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Lord Marlesford: The principle behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norrie is of very great importance. I support it strongly. None of us is wedded to the words of his amendment, or even to the phrases in it. But those of us who support it believe that it is crucial. The Bill is a very considerable step forward in terms of the internal management and protection of parks. But it does almost nothing to defend parks from arguably much greater and more serious external threats. As so many Members of the Committee have spoken in this debate, I shall make just one point. I believe that the national parks are such a precious asset that they deserve special and different protection. Although it is not a complete analogy, there is some similarity with the special protection which Parliament has given to
Earl Peel: I too support the amendment in principle. I would have thought that the conditions for permitting such a development, which would have to be shown, would give the park authorities every opportunity of rejecting it. The other point that has been made relates to the question of major development. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to subsection (5) and the catch-all phrase therein. I believe that it is too wide. I find that quite worrying. At the end of the day, I am not sure how a "major development" can be determined. Clearly, there are words here that need to be looked at very carefully. But in principle I am certain that if we are to have national parks, developments of the sort that gave rise to this amendment must be resisted.
Viscount Ullswater: The Government's policy is that major development should not take place in national parks, save in exceptional circumstances. Because of the serious impact that major developments may have on the natural beauty of the parks, applications must be subject to the most rigorous examination including a demonstration that they are in the public interest. Those words are a paraphrase of an extract from PPG7.
We will continue firmly to uphold the test expressed in planning policy guidance note 7. I have to tell my noble friend Lord Norrie that we have an objection in principle to putting this and other important planning policies in statute. We consider that it would be both unnecessary and undesirable. I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that this is perhaps a matter of principle.
Clause 63 of the Bill makes a national park authority the sole local planning authority for the area of the park for all purposes, including mineral planning. The new national park authorities will acquire both structure and local plan functions, including waste plan functions, for the area of their parks. As such, the national park authorities will play a full part in all levels of the planning system, and the policies which apply to the parks will be relevant to all those levels.
As well as those national policies which apply to all planning authorities and the specific policies which apply to the national parks, regional planning guidance provides the necessary framework for the preparation of structure plans. That is produced by the Secretary of State only after widespread public consultation and the eliciting of advice from local planning authorities, which will of course include the national park authorities.
The Government's planning policies are material considerations which local planning authorities must take into account in preparing their development plans. The statutory plan preparation procedures provide full opportunities for the involvement of statutory agencies like the Countryside Commission; for public
As a statement of the Government's national planning policy, PPG7 will also be a material consideration when deciding planning applications. Local planning authorities are therefore expected to have regard to planning policy guidance notes in the exercise of all their planning functions.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, quoted a number of areas which he said were subject to consideration by local planning authorities. I reiterate that they have before them the guidance of PPG7 and the local structure plan. They should take their decisions
Lord Williams of Elvel: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but does he agree with my point that the policy planning guidance notes from the Department of the Environment are changeable from time to time? They are not set in concrete. They are not even discussed in Parliament. Is it not the case that, whether or not they are subject to PPG7, the PPG7 can change?
Viscount Ullswater: I was going to come on to that point and would agree with the noble Lord. Let me go on to explain why I think it right that planning policy guidance should be non-statutory in that sense. I was indicating to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that the local planning authority had to have the words of PPG7 ringing in their ears when they made those decisions. In addition, the Secretary of State will have regard to them when dealing with planning appeals and called-in cases.
The noble Lord also expressed his concern about major developments which are controlled not under town and country planning legislation but under other legislation, such as the Electricity Acts. Those responsible for taking such decisionsincluding the President of the Board of Trade in the case of development to which consent is given under electricity Actsare well aware of the tests for major development in national parks and take government policy on these matters fully into account when considering any proposals.
Amendment No. 255ZA in the name of my noble friend Lord Norrie, and the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Chorley, is therefore unnecessary because the system of setting out the Government's planning policies in planning policy guidance notes works well and is underpinned by strong and effective legislation.
Furthermore, Amendment No. 255ZA is undesirable, because legislation on national park planning would devalue "non-statutory" planning policies set out in guidance notes. Take green belts for example, which are a cornerstone of planning in this country. Should we have a statutory planning policy for national parks but not for green belts?
Where would the process stop? Putting selected planning policies on a statutory basis and keeping them up to date would consume a great deal of parliamentary time. Even the modest changes that we recently introduced to strengthen green belt policy could be accomplished only through legislation.
What would statutory planning policies achieve? This comes back to what my noble friend Lord Peyton said. What would they achieve if they were put on the face of the statute book? Planning decisions involve judgment. Putting a planning test in statute does not make it any less likely that some people may disagree with the judgment reached in a particular case. For the reasons that I have outlined, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Norrie: I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Williams, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Chorley, for their support and indeed for the intervention of my noble friend Lord Peyton. I agree wholeheartedly that national parks face an uncertain future without a test for major development proposals included in legislation. The test in legislation will be more robust than planning policy guidance and provide more comprehensive coverage. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, bear witness to how necessary that test is.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ullswater for his reply. However, it is vital to give a clear signal across all sectors of the planning system that national parks are special places and indeed are some of the critical natural assets that the Government's sustainable development strategy identifies.
I have made clear that setting out the tests by which major development proposals will be judged in planning policy guidance is simply not sufficient to guarantee the long-term protection of the parks. Because of the level of support for this amendment, for which I am grateful, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.