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Mr. Clifton-Brown: The number of plans is mushrooming by the second. I picked out six in the Bill, but today I have heard from the Minister about two new ones that I have never heard of before—a proposals map and an action plan, neither of which is mentioned in the Bill, so far as I am aware. The system is getting more complicated every second. Instead of the two filing cabinets in my system, the Minister's system now has eight.

Keith Hill: As I shall seek to demonstrate, the hon. Gentleman himself has suggested no fewer than six elements in his local plan. At the core of the Government's local development framework are proposals for three development plan documents—those that I have mentioned. Of course, as we have already said, a local authority may expand the number of those documents if it chooses. They are the categories of the development plan document.

Local planning authorities will also be able to set out more details on their main policies, or on their policies in relation to, say, accessibility or design. Those elements will be known as supplementary planning documents.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Oh no!

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman has sat through fifty-five and a half hours of this. He knows perfectly well that SPDs are proposed. They correspond to what is normal practice already. I fail to see the problem with them.

Each local planning authority will also have a statement of community involvement, which will explain how local people and other interested parties will be able to influence, and express their views on, plans for their areas. I confess that that is new, but it is perfectly reasonable and straightforward. To make sure that those elements are put in place within a reasonable time, each area will prepare, and stick to, a project plan. That plan will set out what documents it will prepare, and a timetable for them, and it will be known as the local development scheme. That, too, is surely eminently sensible.

Our proposals will also ensure that local planning will not suffer from the serious problems encountered under the current system. No longer will plans take far too long to put in place, and no longer will it be extremely difficult and time consuming to update them. It is worth reflecting that half the local plans compiled by the nearly 300 local planning authorities are out of date, and that

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15 authorities never completed one in the first place. We intend things to be different. The plan will have to set out a clear strategy for an area's future development, and not merely list hundreds of policies that make it hard for anyone to see what development might happen where. No longer will preparing a plan be such a mammoth endeavour that residents and businesses find it too hard or too off-putting to get involved, and stay involved, in the process.

Matthew Green: Does not the scheme have another potential advantage? At the moment, local authorities preparing the mammoth documents that are local plans inevitably get involved in a public inquiry. Preparing the plan in a series of folders carries the advantage that, if one of the folders is controversial and ends up the subject of a public inquiry, the other folders will not require such an investigation. At the moment, a local plan is put to a public inquiry even though most of it is not controversial. That means that local plans are held up because of problems in one element.

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman is right. A great advantage of the Government's proposed schema is that it offers the flexibility that he describes. We have already debated in Committee the possibility that the new framework would mean that, if a new site unexpectedly became available—say, after the closure of a factory—it would not be necessary to respond by initiating the complex process of disentangling the existing plan. The new framework will make it possible to look at the site and to slot it into the relevant part of what the hon. Gentleman calls his filing cabinet and what I call my concertina file.

I admit that these are new arrangements. As with all changes, it will take time for people to become familiar with them. No one expects reading a Bill to be the best way to grasp a new system, but we have already taken action on various fronts. We have published for consultation five drafts of the key documents in local planning. They are the part 2 regulations, the transitional regulations, planning policy statement 12 on local development frameworks—that is, the policy statement that sets out the new system—a guide to procedures, and the code of practice which is aimed at helping interested parties and the person on the street to get involved in the new procedures. We have also published a guide to creating local development frameworks, which is a "how-to-do-it" guide for local authorities and others involved in preparing the new local development documents.

Comments are welcome up to mid-January, and we will take them fully into account in preparing final versions of the documents. They will be published in an accessible fashion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am holding the documents to which the Minister refers. My local planning officer asked me the other day how his staff were supposed to cope with getting to grips with all the documentation. His department is already overstretched, as there are not enough planning officers to deal with the present system, to say nothing of the new one. How are they supposed to deal with the new system, with an even more complicated section 106 procedure system as well?

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3.15 pm

Keith Hill: I accept that there is a resource scarcity in planning departments around the country. The Government are addressing that problem. We want to incentivise improvements in planning performance by means of our £350 million planning development grant over the next three years, £50 million of which has been disbursed already. I am very pleased that, although the grant is not ring-fenced, many local planning authorities are putting the grant money back into the planning system. Despite the scarcity of resources at local level, the latest figures show that planning performance in all categories is at its highest levels for 10 years. A problem exists, but I am delighted to say that the planning system is responding to it.

We are engaged in preparing further guidance on the availability appraisal, the strategic environmental assessment—the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal will be interested in that—and on monitoring and indicators. We are working with a range of organisations to spread the message about the new system and to train planners in it. Those organisations include the Planning Officers Society, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the British Urban Regeneration Association, and the Town and Country Planning Association. We are engaged in a major programme of communication and training. The aim is to develop knowledge and appreciation of the Government's new proposals, so that planners have the attitudes, skills and resources they need to practise our new spatial planning proposals effectively.

I have attempted briefly to describe the Government's new planning framework and the planning reform agenda. However, I take seriously the Opposition's alternative proposals, and I shall focus on some of the detail.

The task has not been easy, as I have had to study two new clauses that are similar but not identical. In light of the problems clearly experienced by the hon. Member for Cotswold in drafting the new clauses, it is slightly ironic that they are supposed to be a simpler alternative to the Government's, and easier to understand.

Flexibility in revising the local plan is at the heart of the Government's proposals. It is not clear that the new clauses offer that. I was confused by the fact that both new clauses have a plan containing documents. It is not clear whether the local planning authority would be able to prepare or revise one document at a time—and we believe that to be of critical importance, as noted by the hon. Member for Ludlow—or whether it would have to tackle everything at once, with all the problems that we know that that causes. Both new clauses suggest that the authority would not be able to do that. That is a fatal flaw that would perpetuate the problems of the existing system.

One might have expected that the alternative plan would be about planning policies, but I could not see what it was supposed to be about. Although there are various elements that the alternative plan must include, neither new clause says that that plan must set out the authority's spatial or land-use planning policies. As far as possible, there must be a separation between the purposes of real planning and the process by which real plans are put in place.

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Admittedly the Opposition's schema—the plan, its document and any changes that the local authority wants to make—will have to go through an independent examination. However, the plan and/or documents will include practical matters too. What these will be depends on which of the new clauses one examines. In new clause 10, the practical matters included are joint working, joint committees, the timetable, and the role that county counties and—oddly, because they are planning authorities—unitary authorities would play. In new clause 19, the list has been cut to joint committees and the role of the counties. Why subject these processes to independent examination? I simply cannot see the justification for such an onerous procedure for any changes to these matters.

The hon. Member for Cotswold has attempted to address that point in new clause 19 by specifying that the examination would consider whether an examination was necessary. Therefore, a proposal that a county council should do something more or different would have to go to an examination, and then the inspector would carry out an examination to decide whether an examination was needed. Perhaps I have got it wrong, but that hardly seems a sensible approach. It would be a barrier to county-district co-operation and partnership. This approach, which mixes real planning with how it will be done, is also incompatible with our plan-led system in which planning applications are determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations dictate otherwise.

The hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of complexity, but he wants every authority to have at least six separate documents or plans within the overall plan dealing with various subjects. The approach to particular planning issues under our proposals is far more sensible.

Let us consider settlements, for example. The core strategy will set out which settlements in a local authority's area will be a focus for new development, such as housing and employment, and will take into account national policy guidance and the regional strategy. It will apply other strategic policies to different settlements, such as restrictions on the scale of growth that can take place in villages in the countryside.

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