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Lord Renton of Mount Harry: Those are helpful comments by the Minister. Perhaps I may first say to my noble friend that we are more used to being in concord with each other than in discord. The suggestion that some such words should be added on the face of the Bill is well worth considering. Indeed, I should like to get together with him and any other expert advisers in the days ahead before Report stage, to see what can be suggested that is workable and that clearly makes his point that there should be a broad belief among the people involved that they want a conservation board. That is a perfectly fair proposition and I shall be delighted to work with him on it in the hope of finding some agreed words before the Report stage of the Bill.

I should like for a moment to speak about the financing of the conservation boards, because the noble Minister kindly touched upon that. There were no amendments tabled to it so it has not in fact been discussed. One of the most frequent points made to me is how conservation boards get to be financed. A parallel is drawn with national parks, which draw 75 per cent of their necessary funding from the Secretary of State, with the balance of 25 per cent being raised from the local authorities by way of a levy. To many local authorities,

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and indeed to many local people, it is a very attractive thought that that is the way the long-term funding should be available.

This is an absolutely essential issue in my judgment. One of the problems for those of us who simply have joint committees with the local authorities, like the Chilterns or ourselves--a combination of local authorities and Countryside Agency funding--is just a matter of how long the funding is going to be there. In our case, I have to say that there is a conservation board and there is no promise of funding after April 2001. It was only my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Mason, who was able to negotiate a further three years' funding that takes us up to April 2001.

At the same time, with the greatest respect to the Minister, I went to the Countryside Agency launch yesterday and heard a great deal from the Government about how important AONBs are--with which I agree; about how important all the things we stand for are--with which I also agree; but no clear view yet as to how, in our case, the funding is going to appear. Obviously, we now enter a situation when it is difficult to keep good staff because they only see a clear future for 18 months ahead.

This is a very good reason for the Government to move forward with announcing their decision. There has been too much uncertainty for too long and, in that context, I should point out to the Committee that the wording I used in new Section 88D at the top of page 4--I make no bones about it--is simply lifted from the Environment Act 1995, which applies to national parks.

The effect of this would be to require local authorities to contribute financially to the work of AONB conservation boards and to enable the Secretary of State to contribute, thus providing a secure financial partnership on which the conservation board--when that is required by the local people--can build. Of course, if we are a conservation board continuing in the South Downs and if we in due course can persuade the Government that 75 per cent should come from central government and only 25 per cent from local authorities, that would be magnificent. Maybe the percentages will be slightly different from that in the end but the key point, and I say this to the Minister, is that this is one of the key areas where we need a decision very quickly. It is for that reason that it is included in this clause of my Bill.

Lord Chorley: I was not going to intervene at this stage on Clause 3 stand part. However, I wish to underscore what the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, said in a general sense about the need for the Bill to become an Act of Parliament, and in the meantime the particular problem of the South Downs Conservation Board. I recall about three years ago when my noble friend Lord Nathan was still the chairman: its original five-year funding was coming to an end. My successor as chairman of the National Trust, Mr Charles Nunelly, and others from conservation bodies wrote a letter to The Times emphasising how important it was to get proper, long-term funding in this instance. Here we are, two or

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three years on, and we still have not resolved the issue. I know that the Government have a great deal to consider for their Countryside Bill but I suggest that the matter is becoming rather urgent.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I wish to support those comments. On funding, if the CAP reform had produced something more substantial and different in terms of rural development, we might not view funding of AONBs as such an urgent issue. However, I believe that they should have a statutory basis for their funding, in particular those which have to struggle with a large number of councils, any one of which may have a difficulty during that year or the next which means that it would wish to reduce its contribution. For AONBs to have to rely on handouts from their local councils--often it will depend on the influence the local authority member who represents the AONB to its council--is not a good way of ensuring that things happen.

Because CAP reform and rural development money has not been forthcoming in the amounts that we had hoped, this funding is all the more important. To undertake anything in an AONB is far more expensive than elsewhere. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said earlier, conservation costs money. I contend that conservation brings in money.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, is no longer in her place but she made a number of points about tourism, and one could regard the money as being a good investment.

If one wants to develop any form of building for light industry, or pump prime a project within a sensitive area, it is far more expensive because the materials that will need to be used are likely to be more expensive. I have seen a number of examples of good buildings which have brought employment to areas. However, they cannot be of other than a high standard in an AONB.

Finally, funding is important because of the way that such items as leader programmes are funded. If the board responsible for trying to get some of the social and economic programmes going has a little pump priming money it usually brings in further funding. In the case of boards, however, they are unable to make that sort of plan. They are therefore unable to draw up long-term bids which are also important to them.

For all of those reasons, I very strongly support this part of the Bill. In fact, I feel that it is the most crucial part of the Bill.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

6 p.m.

Clause 4 [Development plans and applications for planning permission]:

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 4, line 27, leave out ("or adjacent to")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 23, and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 24, 27 and 30. I shall be brief on this as I am certain it will not be contentious.

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What is the definition of "adjacent"? The lack of clarification leaves the Bill open to misinterpretation and exploitation by misguided people such as eco-warriors. If this phrase is not withdrawn, we may end up with unwarranted restrictions of necessary development in the countryside thereby limiting economic development and prosperity. The inclusion of "adjacent to" will adversely affect property prices due to the planning controls incumbent on AONBs. It may act as a disincentive to developers who could bring economic and social improvements to our countryside.

The Bill proposes that conservation boards should be constituted from members of local authorities lying within an AONB in addition to the appointed members. The amendment removes the possibility of local authority members dictating planning decisions to areas lying "outside" the authority which they represent, and the potential conflict of interest therein. Incidentally, this is a power which even the national parks do not have. I beg to move.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: As my name is also to these amendments, may I say I am convinced by my noble friend's speech. I wholeheartedly support the amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Government could accept the amendments, removing as they do the application of various provisions of the Bill from areas adjacent to AONBs. For the record, it is important to say that this is likely to be the right approach, although we should wish to find a way for a conservation board to make its views known and have them taken into account in the case of the large scale development close to an AONB which was likely to have a significant impact upon it.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I understand that the noble Baroness is going to accept the amendments. Is that correct? I would add how important this is. I have had personal experience of being outside a national park and having people complain about a certain development--which I will not mention because everyone will have hysterics--on my farm which was 40 miles away from the area and could be seen from Snowdon. I suspect that most of Wales on a clear day can be seen from Snowdon. If we do not have this kind of amendment, people will complain that we cannot have a development 40 miles away from an AONB--in this case it was a national park, I agree--as cars can be seen from that area. It is not acceptable. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is sympathetic to this.

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