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Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1994

3.49 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the regulations were laid before the House on 16th November and if approved by your Lordships' House and another place, where they still have to be considered, the amending regulations will come into effect on 3rd January 1995.

Since fees were introduced in 1981, they have covered an increasing proportion of local authorities' costs in determining planning applications. The Government originally intended that there should be a broadly uniform scale of fees throughout Great Britain but, for a number of years now, the level of fees in Scotland has been some 20 per cent. less than that applying in England and Wales. Past information on local authorities' costs of handling applications and income from fees appeared to justify that situation, but recent assessment of recovery rates in Scotland suggests that that is no longer the case. There is therefore no defensible reason for continuing to have different fee levels operating in a broader uniform system.

While amending regulations approved in 1993 gave effect to a 15 per cent. increase in planning fees generally, from 3rd January 1995 those regulations will provide for an across-the-board increase of 20 per cent. As last year, it is proposed that the up-rating should be achieved in two stages. Our main proposal is, therefore, an additional increase of 5 per cent. in the fee scales already approved to take effect from 3rd January 1995 and a further 15 per cent. from 3rd July 1995. The increases demonstrate our commitment to proceeding to full recovery of local authority costs and, taken together, should raise the average recovery rate in Scotland to 75 per cent. That will also have the effect of placing fees in Scotland on a par with those south of the Border.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships some indicative figures. The minimum fee for a factory or office development will rise from a planned level of £133 to £140 in January 1995 and to £160 in July 1995, while the maximum will rise from a planned level of £6,650 to £7,000 in January and, thereafter, to £8,000. An

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application to build a new house will attract a fee of £140 in January 1995, rising to £160 in July, with house alterations charged at 50 per cent. of those rates.

The Government consider that the increases strike a reasonable balance between progress towards full recovery and the likely impact on the construction industry. Fees remain a very small part of developers' overall costs--considerably less than 1 per cent.--and there is no evidence that they act as a deterrent to the business community's development proposals. The effect on householders seeking alternations to their homes is marginal.

The draft regulations also make two minor changes to the fees regime. The first is for the payment of a flat-rate fee of £25 rising to £30 where an application has to be made to a planning authority for its determination on whether prior approval will be required for proposals classed as permitted development in the General Permitted Development Order.

The second minor amendment introduces a flat-rate fee for the erection of agricultural-horticultural glasshouses. The Department of the Environment regulations already have such a fee but, under the Scottish regulations, fees for glasshouses are calculated on the basis of floor space, in the same way as those for other agricultural buildings. Although glasshouses can frequently cover large areas, there should not be a proportionate increase in the cost of processing such planning applications. Accordingly, it is proposed that similar treatment should be afforded to developments of that nature in Scotland. I commend the proposed changes to the regulations to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].--(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Aberdare: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the deemed applications happen to apply to those who are applying to be Earls of Arran?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I have to say that I believe my noble friend's question does not altogether relate to the regulations now before the House. However, I shall certainly give professional advice to my noble friend on the matter outside the Chamber.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Environment Bill [H.L.]

3.53 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased today to be presenting to your Lordships' House an Environment Bill which will make a major contribution to the Government's environment policy in a number of important areas. It is a substantial Bill, consisting of 105 clauses, arranged in four parts, and 20 schedules.

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Part I takes forward our long-standing commitment to establish the environment agency for England and Wales and the Scottish environment protection agency--SEPA.

In England and Wales, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution has successfully pioneered integrated pollution control for those industrial processes with the greatest potential to pollute. The National River Authority's effectiveness in regulating water quality has played an important part not only in changing attitudes but also in real progress on that front. The waste regulation authorities have taken on substantial new responsibilities over the past two years with the introduction of the duty of care, waste carrier registration and the new waste management licensing scheme. I am happy to pay tribute to the hard work and success of the staff of all those bodies. Their experience will be the new agency's greatest asset.

SEPA, too, will build on the past, although its starting point is different and its eventual scope will be narrower.

The present quality of Scotland's water environment is an eloquent testimony to the sterling work of the river purification boards. Local authorities in Scotland deserve credit for the way that they have striven to overcome the inherent difficulties of their joint responsibilities for waste regulation and waste disposal, and for the way that they have embraced the new systems of control for waste management and local air pollution.

HMIP and the river purification authorities are to be commended for the effective way they have risen to meet the challenge of implementing IPC. But that joint arrangement does not represent an optimal solution, and the creation of SEPA will remove the present dual responsibility. The two agencies will build on the achievements of those existing bodies and, by bringing the different regimes together, will be able to promote a more coherent and consistent approach to pollution control and enhanced environmental protection. The agencies will be good for the environment and good for business, providing an integrated and effective approach while reducing the number of regulators with whom business must deal.

Chapter I of Part I establishes the environment agency for England and Wales, and sets out its powers and duties. Chapter II does the same for the scottish environment protection agency.

In England and Wales, the agency's functions will be to implement integrated pollution control and to provide effective control of pollution into water and from waste. It will have further functions relating to water resources management, flood defence, fisheries, water recreation and navigation, to promote and enhance the water environment. In Scotland, SEPA will have pollution control functions concerning water, waste and air, as well as IPC.

Chapter III contains joint provisions affecting both agencies. In part, it defines the role of Ministers who will continue to take the lead in defining policy and in international negotiation and legislation, but informed and aided by the work of the agencies. It also covers general financial provisions.

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Noble Lords will recognise that many of the provisions in Part I are transposed from the existing bodies. But we believe that, by bringing together the different disciplines dealing with the individual media, the quality of environmental protection will be enhanced. That has certainly been the experience elsewhere.

In addition, the Bill contains a number of important new or amended provisions. First, the agencies will have a duty in relation to sustainable development. The new provisions put Minsters under a duty to issue guidance to each agency on its aims and objectives, including guidance on the contribution which the Minister considers it appropriate for the agency to make towards achieving sustainable development. Each agency is under a duty to have regard to that guidance in carrying out its functions. The terms of the guidance will be determined following consultation. They will build on the principles of sustainable development and on the proposed aims and objectives of the agencies, published in October.

On the conservation duty, we have listened carefully to concerns that the wording in the published draft represents a weakening. That was certainly not the intention. The clause in fact broadens the scope of the duty to include, for the first time, a requirement to take account of conservation in relation to IPC and waste functions. That should be welcomed by all those concerned with conservation.

Sustainable development involves reconciling the needs of protecting the environment, of conservation and of economic development. We have, therefore, also included a provision which will require the agencies to consider costs and benefits. But the duty does not affect the non-discretionary duties of the new agencies, and does not apply where it would be unreasonable.

We recognise the importance, in establishing the agencies, of ensuring that they are responsive to local needs, and the Bill provides for the establishment of regional committees in England and Wales. The flood defence and fisheries committees are broadly similar in terms of constitution and function to the current equivalent NRA committees. However, we are introducing new, more transparent, procedures for the establishment of the regional environment protection advisory committees to ensure that those with a significant interest in the work of the agency in their region are consulted over their membership.

In recognition of the distinct needs of Wales, the Bill specifies that in relation to each of the advisory committees the agency must ensure that there is one to cover a region which consists wholly or mainly of Wales. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales will appoint a special advisory committee representing a range of interests across the Principality to advise him on issues relevant to the agency's functions there. In Scotland, SEPA will be under a duty to establish regional boards.

The Bill takes forward other aspects of government policy in which the agency will have a role. Part II deals with contaminated land and abandoned mines. The contaminated land provisions result from the Government's review of policy on contaminated land

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and liabilities. The proposed powers for local authorities and the agencies are based on the "suitable for use" approach, which requires action only to remove unacceptable risks to health or the environment in relation to the nature of individual sites and their actual or intended use. Statutory guidance will reinforce this point. We do not intend to increase the burden of regulation, nor to change substantially the existing pattern of regulatory liabilities. But we do intend to introduce a specific definition of contaminated land and targeted procedures for its regulation and control to replace the use of more general statutory nuisance powers. This will improve clarity and consistency.

In view of concerns about water pollution from abandoned mines, we propose to strengthen the powers which the agencies will have in this area. Under current law, there is a defence against prosecution, and an exemption from recovery of expenses, in cases where a polluting discharge is permitted to flow from an abandoned mine. For mines abandoned after 31st December 1999, the Bill removes the statutory protection, so that the agencies will be able to deal with these discharges in the same way as any others. The Bill also contains a definition of "abandonment" and a new requirement for mine operators to give the agencies at least six months' notice of their intention to abandon a mine.

Part III of the Bill fulfils our commitment to establish independent authorities for the 10 national parks. It also updates park purposes to enable the new authorities to take a more integrated approach to the management of their areas. The Bill introduces two new statutory duties: first, national parks authorities will be required, in pursing their purposes, to have regard to the economic and social well-being of their local communities; and, secondly, government departments and other public bodies will have to have regard to national park purposes in carrying out their functions in the parks. It is vital that we ensure that management of these national assets responds to the challenges of the next century and I believe that these provisions will provide for their future care and protection.

Part IV contains a variety of provisions. Some of these are measures to facilitate the effectiveness and smooth running of the agencies. While our general approach has been to transfer functions to the agencies without making major changes to the underlying legislative framework, which was relatively recently enacted, some rationalisations have seemed desirable. To take just one example, we have provided revised powers of entry for pollution control purposes for persons authorised by the agencies.

Other measures will contribute to our general environmental policy. These include: provisions requiring the drawing up of national waste strategies; a power to enable the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to operate the countryside stewardship scheme when it is transferred to his department from the Countryside Commission; clarification that the definition of "drainage" empowers the agency and other operating authorities to undertake water level management for conservation purposes; new powers for fisheries regulators and for Ministers to enable them to

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control fishing activity in order to protect the environment; and provisions to modernise the controls over statutory nuisance in Scotland.

Finally, there are two enabling provisions, in respect of producer responsibility for waste and of hedgerows, where noble Lords might appreciate some clarification. Our initiative on producer responsibility for waste helps to ensure that industry takes fuller account of the environmental consequences of its actions. In doing so, it gives industry a direct financial incentive to minimise waste and to create markets for recycled material. It also gives industry scope to develop cost-effective ways of achieving environmental objectives. Industry has shown that it is prepared to take up its responsibility and that it can deliver business-led schemes. But some companies might try to duck out. The packaging industry in particular has made it clear to us that the potential for "free-riding" is sufficient to undermine its commitment to increased packaging waste recovery. We therefore propose to provide the minimum legislative framework necessary to deter "free-riders", while preserving our underlying strategy of an industry-led approach. This will result in increased levels of re-use, recovery and recycling of waste.

Part IV also includes a general power to introduce in England and Wales a statutory scheme to protect important hedgerows. The detailed arrangements will be brought forward in regulations made jointly by my Secretary of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in respect of England, and the Secretary of State for Wales, in respect of Wales. Our aim is to introduce a scheme which is fair, reasonable and practical; and which minimises the burden both on those who are subject to these controls and those who administer them. We consider that these aims are best met through a notification scheme. Land managers would be required to give notice of their intention to remove hedgerows to the local planning authority who would have 28 days in which to refuse a proposal. If the land manager hears nothing within the 28 day period, the proposed work may go ahead.

We plan to limit the requirement to notify to rural hedges. The results of our surveys show that widespread removal in the countryside is not the problem it was, but significant numbers of rural hedges are still being removed. Newly planted hedges will be excluded so as not to discourage new planting. We regard it as essential that controls are focused only on the most important hedges; for example, the ancient parish boundary hedge for which no amount of replanting can substitute. We propose, therefore, that local planning authorities should be required to make their decisions in accordance with statutory criteria, prescribed in regulations. We have research in hand to develop and test workable criteria.

We propose that there should be a right of appeal against a local planning authority's refusal of a notice to my Secretary of State, in respect of England, and to the Secretary of State for Wales, in respect of Wales. We shall be consulting the public on these proposals before regulations are prepared, as well as listening to the concerns of noble Lords and Members in another place.

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This is a wide-ranging Bill, but with a common theme: all the measures will help protect and maintain the environment. It gives expression to this Government's commitment to sustainable development. The new agencies will be leaders in the field of environmental protection in this country. The Bill takes a number of other important steps to that end. It deserves to be welcomed and I commend it to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Viscount Ullswater.)

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