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Sir John Stanley: Would the hon. Lady agree, however, that even when the Deputy Prime Minister issues an article 4 direction—as happened in relation to Deer's Leap—if the land speculation company, possibly acting in conjunction with those about to carry out the development, chooses to ignore the direction, that direction is effectively torn up?

Yvette Cooper: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I cannot comment on individual cases, particularly those that are going through the planning system at the moment. However, I recognise that while there are cases in which article 4 directions can be appropriate and effective, and it is simply a question of introducing them in time, there are other cases in which people are simply determined to abuse the planning system and in which different issues arise. I shall come to that in a moment.

Officials from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have met representatives of local authorities to explore what more could be done in such circumstances, and to address the possible adverse environmental effects of subdivision and the sale of agricultural land. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) is right that there are different but related problems. Land may be sold off on its hope value, and the chances of planning permission for a change of use being granted may be misrepresented. Problems also arise if that land is later neglected because planning permission cannot be granted. There are problems involving the fencing, the pegs or the posts that may be erected under permitted development rights, and problems that occur when much more intensive and extensive development takes place, such as those related to the enforcement system, retrospective planning applications and so on.

9.15 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: In Committee way back in October, I suggested a mechanism to change the presumption on article 4 directions. I should be grateful

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if the Minister said something about that, because an article 4 direction will remove the permitted development rights, and could act as a brake on the erection of gates and fences.

Yvette Cooper: I shall set out the progress we have made so far and the issues that we are still considering and that we have yet to consider, and I shall come back to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. The first thing we are considering is whether it is possible to introduce a cooling-off period in such circumstances. The seller of the land would have a duty to advise purchasers of that period, and would be required to notify the local planning authority of the proposed sale. The cooling-off period could enable the local planning authority to put in place any restrictions that it thought appropriate, and to ensure that the proposed buyer was aware of those restrictions, including article 4 directions. That would not apply to intensive development, but it might be a way of dealing with cases in which buyers of the land are deceived or have not understood the risk of failing to obtain planning permission. It also might be a way of ensuring that everyone has full information, and could prevent the purchase of subplots on their hope value, which are neglected when it is not possible to get planning permission. That may address one part of the problem.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) said, the problem is that these things happen quickly. I suspect that by the time the local planning authority—or whatever Government agency would introduce the cooling-off period—was alert to the fact and was able to act, many of those plots would have been sold off and it would be difficult to reverse that process.

Yvette Cooper: We are trying to deal with a range of different problems. For example, there may be deliberate, rapid and unauthorised development. We are not sure of the extent of that problem, but we have anecdotal evidence that it exists. Those cases are at one extreme, while at the other are the cases in which no unauthorised development takes place, but there are unsightly consequences for the land—the erection of fencing and such like—because it is divided up and sold off in the expectation that planning permission may be granted and that there may be a change of use. Pieces of land may be bought in the hope that planning permission may be obtained, but are then neglected and left to deteriorate and to become unsightly to the local community. Different consequences arise in different cases, and there may be different solutions to different parts of the problem, some of which may be easier to solve than others. The proposal relating to the possible cooling-off period would not deal with all the problems raised by Members, but it might be one way of addressing some of them.

We also want to give further consideration to the proposal for article 4 directions to be served on site rather than in a newspaper, to bring them into effect more quickly. We are considering amendments to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 for that purpose. We are also considering other changes to the order. We are trying to establish, for example, whether it would be feasible to

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require prior approval from the local planning authority for the erection of fences on agricultural land. In some of the cases mentioned today, owners or others involved with the land are abiding by the planning system, but action is not speedy enough, or there are not sufficient warnings.

We are preparing a note to be sent to local authorities throughout England clarifying the issue and the powers that they have to deal with it. There is evidence that some authorities deal with such problems more swiftly and effectively than others.

The major difficulties arise in the event of unauthorised development. They may be triggered by the subdivision of land, but they may also occur when there is rapid, unauthorised development. Members have expressed doubts about the speed and effectiveness of the planning system in dealing with such development after it has taken place, and about the effectiveness of enforcement. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked about the presumption relating to article 4, and the hon. Member for Ludlow referred to compensation.

A series of wider questions could be raised about the nature and speed of the enforcement system, and about the various powers involved. Some of those may be dealt with when we discuss later amendments. Much more difficult issues must be grappled with in this context. We are reviewing the enforcement system, and following what was said in Committee we have asked officials to prioritise matters relating to retrospective planning applications. We want to deal with that as quickly as possible, but I warn Members that these are particularly difficult problems.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The enforcement review was mentioned in Committee in October. Presumably it had been operating for some time by then. Can the Minister tell us when it began, when it is likely to end, and when we can expect some action from the Government?

Yvette Cooper: I cannot give the exact timetable, but originally the review was not expected to feed into the Bill's time. We have consulted extensively on the wide range of issues involved, and many representations have been made. We have asked officials to consider specific enforcement issues raised in Committee, and have asked for them to be made a priority in discussion of the review as a whole. They are complicated, however, and cannot be easily resolved. We are having to work out how the enforcement regime will cope when people are determined to abuse the system, and also how to ensure fair and proportionate consideration of other cases. For instance, some people may not realise that they must apply for planning permission. So there is a wide range of issues that needs to be considered further, and as I said, we are keen to prioritise the questions that Members raised in Committee.

New clause 18 aims to enable local planning authorities to purchase land compulsorily in a green belt where a section 215 notice requiring the remedying of land adversely affecting local amenity has not been complied with. Local authorities already have compulsory purchase powers to deal with derelict land, and to provide open space or community facilities in the

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public interest. The Secretary of State would normally expect any statutory procedures to remedy derelict or unsightly land, such as section 215 notices, to have been taken as far as possible before the local authority resorts to compulsory purchase. However, I recognise the principles behind the new clause, and as I said, we are keen to consider them further.

We are taking very seriously the points raised by Members on both sides of the House. I have set out the various ways in which we are trying to consider these issues further, in order to see what progress can be made. We will continue to do so, and to keep Members informed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If my reading of section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is correct, it is concerned not with compulsory purchase, but with the serving of notices by the local authority on land adversely affecting amenity of neighbourhood. It also provides for a 28-day period after which such a notice must take effect. Section 216 states:

That has nothing to do with compulsory purchase. Does the Minister think that new clause 18 has any merit?

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