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Sir Sydney Chapman: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me for the third time today. If the mayor directs a planning authority to refuse an application, the applicant has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State upholds the view of the applicant and grants planning permission, will the mayor be responsible for the costs involved? If that is the case, why the chimera of pretending that the mayor has any powers at all?

For the third time, I intervene to ask the Minister whether the Government are devolving power. If the mayor acted as the Secretary of State in London on planning matters, whether we agree with that or not, at least it would be

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clear cut, but that is not the case. The Government are not giving any powers to the Greater London Authority, through either the assembly or the mayor.

Mr. Raynsford: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has considerable expertise in these matters, but he is wrong. There is a need for a strategic Londonwide role. However, we do not propose that that role should replace the power of the Secretary of State. In the case of London uniquely, that would remove the ability of an applicant to appeal to the Secretary of State as the final arbiter. We believe that that final recourse to the Secretary of State should remain, in London as everywhere else.

We are seeking to create a framework in which the mayor can intervene at a strategic level, but we shall maintain the safeguard of the appeal to the Secretary of State. If a matter were considered by the Secretary of State on appeal, the mayor would have to defend his or her direction at any subsequent inquiry and could be liable to costs, if it were found that he or she had acted unreasonably. That is a proper discipline, which would apply in the case of any other authority that had refused permission, where the case was subsequently considered on appeal by the Secretary of State.

A consultation exercise on the type of application on which the mayor should be consulted was issued last year. I published my final response on 15 March. The hon. Member for Croydon, South acknowledged that we had listened to representations during the consultation period, and that we had modified the categories to ensure that only issues of purely strategic significance would be subject to the statutory consultee procedure and therefore the right of direction.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the Minister confirm that the assurances that he is giving us will all have to be contained in what is described in the clause as a development order, as those restrictions on the power of the mayor are not contained in the clause?

11.30 pm

Mr. Raynsford: Of course. If the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the planning process, he will recognise that a great deal of detail is inevitably set out in development orders or specific planning policy guidance. Clearly, it would be inappropriate to put that level of detail on the face of legislation, as that would make it difficult to amend at a future date. The hon. Gentleman will know that we debated and discussed the categories of development that might be subject to mayoral powers of direction. We concluded that the categories should be very large-scale development, including major residential developments of more than 500 units or 10 hectares. In a few years, circumstances may lead to the view that that should be amended. Clearly, it will be easier to do so by secondary means, rather than a change in legislation. That is always the case with planning matters and it will be no different for these proposals.

As well as large-scale developments, we also prescribe those that could have an impact over a wide area, those that concern major new infrastructure proposals and those that could have a significant impact on key strategic

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policies or that may affect key strategic sites. The announcement set out those categories in more detail and will be taken forward through secondary legislation.

Amendment No. 135 undermines the mayor's ability to intervene in those cases. It is not a probing but a wrecking amendment. If it were agreed, it would completely destroy the ability of the mayor to act strategically and prevent him or her from intervening. The amendment would delete from clause 259 the ability of the Secretary of State to give the power of direction to the mayor.

I repeat that it is not our intention to let the mayor interfere in day-to-day matters that are better left to the boroughs. As I explained at length in Committee, our plans are designed to ensure that decisions are taken at the right level. The boroughs will still be the local planning authorities for their areas and, as my response to the consultation exercise made clear, the applications that the mayor will see will be truly strategic and limited in number. We estimate that it will be around 150 to 250 planning applications out of some 70,000 submitted in London each year. That puts it in perspective.

One is talking not about the mayor intervening in the vast majority of cases that are processed by the London boroughs, but about the mayor having the power to intervene as a statutory consultee in only 150 to 200 applications a year. Of course, the mayor will not choose to intervene in many of those cases. We are talking about a limited power, which is focused on the strategic level.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Given that the power is subject to a development order, would it not be unreasonable for a future holder of the hon. Gentleman's post to issue an order that greatly expanded the number of cases that might be considered by the mayor?

Mr. Raynsford: No, as I made it clear, in planning matters, circumstances change. In any sensible democratic society, it is appropriate that there should be a mechanism for changes to be reflected through changing secondary legislation. However, Ministers are accountable to the House and, if they propose changes in secondary legislation, they will be subject to votes in the House. That is the right balance.

As I explained in Committee, we see the power of direction very much as long-stop power, which the mayor would neither need nor wish to use in more than a small proportion of the cases in which he or she would be a statutory consultee. We expect that the mayor will want to work collaboratively with the boroughs. He or she may be content to give some comments on an application drawing attention to strategic matters that the borough should ensure are addressed, but would otherwise be happy to leave it to take the final decision. Alternatively, the mayor may wish to take the opportunity to express support for a proposal, particularly if it furthers or assists the mayor's plans as set out in the special development strategy, or the transport or development strategies.

The argument that our plans will cause undue delay in the processing of applications is also incorrect. We will ensure that the procedures are quick and efficient.

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The mayor will be consulted at an early stage, along with other consultees, shortly after the planning application is first submitted. Unless the mayor signals that he or she does not wish to see the application again, the mayor will have a further 14 days within which to issue a direction once the borough has resolved to grant or refuse permission, but before it issues its decision notice. It is an extremely short period of time, but that is necessary to avoid unreasonable delay. However, it gives the mayor the crucial power to exercise a strategic influence.

That is the correct balance if we are--

Mr. Brooke: The Minister said a moment ago that the mayor might use his powers to encourage a particular application. I thought that we had discussed that issue in Committee, when the Government took a contrary view to the one that he just expressed. Where is the legislative cover for what he just said?

Mr. Raynsford: I did not say that the mayor could intervene to require an authority to agree an application. I said that the mayor might wish to encourage an authority to take such a decision. It would be for the authority to decide. The mayor's power of direction is simply a power to require the authority not to grant permission in individual cases. The mayor has wider powers in relation to economic development and transportation and it is precisely in that context that the mayor may well feel that a particular development meets strategic purposes, is desirable and should be encouraged. It would be perfectly proper for the mayor to express that view, but the mayor would have no formal power to require a local authority to agree a planning application on that basis.

I believe that we have struck the right balance. It enables the mayor to pursue the three purposes that we have already debated--economic development, social advancement and environmental improvement. The planning process will enable the mayor to exercise a positive influence so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment. If he does not, I urge the House to reject it.

Mr. Ottaway: The Minister describes amendment No. 135 as a wrecking amendment. The definition of a wrecking amendment is one that would make the system unworkable. To that extent, he is right. I put it to him that, in the view of the professionals that I have consulted, the legislation before the House is unworkable. I advise the Minister to take some professional advice on this matter before the Bill comes back to the House for debates on Lords amendments. There is widespread concern that the situation is not clear at the moment.

As I said in Committee, those in the planning Bar see a lifetime's work emerging out of the Bill. Keen as I am to see the legal profession suitably financed, I do not think that the Bill should be the vehicle for that. We tabled the amendment as a probing amendment to draw to the Government's attention the unease that is felt in planning circles. On that note, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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