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

Supplementary note by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration (PGP 06B)

  At the Select Committee on 8 May I offered to write on a number of points to clarify further my responses to your questions. I am sorry for the delay in my response.

Bill O'Brien asked which Green Paper proposals would require primary legislation. As I indicated a number of the proposals will require changes to primary legislation. Amongst them the proposals to abolish structure plans, local plans and unitary development plans and replace them with the new Local Development Framework, and introducing statutory Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) to replace Regional Planning Guidance. Powers would need to be introduced for Major Infrastructure Projects to be referred to Parliament, and any changes to the current system of planning obligations. A number of development control measures such as putting funding for Planning Aid on a statutory basis and introducing a planning checklist are also likely to require primary legislation, as will many of the proposals for changes to the compulsory purchase powers and processes set out in the Compulsory Purchase and Compensation consultation paper. Some legislative amendment may be required for the introduction of Business Planning Zones.

  I offered to provide more detail on targets for government performance on call-ins and recovered appeals in response to Oona King's questions. In the Planning Green Paper we set ourselves the target of cutting in half the average time taken from the close of a public inquiry into a called in planning application or a recovered appeal. As Oona mentioned we have set up a new planning central casework division (PCCD) in DTLR to deal with the decision-making process, following receipt of an Inspector's report. We have also identified targets for improvement by March 2004.

  Our measure for judging improvement in Government performance will be how many cases are processed within a given number of weeks.

  The benchmark for improvement is performance at October 2001, when 80 per cent of cases were decided in 32 weeks from close of inquiry to decision, with:

    —  PINS dealing with 80 per cent of cases within 14 weeks.

    —  Government Office dealing with 80 per cent of cases within 18 weeks.

  Our target is, by March 2004, for 80 per cent of cases to be decided in 16 weeks from close of inquiry to decision with:

    —  PINS dealing with 80 per cent of cases within 7 weeks.

    —  PCCD dealing with 80 per cent of cases within 9 weeks.

  The objective is for both PINS and PCCD to secure half the necessary improvement in the first year. This will be a particular challenge for PCCD, which is being formed largely from staff new to this work. We will therefore be keeping the PCCD target for the first year under review. In addition, we may set some individual targets for larger cases, although this will be very much the exception rather than the rule.

  I will report to the Committee on performance against casework targets in October 2002, in the light of progress over the first 6 months of the new arrangements, and at 6-monthly intervals thereafter.

  Louise Ellman questioned me about a research report into Transport and Works Act (TWA) Orders undertaken by MVA and associates, which she believed had been published and subsequently withdrawn. This is not the case. I understand that the report was put on the MVA website in error, but has now been taken off.

  The main aim of the MVA study was to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the present TWA Order-making system and to make recommendations for improving and speeding up the process. The report includes some valuable research and contains many sound ideas for improving the process. However, many recommendations would require changes to the legislation which could not be delivered quickly. I am keen to identify measures to deliver more radical improvements in the speed of dealing with TWA applications over a shorter time frame. The Department has therefore appointed consultants to build on MVA's work by looking more specifically at handling processes with a view to delivering faster decisions. Because of this, I considered it premature to publish MVA's report until both reviews have been completed and I could announce how we intended to take forward the combined recommendations. There is no question of suppressing MVA's report. It will be published in due course.

  At the end of Wednesday's evidence session you requested sight of the reports of the cross-cutting review on improving the public space. I have sought the advice of officials and I am afraid that I cannot agree to your request. Reports of cross-cutting reviews are advice to ministers and consequently not public documents. I understand that other Select Committees have requested sight of such documents and have also had to be turned down. However I have provided the Committee with a memorandum covering the issues raised by the cross-cutting review. In addition, the Committee may wish to be aware that information from the cross-cutting reviews will be included as part of the SR2002 publication.

  Finally I attach a copy of the timetable for the review of National Planning Policy Guidance (PPGs).

Charles Falconer

24 May 2002

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