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28 Nov 2007 : Column 3P


Wednesday 28 November 2007

Communities and Local Government

Development (Durham)

The Petition of the people of the City of Durham,

Declares that the green space formerly the Bowling Green, situated on the Old Racecourse on the bank of the river Wear at Elvet waterside, is under threat from development.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Communities and Local Government to do all to protect and retain this public space for the present citizens of the City of Durham, future residents, posterity and visitors.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods , Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 806 .] [P000068]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

1. Development proposals for Elvet Waterside affecting the former Bowling Green are at an early stage, and the City Council and the developer are still in discussion with statutory consultees and local residents about the future development. There is no definite date yet for submission of a planning application.

2. Development management is primarily the responsibility of the City of Durham as local planning authority, and the Secretary of State would not comment on the merits or otherwise of an application, or prospective application.

3. The law requires decisions on planning applications to be in accordance with the adopted development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The Government's statements of national planning policy, such as PPG 17 "Planning for Open Space Sport and Recreation", are material considerations which must be taken into account, where relevant, in planning decisions, but it is the responsibility of Durham City Council to identify and weigh up all the different issues, in the context of the specific local circumstances, having regard to the views of local residents and other interested parties.

4. The Secretary of State may decide to call-in an application for her own determination where she considers that it raises issues of more than local importance, but her policy is to be very selective about this. As it is possible that the Elvet Waterside application may at some future date come within her jurisdiction, it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter raised in the petition.


Mobile Telephone Mast (Canvey Island)

The Petition of Cheryl Oldroyd, residents of Canvey Island and others,

Declares that the proposal submitted by O2 to erect a mobile telephone mast on the High Street, Canvey Island, is unacceptable due to the ill-considered suitability of a busy residential and business area for such a
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structure. The petitioners emphasise the significant lack of understanding in respect of the longer-term effects of such telephone masts on the health of those within the immediate vicinity and particularly on young children. Whilst the petitioners acknowledge the need to erect and maintain such structures in the interests of business, they submit that more suitable locations for this structure are available, of which the applicant is already aware and should consider.

The Petitioners therefore request the House to urge the Government to encourage Castle Point Borough Councillors to reject the plans and seek an alternative, less densely populated area, in consideration of the wishes of residents.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Bob Spink , Official Report, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 808 .] [P000069]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

Decisions on planning and prior approval applications for telecommunications are, in the first instance, the responsibility of local planning authorities. The role of the Secretary of State in the appeal process requires the Government to remain impartial. If the Government were to pass comment or give advice relating to the case, we would be at risk of fettering the Secretary of State's discretion in the event that this matter was to proceed to an appeal. Government policy is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is absolutely necessary to do so and calling in cases for determination by the Secretary of State is comparatively rare.

Guidance on the handling of planning and prior approval applications is set out in Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) Note 8: Telecommunications. The policy states “Whilst local planning authorities are encouraged to respond positively to telecommunications development proposals, they should take account of the advice on the protection of urban and rural areas in other planning policy guidance notes. Material considerations include the significance of the proposed development as part of a national network. In making an application for planning permission, or prior approval, operators may be expected to provide evidence regarding the need for the proposed development.”

The guidance also states

The Health Protection Agency's Radiation Protection Division continually monitors the health impact of mobile phone technologies. The research field was comprehensively reviewed in ‘Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields - Report of an independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation' (Documents of the National Radiological Protection Board, Volume 14, No 2 2003).

The report specifically mentions mobile telephone masts saying: “Exposure levels from living near to mobile phone base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to health”.

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Nevertheless, the Government takes very seriously public concern about the possibility of health effects associated with telecommunications systems and has part financed the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme which has funded a number of studies in this area. The MTHR programme management committee published a report on 12 September 2007, describing the work it has supported in the UK and placing it in context with work going on undertaken elsewhere in the world. The research programme included the largest and most robust studies of electrical hypersensitivity undertaken anywhere in the world and found no convincing evidence that the unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and tingling, experienced by sufferers of electrical hypersensitivity are the result of exposure to signals from mobile phones or base stations. In addition, the programme funded some basic measurements of radio signals from smaller base stations in the UK such as those found in airports, railway stations and shopping mails and found that exposures were well below international guidelines.

As stated in PPG 8,

Family Courts (Reform)

The Petition of The Pullen Family,

Declares that a recent case in the Family Court has highlighted an injustice in the current system. The daughter of Rachel Pullen has been put up for adoption because she is alleged, by Nottingham City Council, to be too ill for her mother to care for her. The Council assessed Rachel Pullen as ‘not having the capacity to give instructions to your solicitor’. As a consequence the Official Solicitor was instructed to represent her. This case demonstrates that there is a conflict of interest under current legislation which works against the interests of parents. The Petitioners believe that judgements on an individual’s competence should be made by a fully independent authority to ensure justice is both done and seen to be done.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to legislate to prevent courts from accepting the opinion of experts paid by the local authority as to the capacity of parties to give instructions to solicitors and further to investigate on how many occasions the Official Solicitor has been
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used by Local Authorities to progress the removal and adoption of a child from its birth family.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by John Hemming , Official Report, 23 October 2007; Vol. 465, c. 258 .] [P000070]

Observation from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government takes the issues raised very seriously and would like to highlight the following points in response:

Injustice in the Family Courts

Children involved in care proceedings are considered to be suffering or likely to suffer significant harm so the cases involve issues of the most extreme importance. In such cases, the courts—with their independent judiciary—are required by law to treat the interests of the child as paramount.

An adoption panel advises and makes independent recommendations to the adoption agency/local authority on whether the child should be placed for adoption. The panel is made up of a Panel Chair, a Medical Adviser, an elected councillor, a representative of the fostering agency, a foster carer from another agency, independent members, social workers and others who have indirect experience of adoption. The court will then make its decision after hearing and considering all the evidence put before them by all parties in the proceedings, including parents and experts. So the process is:

Official Solicitor

The Official Solicitor is an independent statutory office holder appointed under the Supreme Court Act 1981. He is an officer of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Ministers are not responsible for his decisions in individual cases.

Use of Experts

Where a lawyer, usually a solicitor for the party that wants expert evidence to be presented, approaches an expert, the expert will be given information about the issues likely to arise and the questions to be answered. The lawyer has to provide information, including the qualifications and expertise of the expert (often by a curriculum vitae) to the court. The lawyer must justify the need for an expert, say whether the expert can be jointly appointed by two or more of the parties to the case and, if so, how costs might be apportioned. There is a presumption that an opinion from a single expert in a speciality will suffice because, in the majority of cases, medical experts will agree about the evidence of harm to a child. However, any of the parties may contest this and apply to the court for the appointment of a separate expert.

There are no plans to legislate to prevent courts from accepting the opinions of independent experts paid for by the Local Authority.

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