Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)|
MP AND DR
THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2001
180. You are obviously still thinking about
possible procedures but can you give us any hint as to what they
might be? I would not have thought this would be something that
would be appropriate for the whole House or would it be something
you would take to the whole House depending on the project?
(Mr Byers) As I said, these are matters we are discussing
at the moment with the Leader of the House. We are trying to identify
what an appropriate procedure would be. We have not arrived at
any conclusions yet, we are still thinking about it, and this
will be a significant part of the consultation document when it
181. You might envisage in that some role for
select committees such as this one?
(Mr Byers) There is a range of options which I know
the Leader of the House is considering.
182. What sort of information do you expect
Parliament to have access to? As you mentioned in the Heathrow
inquiry, in any inquiry of that size there is always going to
be a great deal of public interestNGOs who want to give
evidence maybe, protest groups who want to give evidence. Would
you envisage some access for people in that position to Parliament
or is that the sort of thing that might wait until we got down
to the more detailed stages?
(Mr Byers) There are a number of ways in which we
should be facilitating members of the public to express a view.
We need to keep up-to-date policy documents in this whole area
and perhaps we do not do that well enough at the moment. There
will be some wider issues that will need to be considered in relation
to a particular policy and they will be debated in Parliament
and I would hope, as we look at the options that are available
to us, that we would be looking at ways in which we could involve
not just members of the House but a wider grouping in consideration
of these matters, either by receiving written evidence or oral
evidence sessions. These are all things I certainly feel we need
to consider, but no decisions have been taken as yet.
183. On Terminal Five, you might not wish to
answer this, would it be fair to think it was a close call because
of the environmental concerns as to whether permission was given
(Mr Byers) It was a question of striking a balance
between what the Inspector referred to as the "clear economic
benefits" to the nation as a whole with the environmental
concerns of local people in particular. In my decision letter
I make it clear that it was that balance that was the key that
was at the heart of the decision.
184. Do you think that the possibility of a
third runway at Heathrow is the sort of thing that might come
within the new procedures that you are suggesting, or you having
made the decision on Terminal Five that Heathrow is going to be
expanded, that that would not come to Parliament?
(Mr Byers) As far as the decision on the planning
application for Terminal Five is concerned, I did not in the context
of my decision express a view one way or the other about a third
runway at Heathrow, which I guess is why you are asking me the
question. I think that issue is more appropriately dealt with
in the context of both the South East Review which is taking place
at the moment and also the Aviation White Paper which I hope to
be able to publish in the autumn of next year which will look
at the demand and need for an additional runway in the South East
of England, and that is something we will be looking at in that
context. In terms of major infrastructure projects we will need
primary legislation to introduce this change. As to whether or
not we have primary legislation through the Houseand who
knows when it will be and who knows whether the view is that there
does need to be an extra runway in the South East of Englandthat
is a decision that has not been taken yet.
185. I am trying to get a feel whether planning
applications such as that, an extra runway, is something you would
regard as big enough to fall within these new procedures in Parliament
or not. I appreciate that it will depend on timing on that specific
issue and whether legislation has gone through or not.
(Mr Byers) The likelihood is it would. I am always
advised that you have got to judge each particular case on its
merits, but I could certainly see a situation where a proposal
for an additional runway would be a major infrastructure project.
They may not all but I can certainly see a situation where they
186. Secretary of State, you mentioned the balance
you have to strike between the economic benefits and environmental
impact, and such decisions are frequently on your desk. Earlier
this year in the summer one of your most important decisions,
landmark decisions, was the decision in respect of the Hastings
bypass. I understand your primary reason there was because of
the environmental impact. Clearly I have a constituency interest
in that matter. I do not wish to go over old ground on that and
I welcome, so far as regeneration is concerned, the lead that
your Department has taken. Certainly your colleague Lord Falconer
is down there today. That is very welcome indeed. What I would
like to explore with you is this issue of the environmental impact
because there is a very clear issue, particularly in relation
to house building and indeed CO2 emissions from cars which are
static, which is a very real issue in East Sussex and also anywhere
else where there are similar implications. The fact of the matter
is that by not building any road at all land that was appropriate
for housing development remains inaccessible to planners and as
a result the housing quota that has been posed in East Sussex
means that if that quota is to be met that those houses will now
need to go into inappropriate areas of outstanding natural beauty,
flood plains or where there are not the services or they are going
to have to be scattered about willy-nilly and not planned for
in the way that can be seen at Poundbury, for example, where you
have a very environmentally sensitive development. I wonder if
you could tell the Committee to what extent housing played a part
in the decision that you made and, indeed, the CO2 emissions that
will come from stationary cars that will crawl around the area
now without a bypass?
(Mr Byers) On the specifics of the decision to do
with Hastings and the bypass schemes, it was one of the first
multi-modal studies that reported and was probably one of the
most difficult, but time will tell. With everything, it is a question
of balance and on looking at the detail of this, the question
was whether the two bypasses would lead to the economic regeneration
of Hastings town centre in particular and areas just outside Hastings,
and I had to balance that with the effect of building two bypasses
through areas of outstanding natural beauty. I looked very carefully
at the arguments for the economic regeneration, which I have to
say were not that strong. There is always a danger if you build
bypasses that you take things away from the town centre that you
may want to regenerate. The important thing given we have taken
the decision not to go ahead with the bypasses is not to walk
away from the regeneration needs of the area and we have to move
in and be very positive. As you say, Lord Falconer is visiting
Hastings today looking at a regeneration package for the area
that will really work. I know the decision took people by surprise
because people had assumed we would give the go-ahead to the bypasses
but, on balance, I thought it was so detrimental to the environment
that it should not go ahead. You only build a road once and you
destroy an area of outstanding natural beauty once by building
that road, and the judgment we took was that the benefits were
not that great and therefore it was the wrong decision to take.
In terms of house building and the consequences so far as residential
developments are concerned, it was not a major factor in the decision
but I think you are right to point that out and within the context
of how we look at these multi-modal studies we do look not just
at economic regeneration but we do look at other developments
like, for example, the provision of residential accommodation
and that is taken into account. In this context it was not a major
factor in arriving at the decision in relation to the two bypasses.
187. Would you not agree therefore, given that
the impact of the bypass is not only directly on the regeneration
of Hastings, and that is being addressed, but also you should
concern yourself with the housing quota for that part of the world
because there is a knock-on effect that by disallowing access
to an area behind Bexhill, houses are going to be pushed into
rural areas where they are inappropriate?
(Mr Byers) I think these are all areas which can be
taken into account in developing planning policy for those particular
areas, and I am certainly more than happy, in the light of the
comments which have been made by Mr Barker, to make sure within
the Department when we look at these matters we can take them
188. Now the responsibility for the sponsorship
of the RDAs has moved to the DTI, do you think the delivery of
regional regeneration policy will be made more difficult?
(Mr Byers) It should not be. Ironically, when I was
Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, I was a great advocate
for RDAs to move over to the DTI, and as they moved over I moved
across to this Department.
189. That is politics!
(Mr Byers) That is the nature of the job, you are
absolutely right. The important point is this, that the role of
RDAs has actually shifted, and rightly so, to be more concerned
about enterprise and innovation, whereas regeneration, which is
still the responsibility of my Department, is more focused on
infrastructural developments. There is a clear link between the
two but there was a danger I think that the RDAs became far too
focused about land use and land development and they ignored the
need to encourage enterprise and innovation. Given that is where
they are now positioned, then the Department of Trade & Industry
is their rightful home. It does not stop my Department though
being involved in regeneration and renewal, almost laying the
foundations upon which you can then build on enterprise and innovation.
I do not think there is a problem between the two.
190. Presumably there are meetings between the
two Departments to ensure what you have explained actually happens
(Mr Byers) Yes, many.
(Dr Whitehead) Could I add that there is very much
an integrated process between the development of regional planning
guidance, the role of the RDAs in commenting on that before it
is brought to fruition, the role of DEFRA in consulting and looking
at that, and therefore integrating that planning guidance before
it finally is decided and signed off by the Secretary of State.
So that close link in the process, it seems to me, remains regardless
of, as it were, where the RDAs are sited as far as their parent
department is concerned.
191. How are you getting on with the White Paper
on Regional Governance? Bearing in mind the comments of Lord Falconer
only a few days ago, what implication will that have for the existing
shire county councils, for their powers or indeed for their existence
at all in the future?
(Mr Byers) It should not really make any difference
at all in the sense that the issue will be one for determination
by the people living within a particular region. The White Paper
will come out in due course and it is being worked on by the Deputy
Prime Minister and myself at the moment, and some decisions still
have to be taken, but I can reassure the hon gentleman that it
is not the intention of the White Paper to go for the abolition
of the county councils. It will be down to local people to decide
if they want to embrace elected regional assemblies. I think in
many parts of the country we all know that is something which
probably is not going to be an option which people want to pursue.
192. In putting this White Paper together, is
sustainable development of the environment a golden thread which
is running through the discussions which are taking place?
(Mr Byers) We are certainly, in the context of looking
at the functions and responsibilities of an elected regional tier,
looking very closely at the whole environmental sustainable development
193. Is the suggestion that if people do want
to vote for elected regional assemblies, through regional referenda,
that that will automatically imply that county councils go, or
is the suggestion they will be able to retain multiple tiers?
Is it a binary choice in that sense or not?
(Mr Byers) What our manifesto said at the general
election was that we would expect the elected regional government
to be established where there is predominantly unitary authorities,
and as you will be aware unitary could be the county level. But
those are matters which will need to be considered by local people
and they will have the final say.
194. From what you are saying, there will be
no abolition of any county council without a vote?
(Mr Byers) That is true.
195. For clarity, that is the vote of the people
concerned? For example, in the south east obviously the population
of London would swamp East Sussex, so if people outside East Sussex
voted for regional government but people in East Sussex wanted
to keep East Sussex County Council, what would be the outcome
(Mr Byers) London would not be part of that vote because
196. All right then, Greater London going up
(Mr Byers) I have to say in all honesty the demand
for regional government in the south east of England has passed
me by, so I do not think it is going to be much of an issue, quite
Mr Barker: I am relieved to hear that!
197. Turning to the Spending Review for 2002,
Michael Meacher when he came to this Committee said he had been
dissatisfied with the extent to which sustainable development
and the environment had been taken account of in the last annual
review. How are you improving that this time?
(Mr Byers) I think it has been helpful that the Treasury
has indicated they want sustainable development to be at the heart
of the spending review, and they have made that very clear. Certainly,
as you will know, Chairman, from your days in Government, when
you get a strong hint from the Treasury that might be a door which
is half ajar and it might be helpful in terms of getting a good
settlement, it is one you push on very hard. The Treasury have
indicated that. I am aware of the concerns last time round and
I think I gave evidence to this Committee with my old responsibilities
and I accepted, as Michael Meacher has done, that not enough attention
was paid to it, and I think we have reflected on that and learnt
198. Anything in particular you can instance
as a way you have improved on that?
(Mr Byers) In my own view in terms of areas we will
be approaching the Treasury on, obviously housing is an area where
we will be looking very closely at sustainable development being
199. Housing targets, you mean?
(Mr Byers) Housing targets. There are some specific
issues in relation to transport where we will want to talk to
the Treasury about how we can build more sustainable development
ideas into what we are putting forward.
(Dr Whitehead) Would it be helpful, Chairman, if I
indicated the process by which the Department would be looking
at the bids for SR2002?