Planning Bill

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Clause 8

Consultation on publicity requirements
John Healey: I beg to move amendment No. 49, in clause 8, page 4, line 40, leave out ‘district council’ and insert ‘county council, or district council,’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 50 to 52, 151 and 152.
John Healey: We are committed to ensuring that local people have their say during the development of national policy statements that identify particular locations as potentially suitable for national infrastructure projects. Under clause 8, when the Secretary of State is determining what sort of publicity is appropriate, the local authority in which the land is located and the adjoining local authorities must be consulted. Similar provision is included in parts 4 and 6 for development consents in consultations with interested parties.
However, as currently drafted, the relevant clauses would require consultation and publicity to be at district council level only in those areas where there are two-tiered local authorities. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that in such areas the county council will also be consulted. I hope that that is sensible, clear and acceptable.
Mr. Curry: To clarify, metropolitan and unitary councils are technically district councils under the terms of the Bill.
John Healey: Correct.
Mrs. Lait: Is that the last gasp of the current Foreign Secretary, who decided to play around with local government reorganisation when he was in the Department for Communities and Local Government, decided that he wanted unitary councils and completely forgot about county councils, because that is what this smacks of? I have to declare an interest because my husband is the leader of East Sussex county council.
John Healey: He is a very busy man.
Mrs. Lait: He is a very busy man and a very effective leader—[ Interruption. ] In the interests of unity on this side of the Committee, I will not comment on the robust financial health of that particular county.
What can we do but agree that the Minister should bring into the scope of the Bill the county councils, which are one of the key operators in local government? It is with a degree of amusement rather than pleasure that I say that we will not oppose the amendments.
Mr. Curry: The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and I are concerned about national park authorities. Are they technically county councils?
Mr. Llwyd: Is there an oversight here? In Snowdonia and in the area of Yorkshire represented by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon, the planning authority is the national park authority. With regard to planning, those national park authorities are free-standing from the local council. Will the Minister advise us as to whether those should also be included?
3.30 pm
John Healey: The hon. Gentleman might be mixing things up. The clause is about consulting the local community, and the role of councils, as elected representatives, in advising the Secretary of State on appropriate publicity arrangements for any potential national policy statement that may include specific locations. In that respect, the fact that national parks are planning authorities is not relevant to the substance of the clause. I hope that that is helpful.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 50, in clause 8, page 4, leave out lines 41 and 42.—[John Healey.]
Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Pre-commencement statements of policy, consultation etc.
Mrs. Lait: I beg to move amendment No. 193, in clause 11, page 5, line 36, leave out subsection (3).
We do not need to spend a huge amount of time on the amendment, unless any of my hon. Friends have any further queries. The purpose of tabling the amendment was to seek assurances on the development of air transport, and waste and nuclear policy. I think that the Minister might get more than a little irate if we went over that debate yet again. So, unless there is anything else that he wishes to add, I would be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady cannot withdraw the amendment yet.
John Healey: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beckenham for the way that she has moved the amendment. The hon. Lady is right that we have already covered the ground in great detail, but even that would not tempt me to become irate. I am grateful for her indication that she is looking to withdraw the amendment.
Mrs. Lait: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Legal challenges relating to national policy statements
Robert Neill: I beg to move amendment No. 195, in clause 12, page 6, line 6, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 75, in clause 12, page 6, line 12, leave out from ‘review’ to end of line 14.
No. 196, in clause 12, page 6, line 13, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
No. 248, in clause 12, page 6, line 14, after ‘day’, insert ‘of publication’.
No. 197, in clause 12, page 6, line 18, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
No. 249, in clause 12, page 6, line 19, leave out ‘State complies’ and insert ‘State’s compliance’.
No. 250, in clause 12, page 6, line 20, at end insert ‘is published’.
No. 198, in clause 12, page 6, line 25, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
No. 251, in clause 12, page 6, line 26, leave out ‘State complies’ and insert ‘State’s compliance’.
No. 252, in clause 12, page 6, line 27, at end insert ‘is published’.
No. 199, in clause 12, page 6, line 32, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
No. 253, in clause 12, page 6, line 33, at end insert ‘or (if later) published’.
No. 200, in clause 12, page 6, line 38, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘12’.
No. 254, in clause 12, page 6, line 39, after ‘day’, insert ‘of publication’.
Clause stand part.
Robert Neill: The scheme proposed is fairly straightforward. We seek to extend the time period for bringing a claim by way of judicial review from six to 12 weeks. I touched on some of the reasons involved in relation to the earlier amendments on publicity, but it is perhaps just as cogent here.
The factual and legal issues for those instigating a judicial review are likely to be complex. The scale of what is involved is likely to be substantial. In terms of fairness and a sort of equality of arms argument, a period of 12 rather than six weeks is appropriate, just and proportionate and likely to be advantageous at the end of the day in making sure that further complaint is less justifiable. We hope that the Minister will look on that with favour. A 12-week period for something as important as national policy statements on nuclear power, airports and so on does not seem at all unreasonable. It is not likely to create a significant delay in the overall scheme of things with major capital projects of that kind.
That is what that this set of amendments seeks to do. The first is amendment No. 195, but its provisions are replicated throughout the group. Amendment No. 248, which again is largely replicated elsewhere, deals with the simple point that the time for bringing a challenge should run from the date of publication of the Secretary of State’s decision rather than from the date that it is signed or takes effect. It is a simple reality that sometimes there is a delay between an Executive decision and publication. The amendment provides protection for the individual or the group, because they will not know about the decision until it is published. There have been complaints in other contexts where there is a delay in publication of a decision. I am sure that that is not what is intended here, but things sometimes go awry.
The amendments would ensure that those who have to consider whether to bring a challenge have 12 weeks from the time that they first knew about the decision. That seems only just and there are consequential amendments on that. Amendment No. 249 makes equivalent changes so that the clause would read:
“the Secretary of State’s published”.
Publication triggers the knowledge to enable people to consider whether they want to bring a review or not.
Mr. Llwyd: I support the amendments. They are reasonable. They add to the clause as it stands. As the hon. Gentleman said, six weeks is not a great deal of time when there could be a week’s time lag between the decision and publication. When consulting planners and/or lawyers and then taking specialist counsel’s opinion, six weeks is no time at all. It is much shorter than the usual time limit on a judicial review. The hon. Gentleman put his case very strongly.
Mrs. Lait: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is not just the legal profession that could take time. He comes from a rural constituency and I can imagine that in the middle of a busy time for farmers, it would be exceedingly difficult to get an argument together in six weeks.
Mr. Llwyd: With respect, with some of the farmers I know, six years would not be enough. I hope that that is not being recorded, by the way—
Mrs. Lait: It is.
Mr. Llwyd: Well that is the end of my seat then. It is back to legal practice now I have put my big foot in it. Do not make it worse for me, Minister.
John Healey: It is nearly 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman is saying. In many cases farmers measure time by seasons rather than by weeks. I quite understand what he was saying.
Mr. Llwyd: That probably takes the edge off what I just said. There is no need to add much more. The case has been very strongly made by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. It would be reasonable to extend the time, not so that people can spin matters out—part of the raison d’ĂȘtre of the Bill is to speed matters up, properly and reasonably—but because imposing a six-week limit would be entirely unreasonable and against the spirit of the clause.
Dan Rogerson: I shall not press amendment No. 75 to a Division. The hon. Gentleman made a strong argument for the amendments he tabled, and I believe that they would improve the Bill.
John Healey: It is indeed the case that the usual rule in judicial reviews is that claims must be filed promptly and, in any event, not later than three months after the grounds on which they are being made first arose. However, under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, a six-week period for commencing proceedings applies to statutory challenges to local development plans. In many ways, the production of national policy statements is comparable to local development plans for the purposes of the provision.
There is also no need for the Bill to set out the period in which a judicial review can be brought or to include a date by which to publish the Secretary of State’s activity in relation to that. National policy statements will be drawn up and designated through the clear and open process that we debated this morning and afternoon. Throughout, and at each stage of the process, there will be considerable reference to interested parties, so actions on behalf of or by the Secretary of State that could result in legal challenge will therefore be obvious to those interested parties at a much earlier stage, not just at the time of publication.
On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will not feel it necessary to press the amendments to a Division, and that clause 12 stands part of the Bill.
Robert Neill: I am a little disappointed by the Minister’s response. I hope that he is right about the transparency of the arrangements, but I am particularly disappointed about the time limit period, because we do not believe that the comparison with local development frameworks is valid given the size and complexities of the issues that we are dealing with. They are chalk and cheese—and the size and complexity of the issues is the difference. This is much more like those other substantial issues that are sometimes dealt with by judicial review. The idea that taking a further six weeks to consider where to build a power station, port or airport will make a significant difference to the national interest does not stack up. I am sorry that the Government are rigid on amendment No. 195, because it was designed to help rather than hinder. I shall therefore press it to a Division.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 10.
Division No. 8 ]
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Curry, rh Mr. David
Duddridge, James
Jones, Mr. David
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Neill, Robert
Rogerson, Dan
Clark, Paul
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Healey, John
Michael, rh Alun
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Sheridan, Jim
Watts, Mr. Dave
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Watts.]
Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes to Four o’clock till Tuesday 22 January at half-past Ten o’clock.
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