Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Can you give us a worst case scenario?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I think it would be unhelpful for me to start speculating about time.

  41. So the Dome could still be unsold in 12 months' time?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As I say, I think it would be unhelpful for me to give an estimate of time.

  42. How confident are you that you are going to secure the aim of a sale consistent with all the other things you have talked about?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are working as hard as we can towards it and I think we will just have to wait and see how the negotiations go on.

Mrs Dunwoody

  43. I am ever so glad that we have this new clarity!  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As I said at the outset to Mr Grayling's questions, I am not keen to, in a sense, throw light on the detail of the negotiations because I think it is unhelpful to the negotiations.

Mr Grayling

  44. That we appreciate. It is merely that the Committee is seeking your reassurance that, after a goodly period when not an awful lot has happened and with the number of false starts in the disposal, there is some light at the end of the tunnel because otherwise the cost of maintaining the Dome is taken out of the public purse.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think the right course is just to get on with the negotiations. These are complicated and difficult negotiations. It is quite a wide-ranging series of aspects to deal with and I think the right course is just to get on with those and not to, as it were, seek to give indications of how they are going at a particular time.


  45. It was a very contaminated site, was it not?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It was.

  46. It was decontaminated and fit for the purpose; do you envisage that there might have to be any further work on decontamination if it was put to other use?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that there will need to be further decontamination but the precise answer to that will depend upon the particular uses in particular places in the North Greenwich Peninsula.

  47. Do you envisage English Partnerships being wound up now?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not envisage English Partnerships being wound up. I envisage a long-term future for English Partnerships.

  48. They have fought off any possibility that they would be merged into regional development agencies.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) When the land and property portfolios were given to the various regional development agencies, it was always recognised that there was a place for a national regeneration agency, English Partnerships. I think there is still such a place for a national regeneration agency and that is why we have started a review of what English Partnerships' role should be, as you know.

  49. Can I bring you back into the planning issue. You were saying very firmly that you did not want a great deal of detail in the local plans.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  50. If you took your PPG25 which this Committee rather approved of, development in the flood risk, that has 60 pages of small type. That is in fair detail in its proposals.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. It is incredibly difficult in relation to particular areas to identify precisely what level of detail there should be. PPG25 may well have been appropriate for there to be that level of detail. The principle that I am seeking to enunciate in relation to local development plans is that they should have a much lesser level of detail than they have at the moment and, in particular, picking up Clive Betts's point, they should not be as site specific as they are at the present time. Precisely what the right level of detail in a particular place is will have to be worked out in the particular place, it seems to me.

Mr Cummings

  51. The Committee have been informed that you complained repeatedly that some local authorities have failed to implement the mandatory requirement to introduce the authority-wide local plans and this is some 10 years after legislation was passed.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there are something like 40 local authorities that do not have a local development plan when the requirement came into effect on them in about 1992. When you say "complain", my complaint is very frequently not against the local authority but just that the system is such that it can take that long.

  52. Will the major legislative changes that you propose not take a considerable amount of time to implement?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will and one cannot be sure as to when one would be able to implement primary legislation because I do not know when we will get a slot in relation to it, but that does not mean that one should not have as one's goal a much simpler process which is shorter and less complicated in producing local development plans because if you do not seek to change the system which has led to 10 years going by and 40 local authorities still not having a local development plan, you just go on forever with the problem.

  53. How would you avoid significant transitional problems?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have to be clear, once the consultation on the Green Paper has taken place, as to what—

  54. Will you be clear?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We will be clear as to what we want local authorities to do in the transitional period. For example, would we want local authorities to continue to try to update the old style local development plan or would we wish them to start to try to put in place a new style simpler development plan which is less complicated and which is likely to be more helpful because there will not be all those questions about whether it contradicts national or regional policy guidance.


  55. Can we be clear on the timetable for this. You are publishing a paper before Christmas, you want consultation in May/June?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we want to do is to be in a position to make announcements about what conclusions we reach on reform of the planning system at such a date that we would be able, if we got a slot in the legislative programme, to legislate in the legislative session that starts in about November 2002. That means that we need to be reaching conclusions in late spring/early summer of 2002, so it is quite a short consultation period.

  56. So you would hope for legislation in 2002—you only hope, I understand that—and that would then mean that the earliest you could bring in the new system would be 12 months later.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Absolutely right.

  57. Is that what you want to do?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is what I would like to do if it were possible and whether it were possible would depend upon the time of the legislation and also advice that we would need to get on precisely when you could implement it. John Cummings's point was, "What do you do in the meantime?" and "We need detailed arrangements about what you do in the meantime." You can do quite a lot in the meantime by guidance about, for example, what sort of development plans should local authorities produce if, for example, there is legislation going through the House which makes it quite clear that a different sort of local development plan is required.

  58. But actual individual applications would be dealt with under the old system if they started, so they might be running on for about three years after the date that the new legislation came into operation.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Most of the changes that we are talking about are systems changes, not policy changes. So if, for example, what you are trying to do is speed up the process, have consultation by developers with communities before they actually make applications, improve the quality or introduce some sort of timetable, that sort of thing, there is no reason why those sorts of system changes should not be taking place before legislation takes place.

  59. Those are almost good practice ...  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are.

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