Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800-819)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, BRIAN HACKLAND, MIKE ASH AND JEFF CHANNING
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
800. Is your team able to help us at all?
(Mr Ash) I was going to add only that the key point is greater clarity about what the policy is, with greater flexibility as regards local authorities taking account of what is guidance, which they can follow or not and they have a choice over. So it is a matter of, I am not going to hazard a guess, indeed, I do not deal with it so I do not know what the length of this particular document was likely to be, but the key focus of the policy change has got to be getting clarity about what is policy which should be followed.
801. I understand the principle, but I just want to be clear as to whether we are going to get very bland statements in PPGs in future, and then all of it is going to lie at a lower level of guidance?
(Mr Hackland) Can I help on the specific of PPG17. My understanding is, the current length is nearer to 15 than three, if the specific answer helps you.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
802. Minister, you said in your opening remarks that you will be making a policy statement before the recess. I am not asking what will be in the policy statement, can I ask what it will cover?
(Lord Falconer) It will cover the main issues in relation to planning, covered by the suite of papers published with the Green Paper, and that would be, in principle, the development plan process, the development control process, compulsory purchase, tariffs and major infrastructure projects.
803. But we have had witnesses here who have advised that they consider that the proposals in the Green Paper are vague; and, after the policy statement, will there be another round of consultations on the statement?
(Lord Falconer) The fundamental basis of the Planning Green Paper documents is that the planning system needs fundamental change, and that means looking at the whole of the planning system, rather than looking at bits of it. We were very keen to ensure that there was a proper debate about what changes should take place, therefore the balance that was sought to be struck in the documents was between providing enough proposals for people to bite on, but at the same time not being too prescriptive, because the detail of this, we believe, is incredibly important. There will be things, even after July, that will require further consultation, and we will make that clear in the policy statement that comes in July.
804. Were you sort of saying a White Paper, or not?
(Lord Falconer) No. I did "Whi..." and then changed to "policy statement." But the approach to having a Green Paper then policy statement was one that was used, as I think you know, Chairman, in the housing area, before the last election, where a Green Paper was produced and then a detailed policy statement was produced. The reason we are doing it that way is so that there is clarity about precisely where we have got to at each stage, because, in the planning system, certainty, people knowing there they stand, what the process involves, is very important.
805. So will there be a White Paper between that policy statement and the publication of a draft piece of legislation?
(Lord Falconer) No, there will not, there will be a policy statement, that will indicate whether or not further consultation is required and what it is about, and then the next stage, subject, obviously, to timing, will be legislation.
806. Would it be possible to give us a note on the proposals which will require changes in the legislation? I do not expect you to give them now, but would it be possible to give the Committee a note?
(Lord Falconer) Of course, yes. I think, in principle, the ones that would require change would be about development planning, if we are introducing a Local Development Framework, making a Regional Spatial Strategy statutory, that is one that would require statutory change, as with the abolition of the structure plans. I think also major infrastructure projects would require legislation, as would tariffs. But there are some other things as well; so can I write to the Chairman with that.
807. Can you advise, will there be a timetable for implementation, in terms of the legislation and other measures being considered; will there be a timetable involved?
(Lord Falconer) There will plainly be a timetable involved at some stage. I would envisage broadly the earliest that you could get the legislation to be obtained, obviously, would be in the session `02-`03. If, and it is a big if, legislation was obtained during that session, the earliest that that could commence, that legislation, would be the beginning of 2004, so legislative change would not come into effect before 2004, and even when legislative change was implemented there would need to be a period of transition, when one moved, for example, from current development plans to Local Development Frameworks and Regional Spatial Strategies.
808. Finally, on the question of the timetable, how long would it take to complete the review of the planning policy guidance notes?
(Lord Falconer) We have indicated, in the Planning Green Paper, that it would take two years to deal with some of them, not all of them; it is quite a long process. We would envisage doing, I think it is, four or five in the first two years, but could Jeff deal with the detail of that.
(Mr Channing) As the Minister says, we set out the proposals, the priorities, for review in the Green Paper, and we have a timetable for reviewing the other ones; and I think the easiest way
809. What is the timetable?
(Mr Channing) The easiest way, I think, would be if we sent it to the Committee.
810. Is PPG17 a sort of model of your rapid response to these revisions?
(Mr Channing) It is a forerunner of where we are going, yes.
811. How long has it taken so far?
(Mr Channing) We issued a consultation version in the middle of last year, and I think we waited then for the Select Committee's response, towards the end of last year, before starting off on it.
812. Ah, yes, blame us. When do you hope to complete it?
(Mr Channing) I hope, by the summer.
813. Would you see this as a candidate for draft legislative scrutiny, this Bill; it seems to be a perfect candidate?
(Lord Falconer) Subject to this, I think it is quite important to keep the momentum of change going. It is difficult in something like the planning system to float the idea of change and then to have long pauses between each stage of it.
814. Presumably, it depends whether you get it into next year's programme or not, does it not; if it does get into next year's programme then there is a very good chance of having pre-legislative scrutiny?
(Lord Falconer) That is a matter for the business managers; obviously, that is right. If it gets into next year's programme then, in answer to Helen's question, there would not be time for pre-legislative scrutiny; if it does not then there would.
815. Picking up on one point there, you said, in going to the policy document, that there might then be details filled out in that which are just there in outline form in the Green Paper; is there not going to be time for more consultation on those details, which have not been consulted on, as part of your work so far, because they simply are not there and are not fleshed out?
(Lord Falconer) Yes, there would need to be time, there would need to be further consultation. Let me give two examples where there would need to be further consultation. First of all, on the detail of the parliamentary procedure, in relation to major infrastructure projects, there will not be, I anticipate, a detailed parliamentary procedure available by the end of July, because there will need to be very considerable discussion with both Houses of Parliament and the House authorities as to what the appropriate procedure would be. But that would not necessarily prevent a decision in principle being made as to whether or not it is right to proceed with that aspect of the major infrastructure projects. Another example is tariffs; you can have various methods of calculating tariff. I think we need to consult in detail on the various methods by which you calculate the tariff and went ahead with the tariff system, and again I think the detail of that would need to follow July. But I think that would not prevent decisions being made, in principle, by the summer recess.
816. All our experience teaches us that when there is a radical change to a system, to procedures, things nearly always get worse before they get better; how are you going to avoid that?
(Lord Falconer) That, I think, is why the transitional arrangements have to be absolutely clear. People need to know at each stage what is required of them, and there needs to be detailed guidance about how, for example, a local authority would move from a local development plan, or a unitary development plan, to a Local Development Framework. Of course, we are not going to get rid of all of the glitches that come from change, but ultimately a question has to be asked, do you think, because of the problems of change, you should not try change, or do you think the benefits you get from change are worth the inevitable areas of disruption that you will suffer during the process of change; and, at the moment, we believe that the risk of change is outweighed by the benefits we think we can obtain.
817. There is an awful lot of information around in most planning authorities, given that most have done their UDPs. Is most of that simply going to be thrown away and discarded once the new system comes out?
(Lord Falconer) No. Very many of the things that have been done in existing UDPs would still be of very considerable value in a Local Development Framework. For example, the core policies in Part 1 of a UDP would be of real value in relation to the Local Development Framework; for example, decisions being made about particular housing sites would still be of real value to the thematic action plans that were referred to in the Planning Green Paper.
818. Which are the bits that are of no use then?
(Lord Falconer) Of course, none of it is of no use, but what we are seeking to focus on, in the plans that we envisage, is the critical identification of priorities, rather than the planning process covering too many sites and too many details, thereby slowing up the process of the delivery of the plan and making it very difficult to revise it, because there has got to be a complete revision before you have got a revision that anybody can rely on.
819. But, Minister, surely the idea that the consultation has been gone through is actually to listen to what people are saying, and a lot of the information and views coming back to us are that there are certain things wrong with the present system, one is the speed of decision-making, probably the speed of doing the UDPs or revising them properly. But many organisations have reflected a view the CBI has put to us, that really we ought to concentrate on getting those things right, rather than the enormous changes and reforms which will actually take people's eyes off the ball of getting the decisions through effectively and in a reasonable time?
(Lord Falconer) I am not sure that we are that far apart. We think the end of the process has got to be a fundamentally different system. We do not believe that you get there by a big bang, you have got to get there step by step, because certainty and an absence of disruption is important. But, if, as we believe, the position is you need a much simpler, less complicated, more proactive system, you ultimately do need fundamentally to slim it down, and you can only get there by the sort of change, over time, that we are proposing.