TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, in the Chair
LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, a Member of the House, Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, MR MIKE ASH, Acting Director, MR JEFF CHANNING, Divisional Manager, and MR CHRISTOPHER BOWDEN, Divisional Manager, Planning Directorate, examined.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) On the far left is Christopher Bowden, who is responsible for drafting the major infrastructure projects document that was produced on Monday. Mr Mike Ash is the head of the planning department in the DTLR and Mr Jeff Channing is the principal draftsman of the main Green Paper produced in the course of last week.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am Lord Falconer.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not wish to make any opening remarks.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could you repeat the question? I apologise.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are not for one moment in the local development plan framework that the Green Paper suggests seeking to reduce community involvement. Far from it. We are seeking to increase community involvement. We are seeking to ensure that the community has a proper voice in the development of those frameworks. We seek to do that in a number of ways. For example, the plan itself has to indicate how the community will be involved. We want to beef up measures by which they can get proper representation but above all we make the process less complicated and more accessible.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because what you aim to do is produce a plan on a regular basis. Currently in some cases it has been so complicated a process that no plan has been produced at all by 40 local authority areas.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It may or may not reflect their views. What they have to see is a process whereby their voice can be heard and it will reflect to some extent what is said in that process.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed they do and we are not for one moment seeking to prevent those views being expressed. One aspect of local plans at the moment, for example, is large, commercial interests taking part in the development of the local development plan because they either wish to promote or object to a particular use of a particular site. What the resident is then confronted with is therefore a quite strongly legal driven process. That in many cases is not conducive to the views of the community actually being heard. What we would try to do is to reduce the legal driven nature of the process and increase the accessibility of the community to affecting what goes in the local development plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is one aspect of a whole series of changes. The essential problem with the planning system at the moment is it is very complicated. There are huge numbers of things you have to look at before you know whether or not, for example, planning permission would be given. That comes from a many layered system which has lots and lots of guidance at each layer. The essential, underlying purpose of many of the changes is to reduce the amount of guidance at each level and reduce the number of layers because you make it simple.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is fair. We are trying to assist the community which includes business. What we seek to do is to make the system responsive to the community. That will include developers, including commercial developers. They, just like the rest of the community, are entitled to their applications being heard, being dealt with within a reasonable time and being dealt with on a consistent and clear basis.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In many cases, the interests of business do make it hard for communities to express their views. For example, the example I gave earlier on in the conversation about where you are having a public inquiry into a local development plan under the existing system. That very frequently gets quite dominated by commercial interests.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Correct.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You will have an overall plan at local level. You will have the local development framework. We have a plan led system at the moment. That in principle is a good thing but a plan led system does not work if first of all there is not a plan at all, which is the position in relation to 13 per cent of local authority areas, and secondly it does not work well when you cannot rely on the plan either to be up to date or consistent with other layers of planning guidance. In order to address those two problems -- namely, there are a number of areas where there is no plan at all because the local plan process has not produced one and the out of date aspect -- we say simplify the plan. Make it easier to keep up to date; reduce the number of layers.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Simplification is a very important emphasis, yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, you have the local development framework.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local development framework will set out the principles. They will apply right across the district. Where there is expected to be an area of change, the local authority as the Green Paper makes clear can have a detailed action plan. In the drawing up of that action plan, it can if it is appropriate be site specific. The difference between the new system and the old system would be, under the new system, you would only need to address the site specific issues where it really mattered. You would not have to address them in areas where simple principles would be sufficient.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be made on the basis of the principles which will be not site specific. It will not be as detailed as the existing local authority development plan. There will be these principles and the planning application made subsequently will be decided on the basis of those principles.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The document makes clear that in relation to the local district area there will have to be a distribution of housing. There will have to be a plan that says where in the area housing will take place. That is just one aspect of what we are doing. Housing is very important.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there is to be an application in relation to an out of town shopping centre, a sequential test would have to be performed by the developer, which happens at the moment. The local authority will have to look at it. The difference between the future and now is what you do not have to do in the future is go through every part of the district and make a decision as to how each part of the district is going to be developed. It is that, among other things, which causes great delay and causes a process whereby not only you do not have plans for certain areas but you do not have up to date ones in very many areas where you do have plans.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be a simplification but it is up to Sheffield to decide where it thinks it can most decide where a plan would be helpful. It would not be necessary for the whole of Sheffield. It would be necessary for those bits where change will be required or in order to specify where new housing within Sheffield is going to go.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You have a plan that you continuously update to make it consistent with other levels of planning. Sheffield can decide when they want a new LDF and whether or not they want a whole range of plans or just a few. It is up to Sheffield.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes they would because they would have the local development framework.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is not guidance in the Green Paper in relation to that but the purpose of making the committees open is not just so that they can hear what is said but also where appropriate either applicants or objectors can make their voice heard. To be able to speak for two minutes on a complicated application may well not be adequate, depending on the nature of the application. We would think it appropriate that in every significant application objectors and applicants should have their voices heard before a committee.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We may have to issue guidance as to what the appropriate length of time for people to address the committee is. I know there are often many complicated applications where there are a lot of objectors to a particular application, many of them with different interests. The committee, on that basis, would quite frequently need to think of a structure whereby each of the interests could be heard. They do not want to go on for an unreasonable length of time but they need to make sure that everybody's voice is heard. We will issue guidance, I am sure, in relation to this but ultimately is it not for committees to decide how is the best way to ensure that people's voices are heard?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a slightly unfair criticism of the document. It is not intended to go into that sort of detail. What it is intending to do is to say, for example in this area, that open committees are an important thing that is required; let us hear views. "Do you think in principle that is the right thing to do? If so, how best do we develop it?"
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The people who will read this consultation document. That would include developers, local authorities, people engaged on behalf of communities, pressure groups with interests in planning like the CPRE or the Friends of the Earth -- anybody who wishes to respond in relation to the contents of the Green Paper.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The approach that we are proposing in 5.29 is that committees be genuinely open. As to what that will involve in a particular case, let ideas come forward. If guidance is necessary specifying how that should be achieved, then no doubt we will issue that guidance.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have been trying to make them produce plans over the last ten years but in 40 cases we have failed. You can demand it but ultimately a plan to be of any validity needs to be properly consulted upon with the community and proper thoughts have to go into it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The proposal is that there be a regional spatial strategy steering group. It should be wider than simply local authorities. It should represent a wide range of interests in the region. It should consult with the region on drafts so that the community within the region expresses its views. That regional spatial strategy then needs to be submitted to the Secretary of State. The publication of the regional spatial strategy is then formally done by the Secretary of State.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will have to be a matter for a regional spatial strategy steering group to be set up.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be the local authorities in the area in consultation with the regional chamber. They will probably consult with the Secretary of State as to what the steering group should consist of.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the Secretary of State and the relevant players would be seeking to establish would be a representative group that adequately represents the region and that representation has to be beyond simply local authorities.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Consultation with those players, the local authorities, the Secretary of State and the regional chamber.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Hopefully it will be reached by agreement at the end of the day.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) At the end of the day, if the regional spatial strategy has been drawn up in a way that the Secretary of State does not ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ultimately, since the Secretary of State can say no to the RSS in particular if it does not adequately represent the views of the region, the Secretary of State could indicate at an early stage whether he thought the steering group was not adequately representative.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously, we are consulting on this as part of ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Hopefully it will be reached by agreement but because the Secretary of State can say at the end of the process, "That was not adequately representative", the Secretary of State could ultimately say, "The group you have put together is not adequately representative."
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We think not at the moment. Obviously, there are separate issues about elected regional assemblies. We think the appropriate course is to do it by consultation.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The accountability comes ultimately from the Secretary of State producing the regional spatial strategy. He is part of an elected government. That is where the accountability comes from.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the Secretary of State is seeking to do is to ensure that the document which is produced is one produced by a representative body within the region.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ultimately, yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would be a consultative process. It would not be a formal selection of people. What the Secretary of State would do in effect would be to leave the regional players to produce the steering group. Only in the very exceptional case that it did not appear to be representative for a reason would he wish to intervene.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would vary from region to region. Let us hear views in relation to that during the course of the consultation.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. It will be a quite significance size in order for it to be adequately representative.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is going to produce a regional spatial strategy. At the moment, the way that regional planning guidance is produced is either by a regional chamber or by a coming together of all the local authorities with planning responsibility in the area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a process by which currently they can come together and produce regional planning guidance. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be possible to put together a group at regional level that would be able to produce regional spatial strategies.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is no different in terms of democratic accountability to the present system. Everybody agreed that when one spoke about how to reform the planning system you do need a regional planning level.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Nobody is offering tzars or tzarinas. That is not part of the proposal.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have not said that they would be chosen by the Secretary of State. What I have said is it is for the region to come together and decide what is the most representative body that can produce a regional spatial strategy. As Sir Paul says, that will include representatives of all the relevant local authorities but it will include other representatives as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a matter for each region to decide. Let us hear about it in the consultation. In regional chambers, I think it is 70/30 at the moment. That seems a perfectly reasonable breakdown but if people have different views let us hear them in the consultation. You need a regional level of planning. You need a process whereby you can get a representative view from the region in order to produce that document because the document has to have legitimacy within the region. What we are proposing is we think the best way to get that legitimacy, not by the Secretary of State appointing the body but the Secretary of State simply having a fall back power if the body that emerges from the region does not adequately represent the views of the region. If there is an alternative, we would be willing to hear it and take it into account in the consultation.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Pretty precisely. For example, in relation to terminal five, what would be envisaged is that the actual site would be designated on a plan which Parliament would have before it, before it made the decision. It would not be simply: should there be a fifth terminal at London Heathrow Airport. Let the local planning decision decide where that might be. It would be identified on a plan where the particular project was going to go. Plainly, if it was a big, complicated project like a port, obviously there would be room for changes to be made about the precise size and diameter of things but in many cases the position of the project would be delineated by map before Parliament.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The proposals made for parliamentary scrutiny of the process involve a process quite similar to that used in relation to orders under the regulatory reform process. That involves a number of time limits, a process by which written representations are put in and a process by which parliamentary committees can scrutinise the detail of the particular proposals that are made, making such decisions as they, the committee, feel appropriate about hearing evidence. I do not think people think that the regulatory reform order process is one where Parliament does not adequately scrutinise the detail of those orders. I believe that Parliament would be able to give proper scrutiny to the sorts of proposals we have referred to but again the consultation document allowed for everybody's views in relation to that and in particular Parliament's.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Under the regulatory reform proposals, what you have is a two stage process and after views have been expressed the promoter of the order can come back with an amended order. I am not sure that the same process could apply in relation to these sorts of things because if there is a promoter -- for example, the BAA -- promoting terminal five at London Heathrow it is really a question for the promoter of the proposals to decide whether or not he would want to go ahead if Parliament said, "We only want to do it if it is amended in a particular way." You are dealing with a slightly different process.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to national infrastructure projects, you are saying Parliament must decide whether that project should be allowed in principle to go ahead.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It could be in relation to things like terminal five. Yes, I am saying Parliament should decide that. In very many cases, Parliament could not make the decision without knowing with some degree of precision where the particular project was going.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, because Parliament decides the principles; then there is the public inquiry on the detail.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is my fault for not being clear. It decides in principle whether or not T5 should be built there.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be on a specific site.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It decides in principle that the project should go ahead. There is then the public inquiry in which the detail is looked at by the public inquiry, the how, and after that the Secretary of State decides whether to give planning permission.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because this is an issue of national importance in the hypothesis advanced.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a national issue as to whether or not there should be T5. The current arrangement in relation to major infrastructure projects is that every single one of them has been called in, in the last decades, by the relevant Secretary of State and the Secretary of State has decided after a public inquiry whether to agree or not to the major infrastructure project. What we are saying in these proposals is that where you are dealing with a major infrastructure project Parliament has a role to play in deciding whether such a major infrastructure project should go ahead.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Parliament will scrutinise the application. It cannot be said that in every case it will necessarily be a government proposal but in many cases it will because one of the other aspects of the major infrastructure proposal was that there should be a policy statement in advance about things like aviation policy or whatever. In many cases it will be something that is done with the support of the government.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would imagine in some cases it will be whipped business, yes, but Parliament is still able to scrutinise it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They can affect it; they can express views in relation to it. Why is that process not a means by which a public debate goes on properly scrutinising the detail of the proposal?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is a fair assessment.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not at all. I do not think it was an accurate description of what we have in mind. What we have in mind is a policy statement, for example, in relation to aviation or railways, followed by a proposal which would normally be by a body like the BAA, then a process by which Parliament scrutinises the proposal.
Chairman: A policy like the BAA, a public corporation which is now privatised.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The process by which the individual project is looked at will throw up a debate in detail about the project.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is for Parliament in determining the principle to look at those issues that they think are relevant to the principle. Should there be, for example, a fifth terminal at Heathrow? That is a debate that has certain parameters. Those engaged in the debate can determine what they think the sensible parameters of that are. It will involve, for example, looking at things like the economic benefits of terminal five or the consequences in general terms of there being a terminal five, but I do not think there is difficulty about such a debate taking place.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There was a central railways project to that effect.
Chairman: I am sure Sir Paul is posing an entirely hypothetical question.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the proposal in the major infrastructure project document suggests is that one uses something akin to the Transport and Works Act in order for the debate of principle to take place. The very proposal that you have suggested was dealt with under the Transport and Works Act and was defeated.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not apply to enough areas of major infrastructure. It only applies to transport.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I am responding to Mr Bennett's question, will these issues be whipped. The answer to that is, in many cases, the particular project will be as a result of a national policy statement issued by government. It will represent, in effect, government policy.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Whether it will or whether it will not I do not know is the answer in relation to that. It will be a matter for Parliament and the government of the day to decide how each individual project would be dealt with.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The way that local authorities work is that the local planning committee has to make its own decision on the basis of the local development framework. I do not want to interfere in the way that local planning authorities make their minds up in relation to those sorts of issues.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to make a suggestion that that should be changed in any way. The major infrastructure project is a completely different sort of issue. We are in effect proposing a wholly new and different sort of process to apply to that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not familiar with the detail. Mike Ash knows about the two particular cases.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A time share?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I do not know enough about the North Tunstall Bypass to know what procedure you are referring to. Was it a hybrid bill or a private bill?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Under the Highways Act?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the procedure to be used, what the document proposes as a basis for consultation, though it is a matter for Parliament to decide, is the sort of process used in regulatory reform orders. I am not clear what the statute or process you are referring to is. It is the one used on regular reform type orders which would involve a parliamentary committee having received a series of documents setting out the proposal and the objections to it, there being a timetable for that. It would then consider it in such a way as it thought was appropriate. We believe that would be a very much quicker process than a public inquiry process because it would focus on the principles, the location and the need for the particular development.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I am not. The current situation in relation to every single major infrastructure project over the last decades was that the Secretary of State called in from the local authority, so the decision currently is made by the Secretary of State after a public inquiry. These proposals will involve the decision in principle being made in effect by Parliament.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept the point you are making. It is not detailed in the major infrastructure project document. It sets out a possible way because we took the view that ultimately the precise procedure to be used is a matter for Parliament.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Uncertainty in the result, at the end of the day, as to what the procedure ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed I think it would. What we have done is put down one particular proposal as to how it should be done.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have. I would be more than happy to do that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Currently, planning authorities do not take major infrastructure decisions. They are taken by the Secretary of State. Where it is a major infrastructure project, we think it appropriate that Parliament and the Secretary of State be involved in the decision.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have taken the view that Parliament should decide or assist in the process of making the decision about whether major infrastructure projects are.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local development framework would have to specify the statement of community engagement -- i.e., one of the issues which would have to be addressed in the local development framework was how you would engage the community both in updating or changing the local development framework and in relation to individual applications for planning control. It would be one of the things that had to be set out. Secondly, there would be a positive benefit to any developer in consulting the community before any planning application was made. Thirdly, we would wish to increase the resources available to bodies like Planning Aid so that the community in the appropriate case would have the benefit of expert assistance. Fourthly, by simplifying the process, you make it much more accessible to the community as a whole.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to individual applications for planning control, the earlier they get engaged in the process the more likely they are to influence what actually happens. The easier the process by which the local authority consults the community again at an earlier stage, the more likely an individual's voice will be to affect what is said. One of the problems at the moment is because it takes so long to produce a local development plan, once it is produced, the process by which it is changed is very complicated and very long. Local authorities are quite unkeen for understandable reasons to get engaged in it. If you have a process that is simpler, it will be much easier for those necessary changes to occur. Where you are dealing with action plans, which is what this document also refers to -- for example, in an area that needs regeneration -- the process for producing the action plan will not be a process that is necessarily district wide; it will only be neighbourhood wide if it is for a particular neighbourhood so you would have a much more focused, closer to the community process by which you produce that action plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think so. Remember, the local development framework has to include a statement of community engagement. The process by which it is updated can only take place once the local authority has gone through all the right processes for engaging the community. We would also very much want to involve local strategic partnerships in the process by which the plan is drawn up so that you engage the community that way as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If there is no action plan, that is right. If you have a system whereby the local development framework does not have a site specific use for that particular site and you have not got an action plan it will take however long it takes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In certain cases, I suspect the control application would not necessarily take longer but you would have a clearer plan because the plan will have been produced much quicker.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with your first proposition. The time at which neighbourhoods most get involved is when there is a particular application for a particular use. We hope that people will become more engaged in the development of the local development framework because the people drawing it up have to focus on the issue how do we engage the community for this process. Secondly, it will be simpler. Therefore, the process will be one which it will be easier for people to engage in. Thirdly, where an action plan is involved, it will involve an issue about what happens to the neighbourhood at neighbourhood level, so it will be closer to the community than many development plans currently are.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is right. The system that we are proposing is about how the process works. It is not, for example, threatening the green belt. It is not, for example, threatening the environment. It is all about how the process works, not about the basic policies.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What is the point of a system that goes through every single site in order to get a development plan which leads to years and years of delay? Surely the right balance to strike in relation to that is to have a development plan that deals with the critical issues -- namely the principles -- deals with those areas where there is likely to be applications or issues about land use. You then have a plan that is usable, simple and that deals with the main issues, rather than the current system where sometimes you do not have a plan at all and if you do have a plan it is quite frequently so large and complicated that it is inconsistent with other layers of the process.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) People will know what the basic policies are.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They know what the basic policies are. Because we are not changing the basic policies the degree of security provided by the planning system will not materially change.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a sufficient degree of clarity about how our principles apply at the moment to provide people with adequate security about whether, for example, the green belt will continue to be protected in their area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a very good example of why I think your fears are exaggerated. In relation to open space, there is a draft, substantive document which this Committee is looking at, PPG17, which in effect proposes that local authorities should analyse what the requirement for inter alia open space is and have a policy indicating what they are going to do about the open space in the area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it is not, not remotely away from the communities. Far from it. It makes the process simpler. PPG17 would involve a system where the community has a much better idea what is going to happen to the open space in its area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are not going back to pre-1991. We are recognising what has happened since 1991. A plan led system is only of value where you either have plans, which you do not have in the 40 cases I have indicated, or you have plans that you can rely on.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can give you a list.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are getting revenue support grant.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have been wanting these local authorities to produce -- not just this government but previous governments as well ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to planning, the way that you can get the planning department to operate is by using the best value techniques and eventually getting to a point whereby, after a series of interventions, you take away the planning function from the local authority.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, but it is a practical, sensible change that addresses the fact that the plan led system at the moment has led to two complicated, complex, local plans. That is why some local authorities do not have them. Yes, you can put pressure on the local authorities but the reason why 40 do not have local development plans is because the system is difficult. It does require a very substantial effort before such a plan is produced.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We believe it will be much easier for local authorities to comply with the sorts of proposals we are making in the Green Paper than the complex local development plans that very many local authorities seek to produce. If they do not produce them, there are measures that can ultimately be taken but ultimately surely we want a system where the vast majority of the local authorities concerned do produce relevant plans.
Sir Paul Beresford: Which is current. The vast majority currently have done that with UDPs.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are not allowed to withhold un-ring fenced grant in part. Secondly, there is a fundamental problem which has led to why there are not these 40 local authority plans and that is because it is a very complex, very long, drawn out period that has to be gone through before you produce a local development plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I sought to not comment on what the appropriateness or otherwise was of whipping. If it is government policy, no doubt it will be a proposal which the government supports.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Are you talking about Parliament or local authorities?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to the local authority planning application, they do not whip and I do not think it is appropriate that they should whip. The reason for that is because they are the planning authority. What is happening in the infrastructure project proposal is that the principle of the proposal should be debated and either approved or not by Parliament. Ultimately, the planning decision finally is taken by the Secretary of State but only after Parliament has approved the principle.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is part of the process, but it is not ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is highly relevant to the planning decision but it is approving in principle whether or not the project should go ahead. There then needs to be a process whereby the local inquiry looks at the how and it is then for the Secretary of State to decide whether or not the project should be approved.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) To put them in or to not put them in?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a PPG in relation to that already.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If it is already incorporated in core policy, that is something that we as a matter of principle think should be dealt with at national level. All you would be doing would be repeating what is already in the national policy guidance.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The reference to community strategies is to try to ensure that what you do with land use reflects better other policies that you may have. That is not ultimately to change what the land use policies are but to ensure that they better connect with what goes on in other areas of policy. I do not think that would lead to more refusals or grants than previously.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is necessarily the case. The position is that in preparing your land use development plan you should have more regard than you do at the present time to community strategies. That will not mean that there is a wider range of reasons for refusal because, in considering a particular planning application, you will still have to have regard to the local plan or the local development framework. That local development framework will have been brought into existence after consideration of such things as community strategy.
Mrs Dunwoody withdrew and Mr Bennett took the Chair
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have always said is that the decision should be made, whether it be in relation to a major infrastructure project or in relation to an individual application, within a reasonable time, and the reasonable time will vary from project to project and application to application. I would not regard it as an obsession, but I regard it as one thing which has been said very frequently by people engaged in the planning system, that the planning system does take too long to reach conclusions both in relation to what the Local Plan should contain and also whether or not particular applications, whether they be for major infrastructure projects or whether they be, as it were, more common applications, do.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Why should that lead to a delay in making a decision?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. We obviously took account of what other countries did, but that was not our starting point. We think it should take a reasonable time, ie, the time it takes for there to be a proper examination of a major infrastructure project, for example, and long, long delays in relation to that are bad for the community just as much as they are bad for business, for the national interest because it blights premises for years and years and years if you cannot take a decision. You rightly identified many problems that the planning system faces, like, for example, in certain cases a shortage of brownfield land, but those problems, whilst they require proper and adequate investigation and proper and adequate opportunity needs to be given for the community and the applicant to express their views, it does not mean that the system needs to take many, many, many years to resolve those problems, thereby blighting the community just as much as preventing what may in some cases be sensible development. Do we not need a system that is able robustly and within a reasonable time to say no just as well as to say yes?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, I do not know whether that would be a major infrastructure project or not.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it is not. That proposal is made exclusively on the basis of what leads to a more effective planning system and if we are serious about making it simpler, then one of the steps that needs to be taken, and there was widespread agreement on this, was you need to remove some of the layers or one of the layers, and the county council Structure Plan layer was one that it was possible and sensible, we believed, to remove. That does not mean that counties will not have an important role to play when, for example, the Regional Spatial Strategy is being drawn up.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If in a particular area, you want heavy industrial or industrial or manufacturing development to take place, there is absolutely no reason why the relevant local authority should not identify such an area as an Action Plan area where that sort of development is specified.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The implication of it being put there would be that it would happen inside that area and if the local authority wish to specify, after going through the appropriate procedures, that as a matter of principle that sort of development should not apply, except in that particular area, that would be a conclusion they can put as one of their statements of principle in the Local Development Framework.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The application made when there is no Action Plan will be determined in accordance with the principles laid out in the Local Development Framework. If in the example that you posit the particular area wanted only manufacturing development in one particular place, which was covered by an Action Plan, then, as I say, that could be specified in the principles.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will know in principle because the Local Development Framework will set out the principles, but there is a fundamental disagreement between us.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a fundamental disagreement between us which, if I may say so, as it were, is the undercurrent of all of your questions which is that unless you have a system which is site-specific for every single site in the country, you are going backwards because then you will not know what is happening when you make an application and you will not know what is going to happen next door to you. That approach, we believe, has not been successful because the effect of that approach has been you have got a long, drawn out and complicated process which has led to considerable delay in Local Development Plans being produced, the numbers of Local Development Plans not being produced at all and the very many Local Development Plans that are being produced being out of date. I have got a note here from Jeff on my right which says that 214 Plans are now going out of date out of 362 authorities, so the approach that is implicit in your questions simply leads us back to the problems that we have got at the moment, so you need to address the problems and that is what we are seeking to do in relation to this proposal.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, they will be taken in the context of the principles set out in the Local Development Framework and, where there is an Action Plan, in the context of the Action Plan which is much better than being taken in the context either of no Plan at all or in the context of a Plan that may very well be out of date.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, they could if they wanted, but then you would be going back to the position where you have got the problems that you have got at the moment.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it will happen like that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the process is intended to lead to a much quicker time-frame for Local Development Plans to be produced.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, the mechanism that will prevent it happening, the ultimate fall-back is the Secretary of State can intervene at the end of the day.
Sir Paul Beresford
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which applies now, but he cannot intervene when there is nothing to intervene in, so when there is no Plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I answer that in a moment, but Mike would like to respond to the previous question.
(Mr Ash) Well, I will refer to that as well. The point we want to get across here is that if you look at, say, UDPs in London, what you tend to see is within those Plans there will be policies that apply throughout the area to provide a framework for development control and there are specific areas where there is change happening, where there are new developments being concentrated and Battersea Power Station is clearly a change area. Nothing is happening at the moment, but it has got the potential for development, so on that basis, then the local authority would designate that area as for an Action Plan and draw up an Action Plan setting out the proposals for the use of that site.
(Mr Ash) Yes, well, they are sometimes a bit like that at the moment and we are seeking to build on that approach which does not seek to cover every square inch of an area with specific designations. In the suburbs most local authorities can put in place a set of local control policies to deal with house extensions and all the other generality of planning applications that are made without having to go into the detail of putting area allocations en masse. That is a set of core criteria-based policies which will act as the framework for development control procedures in those areas. Where there are development prospects, where there are areas of change, those are the areas that you would designate for action planning and do that on a more flexible basis because it is specific to a particular area and would be done just for that area when it is needed to be done. It does not have to be done as part of the monolithic process at the moment which produces a development plan with 300 or 400 policies in it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In two-tier authorities only.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The County Structure Plan will only in fact distribute housing among 46 per cent of the population because 54 per cent of the population live in unitaries, so the county is not distributing to them.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In the same way as they are currently determined to the unitaries, which is that the Regional Planning Guidance presently distributes them to the unitaries and in future if the proposals set out in the consultation paper are brought into effect, then the distribution will be done from region to all district councils.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Correct.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They will obviously have a role to play in relation to drawing up the Regional Spatial Strategies because, as Sir Paul indicated rightly, obviously the local authorities, including county councils, will be very keen to be involved in the drawing up of those.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, what we are saying is that that County Plan is an additional and complicating layer under the planning system at present. If you are serious, as we are, about making the system simpler and reducing the number of layers, that, we believe, is the layer that can most easily go.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because they decide the development control applications in relation to that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because those are areas we think which are dealt with in a self-contained way and dealt with sensibly and there is no reason at all to interfere with that particular area.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There would be no reason why a Business Planning Zone should not be only agreed to when it is consistent with what the Regional Spatial Strategy or the Regional Economic Strategy of the Regional Development Agency proposes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which document are you referring to?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not see any conflict between saying in the Regional Planning Guidance that it is for individual businesses or persons to decide where they want to locate. Obviously they need to get planning permission, but equally there is nothing wrong with saying in certain places where we want to encourage a particular type of business that a Business Planning Zone should be set up.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, because in certain specified places, you say subject to certain criteria being met, and the sort of criteria referred to in 536 and following in the document, then you should be able to treat yourself as having planning permission.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the bit you read to me says or seems to be saying is that it is for each individual business to decide where he wants to locate his business.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that is not a fair analysis of the two documents. What this is saying is that a local authority ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The relevant local authority, the district authority, can determine where it would be sensible to lay down particular parameters in a particular place where, if those parameters are met, planning permission is not required.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, it would be done in areas which were tightly defined and the parameters would be tightly defined. The sorts of business that we envisage would be ones that would be low-impact in the area, hi-tech, for example. They would not significantly add ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They would not be included in this sort of Business Planning Zone. It is much more limited, but they would only be agreed to once the local authority had gone through all the proper consultation processes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Very, very, very few indeed.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local authority.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which particular case studies are you referring to?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am sorry, I have not got that one.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot say that I have read the particular document you are referring to.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a widespread perception.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, it is repeated so often.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is correct and it has been improving to some extent but it is still remorselessly not meeting the targets. We have changed the targets now to draw a distinction between domestic applications and commercial or industrial ones.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes?
(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 paper.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(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 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.
(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.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is the departure cases where there are difficulties.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They would still have to report where it was in breach of the principal policies. You will recall that the local development framework will set out what the criteria are. If it is about to grant planning permission in breach of those principles it would still have to report.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be more general than the local development plans at present, yes, unless there is an area of change as an action plan.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What we have said is we need to look at the PPGs and see whether they can be simplified.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We specify in the document which ones we are going to look at first. If somebody would help me to remind me where it is in the document. It is page 28. Paragraph 4.61 identifies which ones. PPG1 headline guidance for the planning system, PPG4, PPGs 6, 7, 15, 16 and 5. I am making it clear, if I may, that we are not looking at those to change the policies, simply to simplify the guidance given.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The policies will not change in relation to that but the expression of that policy may well become clearer and simpler. In PPG3, for example, that is a much shorter, more focused document than earlier PPGs. The direction that PPG3 has moved as a means of drafting is what we are after.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It has taken a long time in the past but we would hope to do it quicker.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would hope that we would be able to deal with the particular ones that we have referred to in 4.61 within the next two years.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In 4.63 we propose to timetable these reviews over the next two years.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I think we are going to do it, so our core policies will be fit for purpose when our new local development framework is introduced following legislation.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be over the next two years.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is what we are consulting about at the moment as to which ones we should ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have indicated a principle which is we think one should leave those that have a health and safety role or those which have themselves a consent regime that is required to be gone through, for example English Heritage or English Nature or the Health and Safety at Work Executive. Those are the ones one would envisage staying.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If one looks at the statutory consultees at the moment there are bodies such as the Garden History Society. I do not want to single them out for special mention.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have indicated what the principle is, namely the health and safety or if you have got a consent regime of your own. I have got the list here: British Waterways Board, Civil Aviation Authority, Coal Authority, County Planning Authorities, Crown Estate Commissioners, DCMS, District Planning Authority, English Heritage, English Nature, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Garden History Society, Greater London Authority, Health and Safety Executive, Highways Agency, Local Highways Authority, Local Planning Authority, etc.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have set out what we think the principle should be, health and safety or a regime stays, all the rest goes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I not answer those questions?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Planning Green Paper and the suite of documents that go with it are relevant to the system of planning. All the questions you are asking about masts are totally legitimate but they are about the policy that the Government has adopted towards mobile telephone masts. I want to be clear that what we are talking about here is not a particular policy should it be changed, what precisely ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The reason why I am reluctant to answer is because I would need to look in detail at what the PPG says about mobile telephone masts before I go into the detail of those questions. If you do not mind ----
Dr Pugh: You do not want to answer it.
Chairman: You will send us a note. Thank you very much.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We are going to produce a document in the New Year that will effectively solicit views on what, if any, changes there should be. There was a document done by private consultants which dealt with the question of change to use of class which was trying to restrict it rather than increase it. The point you have made is people have mentioned to me that people are very anxious about the possibility of so constructing use of classes that that which is a quiet, non-intrusive ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) ---- use of a property in some commercial way could suddenly be turned into a nightclub. We are very alive to the fact that many, many communities would find that both disruptive and detrimental to the way that ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know about that. Whether it would be good for business or not it is something that people have mentioned to me that they are concerned about. It is not in the proposal that you are referring to but there was one proposal, I do not know where it came from, saying that any shop could be used for a nightclub and that would really horrify people as a possibility.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) When you refer to a noisy motorised activity, is that a car boot sale?
Christine Russell: Quad bikes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The car boot sale and the go karting and motorbike scrambling point has also raised been with me and I think that is something we need to consult about. It will be a moderately open, textured consultation because use of classes are something that people are very, very sensitive about because of the situation where very, very intrusive things could potentially happen without the need for an application either to a local authority or to change existing planning permission. It is something that we are very conscious of as being very sensitive.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. This is a consultation document. I would like to make it clear that the existing planning regime continues. As I say, this is only a Green Paper.
Mr Betts: Or not.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know is the answer to that because they have managed to hold out for the last ten years.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would like to see every single one of those produce their plans but I do not know whether that is realistic.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, because without a local development plan there is not remotely the certainty that comes from a plan their ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Green Paper specifies 18 March for the conclusion of responses. We would hope to make a policy statement in the light of the responses by the middle of next year. Some of the changes if they go ahead would require legislation. The earliest possible time that legislation could be introduced would be November 2002 but whether or not legislation is introduced in that session which starts in November 2002 will depend upon whether or not there is a legislative slot and I have got no way of telling whether there will be or whether there will not. If, and it is a big if, legislation were introduced in the session which commenced in November 2002 the statutory changes would be very, very unlikely to come into force before 2004.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) And we need to be clear once the consultation process is over precisely what the arrangement will be. It is impossible to embark upon significant changes of the planning system which we think are worthwhile without there being need for transitional arrangements in the meantime.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They should most certainly continue with that. I would like to make it absolutely clear that the existing system prevails. This is a consultation document. We believe that changes will come out of it but at the moment it is a consultation document so the existing system continues.
(Mr Ash) As I said to Sir Paul earlier, there are elements of the present system which you can see could be applied to the new approach that we are setting out. It is possible at the moment for a local authority, for example, to do an update of its plan for a particular area as opposed to the whole of its area. The transitional issues that we will look at will be to see to what degree work which is being done now in terms of reviewing plans would be applicable in the new circumstance in which it could be carried forward into the new plans.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It plainly could be, but whether it would be or not will depend upon the circumstances at the particular time. What the document says is that it would have to be a major national infrastructure project and it is a matter for the Secretary of State at the time to determine whether or not he or she designates a particular project.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would be possible for the Secretary of State not to designate. That may be a more accurate way of putting it.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He might take the view that the best process to deal with a particular project is that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much indeed, Mr Bennett.