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Lastly, there is the question of consultation and the right to be heard. The point about airports is not a matter for Walesit is restricted to England for very good reasonsbut there is a strong argument for listening to the views of people who will be affected by aircraft noise, not just people in the immediate environment of the runway. Those considerations are
very serious and have persuaded me, and my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, to oppose the Bill at this stage.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): This is an important Bill. I would not extend its importance as far back as Cromwell, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) did, but from the Secretary of States point of view it does go back as far as Dalton in 1947. It will set out the planning processes for the forthcoming generation.
The Bill is also important for my constituents because the first major infrastructure project likely to be considered under the new process will be the third runway and the sixth terminal at Heathrow, which could lead to 10,000 of my constituents losing their homes and the demolition of three of their primary schools. It would mean the largest forcible removal of people from their communities since the Scottish clearances. I have looked at the latest consultation document and the new flight paths, and we now knowas we predictedthat BAA has made a proposal for an extended runway, not a short-take off one, which will impact on St. Peters and St. Pauls mediaeval church in my constituency, and St. Marys in Harmondswortha church with a 1,000-year history. We think that they will be rendered unusable, and we will be back where we were three years ago, with proposals to disinter our dead because of this plan. The Bill is important for me, my constituents and my communities.
Much has been made of the experience of terminal 5, and I agree that the genesis of the Bill does come partly from the experience of terminal 5. However, it also comes from a lobby by BAA and the aviation industry over a long period, in their planning for the third runway and the sixth terminal and, I say to this House, in their planning for a fourth runway and a seventh terminal in due course, as admitted by former BAA policy planners. The Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed not just one, but two experts to develop the Barker report and the Eddington report on transport and planning. To the shock, horror and amazement of all Members, I am sure, the appointment of the former chief executive of British Airways resulted in proposals to expand airports.
Mr. Gummer: Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that the report not only suggested the expansion of airports, but that we should not have high speed trains? If ever there was a fatally flawed report, it was that one.
John McDonnell: Of course, Sir Rod Eddington came to it with a balanced view gained from his aviation background, and ignored all other representations made by any other sector of industry in this country.
There is a sense of irony that BAA and even the Government are arguing that delays in the terminal 5 process have contributed to the introduction of the
Bill. I was at the terminal 5 inquiry and the delays that I witnessed were caused by BAAthe developers. It continuously changed the proposals it was advocating, it changed its position almost weekly and it used banks of lawyers and experts who swamped the timetable of considerations at the inquiry. That is understandableit was difficult for BAA. It was trying to prove an unsustainable argument: that the airport could be virtually doubled at terminal 5 without any impact on noise, air pollution or local communities. It used expert after expert, year after year, to try to press that argument.
Others, including the London borough of Hillingdon, the anti-noise group HACAN ClearSkies, the residents associations and Friends of the Earth were more limited. I congratulate them on the expeditious presentation of their arguments. They wanted to arrive at a decision. They were poorly resourced, but they intervened well at the inquiry.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend speaks persuasively about Heathrow, the largest passenger airport in the country. The largest numbers of freight aircraft use East Midlands airport, and it is not entirely a flight of fancy to envisage that the Government, in their fourth term, or perhaps another Government, might desire a second runway at that airport and ram it through using the infrastructure planning commission. That would mean a total lack of accountability against all the environmental, community and economic considerations. That is an open invitation for a judicial review, is it not?
John McDonnell: Unless the Bill is amended significantly, I warn those hon. Members who may have a major potential development in their areaan airport, or any other hazardous development, such as a nuclear power facilitythat their constituents voices will not be heard. I warn those hon. Members that the process will enable Governments, developers and those who want to make profit out of the degradation of our local environments to ride roughshod over local views.
The issues that were thrown up by the terminal 5 inquiry included the management of the process, the number of applications, the changes in applications during the process and the timetabling, but from my point of view they also included time wasting and the fact that no sanctions were applied against the developer who was wasting that time.
Delays were obvious throughout that inquiry, and I believe that inspectors have commented on them. There was also a lack of resources for the objectors. However, the decision making was consistent and balanced. I did not agree with the decision of the inspector at the terminal 5 inquiry, Mr. Vandermeer, but I understood it. My constituents did not agree, but they understood. It was balanced: terminal 5 would be allowed, but there would be no further impact on noise, pollution or local communities.
Even BAA agreed with the decision. Why did it agree? It agreed because its representatives stood up at the inquiry and promised that if it got terminal 5 there would be no representations for a third runway or sixth terminal. BAA wrote to me and my constituents and informed us accordingly. Its representatives stood by
my side at a public meeting to assure my constituents that if BAA got terminal 5 it would not press for a third runway or future expansion at Heathrow. That was accepted by the Government.
The then Secretary of State for Transport stood up in this Chamber, accepted the inspectors decision and capped air traffic movements at Heathrow, and said that there would be no further expansion of Heathrow on the basis of the inquiry. A consistent decision was made at the inquiry based on the evidence, and the Government adopted due process. That proved to be a deceit by BAA. We now know that while it was writing to me and my constituents and standing on platforms with me, it had started the lobby for the third runway and the sixth terminal. It was lobbying within months. Within 24 months, the Government had started the process of the development of the third runway and sixth terminal. The failure in the system was not the inquiry or the planning process, per se, but decision making at ministerial level, unduly influenced by the aviation industry.
The aviation White Paper enabled the Government to dress up the decision to go forward and fed into the process of developing the Bill; it took no account of the climate change considerations at the heart of Government. We now know that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was developing the various discussions on the impact of climate change while the aviation White Paper was being developed. The White Paper largely ignored the Governments integrated transport policies and the views of the Mayor of London, local authorities and the local people who would be affected by the major expansion of airports, not only at Heathrow but at airports all over the country.
So, what is the situation now? We are now operating in a hybrid system. It is the worst of all worlds. The aviation White Paper was drafted and dominated by the aviation industry lobbying the former Chancellor. The consultation paper that will be out for the next few months was drafted and virtually dictated by BAA, with the evidence modelled by BAAthat is the information that we have received under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The consultation is degenerating into farce. There will not even be an exhibition held in the villageSipsonthat will be wiped out by the sixth terminal, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) pointed out during questions last week.
We are told that we need to await a planning application. To be frank, following statements made by the Prime Minister in his speech to the City of London, by the Secretary of State for Transport and throughout the media, what inquiry into the extension of Heathrow can be held in a free and fair atmosphere?
I am worried that the new system takes the worst of the current system and removes the best. A pre-application consultation is promised. Those who have experienced pre-application consultations by developers will assure hon. Members that they are not independent. Who drafts the reports? The developer. Will they be open to challenge? They never are. Will they be open to amendment in the light of the challenges put forward by those on whom any development will have an impact? No, they will not. Are they consensual? No. They provide no protection. At inquiries under the new system, will there be a right to be heard? No. There will be the potential of open-floor sessions. That is not the same as
the right to be heard; it is a privilege to turn up only. Will objectors be able, as a right, to interrogate witnesses? No. The inquiry process from the objectors point of view will be gutted by the proposals, as far as I can see.
I welcome the additional resources in the Bill, including the additional £1.5 million for Planning Aid, which might help objectors. However, if there are to be 45 major infrastructure developments a year, as we have been told by the Secretary of State, the £1.5 million allocated to Planning Aid to assist local objectors, residents and environmental groups is trivial. It will in no way enable those groups to have an effective voice in the process.
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument. Does he agree that the central question, when all the inquiry business is finished, is whether the inquirersthe commissionwill be able to say no to the projects? Will it have that independence of thought and ability? Is not that the crucial question?
John McDonnell: That is a valid point. Will the individual members of the commission be independent? A lot will depend on their appointment and the processes of that appointment. What worries me even more is that the commission, as the decision maker, will not be politically accountable. Whatever we think about the process at the moment, a Secretary of Stateaccountable to the House and, ultimately, to the electoratesigns off the final decision on major infrastructure projects. That is democracy. I believe that the commissions insertion between the electoratethose who will endure the planning decisionsand the House means that overall accountability breaks down. I accept the point of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) and I, too, am concerned about commission members independence, but independence sometimes derives from accountability when people feel that they can be held to account throughout the due processes.
I asked the Secretary of State about the status of the policy statements and whether they would be amendable in the House. Her response was that there would be scrutiny, but that is not the same as being capable of amendment. Policy statements will therefore be similar to the aviation White Paper, and limited in their consultationthe Bill contains no details of the methods of consultation. They will not be capable of amendment by the House and will therefore pre-empt local decisions because they are not simply general policy statements but can relate to specific geographical areas and projects.
Any attempt to incorporate the aviation White Paper into a policy statement would be an abuse of power because it has not gone through the exhaustive process of consultation, dialogue and discussion that any policy statement would be expected to undergo, especially in my community.
There is a genuine problem with the Bill, which could undermine confidence in the planning system. Yes, there is need for reform, but not this one. The measure is a retrograde step. We need a progressive reform based on
openness, transparency, equality of opportunity and of resourcing, firm rights and independent and consistent decision making. We want democratic reform. I warn the Government that, if trust in the process breaks down, people will look to other means to express their views.
The climate camp came to my constituency in the summer and I welcomed it. I had the best political discussion about climate change that I have had anywhere. Those who came to the camp operated effectively. Two thousand people turned up overnight, set up a camp, operated peacefully, made their protest and pushed the issue up the medias agenda and that of us all. There is no guarantee in future that, if the Government undermine confidence and trust in the political process, similar direct action will not spill over into other forms of action, which the Government and all of us would regret. The impact of the Bill could be that important.
I urge the Government to think again and consider how the Bill can be used to ensure proper and democratic involvement at every level so that people are properly resourced and have equal access to the decision-making process. I will table amendments to try to make that happen. I will not support the Bill tonight and I will support it in future only if it is significantly amended.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): It is a pleasure and a challenge to follow the contribution of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who highlighted the concerns of many that the Bill might hand a bulldozer to some developers.
I want to focus on issues that worry my constituents and others throughout the country. When talk began about introducing a planning Bill so soon after the previous planning measure, those who were somewhat bruised by their experiences with the planning system hoped that they would find changes to create a fairer, more open and more democratic system. Doubtless, all hon. Members have been approached by constituents who felt that the planning system had let them down, in the hope that the local Member of Parliament could somehow overturn the decision. The Bill will do nothing to help them.
We are living at a time of rapid change in patterns of settlement, ways of life and forms of employment. Industry is growing in some areas and shrinking in others. The planning system needs to provide a built environment that can deliver a good standard of living and deal with employment opportunities. It must be able to keep up with change.
Planning should also inspire people. It should encourage communities to come together to discuss the future of their place, which is special to them and to which they all contribute. There is no sense out there that the planning system currently does that. Planning has become a dirty word. Planning departments are known as development control departments and committees are often known as development control committees. That is a shame because it undermines the profession of planners and the role that people can play in shaping their communities future. The measure is entitled the Planning Bill but it fails to fulfil peoples aspirations.
Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is right that, rather than acting as a catalyst for popular involvement, the Bill presents an obstacle to the planning systems becoming more democratically accountable. However, it is worse than that. Does not the measure also transfer power away from the Houseindeed, from the Executive, which is ironic? The Bill is fundamentally undemocratic and therefore virtually indefensible.
My constituents would say that they want a planning system that takes account of their opinions and needs. They may have a local authority, which has done a good job in the local development process of trying to involve people through the means available. However, we should ask ourselves how many people in our constituencies know that that process is going on, how many respond and how many feel that their comments will be considered. I would like the Bill, and the things that may be added to it as it progresses, to provide for giving a greater variety of tools to local communities through their local authorities to listen to opinions and reflect needs.
Cornwall is deemed to be part of the south-west. The regional spatial strategy process is even more remote from people, yet in many ways more crucial because the local development framework has to match the priorities set by it. We therefore have a process whereby an unelected regional assemblyI support elected regional government; I happen to believe that Cornwall by itself is an elected region, but that debate is for another daymakes important decisions. From visiting parish councils and talking to people at all sorts of forums in my constituency, I found that they were unaware of the importance of the regional spatial strategy and of what role they should play in trying to influence it. The Bills provisions to grant new powers to local authority members through appeals panels are a more welcome development, and I should like them to be explored further.
An alternative vision is perhaps that of the parish plan process, which I have witnessed at first hand in my constituency. It is all about local communities coming together and setting priorities for the future. It works effectively in a rural area, and I accept that other hon. Members may have a view about how well it works in more urban areas. However, the process encourages me to believe that we need not fear the spectre of nimbyism. In a place such as North Cornwall, where people might be expected to fear housing development, many rural communities have found the evidence, through the parish plan process, that they need extra housing. They have thus reached a view that they would like more housing, especially affordable housing, in their community. We have the rather odd position whereby the local authority must, as part of the regional spatial strategy process, argue for more housing. Perhaps people in the south-east would find that odd.
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