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The Earl of Carnarvon moved Amendment No. 542:

("Planning authority in National Parks

.--(1) In section 4A(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, at the beginning insert "If the order establishing the National Park authority so provides and".
(2) In section 65(3) of the Environment Act 1995, for "The functions of a National Park authority" substitute "In the case of a National Park authority which is designated as the sole local planning authority for its area, its functions".
(3) In section 67(2) of that Act, after "by order" insert "designate a National Park authority as the sole planning authority for its area.
(2A) An order under subsection (2) may".").

The noble Earl said: Before moving the amendment I must declare an interest as a former member of the Court of Verderers of the New Forest and the Court of Swainmote and as a member of Hampshire County

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Council. If Amendment No. 542 is agreed, an alteration to the Long Title of the Bill will be necessary, as proposed in my Amendment No. 567.

The Secretary of State can make an order under Section 67(2) of the 1995 Environment Act that land-use planning should remain with existing strategic planning authorities. Where he does not, he encourages the national parks authority to make voluntary arrangements to work with neighbouring planning authorities to prepare a joint structure plan for their combined area.

There is no provision in the Environment Act for the Secretary of State to make an order for development control functions--which I stress--to remain with existing local planning authorities in areas where there is a national park. The local authorities in the New Forest and South Down areas have been examining the implications of possible national park designation, including the implications for existing planning functions. The authorities there are proud of their activities in protecting the New Forest and the South Downs from inappropriate development. They recognise that both areas need special attention if their important characteristics are to be conserved.

Amendment No. 542 would enable the Secretary of State to make an order that development control functions should remain with the existing local planning authorities if considered appropriate in the circumstances of the area. The effect would be to introduce some discretion into existing legislation; discretion that could be exercised only by the Secretary of State. It would provide him with the means to have different arrangements for delivery of the planning functions in certain national parks from the standard solution at present provided by law. I beg to move.

2.15 a.m.

The Earl of Selborne: I rise to support this amendment. Here is another opportunity to ensure that local populations are able to influence their area planning decisions. We have perhaps been over zealous in protecting conservation boards from having planning powers foisted on them, which the Minister assured us time and again this evening no one intends to give them. But that is not the case with national parks. After all, they normally have statutory powers.

In some cases, national parks will straddle a wide range of local authorities. I refer, for example, to what would happen if the South Downs became a national park--I declare an interest as I would be either in it or near the edge of that area if it was designated a national park. The South Downs straddle any number of planning authorities stretching from Eastbourne to Winchester. I find it inconceivable that a national park undertaking development control functions for local communities would stretch from Eastbourne to Winchester. Nothing could be more calculated to cause resentment among local communities than the imposition of a national park having such far-reaching implications on decisions which are perhaps better left at a local level.

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I recognise that the noble Earl is suggesting that the power should be discretionary and the Minister fairly, and frequently, this evening reminded us that the Secretary of State can be assumed to be a reasonable person. Here is an opportunity for him to be highly reasonable. Where the local authorities can better fulfil the planning and development control functions than a national park authority, clearly the Secretary of State should have powers to determine and ensure that local authorities have such development control functions.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I, too, rise to support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon.

This is a rather strange lacuna in the Secretary of State's powers in that national parks have the ability to delegate their development control functions to local authorities involved in their area if they wish to do so; but the Secretary of State does not possess that power. In fact, with the possible exception of the Broads authority, which is of the family of national parks, although sui generis, no national park has yet delegated its development control functions.

As the noble Earl said, we are looking at the situation in the New Forest and the South Downs. We are now offering the Secretary of State an additional power to enable him to delegate the development and control functions to local authorities if he wishes so to do. That is a most sensible suggestion and I should be surprised if the Minister did not accept it. Given the enormous range which, for example, the South Downs national park would cover--from Winchester to Eastbourne, 105 miles and 16 or 17 local authorities--it is right that at least the possibility of the Secretary of State delegating the development and control functions should be considered. That is part of what the noble Earl is proposing and I hope the amendment will be accepted by the Government Front Bench.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. The amendment would introduce a degree of flexibility, particularly where there is a possibility of new national parks being formed. It is a happy occasion when I am delighted to give the Secretary of State a greater degree of discretion than he is at present able to exercise.

Lord Whitty: I suppose that I ought to grab those last words of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. It is not often he offers discretion to the Secretary of State. I understand the intention behind the amendment and that it would allow national park authorities to be set up without there being a local planning authority. I also understand the circumstances in which that might arise in relation to the possible designation of national parks in the New Forest and the South Downs.

It would be a big change from what happens in the existing national parks and inevitably there would be some concern there that this was a precedent for unravelling the situation which applies to them. The Government have stated that, in the process of

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consideration of the South Downs and the New Forest, and any other potential new national park, the planning arrangements need to be assessed and any modifications to the usual national park funding arrangements which might be justified because of particular local circumstances need to be considered.

The Countryside Agency is examining that and discussing it with the local authorities concerned. There will therefore be extensive consultation and local people and groups will be able to contribute their views. We expect the agency to bring recommendations to the Secretary of State when it produces draft national park designation orders. That is likely to be in the latter part of 2001 for the New Forest and a few months later for the South Downs. Following that, it is likely that there will be public inquiries, so the earliest possible date for a new park to come into being is during 2003.

The issue of the planning authority is important and the views of the local authorities concerned will need to be taken carefully into account. That may take some time. The Government intend to wait and see what is required in those two specific situations rather than legislating generally in the Bill now.

Part III of the Environment Act 1985, which the amendment sets out to alter, is based on the presumption of a national park authority being the local planning authority, as the noble Earl indicated. If we want to change that, we would need to amend Part III of that Act and I do not know that the amendment would have the effect of doing that.

Our major concern is to complete the review of the arrangements that would be needed if we went ahead with the designation of the two areas currently under consideration. We could then see precisely what would be required; either to do what his amendment would allow--that is, to keep the planning powers with the local authority--or alternatively to have a joint arrangement; the more traditional arrangement now existing in the national parks.

We would need to discuss that fully when decisions are about to take place with the existing national parks as well as with local authorities and the embryo organisations. We do not therefore have a closed mind, therefore, but believe that we would probably be raising too many expectations and apprehensions if we were now to legislate in such a general way when two or three years of the process have yet to be completed in relation to the two areas under consideration. I hope that the noble Earl will not press his amendment and recognises that we understand the concerns which lie behind it.

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