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Orders of the Day

Planning Bill

[1st alloted day]

[Relevant document s : the letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government of 3rd April and the Minister for Local Government’s letter of reply of 16th April.]

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 9


‘(1) Highway-related development is within section 13(1)(g) only if the development is—

(a) construction of a highway in a case within subsection (2),

(b) improvement of a highway in a case within subsection (3), or

(c) alteration of a highway in a case within subsection (4).

(2) Construction of a highway is within this subsection only if the highway will (when constructed) be wholly in England and—

(a) the Secretary of State will be the highway authority for the highway, or

(b) the highway is to be constructed for a purpose connected with a highway for which the Secretary of State is (or will be) the highway authority.

(3) Improvement of a highway is within this subsection only if—

(a) the highway is wholly in England,

(b) the Secretary of State is the highway authority for the highway, and

(c) the improvement is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

(4) Alteration of a highway is within this subsection only if—

(a) the highway is wholly in England,

(b) the alteration is to be carried out by or on behalf of the Secretary of State, and

(c) the highway is to be altered for a purpose connected with a highway for which the Secretary of State is (or will be) the highway authority.’.— [John Healey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.24 pm

The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 10— Railways.

Government amendments Nos. 77 and 78.

Amendment No. 325, in clause 14, page 8, line 12, leave out ‘or Wales’.

Amendment No. 315, in clause 19, page 11, line 10, after ‘authorisation)’, insert

Government amendment No. 79

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Amendment No. 331, in clause 20, page 12, line 18, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 332, page 12, line 23, leave out paragraph (d).

Amendment No. 333, line 30, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 334, line 32, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 335, line 37, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 336, line 38, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 337, line 41, leave out ‘cycle track’.

Amendment No. 338, line 42, leave out ‘footpath’.

Government amendments Nos. 80 to 88.

Amendment No. 316, in clause 31, page 19, line 32, at end insert—

‘(l) consent under regulation 14 of the Public Gas Transporter Pipe-line Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999.’.

Government amendments Nos. 89 to 92, 158 to 160, 249, 251, 253 and 254.

John Healey: I am delighted to move new clause 9, which sets off the debate on a series of provisions on developments for which consent is required or can be granted.

This group of amendments includes a number tabled by the Government, which make significant changes to the thresholds for highway, railway and airport development. There are also changes ensuring that clusters of projects are dealt with correctly and reflect some of the concerns raised in Committee. There are amendments tabled by Opposition Members and two from my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan).

New clause 9 and amendments Nos. 79, 90, 91, 158 to 160, 249, 251, 253 and 254 are intended to clarify the type of highway project that is captured in the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will see that the amendments make the highways threshold considerably simpler. They are the result of work undertaken to reflect points put to us in Committee, and points of concern put to us by other interested parties about the complexity of the Bill as originally drafted. To some extent, that complexity cannot be avoided, as the Bill draws numerous pieces of legislation together in a single consent regime for the first time—a prize and a policy aim for which there is, I think, broad support in all parts of the House. That was certainly the case in Committee.

The principal change in new clause 9 is that we are setting out three clear types of highway development in England that will be put before the infrastructure planning commission for determination. The first type concerns a development that is, or will be, constructed for the purposes of a highway on the strategic road network—roads for which the Secretary of State is, or will be, the highway authority. The second type of development is the improvement of a highway on the strategic road network that will have a significant impact on the environment. The third is an alteration of a highway that is being carried out by, or on behalf
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of, the Secretary of State for a purpose connected with a highway on the strategic road network.

Decisions on all those projects are currently made by the Secretary of State, so let me make it clear to the House that there is no question of taking from local decision making, or of there being an impact on local decision making. I should also stress that the clauses clarify the existing threshold. They will not result in additional projects going before the IPC for determination. I now turn to amendments Nos. 331 to 338, tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson).

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I chided the Minister rather hard in the previous debate, but may I ask him a question gently, in a spirit of good will? New clause 9, along with a large number of other clauses, applies to England only. With the greatest good will in the world, how will the Bill work when the provisions for England are so different from the provisions for the rest of the United Kingdom? For example, if the powers in new clause 9 were to be invoked in relation to a road that ran from England to Wales, how would the development be dealt with?

John Healey: When we published the White Paper on the planning system and our proposals for reform last year, we recognised that certain planning matters are devolved. The devolution settlement was generally working well, and we did not set out to change it in the Bill. That is why, under new clause 9 and the amendments in the group, where there are matters for the Secretary of State relating to England and English roads, they can be passed to the IPC for determination. Decisions of that sort in Scotland or in Wales might be variously devolved and therefore will not be matters that we put to the IPC. That is the reason for the difference.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall. As we said in Committee—the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), dealt with these parts of the Bill in Committee—most motorways and some A roads are indeed strategic roads that are essential to the economic functioning and prosperity of the country, allowing people and goods to move quickly and efficiently. In all cases, if a road is a trunk road, the Secretary of State will be the highway authority: the new clause and related amendments will have no impact on local decision making. Those roads will remain defined under the provisions as nationally significant infrastructure and therefore a matter for the IPC.

4.30 pm

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman also raised Committee cycle tracks and footpaths, to which the old definition applied. The Secretary of State can currently include provisions about cycle tracks and footpaths in a Highways Act order, where such paths are created or diverted in connection with a wider development to a main carriageway on a strategic road. But as my hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee, there are instances where cycle tracks and footpaths closely connected to developments on the strategic road network can be considered in isolation. There are examples, such as work going on alongside the A38 at
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present. We believe, however—this explains why we have set it out—that it is appropriate that where works are proposed to parts of the strategic road network, they should go to the IPC in the normal way as part of the package of proposals for the development.

New clause 10 and amendments Nos. 78 and 85 replace the current railways threshold with a more detailed definition of the types of railway development that should go to the IPC for consideration and respond to the points made in Committee by the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). Their concern was that the railways clause as drafted was too broad and that it would appear, for instance, to capture heritage railways and some tramway systems, which are classed as railways under the Transport and Works Act 1992, but it is not our intention that they should be determined by the IPC.

As promised in Committee, having looked at these concerns, I am happy to confirm that new clause 10 will achieve the effect that the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman were seeking. The intention is that under the new threshold the IPC will consider only applications relating to the rail network operated by Network Rail or a subsidiary of it, including the Heathrow spur rail link and the channel tunnel rail link—in other words, those routes commonly known as the national rail network.

On the intensification of use of airports and the airports threshold, amendments Nos. 77, 80 to 84, 86 and 87 ensure that the airports threshold is wide enough to capture any airport development that creates additional capacity at that airport by at least 10 million passengers a year or 10,000 air transport movements per year in relation to freight. In particular, it covers situations other than the physical development of a new or extended runway or the development of terminal buildings or an air traffic control mast, which would mean that more passengers could use an airport. It seemed to us an anomaly that the new planning system should deal with a significant increase in capacity at airports only when that was the result of physical development, not by the lifting of a planning condition that may currently restrict the number of flights or movements. The thresholds for what constitutes a nationally significant infrastructure project should capture a change of that magnitude in the use of an airport, even if no physical development were needed to bring that change about. Our amendments will ensure that such changes are considered in the framework of the new national policy statement and that they are given the same independent expert scrutiny as other major airport developments.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): As recently amended, the Bill specifically brings aircraft and air passenger movements into the realm of the planning system. What regime currently governs passenger and air movements in airports? I understand that a Civil Aviation Authority licence is involved in the cases of Heathrow and Gatwick, but will the Minister explain the position for the rest of the country?

John Healey rose—

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way at an appropriate moment?

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John Healey: I will happily give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. He is an expert on these matters and has a strong constituency interest in and track record on the issues that we are discussing. I shall give way to him and then deal with any necessary points from both interventions.

John McDonnell: On a point of clarity, will the Minister confirm that what we are referring to is, for example, the potential for the lifting of the Cranford agreement or changes on runway alternation to be included in the legislation?

John Healey: Any changes to, and therefore increase in, the use of an airport that lead to an additional 10 million or more passengers a year or to an additional 10,000 or more freight movements a year—whatever the source—should be considered, within the new planning system in the context of the new national policy statements, as physical developments; they might lead to the same impact. Stansted is an example. At that airport, there is an application relating to the lifting of a planning condition that restricts the number of flights. If such an application went ahead, there could be an increase in the number of passengers. To be consistent, such a change would be brought within the new system. That is what we propose.

John McDonnell: It would be invaluable if Members whose constituencies, in west London and beyond, are affected by Heathrow, got absolute clarity on this matter with regard to the Cranford agreement and runway alternation at Heathrow. At some time during the debate, will the Minister clarify whether he is now saying that the amendments tabled by the Government would enable those agreements to be changed or lifted in some way as a result of this process? That could result in a significant increase in air traffic movements at Heathrow without there being any physical infrastructural developments.

John Healey: To the extent that I can give such clarification and that it is necessary to go beyond what I have already explained in order to do so, I will.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: What we are discussing is one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill in relation to air travel, and it would be useful to have it clarified. To understand how these amendments and clauses work, may I ask whether, in future, that extra runway at Stansted—to take the Minister’s example—would already have been subject to an examination in respect of a national policy statement? In other words, will the infrastructure planning commission operate in a climate in which a national policy statement will already say whether there should be another runway at Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick or wherever?

John Healey: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick around for the whole debate, because we will come later to the question of national policy statements, what properly constitutes them and what stages of public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and environmental appraisal are required before such statements can be put in place. Only when such a statement is in place can the IPC consider an eligible application for a major development project within the relevant territory. That
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basis would have to be properly put in place before the new system could activate to consider an application that, under the terms of these provisions, would meet the thresholds that we set out.

Turning to clusters and our amendment No. 92, we had a useful debate in Committee about the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might direct a series of proposed projects to the IPC. The amendment clarifies our intention that where a series of projects that fall below the threshold are proposed for similar infrastructure projects, the Secretary of State may direct them to the IPC as being collectively of national significance, thereby reflecting the potential cumulative impact that such clusters of projects can have on an area. The hon. Member for North Cornwall is well aware of that from his own area. I stress, however, that we envisage that that ministerial power of direction would be exercised on the basis of clear criteria set out in a ministerial statement or in the national policy statement itself. Furthermore, we would expect it to be used comparatively rarely and to deal largely with circumstances that were impossible to predict, such as changing technology, changing circumstances in a particular sector, or situations where several projects have come forward in close proximity to each other and are therefore likely to have a cumulative impact requiring consideration as a whole. I hope that hon. Members accept that this is a sensible flexibility in the system that will allow us to deal with appropriate but unforeseen circumstances.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): Will the Minister confirm, purely for the record, that his proposals on clusters will not be applied to eco-towns?

John Healey: It is hard to see how eco-towns would fall within the Bill’s provisions, not least because they are housing developments, which are not proposed as eligible major infrastructure projects for the new system of IPC consideration and determination.

Let me respond to the points raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Beckenham when we discussed how multiple applications or multiple projects considered as a whole in one application could work. The mechanisms by which the IPC considers separate applications together will be outlined in the relevant national policy statement, in the terms of the Secretary of State’s direction, and in other relevant IPC standards and guidance. We intend that where separate projects are directed to the IPC to be treated together, the promoters will be required to work together to create a harmonised set of documentation for the ease not only of the IPC but, importantly, of the public and other local interests that might want to have a significant say on such an application.

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