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I will touch briefly on two other important issues dealt with in this group of amendments. The first is raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) in his amendments Nos. 315 and 316, which relate to high-pressure pipelines constructed by licence—gas transporters. He has pursued that subject strongly over the past few months. As I said, the aim of the Bill is to simplify and streamline the planning system for major infrastructure projects. The industry has raised the issue of larger gas transporter pipelines, which can sometimes require a
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number of other consents. We regard this as raising several important matters, as my hon. Friend has rightly argued. We have a number of practical points to explore further with the industry, and we have to do that before we come to a firm decision on whether those pipeline projects should be considered by the IPC.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): On those practical points, would the Minister consider meeting people from the industry at an early stage to discuss the security aspects and the environmental ones?

John Healey: My hon. Friend pre-empts me. I was going to suggest that he broker a meeting with my leading officials—if not with me—so that we can take the process a stage further. We could assess the impact of the industry’s proposal and see how it would fit within the established devolution, and assess the extent to which the existing system of permitted development is working well. If my hon. Friend were prepared to broker such a meeting, it would be an important and useful next step.

4.45 pm

Finally, I come to amendment No. 325, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) tabled. I suspect that behind the amendment lies a request to the Government to devolve the consideration of the applications to Welsh Ministers. We have had detailed discussions, not just with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform but with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Wales Office. Consistent with what I said earlier, we do not want to change the devolution settlement through this Bill , but to respect its significant points.

The best approach for the long-term energy needs of this country is to develop reserve powers on nationally significant energy infrastructure, including the sort of power stations covered by the amendment. We made it clear in the White Paper that we did not propose to change the devolution settlement, so we have been consistent in our approach to the issue. Given that position, it is clear that such projects should be included within the IPC’s remit; they would benefit from a quicker, more effective system of determination and consideration that gives a reinforced role to the public and enables them to have their say. I am not sure that it would serve Wales well if applications for major new generating stations there used the old regime while their equivalents in England used the new regime.

I hope that that helped the House. I hope that I have explained matters and convinced Members that the Government’s new clauses and amendments will reinforce and strengthen the Bill, and that their intent is one that the House can support. I hope that those of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who tabled amendments can see that we have dealt with the issues about which they are concerned. I hope, therefore, that they will not find it necessary to press any of their amendments to a vote. If they do, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to resist.

Mr. David Jones: This is the first group of a large number of Government amendments—they are overwhelmingly of a technical nature—that we have to
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consider. As we heard, the large number of amendments has taken those who served in Committee by surprise. The amendments are extensive, and for the most part they are significant. To a considerable extent, the amendments appear to address matters that should have been considered long before the Bill was published—certainly not later than the Committee sittings. In fact, some of the amendments amend amendments that were made in Committee. It is fairly obvious that amendments have been tabled as a result of pressure on the Minister from other Whitehall Departments, which have clearly been crawling all over the Bill, having their four pennies’ worth.

The most significant amendments, as the Minister said, are new clauses 9 and 10. By virtue of amendment No. 79, clause 20, which deals with nationally significant highway projects, is deleted altogether, while new clause 9 substitutes a definition of “highway-related development”. New clause 9 is largely welcome, given that it appears to avoid the risk of small-scale highway projects falling within the definition of “nationally significant infrastructure project”. Members of the Committee were concerned that including smaller scale projects could clog up the development consent system and so defeat the object of streamlining the consents process. The Local Government Association expressed the view that local authorities should continue to maintain their role on trunk roads, particularly the smaller and less used ones. It is therefore good that the Government have acknowledged the force of the arguments expressed in Committee and by the LGA, by effectively restricting the IPC procedure to major trunk road projects.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) pointed out in his intervention, it is notable that the development consent route is available only for roads wholly contained in England; Wales and Scotland are excluded, as are cross-border routes. The issue of cross-border routes is particularly contentious. The Government have made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill—in fact, the Minister just reiterated this—that they are reluctant to disturb the devolution settlement. That is quite understandable. Nevertheless, it is hard to see why such an important Bill could not have been introduced with the co-operation and support of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Executive, so as to ensure that the streamlined development consent process, which the Government are so keen on, could apply to cross-border highway routes.

The matter was raised in Committee. I had hoped that the Government would liaise with their colleagues in the devolved Administrations, to see whether it was possible to extend the development consent procedure to cross-border highways. As it is, consents relating to both ends of new cross-border routes will have to be considered under the existing disparate procedure. As I am sure the Minister will be well aware, that procedure has resulted in some cross-border routes not being completed as quickly as they should be.

A prime example—I relate this with feeling—is the A5117 link road between the M56 and the A55 north Wales expressway. That route has taken an inordinately long time to complete; in fact, it is still in construction as I speak. If devolution is to work sensibly, there is no
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reason why the Government should not liaise with the devolved Administrations to see whether it is possible to bring uniformity to matters as important as those that we are considering today. Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether the opportunity was taken to liaise with the devolved Administration in respect of that matter and whether he feels that an opportunity was missed to improve cross-border road networks.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sure that my hon. Friend knows this better than I do, but in that respect the Bill applies not only to roads, but to railways. Is it not folly that a major road or rail scheme might get to the boundary of Scotland or Wales, but then face inordinate delays in reaching its final destination, thereby watering down the whole purpose of the scheme?

Mr. Jones: My hon. Friend is quite right. As I have said, that is the very problem that travellers along the north Wales coastal road have experienced for many years, as a consequence of the delayed completion of the A5117 link. He is right, too, that the regime applies also to railways. The concern is that devolution, which is supposed to work for the benefit of the residents of the devolved Administrations, is perhaps being applied too strictly, to the extent that it is penalising those people.

The Minister mentioned the amendments to the regime concerning railways. New clause 10 is a substitute for the old clause 23, and provides a new definition of the construction or alteration of a railway. It is the second such amendment of the clause. In essence, the new clause raises the railway threshold so that it relates only to strategic rail links and not to light tramways or guided transport. Again, the Government, to their credit, appear to have listened to the concerns that were expressed in Committee, where Members said that tramways should properly be in the domain of the local planning authority and not the infrastructure planning commission.

Subsections (1)(c) and (2)(c) of the new clause provide that the construction or alteration of a railway carried out pursuant to permitted development, which is

is specifically excluded. As the Minister will be aware, part 17 of the 1995 order provides that permitted development is:

It is interesting that the new clause does not disturb that.

One can fully understand the need for the GPD regime to be preserved in respect of railways, but will the Minister explain why Network Rail, uniquely among statutory undertakers, should have those rights preserved? As far as I can see, permitted rights are not being preserved for other statutory undertakers—specifically, as I hope to discuss later, the operators of ports and harbours. Will the Minister explain why it is thought proper to preserve those GPD rights in relation to railways but not for other statutory undertakers?

The Minister mentioned the amendments on airports. Amendments Nos. 77, 81, 82, 83 and 84 all relate to air transport. Their effect is to ensure that
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where there is an existing restriction on the number of passenger movements or cargo aircraft movements at an airport, any proposal to increase the annual use of the airport by more than 10 million passengers or 10,000 air transport movements of cargo aircraft will be a matter for the new single development consent process. The Minister has said that that will apply even if the promoter does not propose the physical development of the site.

I have asked the Minister which regimes currently govern passenger and air cargo movements per se—those that are unrelated to physical alterations to the airport— and I understand that the Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for a licensing regime in respect of Gatwick and Heathrow. The Minister has indicated that the planning regime is already used for other matters, but that would, I imagine, be in respect of physical development, because it is clear from the amendments that passenger and air transport movements, per se, are being brought within the planning process for the first time.

Speaking entirely as a lay person, I find it hard to see how the significant intensification of an airport’s use by so many additional traffic movements could be accommodated without at least some physical development of the site. That might simply mean more lavatories in the air terminal, but more car parks and reception facilities might also be needed. I should think, therefore, that applications seeking consent for increased air traffic movements, in isolation, will be relatively rare, but one can imagine how disturbing such applications will be to residents of neighbouring properties and even of properties some miles away from the airport. To put it bluntly, there is extreme concern that such applications will result in a large number of irate householders complaining about the disturbance that they are likely to experience as a result. We shall debate the subject of the IPC at a later date, but this seems to be a prime example of a situation in which it is right for there to be political accountability and transparency, and for a Minister to be answerable for a policy, in the House, to the Members of Parliament who represent the aggrieved householders. Given the sensitivity of these proposals, what assurance can the Minister give us that the interests of aggrieved neighbours will be properly represented in respect of such applications?

5 pm

The Minister referred to amendment No. 92, and to the clustering of developments. The amendment would provide that such clusters may be the subject of a direction by the Secretary of State to be treated as an application for an order granting development consent. That is welcome, given the potential impact of the proliferation of a number of applications for the same kind of development in the same area. Prime examples nowadays are applications for the development of a number of wind farms, each of which is just below the 50 MW onshore capacity limit. It is quite right that the impact of such applications should be given consideration as a development of nationally significant importance. Individually, such applications are usually made to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform under the Electricity Act 1989.

However, the provisions in clause 33, as amended, relate only to England and to English waters. The
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Minister has already explained that the Government are concerned not to disturb the devolution settlement, but I find it hard to understand, even within the context of that concern, why the proposal should relate only to England and not extend to Wales. The Minister has already explained, when dealing with amendment No. 325, that the Welsh Assembly does not have devolved competence in respect of onshore wind farms above 50 MW, under the Electricity Act, or of offshore wind farms above 100 MW. I therefore suggest that extending the provisions of clause 33, as amended by amendment No. 92, to Wales would not in any sense disturb the devolution settlement. There seems to be a possibility that Wales could be left behind when the new streamlined procedure is adopted to consider large-scale generating applications. Will the Minister explain why he has decided to exclude Wales on this occasion?

John McDonnell: I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 77 and 80 to 87, which deal with airport-related developments. It is critical for my constituents to get some clarity on the process by which future airport developments—particularly at Heathrow—will be dealt with as a result of this legislation.

A conspiracy theory is developing in my constituency around the development of Heathrow airport. It is not some sort of collective paranoia; it is based on the reality that the development of Heathrow has, until now, been a conspiracy. Every assurance that my constituents have been given about the limitations to be placed on the development of Heathrow has been reneged upon within a short space of time after it was given, even on the Floor of the House. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide that clarity.

The Bill deals with the process by which an airport development can take place to increase the usage of that airport, with or without the physical development of some form of infrastructure at the airport. At the moment, airport development is controlled, first, by statements to the House made as a result of the various planning inquiries. The last statement was made by the Secretary of State for Transport and, as a result of the recommendation by the inspector at the inquiry on terminal 5, it capped air traffic movements at Heathrow airport at 480,000 a year. That limit will shortly be reached.

I understand that if there is a proposal to lift that cap beyond the limits set out in this legislation, that decision will form part of the new process in the Bill. That is one form of limitation that will have to be considered through this process, if it results in the additional 10 million air cargo movements set out in the amendments.

In addition to the overall cap on flight movements, at Heathrow there are other agreements that have arisen as a result of the planning processes at a number of inquiries, such as those for the fourth and fifth terminals, and even ones before those. Largely, they are voluntary agreements. One is on runway alternation and another is the Cranford agreement. They provide a means of relief for households in my constituency and across west London and beyond, into Windsor. At least for part of the day and for part of the week, people have a break from aircraft flying overhead, creating noise and pollution.

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I am unsure whether those agreements, if they were lifted or amended in some way, would also form part of this process. Lifting or changing the agreements could result in a significant increase in the intensity of the use of Heathrow airport and, as a result, have a devastating impact on the lives lived in the locality.

I shall give an example. On Saturday, there was a demonstration that said no to the expansion of Heathrow airport, and a head teacher was present with their pupils. As a result of those agreements, they at least gain some break during the day when teaching with the windows open can continue. Without those agreements, the windows would have to be closed. It is difficult to teach anyway due to the noise of the aircraft overhead. It is critical for my constituents and others to be absolutely clear about what falls within this legislation and what does not.

I refer back to the concept of a conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory that is developing now about the proposals for the expansion of Heathrow airport relates to the amendments. The Government are having difficulty overcoming the issues around air and noise pollution, which would enable them to expand with a third runway and a sixth terminal, as proposed. We now know that the Government are privately looking to go to the European Union for permission to derogate from those pollution limits, despite the assurances given on the Floor of the House that no third runway or sixth terminal would go ahead unless they strictly comply with those limits.

If that was the case, my constituents would be concerned that the Government might not get permission or would allow themselves in the short term to go ahead with a third runway and sixth terminal. Therefore, to increase capacity at Heathrow airport they would lift the cap on flights but also remove the Cranford agreement and the alternation agreement. That would allow intensified use of the airport and have a major impact on the local environment and the quality of life of local constituents.

It is critical that we get it clear what will and will not fall within the legislation as a result of the amendments. If it is the overall cap, I can understand that, but is it also the voluntary agreements, which have given some protection to my constituents as well as to most parts of London and into Windsor and elsewhere? I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that in today’s debate. Failing that, I would be happy to receive information over the next few days, but before next week’s discussions. He may want to provide information or write to us so that we can at least inform our constituents accordingly. I believe that a number of Members representing west London seats, Windsor and elsewhere have not fully appreciated the potential of the amendments, if they will indeed have such an impact on runway alternation and the Cranford agreement. There would have been wider attendance at today’s debate from those Members if they had been aware of those matters.

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