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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft London Local Authorities (Charges for Stopping up Orders) Regulations 2000

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 21 June 2000

[Sir David Madel in the Chair]

Draft London Local Authorities (Charges for Stopping up Orders) Regulations 2000

4.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft London Local Authorities (Charges for Stopping Up Orders) Regulations 2000.

I am delighted, Sir David, to be serving under the chairmanship of a former colleague on the Select Committee on Transport. The urbanity and wisdom that you displayed in that Committee will guide us in our proceedings.

Before moving on to the regulations, it may help the Committee if I outline the background to bringing them forward. Part X of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 enables the Secretary of State to make certain orders relating to highways. The regulations concern three kinds of order. Section 247 enables orders to be made to authorise the stopping up of a highway to allow development to be carried out in accordance with planning permission. By ``stopping up a highway'', I mean extinguishing the right of the general public to pass and re-pass over it.

Not all such orders involve closing off whole lengths of road. They may involve stopping up small slivers of highway or, for example, areas of only a few square feet, to enable piers to be constructed to support an overhanging building. When a highway is extinguished altogether, an alternative route will be provided, unless it is not necessary, and the order-making procedure enables members of the public who are affected by proposed orders to object and public inquiries to be held. It by no means follows that, because planning permission has been obtained for a proposal that involves stopping up a highway, an order will be made.

The other kinds of order that the regulations concern are those under sections 248—to authorise the stopping up of a highway that crosses or enters the route of another highway to be constructed under planning permission—and 249. These latter orders extinguish the right of vehicles to use a highway—they pedestrianise it—when a local planning authority has adopted a proposal to improve the amenity of its locality.

The Greater London Authority Act 1999 provided for the Secretary of State's powers to make stopping up orders to be devolved to the London local authorities from 3 July 2000. That fulfilled the Government's commitment in the White Paper ``A Mayor and Assembly for London'' to give those powers to the boroughs. They have been widely welcomed. We are, however, keen to ensure that there will be no additional financial burdens on the boroughs and their council tax payers. The regulations will allow local authorities to charge an applicant for a stopping up order—that is, the individual developer or other body who wants the order—the council's reasonable costs for making the order.

It may be helpful to the Committee if I describe briefly the key elements of the regulations. Regulation 3 provides a general power to impose charges for considering an application for a stopping up order and for taking all the steps required for the making of the order, whether or not it is made.

Regulation 4 provides for the charges to be payable by the applicant for the stopping up order.

Regulation 5 makes provision—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. That pager will have to be turned off quickly. Thank you. Please continue, Minister.

Mr. Hill: Regulation 5 makes provision for the amount of the charges. It is for each authority to decide the amount after taking appropriate account of its relevant administrative expenses, general staff costs and overheads. The charge would, of course, have to be reasonable, in the light of all those factors.

4.34 pm

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): I trust that I shall not detain the Committee long. I do not think that the regulations contain anything controversial. I am grateful to the Minister for giving the background to bringing them forward, but I should like to ask him a few questions of detail.

What previous scheme will be replaced when the powers are devolved on 3 July? What specific consultation on the measure took place, or was consultation undertaken when the Greater London Authority Bill was being considered? What are the regulations' implications for authorities outside London? Will the powers be extended or are these provisions already available? If so, how have they worked?

Will the Minister confirm that the charges are purely to cover the administrative costs of bringing the regulations into force and do not include an element of rental of road space? If the charges simply cover administrative costs, will there be a standard rate that all authorities will charge? The Minister referred to regulation 5. Where an authority has discretion to determine its charges, there must be close standardisation. If it turns out that some London boroughs charge different amounts by a factor of two or three, what will he do to prevent local authorities in London from using charges as a surrogate means of raising money or as a means by which the Government may determine how expensive the administration systems of some boroughs are for carrying out that standard function? Those are the main points that I should like the Minister to address at this stage.

4.36 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): It is a pleasure, Sir David, to serve under your chairmanship. I welcome the regulations and I thank the Minister for explaining how they have been arrived at.

I have two questions for the Minister. The first echoes one of the questions asked by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton): does the Minister expect local authorities to provide a menu of detailed prices for items (a) to (i) listed in the regulations? Secondly, what safeguards, if any, will there be to stop local authorities making a charge for considering applications that they do not intend to grant?

4.37 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Sir David, I join in the general courtesies.

The Minister has been helpful to the Committee, but he can be more helpful. Can he explain whether the powers need to be used if someone wants to make an application for the temporary banning of traffic—say, during a remembrance service?

This year, on 12 November, and next year, on 11 November, many people will want to have peace and quiet during the whole or part of a remembrance service. In the past, the police, when notified, have been prepared to stop the traffic, but now there is a requirement by most police services in the United Kingdom—and possibly by the Metropolitan police as well, which is why it is relevant to these powers—for an application to be made and for the order to be advertised in the newspapers, at enormous expense. Organisations such as the Royal British Legion would make better use of their money by supporting people who need help because they have been injured in wars or because the ravages of old age place burdens on them.

The Minister may say that I should have given him notice of the question. He may wish to reply by letter, put a copy in the Library and circulate it to other members of the Committee. This is a serious matter which concerns temporary halts to traffic. It applies equally to festivals and carnivals. In the past, in London and elsewhere, the police have been happy to co-operate. Now, because the police may be sued, they ask organisers to go in for the whole paraphernalia set out in the regulations.

Regulation 5(2)(a) refers to charges incurred in ``preparing a draft order''; paragraph (2)(b) refers to

    publishing notices...required by the 1990 Act,

which means putting them in a newspaper. I think that I am right in saying that in the hundreds of remembrance day services that have been advertised, only one query has been raised. Publishing them is a waste of time and money. The Minister might say to his officials, ``Can we have later regulations that do not allow publication in a newspaper''—because only local authority anoraks go through all the applications—``but via a website where local authorities can publish events?'' Those who were interested could enter a postcode and be notified about anything within, say, five miles of that. We should get modern and go in for joined-up government. If the e-commerce ambassador—if that is to be Alex Allan's title—were introduced to the Minister, these things could be done with less bother and cost and more effectively.

That would also apply to sub-paragraph (c)—

    objections to and representations about the making of the order—

corresponding with people, holding public inquiries and so on. Obviously the Minister would not want to go into great depth on this matter, but what about temporary traffic hold-ups? If they are not covered by the regulations, which ones are they covered by? If there is no clear way forward, will the Minister consider having a conference with the organisers of charity events and festivals, the Royal British Legion, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Local Government Association to see whether there is an effective way forward?

My last point is really ancient history—in other words, before new Labour. When neighbourhood watch schemes began in the early 1980s, there was at least one London borough—Greenwich—that objected to the schemes' signs. That borough did not mind putting its own anti-Government propaganda on every lamppost, but for every neighbourhood watch lamppost that was to have a sign, it asked for a separate planning application and charged £49. It may be reasonable for a local authority to charge that for the whole process, but if a neighbourhood watch area wanted to have, say, 40 lampposts with a sign saying, ``This is a neighbourhood watch area. Take care of your neighbours''—the sort of active citizenship that enjoys bipartisan support—it would be unreasonable to ask for a separate application for every lamppost. In effect, the local authority was banning neighbourhood watch schemes from advertising on lampposts with what would generally be regarded as suitable signs. What controls would stop a return to that behaviour were new Labour to go out of fashion and old Labour to come back?

4.42 pm

 
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