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Sir Sydney Chapman: I hesitate to say this, but I cannot give definitive proof that I have yet been consulted to death. None the less, I agree with the generality of what my hon. Friend says. There must be a sensible balance, with full consultation. If there has been full consultation at an earlier stage, less will be needed at a later stage.

Matthew Green: The hon. Gentleman speaks about consultation as though it is only the local authority that reacts to it. One of the reasons why I am keen to see a lot of pre-consultation on planning applications is that it is often the applicant who reacts to what the public have said and alters his or her application to lessen the likelihood of public opposition. One of the key elements is that the applicant responds to the consultation by listening and making changes, rather than the local authority responding by deciding whether to say yes or no.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I agree. I am in favour of pre-application consultation, which should obviously be organised by the applicant rather than by the local authority, which would consult on significant cases after the application had been submitted.

I am anxious to make progress. I should like to consider new clause 19, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), in a slightly different light. As I understand it, his one, albeit long, new clause seeks to replace eight clauses and parts of two other clauses. It is worth pointing out that his amendments propose the deletion of clauses 14, 16, 18 to 22 and 25, and parts of clauses 17 and 23. I am very much in favour of Bills being as simple as possible. A year ago, the Government heralded the introduction of the Bill by saying that they wanted a firmer, fairer and simpler planning system. We all say amen to that. It is not for me to argue now whether the Bill is fairer and faster—perhaps I can do so later today—but I am anxious to ensure that it is simpler.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold is on to a good point with new clause 19, which would make the legislation simpler. I know perfectly well that, as the Minister will probably point out, legislation must be complicated and comprehensive to a certain extent. For example, we could decide across party divisions that it was a good thing to ban spitting on the Queen's highway on the Sabbath. However, we could not merely introduce a 13-word clause stating, "it is an offence to spit on the Queen's highway on the Sabbath". We would have to define the Queen's highway, spitting—I shall go no further on that point—and the Sabbath, which, as I understand it, represents different days to different religions. I therefore

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understand that, in order to attempt to cover all eventualities and any loopholes, legislation is necessarily more comprehensive and complicated than we might at first think it needs to be.

I have not been able to compare new clause 19 with the Government's clauses, because of the time factor. Whatever professional reputation I have, although I am retired, I must cover myself by making that comment, but I ask the Minister most sincerely—he does respond to genuine points—to consider whether his clauses can be made simpler, even if he feels unable to accept new clause 19 as it is drafted.

I should like to say how much I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) about the importance of public recognition of county councils. My constituency, which is situated in the Greater London area, used to have a county council. It now has the Greater London Authority, which I suppose is a regional council of some sort, although it can be argued that the natural region of the hub of our country, London, extends well beyond the boundaries of the Greater London area. I strongly support him in stressing the importance of county councils. If, perchance, any part of England ever has a regional council or assembly—I hope that will not happen, as such a body would be yet another tier of government—I hope that the Government will take to heart the public identification with the county council in the name that is given.

I feel that it would be quite wrong to transfer any powers from a county council to a regional assembly unless and until that assembly was democratically elected. I shall say no more about that, as I raised the same matter in Committee, but I think that it is vital. The Minister might say, "Well, of course, the regional assemblies include nominations from county and borough councils," or whatever, but I think that that direct link with the voter who votes for the county councillor makes it essential that we do not lose sight of that important point.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend, with his enormous expertise and knowledge, agree that the bulk of knowledge that county councils have built up over decades, and in some cases centuries, has not been given enough weight in today's debate? If we are not careful, that bulk of knowledge and the very experienced strategic planning officers who are employed by county councils could be lost. That would be greatly to the detriment of the sort of county council areas that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and I represent.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I agree. County councils are known and accepted by the public. People had great difficulty in identifying with the new councils—Avon or Humberside, as I think the latter was called—that a previous Government introduced.

Mr. Gummer: I abolished them.

Sir Sydney Chapman: My right hon. Friend reminds me that he abolished some of them. He deserves extra brownie points for that.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Would my hon. Friend also deliver appropriate brownie points for the restoration of Herefordshire and Rutland?

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3 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman: Yes, and although I shall not be standing at the next election, I shall willingly join anybody who wants a mention of any fine piece of architecture in their constituency—although I do not suppose that any of those will have been designed by me.

I seriously commend to the Minister the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that instead of talking about development documents and development schemes in different parts of the Bill, we go back to the phrase that everybody knows—development plan. The development plan in operation in my local planning authority area is the unitary development plan, which consists not only of plans and maps but of statements and reports. "Development plan" is an all-embracing phrase that is accepted and understood in town and country planning.

I also agree with my hon. Friend's wish to introduce more timetables. He said that each local planning authority should revise its plan every five years, and I would suggest a scintilla of amendment to that proposal by saying that a review should be begun five years after the plan is approved, which means that it may not be completed until a few months later. That is a trivial point, however, and I do not need to explain it further. There would then be three months for the inspector to report, although there could always be exceptions for big cases, for which the Secretary of State could suggest six months or whatever. The report should then be published within one month. I stress that idea in particular, because I know that Secretaries of State sometimes delay a report if they feel that it is politically sensitive and an election is looming—although I am sure that that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal never did that.

I am very much in favour, as we all are, of the community participating in the planning process. In my area there are Agenda 21 forums, which could be used to gauge opinion. They do not necessarily reflect all public opinion in their communities, but it would be a good thing to use them.

New clause 19 consolidates eight clauses and parts of two others, and I am in favour of it. Whatever Bill goes on to the statute book, while we are talking about consolidating clauses may I make a final plea to the Government—this may be my last opportunity to do so—that as the principal Act is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 this would be a good time to have a consolidated town and country planning Act embracing all the relevant legislation that has been passed since 1990?

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): The hon. Gentleman made exactly the same recommendation in favour of a consolidated planning Act in the Standing Committee, and at the time I said, as I expect he recalls, that I wholeheartedly agreed with him—so long as I was not the planning Minister who had to take it through.

This has been a good and amiable debate, which has gone to the heart of the Government's new planning framework. I assure the House that I have listened carefully to all the arguments that have been made, although I do not suppose that I shall be able to respond wholeheartedly to them all. As usual, the debate has

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been sustained by what I have come to describe as the planning Bill repertory company—in which I can now include my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright), who has sat through two days of our proceedings on the Floor of the House. There was also a fleeting but welcome appearance by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), and we have listened to an interesting contribution by a distinguished former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I assure him that I listened to him as carefully as I avidly read his column in Estates Gazette, and as avidly as I visit his delightful constituency, which contains the nation's premier serious music venue.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) for his growing enthusiasm for our local development framework. He was absolutely right to attach such importance to the statement of community involvement and its implications. I fully acknowledge that he invented the filing cabinet metaphor. He will remember that as I am a somewhat old-fashioned chap myself, my metaphor of preference was the concertina file—but the filing cabinet image seems to have taken hold.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) will have to forgive me if I do not follow them down the path of talking about the role of county councils now. It goes without saying that that matter has been well ventilated already in our proceedings, and I am reasonably confident that it will be reverted to elsewhere.

I shall focus on the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). He promised that he would return to the subject of how local planning should work and how we should legislate for it, and as always, he has been as good as his word—or perhaps I should say twice as good, because we have not one but two new clauses to look at, and they are not even the same.

The hon. Gentleman starts from the view that the system that we are putting in place is too complicated. Secondly, he believes that attempting to cover local planning arrangements in a single clause, however long, will make the system better and easier to understand. Thirdly, he believes that the arrangements in his new clauses—or at least, those in one of them—would lead to a better local planning system than would part 2 of the Bill. I have to reveal to him that I disagree on all three counts.

It is the Government's contention that our new arrangements, although precise, are not complicated. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet was right to say that we believe that they will deliver simpler, clearer local planning that is faster and more flexible, and with which the community can more easily become involved.

Describing the component parts of the system in sufficient detail means that people can be certain how it operates. Each element of our new system is there for a reason—to address the problems in the present system and to contribute to the goals of our planning reforms. The proposals of the hon. Member for Cotswold not only fail to address some of those problems, but would create some entirely new problems.

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Our proposals are perfectly straightforward. Each authority must have a core strategy, covering 10 or more years. There will be a proposals map, showing which land is to be developed and which is to be conserved. Authorities may choose to have one or more area action plans showing in more detail what will happen in areas where there will be a lot of change, or in areas that will be kept as they are.

Those documents will be subject to independent examination. They will be known as development plan documents and, with the regional spatial strategy for the area, will form the development plan. What could be simpler than that?

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