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Amendments Nos. 191 and 192 insert parallel provisions in relation to applications for lawful use or development certificates and in relation to applications for listed
building consent. As I have said, there remain a number of important matters to work through on that proposal, and we may have something further to say when the Bill reaches another place.
Turning to development consents, I should like to deal with three sets of largely technical amendments, the purpose of which is to make the development control system run more smoothly. Clause 159 deals with repeat applications and twin tracking. Government new clause 30, Government new schedule 5 and Government amendment No. 193 replace clause 159 and enhance the provision already in the Bill. They do so, first, by ensuring that the provisions dealing with repeat applications and twin tracking cover cases where an application is deemed to have been made by way of an enforcement appeal, and, secondly, in the case of twin tracking, by ensuring that applications made on the same day are covered.
Government amendment No. 195 modifies the provisions in clause 162, which concerns non-material changes to a planning permission. Government amendment No. 195 has the effect that where an applicant has an interest in some but not all of the land to which a planning permission relates, the power can be exercised only in relation to that part of the land in which he or she has an interest.
The third set of technical amendments relates to clause 163(3), which concerns challenges to decisions called in by the Secretary of State on applications under development orders. Government amendments Nos. 196 and 286 relate to the current drafting of subsection (3), which contains the words Secretary of State. That wording potentially causes a problem for Welsh Ministers, since it might be contested that the term Secretary of State does not include Welsh Ministers. Our amendments fix that problem by removing the words Secretary of State.
Let me turn to the issues relating to trees. Government amendments Nos. 197, 198, 275, and 280 to 285 are all related to clause 164, which, together with clause 165, I hope will simplify and bring uniformity to the existing system for making and maintaining tree preservation orders. The provisions in those clauses were generally well received in Committee. I hope that the amendments make further small but helpful improvements. In particular, they allow for regulations to permit a local planning authority to impose a time limit on consents for work to protected trees. Currently, consent given for pruning or felling protected trees lasts in perpetuity. However, where approved work has been delayed by several years, it may no longer be appropriate to undertake the work.
Those amendments also allow for regulations to make provisions ensuring that trees planted as replacements for those that are felled with consent are automatically protected, unless that provision is waived by the local planning authority. In addition, those amendments will ensure that it is an offence not only to carry out unauthorised tree works to protected trees, but to commission a third party to carry out the work on someones behalf.
Let me turn to some non-Bill-related measures. There are six amendments that we do not feel relate to the Governments agenda in part 9: Amendments Nos. 2 and new clauses 2, 3, 4, 36 and 38. I hope to persuade hon. Members that those amendments should not be pressed. Let me deal first with amendment No. 2, tabled
by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), which concerns third-party rights of appeal. Amendment No. 2 would establish a third party right of appeal against decisions on planning applications. Of course interested parties have the opportunity to have their say on planning cases, but we do not think a third party right of appeal is desirable.
First, a third party right of appeal would dramatically increase the work load on the appeal system and cause significant delays in issuing decisions, and could also be used perversely to delay many otherwise acceptable developments. In addition, third parties have an opportunity to make their views known through representations at the application stage, via elected councillors, who have a responsibility to act in the general public interest. We in the Department are already working on a review of the planning application process and are also considering ways in which we can make community engagement far more constructive in planning applications at the local level.
Lembit Öpik: The Minister will be aware that, in effect, developers currently have two opportunities to appeal against planning conditions, first at the application stage and again, retrospectively, once the cement is dry. Many people who are uncomfortable about the power of developers feel that they are not on a level playing field. Given what the Minister has just said, which I find reassuring, what can she say to those citizens who feel that developers have it more their way?
Caroline Flint: The hon. Gentleman is right to make a case about how development is viewed. One of the problems we face is that planning is often seen as bureaucratic and distant, while development is seen as bad. None of those descriptions is a reality, but there is more we could do on that front. It is important for local authorities to get on with their local development frameworks because that is one way to engage communities in their wider vision for their neighbourhoods.
The local development framework is a very important document when it comes to assessing future planning applications. That is why we are adopting a number of different activities to improve the basis on which local authorities take decisions on planning applications. They should be based on the vision that communities have, what they need for infrastructure and everything else. Authorities should also look for more imaginative ways of involving communities at the local development framework stage, but also in different ways during the planning process. We often hear the voices of those in communities who are against, but we do not necessarily hear the voices of those who are for, particularly those who do not have a roof over their heads, for example. We are trying to work through some of that, but with all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I am not sure that the amendment provides the right answer, so I hope that he will withdraw it.
In a sense, I understand that we should be looking at the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, but I wanted to look further into how communities can advance their views. I agree with the Minister about the local development framework. The problem is that as those frameworks evolve, communities do not often get
the opportunityand they certainly lack the voiceto make the necessary representations. If the Minister would like to talk to me some time about the possibility of a community enhancement Bill, we could look further into how to give communities the voice they need.
Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We recently relaunched planning policy statement 25, which relates to local development frameworks. We also provide online some of the best examples of how local authorities have gone about developing those frameworks, and we refresh that information every six months. That should enable communities and those working in planning departments to have a look at the best approaches. We have also streamlined some of the arrangements by reassuring local authorities that they do not need as many of the documents as they think they need for the local development frameworks. What we want is a clear expression of the vision. We want to ensure that it is easy to develop and easy to convey, while allowing input from the local community.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Notwithstanding the Ministers comments in dismissing the amendment on third party rights of appeal, does she not accept that many communities need further checks and balances, particularly where an application contravenes a planning policy but is nevertheless passed, where it works on the margins of local planning policy, or where, as in my constituency, the regional development agency has been involved in instructing a developer to apply for a certain number of houses, knowing full well that the RDA will have a role in determining the outcome of the application later in the process? Surely in those circumstances, it would be appropriate to have a more transparent mechanism by which the local community could have a third party right of appeal?
Caroline Flint: As I have said, I am not convinced of the argument that we need such a mechanism, but there is a lot more that we could do to make earlier parts of the planning process more inclusive and more accessible. There is a statutory obligation on local planning authorities to produce a statement of community involvement and policies for public involvement in planning functions in section 18 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me about some of his concerns, I will try to share with him some of our ideas for improving community engagement.
New clause 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), would make it a criminal offence to give false information on planning applications and appeals. We do not have evidence that that is a widespread problem. With very few exceptions, such as when information is sensitive, all documentation relating to a planning application or appeal is made public, and can therefore be challenged. The Planning Inspectorate already has plans to require witnesses to endorse claims that
their evidence is true and represents their professional opinion. It can also take evidence under oath to establish the facts, although that is rarely considered necessary.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I tabled the new clause following representations made to me by a constituent who was the victim of a planning application on a neighbouring site that had been made on the basis of what he believed to be false information. On investigation, I saw that there was no sanction in law to deal with cases in which an individual obtains planning permission by giving false information on an application. I tabled the new clause as a probing amendment, as it were, to test the Government and establish whether they knew that the problem existed. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that she would be prepared to discuss the matter further.
Caroline Flint: Obviously, when individual cases occur we should be mindful of them. As I have said, according to the Planning Inspectorate there is no evidence that the problem is widespread, and public documents presented during the process are open to challenge. We fear that routinely checking the accuracy of documentation relating to the large number of applications that are submitted would hinder the speed and efficiency of both the application and the appeal stage.
The current system is generally trusted, and its decisions are respected. For us to change it, we would require substantial evidence that it was being extensively abused. I accept that the case raised by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituent is important, but I can tell him that the fraudulent obtaining of planning permission is a ground for judicial review, so there is some recourse to the law for individuals.
New clauses 3 and 4 deal with health and permitted development rights in connection with telecommunications. Our policy on health in relation to telecommunications is clear: the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. That view is clearly stated in planning policy guidance note 8 on telecommunications, and supported by the National Radiological Protection Board.
All telecommunications masts should comply with the international guidelines on radiation set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. We believe that those guidelines provide the necessary level of protection for the public, and that submission of a precautionary principle or beam of greatest intensity statement is not necessary.
New clause 4 would revoke a range of permitted development rights relating to telecommunications masts and associated equipment. We believe that our planning policy in that regard strikes a balance between allowing local residents to have their say in development proposals and ensuring that our telecommunications network remains fit for purpose. We are currently reviewing the permitted
development rights relating to electronic communications code operators, and if we decide that change is needed we will consult publicly on any options. New clause 4 would circumvent any public consultation and full consideration of an important planning issue.
New clause 36, tabled by the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), would remove ground (a), one of the seven grounds for making an appeal against an enforcement notice. I understand that the hon. Members concern is focused on those who carry out development in breach of the conditions of a planning permission and appeal on ground (a) when subsequently served with an enforcement notice.
If a breach of condition is the sole reason for taking enforcement action, the local planning authority can serve a breach of condition notice against which there can be no appeal. If the breach is not remedied within the specified period, the developer has committed an offence and is liable to prosecution. I therefore believe that local planning authorities have sufficient powers to deal with this issue, and that the removal of ground (a) would cause unnecessary administrative difficulties for the parties concerned. I hope I have reassured the hon. Members that the current system is the most efficient way of dealing with the issue.
Moving on to the development of plant or machinery by railway undertakers, new clause 38 would remove permitted development rights for statutory undertakers to undertake essential maintenance and development work without first obtaining planning permission. Permitted development rights for statutory undertakers are well established and rightly allow a large number of routine but essential works to proceed without the need for planning permission. It would not be right to restrict these rights generally, but there may be problems in specific cases. Statutory undertakers should publicise any plans for permitted development if they consider that it might affect amenity or environment. That would give an opportunity for the local planning authority to consider whether to make an article 4 direction requiring the statutory undertaker to apply for planning permission. I believe that these arrangements generally work well. If the hon. Member for North Cornwall has evidence that that is not the case, I will be happy to discuss it further, but at present I think we should retain the current position.
Dan Rogerson: We are rapidly running out of time in our consideration of the Bill, and we now come to a second significant group of amendments, but before I start addressing it let me welcome the Minister to our deliberations. I think she is the fifth Minister with whom I have now debated aspects of this Bill, so clearly the entire departmental team feels it is worthy of their time and attention.
First, let me address the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). The Minister recently referred to telecommunications masts, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to expand on the topic, so all I will say is that he has campaigned on it for a long time. I dispute the Ministers comments on the balance being right, however; many of our constituents feel that it is not quite right, and that there are insufficient opportunities for people to contest
decisions about telecommunications masts, and in terms not only of health, but of other matters such as their visual impact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and I have tabled amendments to improve the planning system, particularly in enforcement; again, the Minister recently discussed that. Planning conditions can make a huge difference to a communitys tolerance of whether a particular application is acceptable. Often, our constituents can be dissatisfied about an application winning approval, but hard-won conditions mean that they at least feel that their views have been taken on board as part of the process. However, if a developer then goes on to flout those conditions, as happens all too often, it serves to undermine peoples faith in the planning systemtheir faith that their views can effect change and are taken into account. One of our amendments seeks to remove one of the opportunities developers have to apply retrospectively for the lifting of a condition that had been made when the planning application was considered. That would encourage people to believe that their views are being taken into account.
New clause 38 addresses permitted development rights for railways. I should note that I informed the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) that I would refer to an issue that was raised with me by some of his constituents, and that he is aware that we will discuss it. The Minister was kind enough to say that if there are specific problems around permitted development rights, she will look into them, and I will pass on the information that has been passed to me. This particular case involves Southern railway having built a substantial plant to clean trains. It is not a minor plant at the edge of a station, as some Members might think, but a substantial building that cause problems of noise and light pollution to local residents, and they feel that it is the sort of structure that should have been covered by a planning application. I accept that there is a strong case for permitted development rights for smaller additions to ensure that institutions such as railways can operate effectively without having to make a planning application for every minor change. However, the local community would clearly feel that it should have its views taken into account in the case of a significant building.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has, as ever, done considerable work in tabling amendments, especially on the proposed planning powers for regional development agencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik)who is no longer in his placesaid, some suspicion may remain, despite the Ministers helpful reassurances, that we may be seeing a centralisation of power and an undermining of the democratic accountability of local authorities and their ability to take planning decisions. I have made the case in the past that RDAs are the correct repository for some of those powers. I appreciate the problems, and the Government have announced that regional assemblies are not long for this world. That situation needs to be resolved, but RDAs were set up with clear and limited objectives, and it is perhaps asking too much of them to take on these powers as well.
Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD):
Does my hon. Friend share my chief concern that the RDAs, which report to the Department for Business,
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, have a primary focus on economic development, rather than the wider issues of sustainability and housing development, so their priorities will differ from those of other organisations? Does he also share my concern that there are currently no satisfactory accountability processes for RDAs? In theory, that takes place through the regional Ministers, but although they are in place, there is no way to hold the RDAs to account.
Dan Rogerson: I agree with my hon. Friend, and her point is reminiscent of a debate we had in earlier consideration of the Bill, when the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) was keen to ensure that the IPC took account of environmental and sustainability concerns to a greater degree than had been guaranteed by the Governments amendments. Bodies that are established by the Government with a narrow set of objectives will naturally seek to meet those objectives and they may well not therefore prioritise other aspects such as sustainability.
Local member review has been controversial in some areas and we have been lobbied on the issue. I remain convinced that it is a helpful move in the right direction, and I hope that it will be defended. That would encourage people to believe that accountability is indeed being strengthened.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who is no longer in his place, has withdrawn his amendment after reassurance from the Minister. Despite what I had to say about permitted development rights in another context, most of the issues about which the right hon. Gentleman was concerned are slightly different from those that I described, such as the case of a major light industrial building in an urban area. I am pleased that the Minister is continuing to negotiate on those issues and that we can reach a resolution that will satisfy those in the farming industry that their rights are being protected.
I am pleased that the issues around RDAs are being aired because they are a cause for concern to many people in the House and outside. I also look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Groveif he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speakeron the issue of telecommunications masts.
Keith Hill (Streatham) (Lab): I rise to speak to new clause 38, which was tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson). As he said, it seeks to respond to a railway development by the side of Streatham Hill station in my constituency that has blighted the lives of many of my constituents who live in Sternhold avenue. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to refer to my constituency in the debate.
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