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7.23 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on securing this debate. As it happens, I know Brightlingsea. The parents of very good friends of mine had a hostelry down in Brightlingsea. Although I confess that I have never been to the beach huts there, Brightlingsea was at that time blessed with several hostelries that were all rather close to each other. That made for inviting tours, popping in and out of each one. I did that many years ago, so I am familiar with the location and the description given by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman's interest in the proposed redevelopment of the James and Stone shipyard site comes as no surprise because, as he said, he made the Government Office for the East of England aware of his concerns about this matter back in February. I am also aware that he subsequently wrote on 30 April to the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr.

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Byers), setting out his concerns in more detail and requesting that the planning application be called in for my right hon. Friend's determination. Tendring district council was formally directed on 14 June, under article 14 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995, not to grant planning permission until we have had the opportunity to decide whether call-in would be appropriate.

Before I proceed, it might be as well to remind the hon. Gentleman that our general approach is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is necessary to do so. Parliament has entrusted them with responsibility for day-to-day planning control in their areas, and it is right that they should normally be free to carry out those duties. There will be occasions, however, when we may consider it necessary to call in a planning application for determination by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister instead of leaving the decision to the local planning authority. Our policy is to be very selective about using that power and, in general, we will take that step only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved. We have given as examples of cases that might be called in: those which may conflict with national policies on important matters; those which could have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; those which give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; and those which may involve the interests of national security or of foreign Governments. I am not saying that the shipyard falls into the latter category.

In addition, potential candidates for call-in are those applications that raise significant architectural and urban design issues. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our consideration of this case has only just begun, and that it will be a while yet before we will be in a position to reach a view as to whether call-in would be appropriate.

Mr. Jenkin: I had not thought of raising the issue of national security, and I shall refrain from doing so. I submit that I make this plea on the grounds of architectural and urban design. I ask merely that the Minister refers to some of the very enlightened spatial development policies that the Government have introduced in recent years and that the Deputy Prime Minister has championed. The Minister will see that this development falls far short of what we expect in modern planning guidance. I hope that he will consider it in those terms.

Mr. McNulty: If the hon. Gentleman bears with me, I will touch on many of those policies and policy documents to which he refers.

As I was saying, I can give no undertaking at this stage about a call-in, and neither would the hon. Gentleman expect it, given my position. I can assure him, however, that the case will be looked at on its individual merits, and that very careful consideration will be given to the arguments for intervention that he has made today and in writing. I should make the point that in reaching our decision on call-in, we will look solely at the issues raised by the proposed development and not at its planning merits. It is not for us to judge whether planning permission should be granted, but only to decide whether that decision should be taken by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister rather than Tendring district council, which is, essentially, the call-in process.

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The hon. Gentleman underlines the importance of design in new development, and the Government are committed to encouraging good design. It is central to creating high-quality, sustainable places wherever new developments take place. It is central to delivering the vision set out in the urban White Paper, and is integral to the rural White Paper. Urban design is the art of making places for people. It is not just about making places visually attractive, important as that is, but is crucial to how places function, to maintaining and enhancing the vitality and viability of villages, towns and cities, to regenerating rundown areas, and to creating safer communities where people feel secure.

The planning system is a key means of delivering good design. Planning policy guidance note 1, "General Policy and Principles", sets out what is embraced by design and looks to all developments to uphold the principle of good design. It is policy to encourage good design and reject poor designs. That is underlined in more recent PPGs, and in particular in PPG 3 on housing. We expect local planning authorities to promote developments that bring together environmental, transport and planning best practice to create places with their own distinct identity and yet which are sympathetic to the local built environment. New development should help make places that are safe, attractive and of a quality that will endure. It should also be in sympathy with the character and setting of its surroundings.

Policy on design is supported by a number of good practice guides, and the hon. Gentleman alluded to some of them. "By Design", the companion guide to PPG 1, sets out the key principles of good urban design, how they might be applied and how to incorporate them into the planning and development process from the pre-application stage right through to the planning decision. "By Design" makes it clear that, as a matter of good practice, the fundamental design principles of a scheme should not be relegated for later consideration. They must be acceptable at the time that planning permission for the development is granted. "Better Places to Live", the companion guide to PPG 3, sets out the design principles and good practice that can secure quality in the design and layout of new residential environments, and it is equally important. "Places, Streets and Movement" emphasises the importance of designing new housing developments with people, and not just traffic, in mind.

Local planning authorities may have produced their own design guidance to aid applicants to bring forward development proposals, but they are expected to have regard to the more recent advice on design published by the Department and to ensure that this advice is reflected in any future revision of local design guidance that might be necessary.

In this case, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that an extant outline consent for development of the site to provide a mix of residential, leisure, marina and ancillary uses was also granted in 1994, with all matters reserved for subsequent approval. That permission was renewed in 1997, and I understand that an application for further

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renewal is also before the district council, although the article 14 direction, which I mentioned earlier and which has been served on the council, prevents it from determining that renewal application.

Local planning authorities are able to grant outline planning permission and reserve decisions on certain details until a later stage. Applications for approval of reserved matters—siting, design, external appearance, means of access and the landscaping of the site—effectively convert an outline into a full permission and must be approved before work can commence. Although design is a separate reserved matter, as is external appearance, it is important for local planning authorities to remember that urban design goes much wider than simply aesthetics. Siting, means of access and landscaping of the site all impact on the overall urban design.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is able to call in an application for approval of reserved matters, but I must emphasise that intervention at the reserved matter stage is likely only in wholly exceptional cases. It must relate solely to the reserved matters and cannot look to reopen issues concluded by the granting of the outline planning permission.

Mr. Jenkin: Given that the previous planning permission is up for renewal and that, if there were a public inquiry, it would consider the renewal of that planning permission, am I wrong to assume that, within the purview of that inquiry, it could conclude that the number of dwellings in previous planning permissions granted has been excessive?

Mr. McNulty: With the best will in the world and given that I have had this role for only four weeks, I shall certainly not speculate on the outcome of public inquiries that may or may not happen in the immediate future. I am not entirely sure whether the article 14 direction, which would prevent a determination of the renewal, would lump the application for renewal in with the initial application that is before my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on that, because I am not entirely sure of the answer and it would be wrong of me to suggest that I am. I shall not be going into the other elephant trap that has been set because I have been in this post for only four weeks.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on what is clearly an important issue in his constituency. At present, however, we are concentrating on examining the case for calling in the latest full application. His points, together with those made in the petition when it is presented, will—if they raise material planning matters—be taken into account together with all other material planning matters.

As I said, I have a personal knowledge of Brightlingsea; I like the town. I have not been there for ages but, given the comments about beach huts, I may be tempted to visit them as well as the hostelries.

Question put and agreed to.

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