostile to the political direction and will of the people of a particular borough will not use the Bill's powers to frustrate them?

I alight upon an example from my ward of Paddington and Little Venice, which I represented for four years. A group of houses in the area had been used as hotel accommodation. However, when the hotel closed and the accommodation was no longer required by the national company involved, it was proposed to develop the houses either as a rehabilitation centre for those recovering from alcohol and drug abuse or as residential accommodation. As the local councillor, I explained to the council that I had no doubt that the people in my ward wanted to see more residential accommodation in the area. It would be unsuitable to place a drug and rehabilitation centre, which would place local children at risk, in the middle of a residential area.

However, the Greater London council, at that time under the leadership of the Labour party and the present hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), was very much of a mind that it wanted to introduce such a rehabilitation centre. Only by prevailing on the landowner--the Church Commissioners--were we able to ensure that the future of that block of property was in keeping with the requirements and desires of local people, not the political imperatives of the group in charge at County hall. The planning process did not enable us to do so.

What guarantee will the Minister give tonight that we shall not, at some time, find the new Greater London Authority under the aegis of a group and a mayor who have their own political imperatives, and who seek to ride roughshod over the desires and wishes of a local community whose local council is of a different political hue? That is the key issue, which must be addressed tonight. If it is not, London's success will be in jeopardy.

That success has been recognised as far away as the United States. A few years ago, it was reported in Fortune magazine that

When politics intervenes in the planning process, jobs are at stake. Local authorities recognise the local need for jobs, and the local desires of their community, in a way that the previous example of a Greater London authority signally failed to do.

As I understand it, the purpose of amendment No. 135 is to probe the Government to make them aware of those significant concerns. How do they propose to protect people in their communities in London from the GLA's becoming the political tool of people who are politically driven in a different direction?

Mr. Raynsford: It is instructive to note the difference between the tone of the debate on amendment No. 135 and the tone of the debate on the preceding group of amendments.

In the preceding debate, the opposition parties adopted a highly constructive and non-partisan approach, and sought to reflect the genuine concern that we achieve a balance between, on the one hand, the new powers of the Greater London Authority, Metropolitan police authority and mayor and, on the other, the existing arrangements for oversight of the Metropolitan police. By contrast, as we have debated amendment No. 135, the Opposition

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have reverted to their characteristic partisan lineof denigrating the proposal by means of generally wide-of-the-mark generalisations, rhetoric and comments that fly in the face of any logic or understanding of the way in which London operates.

I must tell the hon. Member for Guildford(Mr. St. Aubyn) that I fail to recognise his description of the City of Westminster as a paragon of probity and foresight in planning. Anyone who has experience of the machinations of that authority over the past 10 years would form a very different view.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said that our proposals in relation to the mayor's planning powers were neither necessary nor coherent. He thought that they would harm London's competitiveness--that they would be bureaucratic. He is completely wrong, and he was obviously not paying attention to the debate earlier this evening about the three principal purposes--the three pillars--of the new authority: a duty to promote economic development and wealth creation, a duty to promote social advancement and a duty to promote environmental improvement. Of course, planning is fundamental to bringing all those three together, because the authority will have an obligation to achieve coherence between its three principal purposes.

The authority will therefore require powers to intervene at a strategic level. That is far from the framework that existed under the old GLC. Much more detailed intervention powers were available to the GLC, and that resulted in unnecessary and sometimes time-wasting conflict between the GLC and the boroughs. We recognise that there was an overlap, and we have sought not to repeat it. We have tried to establish a clear distinction between the strategic level, which will involve the mayor, and the day-to-day handling of planning responsibilities, which will remain with the London boroughs.

If the mayor is to exercise a strategic oversight, he or she must have a means of intervening in the decision- making process where issues of genuine strategic importance are concerned. The special development strategy will set the framework for the mayor's policies but, even with a plan-led system, the success or failure of strategic policies is ultimately determined through individual development control decisions.

We are proposing that the mayor should become a statutory consultee for certain strategic planning applications. That will allow the mayor to represent the pan-London view on those applications. In addition to being a statutory consultee, the mayor will be able to direct a borough to refuse planning permission for those applications on strategic grounds.

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