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Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD):
As was pointed out in our earlier debate, a number of the amendments that we are discussing will change the Bill significantly. Some were tabled in response to the
raising of issues in Committee, but they are not new issues. Organisations and people out in the real world who will be affected by the Bill have doubtless been raising them with the Government ever since the announcement that it was to be introduced. As other Members have said, it is a shame that it has taken us from the beginning of the Committee stage until a fairly crowded Report stage to address some of them.
Let me deal with the new clauses and amendments in turn, as was done by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones). New clause 9 is welcome in that it delineates a little more clearly which highway schemes would be given to the IPC to decide and consult on. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West rightly pointed out that the Local Government Association has lobbied heavily on that issue. Indeed, its chairman gave evidence to us before the Committee stage. He said that the LGA would be happy with the Governments proposals, but I must confess that I think that it probably is not. Amendments tabled by me, which I shall discuss later, may be slightly more in accord with the concern expressed by local government about which roads will be involved.
Trunk roads are handled by the Highways Agency and are currently under the aegis of the Secretary of State when it comes to planning decisions. The arrangements are not confined to motorways and other specific kinds of road, which I believe are described as special roads, or special highways, in the Bill. The arrangements include a number of important highways whose construction would have a big local impact, and on which local authorities would want the power to decide. As the Minister has said, such decisions are currently made by the Secretary of State, which returns us to a discussion that we have had before about whether it would be preferable for them to be made by the IPC. As others have said, we shall discuss that more fully later, but I believe that the clarification provided in the new clausealthough helpful in explaining the Governments intentdoes not go far enough to deal with concern about the growing role of the IPC.
I do not like the dreadful phrase mission creep, although I have yet to come up with a better term; I am sure that older and wiser heads than mine will do so as the debate proceeds. However, I think that the concept it describes is cause for great concern, not just in the context of highways but in relation to a raft of possible IPC decisions, andas we heard in evidencethe Local Government Association wants that to be restricted.
Amendments Nos. 331 to 338, tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), seek to remove trunk roads from the provisions of clause 29, further restricting the application to highways. That clause may, of course, be replaced by new clause 9 today. I do not intend to press our amendments to a Division, but I believe that the Government could do more to meet the concerns expressed by the LGA and others.
New clause 10 tightens the definition of railway applications. I welcome what the Minister said in response to points about, for instance, light rail that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington in Committee. However, as a result of concern expressed by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West about permitted development rights I
tabled new clause 38, which I understand will be debated next Monday, and which also deals with the widening of scope.
The Minister spoke at some length about the devolution settlement and about the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has sought to address with his amendment; the aspiration of the Welsh Assembly Government to have a greater say over power generation. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), the Minister said that discussions were continuing, implying that it might be possible to do this without substantially altering the devolution settlement.
Amendment No. 325 seeks to prevent the powers from being transferred to the IPC in the hope that those discussions can continue. I support the concept, not just in terms of my traditionalas it has become during the course of the Billantipathy to the IPC. Restricting anything from going to the IPC is worth doing, but in this case the amendment seeks to reserve the possibility of negotiations continuing in future without the added complication of the IPC interfering.
The Minister sought to address clustering through amendment No. 92, an important issue that may be relevant to my constituency in the near future. The Minister was referring to wind power and onshore wind development. We had the first wind farm in the country in North Cornwall at Delabole. We are proud of that, and there is great support for renewable energy. But there is concern that when an area has shown it is willing to take steps in that direction, it becomes the focal point for developers across the country, who descend on it rather than look at other equally suitable sites, causing saturation.
Certain smaller applications may come together to make something that is nationally significant, but in that clustering, there is even more local significance. The concern for people in my area is not just that clustering is taking place, but that the initial decision on it is taken away from the local authority, even if that decision might go to the Planning Inspectorate. Clustering could make matters slightly worse. The recognition of clustering is welcome, but the idea of transferring consideration of it to the IPC is problematic and adds to my growing concern about its expanding role.
The Minister has sought to respond to a number of concerns and has offered some clarification. Unfortunately, that has not brought about a state of affairs that I and others outside the House can support. It implies yet again a growing concentration of decision-making powers in the hands of the IPC. We are yet to see how the IPC will work and whether it will be able to undertake all the functions being heaped upon it.
On airport expansion, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) set out, as he always does, just how important the issue is to people in west London. He is right to point out that many Members from west London will be concerned if that thorny issue is drawn into the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) was discussing this with me earlier and sought some clarification on what may be in the Bill.
I suppose that, yet again, the feeling will be that it is very welcome that this matter will move in some way into the planning realm, that people will therefore have the chance to get their opinions across and that there will be consultation and so on, although there may well be disquiet that the IPC, which is not a democratically accountable body, will be taking this decision. I risk straying again into issues that we will be deciding later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I have concerns about some of the Ministers comments about how the new clauses and amendments will change the Bill. I shall seek permission to put amendment No. 325, which stands in the name of my hon. Friends, to a separate vote, should that be the will of the House. I also reserve judgment on some of the other measures that the Minister has addressed.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I wish to refer to new clauses 9 and 10, which are self-explanatory and introduce a great deal of clarity into the debate at rather a late stage. Those new clauses clearly assist us in our deliberations, and they are entirely appropriate and acceptable.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) said that he was concerned that there might be a problem if major roadway infrastructure were to be considered for England, when a different authority were considering the matter over the border. I do not see any problem with such an arrangement. A devolution settlement is in place, and transport is largely, if not almost totally, devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. I am sure that this will be a challenge in the future not in any way to be shrugged off by anybody on either side of the border in the best interests of people in England and, of course, in the best interests of the people in Wales. I do not think that using the terminology that we might be left behind in some way is at all helpful, because that will not happen. This will be a challenge, but I have no doubt that Ministers in Cardiff and Ministers in London will liaise carefully on these matters in the best interests of bringing in developments.
I am concerned about the lack of understanding on the 50 MW issue, which we discussed in Committee. The Minister knows that the whole point of amendment No. 325, which stands in the name of several Liberal Democrat Members, is to exclude Wales from this particular aspect of energy creation. I tabled a similar amendment in Committee, so I fully support it. He will know that the National Assembly for Wales has considerable powers in respect of major energy projects in Wales, and a winding back on that particular issue seems to be taking place, because offshore generating stations of more than 50 MW will now effectively be called in to be dealt with by the IPC. Many people in Wales, for example, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and some people in government in Wales, are unhappy about that; there is unease not simply in my party, but across the political spectrum, because that unnecessarily complicates matters. I hoped that the Government would accept this amendment earlier, but clearly they are not going to accept it.
The approach being taken creates an inconsistency, and when one looks at that in the context of Welsh planning policy, existing national policy statements, the role and status of planning policy in Wales and the
associated technical advice notes for the Wales spatial plan and so on, one sees that the Government could and should have accepted the amendment. It is a lost opportunity. It will be put to a vote today, but it is unlikely to be won, so I hope that the Government will reconsider at some point. It is an unnecessary complication that could be simplified very easily, were the amendment accepted.
Government new clauses 9 and 10 are unobjectionable, as are the consequential amendments. They bring clarity to the Bill, albeit at a rather late stage. I echo what others have said about the considerable amount of work that we need to do today and next week to deal with all the Government amendments, and I shall therefore truncate my remarks on amendment No. 325.
John Healey: I suppose that it is fair for hon. Members to have a go at me and at the Government over the number of amendments tabled on Report, but it is also reasonable to recognise the complexity of the Bill, and especially of the prize that we are trying to create, which is supported by both sides of the House, of a single consent regime in place of a maze of other consents and pieces of legislation, some dating back 50 years or more. At each stage, if we have heard serious, well argued and evidence-based points that suggest that the framework in the Bill is not adequate or could be clearer or stronger, I have tried to respond. That is largely what we have tried to do in many of the amendments.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) questioned the number of amendments earlier, but I was pleased by the tone that he struck in dealing with this group. He said that it was good to see changes to the highway definitions and thresholds, and I appreciate that. He also gave us credit for listening to views expressed in Committee on railways, and he welcomed the amendments on the power to direct clusters of, for instance, wind farms just below the 50 MW threshold, which appear sensible to several other hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions. On cross-border roads, decision making will continue to be split between England, Scotland and Wales, and the English developments that fall within the categories to be determined by the IPC will be determined by it. The schemes that cross borders are now often planned on a whole-network basis. The Highways Agency currently plans for cross-border highways, and it does so in conjunction with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I see no reason why that arrangement, which works reasonably well, cannot continue in the future.
On clusters in Wales, I must be blunt. It is not the case that Welsh Ministers have expressed any enthusiasm for directing wind farm applications in Wales to the IPC, so we have not moved in that direction
Mr. Jones: I apologise if I gave the impression that the Welsh Ministers were expressing enthusiasm for the IPC process: I am sure that they are not. It just seems to me that the Government are anxious not to disturb the devolution settlement. However, given that it does not extend to onshore wind farms above 50 MW and offshore wind farms above 100 MW, how can it possibly be said that to extend the competency of the IPC, or the single consent process, to such wind farms would disturb the devolution settlement? It clearly would not do so.
John Healey: I tried to explain when I made my opening remarks that that is an important feature, which is likely to become increasingly important, of the UKs overall energy supply and energy security. It is not a devolved function. That is why we have taken the view, after quite detailed discussions between the Welsh Assembly Government, the Welsh Office and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, that that is the approach that we should take and that it is consistent with the devolution settlement.
Mr. Llwyd: I wanted to respond to something that the Minister said earlier. He gave the impression that Welsh Ministers were in some way arguing against what was proposed in the amendment when they were, in fact, arguing in favour of it, as his brotherhis colleaguesaid in Committee. I say brother, but that is all old Labour-talk now, is it not? In Committee, the Ministers colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) said:
I am well aware that Welsh Ministers have argued for the devolution of energy consents of more than 50 MW, and that there have been tripartite discussions. [Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 334.]
The Minister for Local Government just mentioned those discussions. His colleague went on to say that the Government remain of the view that the situation should be as per the Bill. The Minister for Local Government somehow gave the impression that Welsh Ministers had not argued in favour of the amendment on that subject, when they had done so strongly.
John Healey: I am under no misapprehension, and I do not think that I have given any cause for misunderstanding, about the approach to the question of consents for 50 MW wind farms that has interested Welsh Ministers. My point, which the hon. Gentleman tried to quote back to me, was about clusters. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West was making a different point about a different amendment on the power of direction to cluster more minor projects together in one single application, rather than the issue that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is concerned about. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done, which I shall come to in a moment.
John Healey: I shall give way again, but I wanted to answer the points that have been made during the debate rather than dealing with a set of fresh points, particularly from those who have only just joined us.
Mr. Jones: I am most grateful to the Minister, who is being very generous. May I revert to the point that I raised? How would the extension of the cluster procedure to Wales and Welsh wind farms in any sense disturb the devolution settlement?
John Healey: The question of where we set the threshold for wind farms has been set in the context of looking at the UKs energy security and energy supply strategy, which is a reserved power. The 50 MW threshold is the appropriate way to reflect what need to be, nevertheless, a range of planning responsibilities that are properly devolved and should properly remain devolved in Wales. That is the approach that we have taken.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West asked why only railways will have permitted development rights. We are protecting all permitted development rights in the Bill, but the railways are explicit, because of the drafting of how we will deal with the thresholds. In addition, the Highways Agency has the power to carry out similar types of works via an administrative order. That is the equivalent for highways of the permitted development rights for railways. Ports and airports have explicit numerical thresholds for those works and so, if the hon. Gentleman likes to see it that way, the permitted development rights for ports and airports are preserved in our proposed approach.
On the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), I tried earlierI shall not repeat myselfto deal with the intent behind the highways amendments and the approach to the question of cycle paths and the definition of trunk roads. I understand the Local Government Associations general concern, but since 2001 the Department for Transport has detrunked 175 sections of road and thereby passed them to local authority control. More of those are in the pipeline. The DFT specifically welcomed and invited suggestions of where other trunk roads might be passed to local authority control. Finally, the DFT has confirmed that it plans to consult during the summer on local highways consents under the Highways Act 1980 that could be passed to lower tiers of government. Rather than decision making being taken further out of the hands of local authorities, we are not changing any of the consents at present. This is part of a number of steps that the Department is quite rightly considering to put more under local control.
I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about the agreements, including voluntary ones, that are currently in place at Heathrow. I have tried to explain the intent of the definition that we propose. He is quite right to sayin particular, before we get to the debate next weekthat it is important to be precisely clear about that. I will review tomorrow the Hansard record, and if I feel that what has been said is
not complete and clear enough, I will certainly write to him to ensure that he has the information that he is looking for.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) returned to what he described as the lack of understanding on the 50 MW wind farm issue. He produced his amendment in Committee before the Liberal Democrats produced theirs, and he has expressed concerns about the issue. I have tried to explain to him that there may well be unease or unhappiness in Wales, but there is emphatically no winding back, as he described it, of the provisions and the devolution settlement in relation to Wales in our approach.
Government amendment No. 88 relates to provisions in the Coast Protection Act 1949 that largely deal with the content of development consents, which we can discuss more fully in conjunction with proposals in the third group of new clauses and amendments, and that is what I propose to do.
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