Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 419)



  Q400  Chairman: You are on the task force?

  Ms McCabe: No. The task force is only for ODPM and HMT.

  Mrs Clark: So you are just being consulted again. Oh dear!

  Q401  Chairman: It seems to me that you are being hung out to dry. This whole area is very disappointing. I would not want to be in your shoes, particularly since you are known to have strong convictions about sustainability. The extent to which you have been marginalised seems extraordinary to me.

  Mr Morley: I do not accept that we are being marginalised. Departments have different committees and different groups and that also includes ourselves, we have working groups on water which other government departments are not on. That does not mean that they are not involved, nor does it make them any less effective. I would not go as far as what you have done in your last statement, Chairman. What is important are outcomes. We are always going to have an argument about outcomes and I repeat that we are prepared to push this to the limit in relation to change, in relation to sustainability. I do not accept those comments.

  Q402  Chairman: It seems to me you have a huge amount of work to do, not least in clawing your way back into this agenda which seems to have been seized by the Treasury and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

  Mr Morley: I do not accept we have been excluded, Chairman.

  Q403  Chairman: You are not terribly included in.

  Mr Morley: We are included in at the very highest level and the very highest level in this delivery is the MISC22 Cabinet Committee. I attend that, as does Margaret Beckett. It is quite wrong for you to suggest that in some way we are isolated in this development because that is not the case. We have had a great deal of influence in the developments at this stage. If you are saying the measurement of this is that every single little committee within Government must have Defra representation, I think that is going a bit far.

  Q404  Chairman: You were not asked about the terms of reference of the Barker Review and you are not included in the task force that is taking the recommendations forward. I do not know how much more excluded it is possible to be.

  Ms McCabe: There are only two departments on the task force. Defra is not being singled out here.

  Q405  Chairman: What certainty do you have that the work you are doing, that you have told us you need to do, is going to be completed to your satisfaction before the Office the Deputy Prime Minister or the Treasury makes a further substantive announcement about the Barker Review?

  Mr Morley: There will be no substantive announcement about the Barker Review without our investment and consultation with Defra.

  Q406  Chairman: You do not think they are going to go ahead without you?

  Mr Morley: Absolutely not, no.

  Q407  Chairman: They seem to have done when they announced the Barker Review in the first place.

  Mr Morley: We were consulted in the setting up of the Barker Review and we have been involved in relation to a detailed response from Defra and in terms of our views on Barker.

  Q408  Chairman: So you can tell us categorically that there will be no further announcement about Barker and progress towards implementation unless you are satisfied about all the environmental issues that we have talked about today?

  Mr Morley: There will be no announcement without our involvement and our consultation. I am quite sure that your Committee may have something to say about that itself, Chairman.

  Chairman: We are always keen to support your Department, Minister!

  Q409  Mrs Clark: Can I look at the Sustainable Buildings Task Group and test your involvement in that. It has put forward proposals for amending the Buildings Regulations to improve energy and resource efficiency. Are you actually involved in the work to take this forward? Are you a member of the task force or again a consultee?

  Mr Morley: We are a member of the task force and we are putting forward our ideas in relation to water and energy savings. We believe that there is potential for 30% savings on energy and 30% savings on water with minimal cost in relation to building standards. There are building codes which are being developed by the task force and we are part of that group as well.

  Q410  Mrs Clark: We have been told that the main aim is to include any proposals in Building Regulations by the year 2010. That seems to me to be rather a long way away. Is this the timetable that the Government is working to? Is it going to be achieved?

  Ms McCabe: That is a responsibility primarily of ODPM. I am not an expert on Building Regulations, but certainly Building Regulations are being reviewed all the time. Energy is being reviewed by 2005 and water as well. I am not sure where the 2010 figure comes from.

  Q411  Mrs Clark: Is it going to slip?

  Mr Morley: 2010 is long enough as it is. I would rather see changes in regulations come in before then.

  Q412  Mrs Clark: What has been your involvement with the consultation and development on PPS1?

  Mr Morley: We have been consulted from the beginning in relation to PPS1. Again, there are a lot of implications for us, particularly in relation to the provision of water and the way that planning is put in place. We also have an interest in such things as the special planning which is being brought forward there and PPS1 is also a potential opportunity to review what can be difficulties in putting in place infrastructure for waste management. There have been some considerable delays in relation to infrastructure, even fairly innocuous development such as recycling centres and composting centres.

  Q413  Mrs Clark: It has been our impression that despite stating that PPS1 puts sustainability "at the heart of development" planners are still going to have limited powers when it comes to requiring sustainability principles to be properly incorporated into housing. Do you agree with that?

  Mr Morley: There is always an argument about how far you can go in relation to sustainability and the powers that you have. We are looking to improve and increase those powers and PPS1 is an opportunity to do that.

  Q414  Chairman: Is it not a pity that developers and planners will only have to have regard to PPS1, they do not have to abide by it?

  Mr Morley: I am not a lawyer. I suspect "regard to" is probably a phrase which they cannot altogether ignore. I think in these issues the tighter the regulations and definitions the better.

  Q415  Mrs Clark: I certainly agree with that because in my experience planning departments often go completely out of control and off on their own. Will it be possible in your view, once PPS1 comes into force, for local authorities to refuse planning permission for developments that do not actually comply with sustainable development principles?

  Mr Morley: There will be stronger guidance issued to local authorities about the whole issue of sustainable development which has not featured in planning criteria very much so far.

  Q416  Mrs Clark: Do they not often ignore guidance?

  Mr Morley: You have got this conflict in that the planning process in this country is devolved to local authorities. The guidance is there for the professional officers who guide the planning committees. The planning committees themselves in the end take the final decisions.

  Q417  Mrs Clark: The elected councillors?

  Mr Morley: That is right. They themselves are subject to the appeals process and also the various legal processes of judicial review.

  Q418  Mr Challen: As a Member representing an urban fringe seat on the urban fringe of Britain's most successful and growing city I hasten to add, that puts enormous pressure on housing and my constituency is almost overwhelmed by new housing. One of the more welcome products of ODPM was PPG3, which put the emphasis on developing Brownfield before Greenfield sites. Barker seems to adopt as one of her fundamental principles the principle that in future housing supply should be led by market demand, land valuations and so on. Are you concerned by the possibility that that approach could damage or reverse the very beneficial effects of PPG3?

  Mr Morley: I think the Brownfield development is the right priority and I am very glad to say that the Government's target has been exceeded, it was 60% and it is currently 64% and ahead of schedule on this. It is true that there was some controversy about some of the perceived conclusions of the Barker report. The implementation of it is a matter for Government and that will involve getting the balance right between Brownfield developments and the use of green fields. If I recall, I think it was Barker who talked about green buffers to development as well and I think that is an opportunity for building in the green spaces I was mentioning before, you can get a range of objectives from that.

  Q419  Chairman: The buffers were a 40% over-provision that she recommends, where development gets triggered by market forces irrespective of the input of local planners. That is a very different type of buffer from the green buffer.

  Mr Morley: You cannot allow all planning to be driven by market forces. I think you need the spacial approach which PPS1 argues for.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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