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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780-786)



Chris Grayling

  780. Can I ask you what your view is on how applications by local authorities should be handled, what should the process be?
  (Ms Essex) We have put two options within our paper, but we are open-minded; one, we have suggested, could be a call-in. I am not generally in favour of having more call-ins, because I think it should be with local authorities, but, in the case of local authority development, there is the issue of transparency of decision, so we have suggested two ways there, but there may well be other ways in which, if you like, that more independent view could be given.

  781. And what about the issue of third party rights of appeal, do you think that should exist for communities when their authorities, particularly, are making application?
  (Ms Essex) If we have some form of independent hearing, clearly, say, if it is some form of inquiry, third parties can make their views known at that.

  782. But there would be simply a one-off hearing, so it is an application through an independent tribunal with no appeal?
  (Ms Essex) Once the decision is made, whether it is a call-in or an inquiry, no, there would not be an appeal against that.


  783. Can I ask you, finally, on the question of resources, some research that we were shown, as far as England was concerned, was the suggestion that the planning system was about 37 per cent underfunded. Is it underfunded in Wales?
  (Ms Essex) I think there is a question of capacity, which is about skills and financial resources too. I think, with all the other pressures on local government, particularly issues of best value, etc., perhaps planners have been moved away from the traditional planning job into other areas of work. I think one of the key things we will have to work on, whatever comes out of the consultation, is to increase the capacity, particularly within local government, to deliver a service that the public have confidence in; now that may well take extra resources, but what it will also mean is ensuring a quality of decision-making. So it is not just about numbers, it is about a quality of decision, proper training, proper respect, if you like, for the planning system, because it is extremely important, both in delivering change but certainly in delivering sustainable development, in Wales. And that is what we will be looking at with local government over the next few months. And, as I have mentioned, we do have policy agreements in other areas, which we feel does help delivery, and it may well be that we could apply those across further into the planning system.

  784. So you think you can find the money that is necessary to make the system work efficiently?
  (Ms Essex) I think we will have to find the resources, because we do need a system that delivers. This is about delivering, and that is where, if we want confidence and if we want quality development, and I strengthen the word "quality", quality that means that people everywhere feel confident in that, quality and the design, in the environmental quality of it too, and if we want regeneration in parts of Wales, where it is desperately needed, we will have to have a system that delivers and delivers a good job.

  785. I understand, in a sense, the argument that you have to have it, but how are you going to achieve it?
  (Ms Essex) As I said, we will address the issue of resources, we are prepared to do that, we have done that in other areas. But it is about a skills base too, it is about a capacity and it is about protecting—

  786. What are you doing about the skills base then?
  (Ms Essex) We are looking at training mechanisms with Members and putting that in place, it is about supporting planning education, making sure that we consider that important, we have a very good planning school in Cardiff, we know we have got good planning schools elsewhere. It is about protecting those positions within local authorities, so we say that they are important, other jobs within local authorities are important, but planning is important, that is one of the messages that has come back from, whether it is, if you like, an environmental organisation or business, is their worry about the capacity of local government to deliver, and that is what we will need to make sure is there.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.


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