Mr. Dhanda: The clause is particularly relevant in the event that entry has been refused to a development site. It provides that a justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising a person authorised by the local planning authority to enter the land. The conditions are
that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence...is being, or has been, committed
under clauses 130 or 131; that entry to the land has been or is likely to be refused; or that it is an urgent case.
Clause 134(4) provides that entry is to be regarded as having been refused if no reply to request for admission has been received within a reasonable period. The hon. Member for North Cornwall suggests 14 daysa popular time for himbut the amendment is not necessary. I shall explain why.
The provision is based on similar provisions in the town and country planning regime, which have historically worked very well. It allows the JP, when considering an application for a warrant, to reach a view on whether a reasonable period has been given for a response. The JP may well decide that that period should be 14 days, or that it is more urgent than that. I suggest to the Committee that the provision has worked well in town and country planning, and that we should follow that model in part 8 of the Bill.
Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the Minister for that confirmation. I suspected that there might be precedent, and I am grateful to him for pointing it out. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 134 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 135 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Rights of entry: the Crown
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Dan Rogerson: The clause deals with an issue that has concerned me throughout: Crown land being given an exemption that does not apply to any other land. I can see that there are particular facilities or areas to which one would not expect a right of entry. There is a facility in my constituency operated by GCHQ that I would not expect the local planning authority to be able to get access to easily. However, Crown land is a wide definition, and an awful lot of land could be covered. I am concerned that the Government could perhaps have defined it a little more closely and that Crown land is too widely defined.
Mr. Dhanda: I shall aim to provide clarity for the hon. Gentleman. The clause specifies that the rights of entry that we have just discussed under clauses 133 and 134 do not apply to Crown land. Clause 175 states that offences under the Bill do not apply to the Crown; hence, powers of entry are not required. That clause is equivalent to section 296A of the Town and Country
Rights of entry to Crown land are strictly controlled. Although we have disapplied them under part 8 of the Bill for the reasons that I have set out, other rights of entry powers can be exercised if the appropriate Crown authority gives consent, such as under clause 48. Examples of such an exemption include Ministry of Defence land, in relation to which it is clearly right that there should be additional safeguards. In short, the intention is to make the Bill consistent with the 1990 Act.
Dan Rogerson: I am grateful for that clarification. I still think that the clause perhaps captures too much land, but I shall not seek to press the matter.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 136 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Power to require information
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Robert Neill: I have one question on clause 138 and offences relating to information notices, on which I am sure the Minister can help me. Earlier in the Bill, in clause 130, we set up the offence of development without development consent, which is punishable on summary conviction and on indictment. Interestingly, in clause 138, particularly subsection (4), we are consideringit is a common enough formulationan offence that, under certain circumstances, such as making a statement that one knows to be false or misleading in material respects, might be argued to import dishonesty, and probably would, given the facts of certain cases.
I imagine that the reason for the provision is that the Minister seeks to follow the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 approach and other precedent. We have talked about lower-level breaches, and I shall sound like my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon now, but when there is dishonesty involving a potentially important breach in relation to a substantial project with significant sums at stake, would it be appropriate to make that offence triable on indictment, too?
Mr. Dhanda: Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. If he looks closely at clause 138(3), he will see that for failing to respond to the information notice, one can incur a level 3 fine, which is £1,000. However, he makes a fair point that if one deliberately misleads, there should be a bigger fine, and subsection (5) states that if there is an offence under subsection (4), the fine will not exceed level 5, which is £5,000. So we have taken the issue into consideration and I hope that he will be satisfied, because we have done so for the reasons that he outlined. If someone deliberately misleads, it is a bigger offence.
Robert Neill: I understand and am grateful to the Minister. In certain circumstances, however, given the size of the project and what is at stake, one might be temptedif one were being cynicalto say, Cheap at the price. I shall not press the point, but perhaps the Minister will think about it again, because I can envisage circumstances in which the misleading behaviour, if it were shown to be seriously dishonest, could be as gravein terms of public perceptionas the offence under clause 130.
Mr. Dhanda: It is important to remember that clause 138 deals with offences relating to information notices, not specifically to the development of a nationally significant infrastructure project on land, so the provision is proportionate for offences relating to information notices.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 137 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 138 to 142 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
(za) in subsection (1) delete the words interested in land in the area of a local planning authority;.
The amendment would assist the Government in their objectives and improve the Bill. It may sound technical, but the reason for adding,
interested in land in the area of a local planning authority,
is that the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 regime allows a person to enter into a planning obligation only if they hold an interest in land that is subject to development. There are proposed amendments to section 106 of the 1990 Act and we are not unsympathetic to them, but the amendment before us suggests that to make the system work better, it might be sensible to extend matters, because section 106 does not permit every promoter of an infrastructure project to enter into a planning obligation.
It might help if I gave an example. If an application for development consent includes power for the promoter of the infrastructure project to acquire land by compulsory purchasean example would be the site of a power stationthe promoter would enter into the planning obligation only after the compulsory purchase order process had been completed. Only at that point will he hold an interest in land for the purposes of the Act. If the promoter proposes to install overhead power cables or underground pipelines, we are advised that the current wording would mean that he would have no interest in the land at the time that the application for development consent goes in. He will have interest in the land only after the development
That is really what we are looking to achieve here. This matter has been raised by a number of practitioners in the field. We are sympathetic to the objectives, but we wonder whether there is an opportunity to improve the Bills operation by enabling people to enter into a section 106 agreement at the stage of consent. That would be consistent with the desire to have as much pre-application discussion as possible. No doubt the terms of that agreement would have been worked out and everything could be wrapped up more efficiently if it were not caught on the legal hook of whether, at the time when consent is granted, the promoter has an interest in land.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): This is an important clause. I accept the hon. Gentlemans explanation of his amendment and I recognise that the matter has been raised by a number of practitioners. I will try to deal with the clause as drafted and explain the purpose behind it; I hope that that will help the Committee. It allows the promoter of a nationally significant infrastructure project to enter into agreements with local authorities. Its purpose is to allow them to do so in the same wayI think the hon. Gentleman recognises thisas a developer seeking planning permission under the 1990 Act.
The clause is needed to allow full use of planning obligations to be made under the single consents regime. By allowing planning obligations to be negotiated on a bilateral basis between promoters and local planning authorities, agreement can be reached on many important issues that might otherwise have to be brought to the IPCs attention for examination. Clearly, if they can be dealt with and agreed in advance, that saves everybody time and hassle. Certainly, it helps to speed up the IPCs examination process and allows it to concentrate on the matters where agreement cannot otherwise be reached.
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman raises a real concern with his amendment, but it is not workable. In many ways it would wind the clock back a number of decades. At present, under section 106 of the 1990 Act, any person interested in land in the area of a local planning authority may, by agreement or otherwise, enter into an obligation with the local planning authority in question. The obligation is registered as a land charge.
It being One oclock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at Four o'clock.
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