Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
QC, MR MIKE
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
160. Why not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know why not.
Local authorities have been very `unkeen' to use them. I have
been told that in the few cases where they have used Simplified
Planning Zones, the development of the Simplified Planning Zone
has not been particularly sustainable, but the difference between
a Simplified Planning Zone on the one hand and the Business Planning
Zone on the other is the Business Planning Zone, unlike the Simplified
Planning Zone, will have tight criteria about such things as quality,
nature of development, precise location and development, et cetera.
161. So who decides whether those criteria are
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local authority.
162. So actually they are back there, are they
not, because they are planning by the back door because when you
come along and say, "Am I to do this?", you actually
have to say, "Yes, but is it within the criteria that the
local authority has laid down?"
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The way it will work is
that if the criteria are satisfied, the development can go ahead.
There would have to be some notification procedure, but instead
of having to wait for a yes, the local authority only intervenes
when they think the criteria are not satisfied.
163. Why do you want these Business Planning
Zones? Your own paper tells us that in fact there is not the evidence
from the case studies that business has been hampered by the planning
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, when you speak to
business, they say that they have been considerably hampered in
many cases by the process slowing things down.
164. Yes, they talk about it, but your case
studies do not show it, do they?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which particular case
studies are you referring to?
165. The ones that you referred to on page ES4.4,
the Report on Planning for Clusters, I am now told.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am sorry, I have not
got that one.
166. Anyway, it is your document, so you collected
the evidence. I continually hear complaints on behalf of industry
saying, "Yes, the system is cumbersome", but you actually
did some case studies and you did not find that evidence from
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot say that I have
read the particular document you are referring to.
167. Where is your evidence other than hearsay
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a widespread perception.
168. Which may well be untrue, may it not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, it is repeated so
169. Well, why not look for some evidence for
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, as far as the particular
issue about, "Do people think the planning system takes too
long to come to conclusions?", there is a widespread view
that people do think that. If one simply looks and sees how long
decisions take, they do take a long time.
170. If we look at this problem, in fact I think
it was in 1991, about 5.1 per cent of planning applications ended
up going to appeal. We are now down to 2.7. Is that not really
quite a substantial achievement because there is much more certainty
in the planning system so that on the whole people know where
they stand. It is not a really large number that are going to
appeal, is it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I am not sure the
extent to which the number of appeals indicates the extent to
which the planning system is producing results within a reasonable
time and with a reasonable degree of certainty.
171. How long does a planning application now
take if it is not contested?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will vary from local
authority to local authority. I cannot tell you how long it takes.
It is a very, very variable figure. You will know, because the
figures are published in the Green Paper, about how many meet
the eight week target and how many do not.
172. Yes. It has been improving, the figure,
you have been pressing Best Value to make it better.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It has been improving
to some extent but, overall, authorities are remorselessly not
meeting the targets.
We have changed the targets now to draw a distinction between
domestic applications and commercial or industrial ones.
173. Unfortunately I speak from experience of
the very long delays I have personally had of the planning system.
If we abolish the current planning system and replace it with
an emphasis on co-ordination with the local community strategy,
how is the Government going to be able to enforce its own planning
policies? So, if you take PPG3 on housing, for example.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes?
174. How would that actually be enforced by
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Like it is at the present
time, by call ins and recovering appeals so in effect ministers
at national level taking decisions where they believe that a local
authority is about to take a decision that is inconsistent with
the national planning policy. The problem about that is though
the delays which infect the local authority end of the application
system also infect the national end of the planning system. As
well as improving the process by which decisions are based at
local authority level, we need, also, to improve the system at
central Government level as well. That is what we have said in
the green paper.
175. Given that response, I wondered what you
thought of the experiment in Wales in the 1990s when they cut
back on the national level planning virtually to the bone. They
are now in the process of reinstating that. There has been a lot
of criticism of that policy. Is that essentially what is going
to be repeated in England?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I do not think the
number of cases that are called in is remotely at fault and I
think you do need it to be clear that national government will
intervene where appropriate to ensure that which is dealt with
at national level is actually enforced. So, for example, if you
did not have the ability to call in, taking your example, PPG3,
I do not think we would be able, as effectively, to enforce the
brown field policy in relation to the development of housing.
No, I do not envisage us cutting back on the number of cases we
call in, because we will continue to call in to enforce national
policy but what I do envisage is us dealing with the cases that
we do call in more efficiently.
176. In the report, paragraph 6.19 to 6.22,
it refers to the third party right of appeal.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
177. If you reject the third party right of
appeal how do you plan to address the present abuse where local
authorities grant planning permission for itself? How are you
going to address that kind of problem?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you look at the document,
we have considered very carefully whether or not we should give
a third party right of appeal in those cases where a local authority
grants planning permission to itself. We look to that in detail.
There are about 5,000 cases in a year where they have got an interest
in land. Many of those applications are of a community nature,
regeneration projects or such. If we gave a right of appeal in
those cases, what you would end up with would be community applications
very frequently subject to a much slower track planning process
than you would have for everybody else, for the private developer.
How do you deal with the problem? Well, if and in so far as it
is a departure from the local plan, where the local authority
is giving itself planning permission, that is something which
would have to be reported in any event under ordinary existing
rules about referrals to the Secretary of State and he could decide
whether or not to call in. It is those cases where the local authority
is giving itself planning permission departing from the local
plan. Those are the cases where perhaps, as a minister, one would
be particularly vigilant to see whether or not that is one which
should be called in.
178. Who refers it to the Secretary of State?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A permission a local authority
is about to grant, which is a departure from a local plan, has
to be referred to the Secretary of State so he can decide whether
or not he should call in.
179. In future there will be lots of areas where
there is not a local action plan to depart from?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is the departure cases
where there are difficulties.
1 Note by witness: The improvements are very small. Back