Letter from Transport 2000 to the Clerk of the Committee
Transport 2000 is an environmental campaign and research group which seeks more sustainable transport policies. We and our affiliates and local groups have been involved in opposing various trunk road schemes and to a lesser extent airport and port expansion. We have also however supported some rail and light rail schemes and railfreight terminals.
We are very concerned about the Government's proposals. We do not believe that decisions on such projects should be removed from the Town and Country Planning system, and some forms of development, notably trunk road schemes which for historical reasons are outside the Town and Country Planning Acts, should be brought within them. This should be the direction of reform, whereas the Government consultation paper proposals would have the effect of distancing infrastructure projects from it and thus undermining sound land-use and transport planning.
We do however support the principle of national policy statements as a background to public inquiries reporting to the Secretary of State with responsibility for planning decisions (in some cases reports are submitted to two Secretaries of State acting jointly).We would like to see effective Parliamentary scrutiny of such statements, as we suggest in our consultation response. In relation to the questions raised in your press notice of 5 February, our concerns include:
The possible use of whipped votes with no serious discussion or probing of either the need for a project or of the case for and against it. Were the Government's proposals to proceedand we are opposed to the whole principlewe would want at least a proper scrutiny committee, with proper technical and specialist advice, to probe with the Government's policy statements and the case for and against the particular project. This committee should be able to recommend to Parliament that it reject, and Parliament should have the power to reject, the Secretary of State's decision to designate a proposed development as a major infrastructure project. We would however support greater Parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements.
The effective removal of objectors' rights to be heard and to question the need for a scheme or project. This would seem to be contrary to natural justice and potentially the Human Rights Act. It is often argued that other countries do not have such rights and that infrastructure projects are thereby speedier; our response to the consultation shows that in countries with similar democratic systems and levels of local interest in and concern for the environment this is not so. If the Government's proposals are enacted, we would want to see a procedure which minimised confrontation and the use of lawyers and maximised opportunities and support for members of the public to be heard.
A Parliamentary decision on the location as well as the principle of the project would pre-empt even more rights by local people to be heard and to object to the principle of such a development. Yet without at least some idea of location, the potential impacts of a project and hence the balance of argument would be difficult to determine. The boundaries between detail and principle are extremely unclearthat is why planning inquiries are best placed to deal with projects in the round.
The consultation document's list of possible projects to be covered by the new procedure suggests a large new extra burden on Parliament. We understand that this list may not be exhaustive. A recent report for the DTLR on reforming the Transport and Works Act by the consultants MVA and Parliamentary Agents Rees and Freers suggests extending the principle of Parliamentary approval to railway and tramway projects of regional importance, which would be likely to bring us back to the pre-TWA situation when Parliament found it was being inundated with time-consuming Private Bills for tramway and other infrastructure projects.
The past history of controversial road schemes being brought before Parliament for approval, or being taken through Parliamentary procedures for particular legal reasons, has not been a happy one. These cases need to be researched and studied to learn the lessons and to see whether a future Parliamentary procedure could command more public confidence. We are aware of four in recent years: A20 Folkestone-Court Wood (in Channel Tunnel Act 1986); Lyndhurst Bypass (New Forest); A30 Okehampton Bypass; Edinburgh Western Relief Road. Of these only the Lyndhurst Bypass was considered by those involved to have been at all satisfactorily handled in Parliament.
28 March 2002