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Lord Rotherwick: I beg to move Amendment No. 23.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 4, line 35, leave out ("or adjacent to")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

29 Jun 1999 : Column CWH40

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 4, line 37, at end insert ("and the appropriate countryside bodies")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 25, and speak also to Amendment No. 26. Amendment No. 25 will ensure that appropriate expert advice is available to a land planning authority in co-ordinating development in their area in sympathy with the regional environment. The expertise will include knowledge of conservation issues and appreciation of the repercussions of development. It will ensure a degree of national consistency in planning decisions whilst enabling the planning authorities to have access to bodies which have experience in such matters.

Amendment No. 26 is overly draconian. Conservation boards are being established under the Bill as bodies to promote the conservation and management of the area, no more and no less. This clause would greatly expand the powers of the conservation board, enabling it to veto proposed development. It makes a mockery of the existing local planning authorities by enabling the conservation board to instigate public inquiries. In some cases this may go against the explicit recommendation of the planning authority thereby emasculating the very body set up to deal with such issues. Local authorities are elected to provide local governance and decision-making. This section entirely by-passes that concept. If the section were to remain in the Bill, who would fund such inquiries or public examinations? The associated costs would undoubtedly be borne by the taxpayer, diverting resources from worthwhile conservation projects.

Sufficient checks are already in place to allow due consideration from all perspectives, be they economic, social or conservation, of the effects of development thereby rendering this section obsolete. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It may facilitate debate if I indicate the Government's position. We would want to resist Amendment No. 25 but would accept the principle of consulting relevant countryside bodies. We would not wish to accept this amendment now because we would wish to consider carefully how to provide for the consultation. We would support the principle of the Countryside Agency and English Nature in England and the Countryside Council for Wales being consulted about the drawing-up of development plans in respect of areas contained with AONBs. As for making them statutory consultees as such, there could be a problem because the Government indicated that they intend to end statutory consultees for local plans. There are other ways of ensuring that specific bodies are consulted; for example, by a suitable reference in the planning guidance.

The Government could accept Amendment No. 26 because the provision in lines 38 to 47 is unlikely to be necessary. There already has to be a public inquiry if objections are made to a local plan and not withdrawn, unless the objector decides to rely on written

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representations. For the structure plan, an examination in public has to be held unless the Secretary of State directs otherwise. For that reason we could accept Amendment No. 26 and would resist Amendment No. 25.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I am sorry to have to say to the noble Lord that I do not have any problems with Amendment No. 25, but I could not possibly accept Amendment No. 26. The whole question of the amount of planning powers or planning involvement of a conservation board of the future is a matter of delicate balance.

We have consistently taken the view, supported I believe by the Countryside Commission, that we do not want to be the sole planning authority. We feel that is totally inappropriate in a case like ours, which would be an area of nearly 100 miles stretching over more than 16 local authorities, and which would have 2,000 to 3,000 planning applications a year. We do not believe that to be appropriate, but it is necessary that we should be a statutory consultee, or whatever the Minister suggests in place of statutory consultees.

We want to make certain that when there is a development that affects an AONB we are consulted about it, and that if we do object there should be a proper consideration in public by the Secretary of State or by the local planning authority as appropriate, differently spelt out in this amendment, before a decision is made. Without that degree of involvement by the conservation board it will be found to have very few teeth indeed in local planning, even when that affects something important within the AONB.

This mechanism will ensure both that a conservation board is able to present its case in public as to why a particular policy in the development plan should be omitted or amended, and that other interested parties may have their say. It does not say that the conservation board will win at the end of the day, but that it will have the opportunity of putting its case in public. That will be a necessary feature of conservation boards.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I wonder whether the noble Lord could clear my mind on this? Is he saying that the conservation body will have a right to force the Secretary of State to call the planning application in?

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: In the next series of amendments in which I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, we are not saying that.

Lord Chorley: I am rather confused. I thought we were discussing development plans, and in particular whether there was an objection process, not about planning applications at all. It seems to me that planning applications are dealt with in the next series of amendments. I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in wanting at least for the moment to preserve

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the new Section 52A(2) in order that the conservation board can have some power in influencing development plans.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: That is quite correct. What I was trying to say to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, is that the call-in procedure will be discussed in the next series of amendments.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: As regards Amendment No. 26 and new Section 52A(2), I feel that both the structure plan and the local plan system at the moment provide ample opportunities for everybody, including the boards, to put their point of view. It is a very long process which includes a great deal of consultation. The local inspector will examine all the objections made. I entirely endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that there is already in place an elected body whose job it is to go through that process. I feel that for the public, to leave in Clause 2 will simply complicate the issue and make it less clear who is to be the final arbiter. For that reason I support Amendment No. 26.

Baroness Byford: Perhaps I may add a couple of comments. I wonder whether it might be easier at this stage to degroup Amendment Nos. 25 and 26. I hope that is a sensible suggestion, and then can I come back and comment on Amendment No. 26. Perhaps we should go back to Amendment No. 25 and clarify the situation.

Lord Rotherwick: In relation to Amendment No. 25, I understand in this case I do not have the support of the Minister. On the other hand I do have the support of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry. At this point it may be better for us to have discussions and come back with an amendment at a later date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 4, leave out lines 38 to 47

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I wonder if I can clarify yet further the points I made. Amendment No. 26 seeks to leave out the provision in the Bill which would require an examination in public for a structure plan, or a local inquiry in the case of a local plan, in cases where a conservation board objects to proposals in the making, revision and so on of a plan. For local plans there already has to be a public inquiry if objections are made and not withdrawn, and unless the objector decides to rely on written representations. For structure plans an EIP must be held unless the Secretary of State directs otherwise. So the provisions in the Bill as drafted are unnecessary.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister. That was indeed my interpretation of her response. Again, I understood her to support my noble friend's suggestion. That leaves me in a slightly difficult position

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with my noble friend on my left, who is perhaps not in agreement with that. But I hope we are all going down the same route at the moment, and the noble Baroness has kindly indicated that the Government would support this.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I listened with care to what the Minister and my noble friend had to say. I cannot at this stage accept the amendment but I shall certainly go away and think about what both the Minister and my noble friend said and return to it at Report stage.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: I thank my noble friend for saying that, but it is obviously important to us. If he cannot agree to it at a later date, we would wish to push it further. I know that there is considerable support for that. However, at this time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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