House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
John Benger, Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerks
attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 22 November 2007
[Ann Winterton in the Chair]
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 11, in clause 10, page 7, line 7, at end insert
(c) the development falls within the limits of deviation for the scheduled works..[Stephen Hammond.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): As I predicted, inspiration has descended, and I wonder if I might elucidate and expand on the points that I was trying to make in response to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. It may help if I explain what clause 10 does. In simple terms, it grants planning permission for two different categories of work. The scheduled works listed in schedule 1 have to be built within their respective limits of deviation. As long as other non-scheduled works fall within the scope of the various environmental assessments accompanying the Bill, they can be built anywhere within the limit of deviation or the limit of land to be acquired or used. In addition, safeguarding works to protect buildings can be constructed outside these limits, but within a specified distance of the works in relation to which the protection is provided.
The Bill plans show both the limit of deviation and the LLAU and together they are commonly known as the Bill limits, so the geographical extent of the works and the planning permission granted by the Bill is known. For example, the main railway and running tunnels are scheduled works, as are all the new stations to be built in the central section. Planning permission for those works is therefore granted within their limits of deviation, but some works are not scheduled works and so get planning permission only if they have been environmentally assessed. These include ancillary works such as station alterations within the LLAU or protective works to buildings outside the Bill limits. The proposed amendment would remove planning permission for that. I hope that that clarifies the position.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I have listened carefully to the Minister. Certainly the last few points clarify his comment about stations this morning which was of some concern. I am still not clear why he feels that the amendment is not relevant. It inserts the phrase:
the development falls within the limits of deviation for the scheduled works.
Is he saying that that is already covered by the clause as it stands?
Mr. Harris: Perhaps the confusion can be explained by the fact that we are talking about two separate things. The limit of deviation is, in general, a narrower pathway than the LLAU and will essentially be where the railway itself must be built. By simply referring to the limits of deviation, the amendment does not take account of what is currently provided for in the Bill, which is the limit of land to be acquired or used. Although taking the same path and direction as the limits of deviation, the LLAU is significantly wider to accommodate the extra work that has to be done outside the construction of the railway. I hope that that clarifies matters.
Stephen Hammond: I think that something has been lost in the gap between sittings. One of the things that we have been testing all morning is the limits outside the limits of deviation for which acquisition purposes are necessary. I am thinking about this carefully. I will not press this amendment, but I intend to read the Ministers comments very carefully.
Mr. Harris: Having discussed with officials the amendment and more general technical aspects of the Bill, I wish to take this opportunity to offer the hon. Member for Wimbledonindeed any member of the Committee who wants themmeetings subsequent to our proceedings in Committee on some of the more technical aspects of the Bill that we might not be able to cover extensively. That is not to say that they cannot be returned to on Report, but it is an open offer to any member with concerns to sit down with the Crossrail team and Cross London Rail Links and discuss issues that we may not be able to resolve in Committee but on which they do not want to press amendments. It is an offer to be as open and helpful as we can.
Stephen Hammond: I am grateful for that offer from the Minister. I had intended to divide the Committee on the amendment but, having listened to what he said and to his offer, which it may well be appropriate for myself or other members of the Committee to take up, I shall not. However, I give notice that I may wish to return to the matter on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in schedule 7, page 137, line 14, leave out every relevant local authority which.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 31, in schedule 7, page 137, line 15, at beginning insert every relevant local authority which.
No. 32, in schedule 7, page 137, line 19, at beginning insert
every relevant local authority which.
No. 33, in schedule 7, page 137, line 19, at end insert
(c) all such relevant persons or bodies as may be affected by making such an order..
Stephen Hammond: The amendments would make small but significant changes to the wording of paragraph 1 of the schedule, and I think that they are the best way to proceed. The Committee will see that, taken together, they would add an additional body of people to be specified by the Secretary of State to receive consultation, as per the provisions of the schedule.
Paragraph 1 requires the Secretary of State to specify every local authority that either has given him satisfactory undertakings on the handling of planning matters or
has not subsequently been released from its undertakings.
In the name of prudence and equitable treatment, it makes sense to add the words
all such relevant persons or bodies as may be affected by making such an order
to the list for specification.
Mr. Harris: This part of the Bill relates to the process by which the Secretary of State will specify which local authorities have agreed to become qualifying authorities under the Bill. A qualifying authority will be a local planning authority from which the Crossrail-nominated undertaker will seek various consents, and which has given undertakings to the Secretary of State on the handling of planning matters under the schedule. That is aimed to ensure that the process of obtaining consents does not unduly hinder the construction of Crossrail.
The hon. Gentlemans amendments would require the Secretary of State to specify not only which local authorities have agreed to be qualifying authorities but all the bodies and individuals who might be affected by a specification order. If relevant bodies or persons in amendment No. 33 simply means those who are statutory consultees, I do not see the point of the amendment, as those consultees are already specified under part 4 of the schedule.
The amendment would also place a potentially large burden on the Secretary of State and could lead to lengthy argument about whether the list of affected parties is accurate. Even if such a list could be produced, I am genuinely unclear about what criteria the hon. Gentleman suggests we should use to assess relevance. It is unclear what the benefits of the provision would be, so I invite him to withdraw the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I am, as you might guess, Lady Winterton, not particularly concerned about whether the amendments might place an extra burden on the Secretary of State. I am rather more concerned that the body of people consulted be correct and appropriate. I would have thought that both in other parts of the Bill and in precedent, there is a well-defined list of relevant people; surely they are those who are potentially affected. That definition of relevance should not necessarily be a problem to the Secretary of State. I have listened to the Ministers arguments and I take on board his point that one of the amendments is already covered. Given, therefore, that some of those whom I wish to consulted are consultees already, and with his assurance that the Secretary of State will continue to conduct as wide a consultation as possible, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 34, in schedule 7, page 148, line 5, leave out 6 and insert 12.
I shall not dwell too long on my thinking behind this small amendment, as it should be fairly obvious from the wording. Under the provisions of the schedule, the nominated undertaker is required to restore any sites used in relation to the construction of Crossrail. If such an arrangement is not reached within six months of the completion of scheduled works, the Government may impose an agreement. Clearly that process would be benefited if the time period was extended. It is not unusual in all sorts of building works for agreements to take longer than six months. Indeed, I am a governor of a school that is now talking to builders about an agreement and finally signing off some two years after. On works as large and exceptional as those on Crossrail, therefore, to impose such a tight deadline of six months would be inappropriate.
The amendment would reflect that and increase the chances of an agreement being reached by parties involved, as opposed to having one imposed on them from above. It seems to be especially important that parties be given sufficient time to plan the future use of the land, if it is unknown when the construction phase of Crossrail will officially come to an end. Imposing such a tight time limit is inappropriate. Widening it would provide flexibility and ensure that a vast number of parties can come to an agreement without the Government imposing one.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I seek clarity on the possible impact of the hon. Gentlemans amendment. Would local residents not find that it takes longer to ensure that a site close to them is put back into a reasonable condition?
Stephen Hammond: Clearly, one effect of my amendment might be that it would take longer to restore land to its original state. However, local residents might be more pleased that it is returned to its original state, even if that takes an extra six months, than if it is returned to a state that is not fit for purpose, because of having to comply with a shorter time scale. Given the scale of the Crossrail constructionit is likely to take about seven yearsan extra six months for restoring land to an agreed level would be a useful and flexible arrangement for the constructors of Crossrail and for those from whom they have taken land.
Mr. Harris: The motivation behind the hon. Gentlemans amendment is perfectly fair and understandable, but one of its weaknesses was ably illustrated by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. I hope that I can, in a spirit of co-operation, persuade the hon. Member for Wimbledon that the amendment would not have the effect that he hopes for.
Schedule 7 relates to the planning conditions attached to the deemed planning permission granted under clause 10(1) for works authorised by the Bill. One condition is the requirement for land that has been used for construction purposes but does not form part of the permanent works to be restored in accordance with a scheme agreed between the local planning authority and the nominated undertaker.
Paragraph 11(3) of schedule 7 provides that, if a restoration scheme is not agreed within six months of the completion of the construction works for which the land was being used, the scheme would be determined
after consultation with the nominated undertaker and the local planning authority.
The hon. Gentlemans amendment would double from six to 12 months the period before the restoration scheme is referred to the Secretaries of State for determination in the absence of agreement between the nominated undertaker and the local planning authority. That would have a number of effects: it would delay the final date by which the contractor could be assured that he would be able to finish on the construction site, which would extend the duration of contracts, adding to costs and potentially delaying the progress and completion of the construction phase of the project; and it would extend the period in which such work sites could be left unrestored and unused, to the detriment of the local environment and economy.
Six months is a reasonable period to give the local planning authority and the nominated undertaker to agree and, where that has not been achieved, it is right that the matter should be referred to the Secretaries of State for determination. Although it is conceivable that local authorities would desire more time to agree a restoration scheme, it is equally likely that both they and local communities would object to work sites remaining unused for longer than necessary. I should add that the proposal was contained in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996. I cannot support the amendment.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I can see what the Minister is getting at. The fear of Conservative Members, as ably advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, is that the provision might put an additional burden to rush through within the first six months on landowners and local authorities, which are already very stretched in relation to planning and other regulatory and enforcement matters. The desirable situation, which we would hope for, particularly in central London, given the value of land, would be that remedial work was done on the land within a few weeks, by agreement between a local authority and the lands owner. However, the six-month limit may be passed and, if that happened, it would be wrong for the power to go effectively straight into the hands of the Secretary of State. For that reason, we want an element of protection to allow agreement to be reached between people on the ground who know what is going onthe local authority and the landownerrather than triggering in 180 days the taking of the decision straight to the Secretary of State. We thought pragmatically that 12 months would be a more desirable time limit.
It is in no ones interest to have ongoing building sitesbomb sitesin any of our towns and cities after work has taken place. Equally, one has to appreciate that this may not be a first priority for landowners, particularly for those who have seen some of their land out of commission for some years while work has been going on. It would be undesirable, after a six-month period, for the Secretary of State to determine how and when work is undertaken. Obviously, a much better solution all round would be a sense of agreement. That is why 12 months, in this context, is sensible.
For practical purposes, we hope that the great majority of such sites will already have been developed and that there will be no environmental or other degradation
Mr. Harris: The essence of this debate is that we have actually agreed on what we want; the Committee is united on that. The disagreement is on how we achieve it and on the practical measures that should be put in place to get there.
Let me repeat to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster what I said earlier: the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Transport will take their decision after extensive consultation with the nominated undertaker and the local planning authority, and hence there will indeed be an element of consultation. I respect the points that he has made, but we all want the easiest solution, and there is precedent from previous hybrid Billsprecedent that worked well. I understand the intention of the amendment, but I stick to my original position, and I do not support the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I have listened carefully to the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster made a very able contribution that set out the thrust of what the Opposition want from an increase in the available time from three to 12 months. I am struck by what the Minister just said about how, after six months, the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Transport will get together and consult. It might well be that that will take rather longer than if my suggestion of six months had been adopted in the first place. I am therefore unpersuaded that a top-down imposition will necessarily be faster than the proposal in the amendment, so I shall test the will of the Committee on the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.
Division No. 2 ]
Question accordingly negatived.
and any such other conservation body that might be expected to have a particular interest in the site as it relates to their subject of conservation..
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 36, in schedule 7, page 161, line 23, at end insert:
and any such other conservation body that might be expected to have a particular interest in the site as it relates to their subject of conservation..
Stephen Hammond: As has already been said, the Minister is a very fair man and I am sure that at some stage today he will find one of my excellent amendments both tempting and irresistible. The amendments in this group would insert identical wording after the words Natural England, so although tightly drafted they would add flexibility. They do not mean that any conservation body would be able to wade into a site and say that it might have an interest.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds held a reception for Members of Parliament last week, at which representatives talked about the number of inland projects that they are working on, and a number of conservation bodies and the process would benefit if the consultation process were extended when it came to conservation matters in a particular area. Natural England is certainly an appropriate body, but it is not the only one. There are a number of others and, to my mind, the RSPB is an obvious consultee. I would like to know whether the Minister might not be persuaded to look at the amendment and accept that the consultation and, indeed, the conservation process would benefit from not being restricted to just one body.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): My concern about the restrictions within the clause relates to local conservation areas. It seems that the Governments thrust is to attempt to shove the opportunity to be involved in decision making down the decision-making chain and certainly to involve local communities
In my part of the world, local conservation bodies play a very important role in conservation at that important local level; I cannot speak with such confidence for London. The amendment would allow such bodies to be involved in the process, whereas, as the Bill stands, they are excluded from it. Knowing the Minister and how fair-minded he is, I am sure that he would want such local involvement, and I hope that he is able to tell us that that is the case.
Tom Brake: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton. I am very tempted by the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon. However, I will listen carefully to the Ministers reply to see whether it is, in fact, already covered. I assume that conservation groups have certain rights to access the site.
Mr. Field: I very much agree with what my hon. Friends have said. I believe that there is a small danger in giving statutory authority only to certain bodies; for example, English Heritage has statutory authority in relation to a range of different planning matters for listed buildings. As set out in the schedule, there is a risk that large national bodies, such as Natural England and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, will perhaps take the view that they will fight only on a limited number of grounds, although the risk is probably far less in my constituency, which, of course, contains many well known historic buildings, than it might be on other parts of the Crossrail route. I understand that point of view; such bodies will want to
Across the political divide in Parliament, we all subscribe to the notion of localismthe idea that local people have a strong case that should be listened to. That applies particularly in London and the south-east, which is a very cosmopolitan and globalised part of the world, and everyone regards London as a big, world city. There is also a great passion about the villages that make up London; not just the historical part of central London, but well beyond that. It would be regrettable if we did not give some regard to those local bodies.
I fear that if we simply say, Natural England have authority here, it will, perhaps inevitably, take the view that it wants to fight on a limited number of grounds, for cost reasons, and, probably more importantly, in order to maximise the case that it is making without being totally aware of some of the local considerations.
For example, the south-east Bayswater residents association has both a planning and a conservation sub-committee. My constituency is also strongly affected by these proposals in north Mayfair. There is a conservation sub-committee of the St. James and Mayfair residents association, and it will be regrettable if they do not have some input on the matters that are statutorily protected by the schedule. I hope that the Minister will consider the proposals.
I think that all hon. Members agree that we need to have the input of bodies that have a passion for conservation at their heart. Because many of those bodies have input from locally involved individuals, they are on top of the very specific issues that some of the national bodies that are protected within schedule 7 will perhaps not fully appreciate.
I do not think that there is much that different parties disagree about on this issue. We know what we are trying to achieve. We do not want this to be a nimby charter or for things to be held up by very small local bodies delaying matters. However, it would be worth while for those that have a specific interest in conservation to have their interests protected in schedule 7.
Mr. Harris: The hon. Member for Wimbledon seems to be using the strategy of trying to make me feel guilty about my recurrent refusals to accept his amendments. I have to tell him that that strategy is doomed to failure on this occasion. Similarly, the hon. Member for Northampton, South seems to be trying to use flattery to the same end. He will find his efforts achieving similar success.
I think that all hon. Members are, once again, on the same side of the argument, but with a disagreement about how to get there. Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 would extend the duty of local planning authorities to consult where a planning request relates to conservation. The Bill requires authorities to consult Natural England on such matters. The amendments would extend the duty to include any other conservation bodies that might have an interest in the site to which the consent relates. I will say a little about that phraseology later.
Part 4 of the schedule sets out the bodies that must be consulted by local authorities and the time scale for doing that and receiving responses. The bodies specified are those that have statutory duties to consider the
Tom Brake: Would it not be entirely appropriate for the statutory bodies to conduct their own consultation among other conservation groups, for instance?
Mr. Harris: That seems to me an eminently sensible position to take, but it would not be prescribed in the Bill.
In response to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who warned against extending the process and holding it up with too many consultees, my concern about the wording of the amendment is that it states,
any such other conservation body that might be expected to have a particular interest.
Most hon. Members have served on Committees like this a number of times and we all know how important it is to be specific in legal terms. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, but he looks far too decent for that. It seems to me that almost any body, whether or not it has a constitution and even if it is a very informal coalition of different people, would be entitled to be consulted statutorily under the amendment. For instanceI do not think that such a group existsEast End Against Crossrail might be a very informal coalition of various groupings, some political and some not, and it would be entitled to be consulted. If it were not, there will always be the prospect of judicial review. To my mind, that is the weakness of an amendment that, with all respect, is phrased in a very ambiguous and open-ended manner. That might be a gift to the lawyers, for whom I have such a high regard.
Given those comments, I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will see that my reservations are genuine and that the amendments do not fit in with what we are trying to achieve. I hope that he will beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I have listened to what the Minister has said and, as I am not a member of that profession for which he has such high regard, I am perfectly able to accept that in legal terms my phraseology might not achieve exactly the intent that I had sought. I do not share his pessimism, because we have specified that the body would have to have a particular interest in the site as it relates to conservation, and I would have thought that that would certainly rule out the nebulous coalitions that might conjoin simply for the purpose of derailing the whole thing.
I think that this would have been a sensible amendment because there are bodies that are likely to be missed. However because he has reservations about the way in which it is drafted, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 7 agreed to.
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