Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
MP AND DR
THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2001
160. It might be said that the incentive was
set up the wrong way in retrospect?
(Mr Byers) My own view on Railtrack is I think the
way Railtrack was floatedand there is a very good Public
Accounts Committee report when the Chairman of the Public Accounts
Committee was the present Chairman of the Conservative Party,
and I urge Members to read it because it is very critical of the
way that Railtrack was floated and the poor deal the taxpayer
got from that. There are inherent flaws in the way Railtrack was
161. I think some of the discussion has slipped
a little bit away from what we ought to be concentrating on because
if we are interested in developing public transport is not the
question what levels of investment are going in. Perhaps the Secretary
of State could give particular regard to the Underground and some
comparison of what is going to happen over the next 15 years compared
with the previous 15 years.
(Mr Byers) I would be more than happy to provide the
Committee with that information. The plan is there will be some
£13 billion over the next 15 years. I have not got to hand
the comparison with the previous 15 years but I think he will
be aware that it is a significant increase on the amounts that
have been invested in the previous 15 years.
162. Do you have figures on the actual investment
which took place by Railtrack over the past few years?
(Mr Byers) I can provide those to the Committee as
Chairman: Perhaps you would let us have a paper
both on the Underground figures and the Railtrack figure.
163. Could you give a rough split between the
investment you expect to be direct from government and that which
you expect to come from the private sector?
(Mr Byers) As far as rail is concerned we expect some
£30 billion to come from the public sector and £34 billion
from the private sector.
164. You mention that you do not anticipate
that the Railtrack situation will have impacted on your ability
to raise finance or indeed the cost of finance, despite what one
reads about US investors' attitudes towards further participation.
Could you say what your target cost of capital will be and whether
you will be measured against that when you go into the market?
(Mr Byers) It will obviously vary situation to situation.
If I can give you one example of where we feel capital will be
available probably at a level which is going to be better than
it may have been under Railtrack. We are confident that the successor
body to Railtrack (because it will have its risks reduced and
because it will not be involved in the major enhancement projects,
and will simply be concentrating on operations, renewals and maintenance)
will be a less risky investment and therefore they are likely
to find that finance will be available at a better rate than would
have been the case as far as Railtrack was concerned. It will
vary from case to case and obviously on the return on investment.
165. Of that £34 billion, what sort of
proportion is that element you have just alluded to?
(Mr Byers) The Railtrack proportion or the successor?
(Mr Byers) I am not sure we can go into that sort
of detail here. That will be something for the successor to Railtrack
to discuss with the private sector. It is going to be a private
sector company and it would be wrong for me as Secretary of State
to try and say exactly what level of debt the new company might
want to be engaged in.
Chairman: Let us go on to the area of planning.
167. Planning is a DTLR responsibility now and
you have announced that there is going to be a review of planning
process and a Green Paper published. Can you tell us how you will
involve other government departments in that review, particularly
(Mr Byers) I think, Chairman, there are two separate
issues here. One is a Government Green Paper on planning which
we hope to publish in the next month or two. That will look at
planning in the round, as it were, and it will be the first time
that a comprehensive look has been taken at planning probably
since 1947. It will be an opportunity to look at the role that
planning can play in achieving two principal objectives; planning
as a lever to achieve social renewal and also as a means of economic
regeneration. That was the way in fact it was looked at by the
Attlee Government in 1945 when they did their big review in 1947.
We need to do something similar because we are not using planning
as effectively as we could, in my view. The Green Paper will be
a very extensive look at all aspects of planning and because it
is a Government Green Paper all government departments are involved
in the process so DEFRA are closely involved and they are commenting
on the various drafts we have had. Quite separately and in addition
to the Green Paper, there is there specific issue about the major
infrastructure projects. I guess Terminal Five at Heathrow
168. I would like to come on to that.
(Mr Byers) We are looking at that almost as a separate
aspect. There is the Green Paper on planning and running alongside
it to a certain extent is the document about the more consultation
we will need to have on the major infrastructure projects.
169. I would like to come onto the major infrastructure
projects in a moment but can we stay on the land use planning
issues. You said you are going to issue a Green Paper. You also
said in the memorandum that you gave to us that the consultation
period will last until Easter. You are also going to issue consultation
papers on Section 106 agreements and compulsory purchase compensation.
Can you give us any idea of the timescale of all this, we have
got a consultation until Easter, and when we might expect to see
the outcome. When we do see the outcome, are we going to have
a review of the whole planning system in the round so that we
do not get the Section 106 and compulsory purchase being treated
as separate side issues.
(Mr Byers) They are clearly not separate side issues,
they are a key part of the whole process.
170. I was interested that you were issuing
separate consultation papers.
(Mr Byers) The way I look at it is the Green Paper
is going to be the vision for planning, if I can put it that way,
it is big picture stuff and there will some individual proposals,
but we have got compulsory purchase and we have got Section 106
already there and they are quite discrete areas which do not necessarily
impact on the purpose of why you need planning and what planning
can achieve. People will be able to look at them together and
see the links between them but compulsory purchase in particular
is a quite a discrete area where there will probably be a different
constituency that will be looking at CPOs compared to the broader
planning issues and that is the reason why we pulled it out. Also
on Section 106 you are looking at an obligation being imposed
on people. There are issues there. If we look at affordable housing,
there is probably a different constituency as far as that is concerned
there as well. That is the reason why.
171. We were told at a previous hearing that
a planning Green Paper was likely to pop out sometime before Christmas.
Is that broadly correct or is there the possibility of some slippage?
As we have you here it is a good time to ask.
(Mr Byers) It depends on whether we feel it is ready
to go. There is a lot of work going on at the moment and I shall
be looking forward this weekend to reading what I hope might be
the final draft. If it is the final draft then it will be out
before Christmas. If as I read it there are improvements that
I would want to make which I then need to consult on with my colleagues
at DEFRA and elsewhere it may slip, but I am keen to get it out
172. It is probably but not definitely?
(Mr Byers) Whatever we do there will be at least a
three-month consultation period. That is the important thing
173. One of the areas in planning at the moment
that seems to be at fault is there does not seem to be sufficient
ability for the public to be consulted bar through the traditional
inspectorate route which is a very expensive exercise involving
barristers. One of the criticisms that has been made so far of
the proposals in the Green Paper that have slipped out in the
public domain is that there will be even less opportunity for
the public to have their say. Would you like to comment on that?
(Mr Byers) When people have the opportunity of seeing
the Green Paper they will recognise that that is not going to
be the case. To me what is very important about the planning process
is you have basically got to take people and communities with
you. We all know as constituency members that the most difficult
planning issues that one has to deal with are when people feel
that they have been ignored and they have not been able to voice
their concerns. You have to find a system which allows people
in their own way to articulate their concerns. What worries me,
and I say this as a lawyer, is that people at inquiries feel a
bit intimidated by the procedure and the process and do not feel
they can voice their concern as a local person affected by the
major planning decisions. We have got to a find a better way of
allowing people to have access to the process. I would like to
think that in the Green Paper we begin to flesh out some ideas
as to how that might be achieved. One of the reasons why it is
a Green Paper is that we do want to consult on this and we do
want people to suggest their own ideas about how we can involve
local people and communities more effectively than they are at
the moment. And it is a good opportunity to do it because the
thing that strikes me is that the point about planning is that
it is all to do with change, that is a truism, but people have
got to feel that they are partners in the changes that are going
an affecting their local neighbourhood and if they do not then
they will object, they will take action and it will be very difficult.
We have got to manage that process and I think by allowing people
to be involved is the best way of doing so.
174. One of the other criticisms of the planning
process as it exists at the moment is that it is very slow and
if you are going to involve the public more in the decision-making
process presumably it will slow it down even further.
(Mr Byers) I do not think it needs to. If there is
a clear timetable and people know the timetable and know certain
things have to happen by a certain date then it gives it a degree
of certainty, a degree of focus and local people will know exactly
what is going on. To go back to your first question, what you
have to do is make sure that local people are properly informed
and have all the relevant information available to them, and that
does not always happen at the present time.
175. In the memorandum you sent to us you said
that the Green Paper would be about process rather than about
policy. Your first answer seemed to indicate that this would be
a very broad Green Paper in its scope. How far will you be able
in that Green Paper to take account of sustainable development
and how that relates to planning policies?
(Mr Byers) I hope when you see the Green Paper that
you will recognise that sustainable development has been taken
into account. It is something of which I am very mindful and in
a sense it is very helpful we have had this evidence session just
a couple of days before I read the next draft of the Green Paper
because it will certainly be at the forefront of my mind when
I start reading it on Saturday.
176. Can I just echo the point Mr Gerrard has
made. On Monday I had an opportunity to visit the Duchy of the
Cornwall's project at Poundbury which I thought was excellent
and best practice in promoting both better town planning as well
as better built homes. I think there is too little in the current
planning process that promotes the environmental agenda. Can you
comment on how the new planning process will promote best practice
and produce environmentally more efficient homes and also in the
wider context of planning. One of the things that struck me at
Poundbury is the way that the streets are constructed in order
to mitigate the use of cars to allow people to walk to work, walk
to services. There seems to be a need for a much bigger picture
and a higher quality of design in local planning procedure which
I do not see evident at the moment.
(Mr Byers) I do not disagree with that. There are
two ways in which it might be addressed. One is to look at how
we develop the skills of planners. There is a real issue and I
know the Prince himself is concerned about how planners are trained.
That is an issue we will almost certainly want to address in the
Green Paper. And, secondly, is how you can promote best practice
and where things have been tried and have worked well, to make
sure that planners are aware of them. What always amazes me, Chairman,
if we look at the mistakes that were high-rise developments in
the 1960s, which very quickly we know, from experience in the
North East, within two or three years fell into disrepair, but
we were still building high-rise flats into the mid-1970s. We
have got to make sure that people learn from things that work
well and also mistakes that are made, and one of the things I
will certainly want to address in the Green Paper is how we can
learn from experience and build on best practice.
177. Can I turn now to the question of the large
infrastructure projects. I realise again you are going to issue
a consultation paper on some aspects of this. Can you give us
an outline view of what you propose?
(Mr Byers) The objective that we have set ourselves,
and we are in the major infrastructure projects only talking about
two or three projects a year that will fall into this categoryand
Heathrow Terminal Five I guess would be a good example of an application
that would fall into this particular headingon the one
hand there has to be a better way of conducting a planning inquiry
than was Heathrow Terminal Five just in terms of the time. The
public inquiry itself took four years. There were a number of
issues that were raised there, some of which were of direct concern
to local residents. We have got to make sure that whatever we
put in its place local people can still express their own concerns
and reservations. But the issue is whether or not matters of major
policy should also be determined at public inquiry or whether
we in Parliament should have an involvement in a particular policy
that might be there. For example, there was lots of discussion
in Terminal Five about the policy of developing airports in the
South East of England. And the issue is whether that could have
been determined by an elected body, Parliament in this particular
case, so we would determine the policy and then the issue would
be where that is to be located in the South East of England and
whether Heathrow would be a suitable location and then the details
of the actual application itself could still be a matter that
the inquiry could look at. We are still working on the precise
details which is why the consultation paper has not come out yet.
Part of it is looking at the Parliamentary procedures that could
be used because those who have been here for a while, although
there is not an obvious model, would think that is a good way
of dealing with it. Obviously I am talking to the Leader of the
House about what those Parliamentary procedures might be. The
consultation document, hopefully, will come out early in the New
Year when people can see the detail.
178. Would you expect that because these are
major projects that there would be an environmental assessment
as an integral part of any of those new procedures?
(Mr Byers) I would have thought, although it depends
on the nature of the application and the project, that would be
a matter that would certainly need to be considered.
179. At what stage? Is that the sort of thing
you would expect that to be available to Parliament who are being
asked to make decisions?
(Mr Byers) I would have thought Parliament would have
been reluctant to agree to something if they did not have that
sort of information available to them.