Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900-919)
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, BRIAN HACKLAND, MIKE ASH AND JEFF CHANNING
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
900. Would it not be much clearer and have more legitimacy if Regional Strategies, which would have such profound influences on planning, were to be set by directly-elected Regional Assemblies?
(Lord Falconer) Obviously, if there was a directly-elected Regional Assembly, they would have a very, very important role to play in relation to planning. Indeed, I do not know if you know, but there is a White Paper coming, on Regional Governance, on Thursday, which may have things to say about this.
901. Does the White Paper have something to say about this?
(Lord Falconer) It does, yes, but I cannot tell you what, unfortunately. I would like to but I cannot.
902. So you agree with what it says?
(Lord Falconer) Of course I agree with what it says, yes.
903. Minister, a lot has been discussed about structure plans, and it is the proposals to abolish them; will sub-regional strategies developed by regional planning bodies fill that gap?
(Lord Falconer) Yes, they will, where necessary. I think, the reason why we think structure plans should go is, you should remove an unnecessary tier of planning; that tier of planning does not apply already to 40 per cent of the population, where there are single-tier authorities. Counties are not the right geographical boundary in which to determine strategic planning. Region and district should be the two vital planning bodies, but where the gap between the two is too large then you may need some sub-regional planning. What are the precise borders of that should be determined on a case-by-case basis; and there certainly would not be a need for a sub-regional body in every case.
904. Let me give you just one example, that if the majority of local authorities in a region are involved with the preparation of the sub-regional strategies, in the South East of England there are more than 130 local authorities that could be involved in drawing up that sub-regional strategy. How do you think that will work?
(Mr Ash) Can I just make a small factual correction there. Under the regions as they are at the moment, there will be 67 district or unitary local authorities who will be involved in the South East region, in their new regional
905. How many authorities?
(Mr Ash) Sixty-seven.
906. What about the others?
(Mr Ash) What other ones?
907. Well, there are 130 in total?
(Mr Ash) No, there are not; well, sorry, there are the counties, in the South East, which I have not included in the 67, but you may be looking at the figure for the old region, which encompassed areas which are now part of the Eastern region. Your point is still valid, it is still 67 bodies that have to work together. What the Minister is saying is that, within that region, the regional planning body may well have to devise ways of producing spatial distributions, for example, of housing numbers within sub-areas of its region working with groups of authorities.
908. So you saying there will be sub-regions then?
(Mr Ash) There is a need, and there could well be a need, in very big regions, such as the South East, for elements of the Regional Spatial Strategy to have sub-regional chapters, if you like, which would deal with sub-regional issues within those areas. It would all be done within the regional planning body and it would involve the local authorities, including the counties, quite possibly, because they will still have transport and other functions, within that framework.
909. Let us just stick to the knotty problem of housing, is it not? It is quite clear that the Government believes that if house prices are not going to go up even more, more houses need to be built in the South East than most of the local authorities within that area want to have built. So how are we going to get into this planning process those targets for new houses?
(Lord Falconer) They will come from the Regional Spatial Strategy, the region would then distribute them around the districts, as it does at the moment, in 40 per cent
910. So the region is going to dish it down to the districts and there is going to be nothing in-between that at all?
(Lord Falconer) There will be nothing in-between, unless there is a particular area where it is appropriate to have a sub-regional planning body that distributes within that sub-region, and there might be cases for that, like, for example, around Cambridge, where there is very considerable housing growth going on, where it might be sensible to have a body that spans the area around Cambridge.
911. So, if I am an individual and I object to the fact that there are going to be some houses built on the view that I have enjoyed for many years, I have to go to the region to make my objections, because by the time it comes down to the district it will be all cut and dried; is that right?
(Lord Falconer) First of all, you can object at the Regional Spatial Strategy level. If there is a sub-regional element as well, you can object at that stage; if there is then a development control application, you can object at that stage, though you are right to say that, if it has been distributed by the Regional Spatial Strategy, by the time the development control application is made the issue will not be about whether, it will be about the how.
912. Minister, one of the purposes of this Green Paper is to speed up the planning procedure; now if there are the three tiers that you refer to, where people have the right to object, how do you see that speeding up the application?
(Lord Falconer) Well I think it is a lot quicker thansorry, can I just correct one thing I said, because Mike is whispering in my ear. The Local Development Framework would also be a decider of where, within the district, housing should go, so if X number of houses are distributed to a district, that does not mean they are distributed to a particular site in the district, that is to be decided by the Local Development Framework. And the Chairman's question was phrased on the, if I want to object to houses being built outside my front door, or my back window, I cannot remember which, then I have got to object at regional level; well you have got the option at region to say it should not be as many houses, and you have got the option at Local Development Framework level to say, even though, in my district, there is going to be X number of houses, I do not want them outside my front door.
913. Will there be an inquiry?
(Lord Falconer) In relation to the Local Development Framework, there will have to be public engagement.
914. But on the question of housing, and the fact that there will be, I am sure, some positive representations, will there be an inquiry?
(Mr Ash) Yes; at the regional level, the model is very much what exists now, for regional planning guidance, which is a public examination.
915. An individual does not have the right to appear
(Mr Ash) It is a public examination into the issues raised in objections that have been made, that is correct.
916. It is a public examination, inviting people who are "compliant" with the system to come along and express their views.
(Mr Ash) As it is with structure plans.
917. The awkward individuals, who sometimes turn up at public inquiries, will be excluded?
(Lord Falconer) Can I just answer Bill's question, it was quite important; how is our system going to be quicker. Look at the current system, where you have the region setting out the level of housing and distributing it to counties, who then, in two-tier areas, distribute it to the districts. In the South East of England, RPG9 set the level for the counties, where it was two-tier authorities; now some of those counties are making proposals in relation to their structure plans which have lower figures than that distributed to them by RPG9, a regional planning body, as approved by the Secretary of State. So what is now happening, under the current system, is, as it were, the issues that it was thought had been resolved some years ago are now being reopened again, in relation to it. So what you have got is a system which currently allows issues to be fought and refought. Does that delay the building of housing on sites which are in accordance with the Government's policy of brownfield first, greenfield second, well, I suspect that, if the issue is fought and refought, it does. Our system will be clearer.
918. Lord Falconer, can I be absolutely clear that, if we take, for example, my county, Surrey, where there is an issue about the number of houses that have been allocated centrally.
(Lord Falconer) To Surrey, or a district?
919. To Surrey. Surrey is part of the South East region, that runs from Dover to Milton Keynes. Under the new policy, the regional body will decide that an allocation of houses to Surrey is not simply allocated to Surrey but will actually go in town A, town B and town C, so will say, "Right, we'll have 10,000 in Guildford, 10,000 in Epsom, 10,000 in Dorking," and that decision will be taken entirely at a regional level and there will be no ability at county level or at district level to reshape that, it is entirely a regionally-driven decision?
(Lord Falconer) It will be taken at regional level; the regional planning arrangements will, inevitably, as we have made clear, involve the counties being a part of the decisions that are being made.