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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Consensus is breaking out.

Matthew Green: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman might as well accept that the Government's scheme is satisfactory.

Unlike the Government's proposal, new clause 19 does not stipulate that statements of community involvement are to be documents in the scheme. The effective use of statements of community involvement will speed up the planning process more than anything else. The schemes that go through the planning process with the least difficulty are those on which there has been the greatest consultation before a planning application is made. The most enlightened developers do that with large schemes. They carry out extensive local consultations, which iron out many of the problems, before the application is made.

I hope that councils will be encouraged to ensure that there is sufficient pre-consultation on those elements. The problem is, of course, that we do not know for sure whether that will happen until the regulations and guidance are published in their final form, but the suggestion is built into the Government's scheme. Unfortunately, however, it is not included in new clause 19. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cotswold intends it to be included in another document under subsection (4) (g), which refers to:

Statements of community involvement are fundamental to the success of a faster and more open planning system. I am surprised at their absence from the new clause.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. Community involvement in plan making is one thing; pre-application discussions on an individual application are a different matter.

New clause 19(3)(g) would ensure that the local planning authority has regard to community strategy. The Local Government Act 1992 requires local authorities to draw up a statement of community strategy. As that will have to be done anyway, why should it also be one of the documents? If a local planning authority does not have regard to that community strategy, it will be subject to judicial review.

Matthew Green: I think that the hon. Gentleman fails to understand the full importance of the potential of a

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statement of community involvement. When the council draws up such a statement, it will set out exactly the way in which the community will be involved in individual plans. It is a document in the scheme and it sets out the process. There is no mention of a statement of community involvement, but there is mention of a community strategy, which is a different issue. I shall understand if the hon. Gentleman says that he meant to mention a statement of community involvement in the new clause, which has had various incarnations as it has moved gradually towards being the same as the Government's proposal.

There is another area with which I have some difficulty. A number of councils—I mention South Shropshire council again, but only because I know it well as it is in my constituency—have been quite forward thinking in developing planning policies. There is no law that prevents that. South Shropshire council has its own separate document setting out its affordable housing policy. It also has its own separate document on policy that relates to how it deals with mast applications, which is quite a controversial issue. That is something that many councils have not done. The council uses the document to guide those who are making mast applications so that they know how they will be dealt with—central Government have not said that the council cannot adopt that approach. It is creating effective local policies in other ways, too.

My understanding of the Government's scheme is that, in effect, local development documents will be allowed to include documents that relate not only to geographical areas, not only to settlements, not only to housing and not only to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but also to specific areas such as business development land and a strategy for dealing with masts, for example. That is a great degree of flexibility, local decision making and local choice. I thought that all three parties were trying to compete with one another to show just how much they are in favour of the new localism, to use a word that comes from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I do not think that there is sufficient flexibility in new clause 19 to allow councils to do that. There is too much structure in the clause.

I used to think, particularly back in January, that the Government had created a scheme that involved a plethora of new terms and far too many new clauses. In creating flexibility, it is difficult to have only one scheme. I urge the hon. Member for Cotswold to withdraw new clause 19 which, as I have said, moves broadly down the route that the Government have taken.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) tabled amendment No. 27. He was right to do so. I suspect that it will not be necessary to give effect to it, but it has enabled him to raise some important issues relating to housing strategies and their close involvement with local planning. I was struck by his rightful call to see proper mixed-tenure estates, rather than divided estates. The Government need to be careful that by changing section 106, which we debated yesterday, they do not create a situation where non-mixed tenure estates are encouraged by the back door. One way to avoid that is the close involvement of housing strategies in local plans. I hope that the Government guidance will include a strong line recommending to councils that that is exactly what the Government would expect to see. We do not want all the

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social housing at one end of the settlement and the owner occupiers at the other end, with a high wall and protective fencing round it. Heaven forbid that we ever move down that route.

2.15 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): When I served in local government, we did much to try to promote shared ownership housing—this meets the sort of objective that the hon. Gentleman and others have been talking about. We found that that worked well on mixed-tenure estates, and also when such housing was built next to private estates. It did not seem to worry anybody and it gave everybody an opportunity to get a foot on a rung of the housing ladder. It is something of which I have always been proud.

Matthew Green: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Given house prices, we shall have to see a growth of shared equity of various forms. There are various ways of arriving at shared equity. The key thrust is not only mixed-tenure estates but, as the hon. Member for Telford said, the experience of walking down a street without knowing the tenure of the properties. There has been a tendency to get through the social housing obligation by putting a couple of boxes at one end of the estate and then building some nice five-bedroom houses on the rest of the estate. That approach has been adopted in some areas, but it is not satisfactory.

Once again, the hon. Member for Cotswold has done the House a favour by tabling his new clauses, because he has allowed us to debate matters that are at the heart of the new planning system. I was worried when he said that he wanted independent examination of his drawers, but, to be more serious, the new clauses have allowed us properly to debate these matters. However, I think that new clause 19 is unnecessary and I hope that he will withdraw it. This part of the Bill is now satisfactory and does not need substantive amendment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Is the Liberal spokesman saying that he thinks that the local plan-making process as provided in the Bill is entirely satisfactory?

Matthew Green: I would struggle to say that it is entirely satisfactory. I suspect that there are few pieces of legislation that any of us would describe as entirely satisfactory, but this part of the Bill moves in the right direction. As with any new system, it may need tinkering with later. The Government have made a good stab at trying to create a flexible and more open system.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Bill is not entirely satisfactory, may I ask him, mischievously, why he has tabled no amendments to try to improve this part of the Bill?

Matthew Green: Time will probably tell us where the deficiencies lie in the Government system, as time has told us where the deficiencies are in the 1990 Act. Given what the Government have set out, and given the slight amendments that have been made over time, I think that the Government have made a reasonable stab. I think

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that they have moved in the right direction in creating flexibility, local decision making and accountability, and that that will lead to some speeding up of the planning process. However, I do not follow the mantra of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that speeding up the process is the be all and end all, and that British business would suddenly flourish even more if we speeded it up so that somebody could get an application through in a week. That is a lot of nonsense. We would do the public and business a great disservice if we pretended that that could be achieved. A well-structured, efficient and flexible planning system is what local business people and others want.

Mr. Gummer : First, I declare an interest both as an honorary officer of the Town and Country Planning Association and of the Landscape Institute, and as a chairman of a company that, among other things, gives sound planning advice, particularly of an environmental nature. Perhaps that means that I care particularly about the simplicity of the documents and measures that we are considering. I suggest that the House gives serious consideration to some of the amendments, including the one tabled by the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), which deals with a key issue. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to ensure that the Bill takes a more integrated approach, and has used the example of the housing strategy, although it has a wider application. We must ensure that when we make planning decisions and write local plans we do so holistically. That is crucial, as that does not happen at the moment and will not do so under the Bill in its current form. The Minister will no doubt help us by saying that he will introduce regulations to achieve that end. However, I commend the amendments because the requirement for an holistic system should be included in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has done the House a service, both generally and specifically, in tabling his amendment. It is hard to conceive how local plans will work if the county council, which has responsibilities not only for the overarching plan but for highways, education and other concerns, is excluded from their operation. Why, then, is it wicked to remind the country that the county council is, and ought to be, a statutory consultee? I do not believe that the Minister is a bad man or has a hidden agenda, but there is an unattractive antagonism towards county councils in the way the Government talk about planning.

In many parts of the country, the county council is an historical structure that covers an area that, for the people who live there, equates closely to the locality. Nobody in my constituency has much love for a region called East Anglia. The people of Trimley St. Mary find it hard to believe that they have much in common with the people of Rickmansworth, and I doubt whether they will be seeking a close association with Essex. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) may believe that the feeling is mutual, but it is worth making the point that the concept of the regional nature of locality is alien to many parts of the country. However, there is a commitment to the county, even when the county is in the care of the Labour party and its Liberal supporters. I am sure that those Liberal supporters will be considering why, yet again, their party wants to push up the county rate. The Liberals will

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be blamed, as they deserve to be, for their association with this spendthrift Government. Even when we have just suffered an 18.5 per cent. rise in council tax, we still like our county structure and believe that it is important. That ought to be reflected in the Bill.

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