Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
QC, MR MIKE
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
1. Good morning, my Lord. I wonder if you would
be kind enough to introduce your team?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) On the far left is Christopher
Bowden, who is responsible for drafting the major infrastructure
projects document that was produced on Monday. Mr Mike Ash is
the acting head of the planning directorate in the DTLR and Mr
Jeff Channing is the principal draftsman of the main Green Paper
produced in the course of last week.
2. And you are?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Lord Falconer.
3. Did your Lordship wish to give us a small
homily before we begin on the discussion of this highly focused
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not wish to make
any opening remarks.
4. The power for residents to ask questions
of the local authority at a local plan inquiry is central to giving
legitimacy to the final plan. It is also a more powerful mechanism
of community engagement than anything offered in the Green Paper.
Why do you want to abolish it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could you repeat the question?
5. Residents absolutely rely on their ability
to ask questions about a local plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are not for one moment
suggesting in the Green paper to reduce community involvement
in the local development plan framework. Far from it. We are seeking
to increase community involvement. We are seeking to ensure that
the community has a proper voice in the development of those frameworks.
We seek to do that in a number of ways. For example, the plan
itself has to indicate how the community will be involved. We
want to beef up measures by which they can get proper representation
but above all we make the process less complicated and more accessible.
6. Why do you think it is less complicated?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because what you aim to
do is produce a plan on a regular basis. Currently in some cases
it has been so complicated a process that no plan has been produced
at all by 40 local authorities areas.
7. Why do you think they are going to support
something they cannot see very clearly reflects their views?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It may or may not reflect
their views. What they have to see is a process whereby their
voice can be heard and it will reflect to some extent what is
said in that process.
8. Paragraph 4.26 says: "Under the present
system everyone has the right to make objections to draft local
plans and for these to be heard ... Unfortunately this approach
often proves time consuming and adversarial." Does it not
occur to you that the reason it gives that impression is that
people have different views and like to express them?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed they do and we
are not for one moment seeking to prevent those views being expressed.
One aspect of local plans at the moment, for example, is large,
commercial interests taking part in the development of the local
development plan because they either wish to promote or object
to a particular use of a particular site. What the resident is
then confronted with is therefore a quite strongly legal driven
process. That in many cases is not conducive to the views of the
community actually being heard. What we would try to do is to
reduce the legal driven nature of the process and increase the
accessibility of the community to affecting what goes in the local
9. Why do you need such a major change to deliver
your objectives? People thought the objectives were already there.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is one aspect of
a whole series of changes. The essential problem with the planning
system at the moment is it is very complicated. There are huge
numbers of things you have to look at before you know whether
or not, for example, planning permission would be given. That
comes from a many layered system which has lots and lots of guidance
at each layer. The essential, underlying purpose of many of the
changes is to reduce the amount of guidance at each level and
reduce the number of layers because you make it simple.
10. Who are you basically trying to assist,
because you speak frequently in the document of businesses and
the complicated system that they face. There is very little emphasis
on the rights of individual people.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is
fair. We are trying to assist the community which includes business.
What we seek to do is to make the system responsive to the community.
That will include developers, including commercial developers.
They, just like the rest of the community, are entitled to their
applications being heard, being dealt with within a reasonable
time and being dealt with on a consistent and clear basis.
11. Where is your evidence that they have suffered
so disastrously from the existing system. Does it not seem to
you that they are better equipped to deal with it than the ordinary
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In many cases, the interests
of business do make it hard for communities to express their views.
For example, the example I gave earlier on in the conversation
about where you are having a public inquiry into a local development
plan under the existing system. That very frequently gets quite
dominated by commercial interests.
12. You have already said that you do not want
to change the principle of a plan led system.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Correct.
13. How do you have a plan led system where
there is no overall plan at local level?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You will have an overall
plan at local level. You will have the local development framework.
We have a plan led system at the moment. That in principle is
a good thing but a plan led system does not work if first of all
there is not a plan at all, which is the position in relation
to 13 per cent of local authority areas, and secondly it does
not work well when you cannot rely on the plan either to be up
to date or consistent with other layers of planning guidance.
In order to address those two problemsnamely, there are
a number of areas where there is no plan at all because the local
plan process has not produced one and the out of date aspectwe
say simplify the plan. Make it easier to keep up to date; reduce
the number of layers.
14. The whole emphasis is on simplification?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Simplification is a very
important emphasis, yes.
15. Some people have said that by simplifying
in that way what you may do is create a developers' charter because
instead of applying for permission where there is clearly designated
use for land in future developers will be applying for planning
permission where there is no designated use and it will be up
to that application to be determined in a vacuum.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, you have
the local development framework.
16. If the framework is going to give an indication
as to what the land is going to be used for, you are back to a
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local development
framework will set out the principles. They will apply right across
the district. Where there is expected to be an area of change,
the local authority as the Green Paper makes clear can have a
detailed action plan. In the drawing up of that action plan, it
can if it is appropriate be site specific. The difference between
the new system and the old system would be, under the new system,
you would only need to address the site specific issues where
it really mattered. You would not have to address them in areas
where simple principles would be sufficient.
17. There are going to be some areas therefore
where planning applications go in with this new, simple framework
and where developers will be making an application with no predetermined
idea as to what that land can be used for. The decision will be
taken purely on that application.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be made on the
basis of the principles which will not be site specific. It will
not be as detailed as the existing local authority development
plan. There will be these principles and the planning application
made subsequently will be decided on the basis of those principles.
18. How will you manage to perform the sequential
test on housing where much of an area will not be designated for
one thing or another?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The document makes clear
that in relation to the local district area there will have to
be a distribution of housing. There will have to be a plan that
says where in the area housing will take place. That is just one
aspect of what we are doing. Housing is very important.
19. You will have to have a similar document
therefore for shopping because a sequential test for out of town
shopping centres will apply too.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there is to be an application
in relation to an out of town shopping centre, a sequential test
would have to be performed by the developer, which happens at
the moment. The local authority will have to look at it. The difference
between the future and now is what you do not have to do in the
future is go through every part of the district and make a decision
as to how each part of the district is going to be developed.
It is that, among other things, which causes great delay and causes
a process whereby not only you do not have plans for certain areas
but you do not have up to date ones in very many areas where you
do have plans.