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A good planning system is vital to our quality of life. We need a system that fully engages people in shaping the future of their communities and local economies. The present planning system is too complicated, too slow and engages insufficiently with local communities. We need to make it more efficient and more accessible so that it better serves everybody with an interest in the growth and development of their community, whether individuals, businesses or representative organisations.
The Green Paper sets out our proposals for simplifying the complex hierarchy of regional, county, unitary and local plans. We propose to replace local plans with new local development frameworks that will have two main components: a set of core criteria that will allow local authorities to express a vision for the future of their areas and a strategy for its delivery; and action plans for specific areas where detailed planning is required. These include, for example, neighbourhoods, villages, town centres and major development sites. We intend that action plans should be a particular focus for community participation in the planning of local areas.
The Green Paper proposes a much stronger emphasis on customer service, including delivery to business. New targets for processing planning applications by local authorities will distinguish business from householder applications in order that all applicants should have a clear and realistic expectation of the speed of decision. We propose that delivery contracts should be agreed between local authorities and business for the biggest planning applications that would include an agreed timetable for reaching planning decisions.
The Green Paper proposes the introduction of business planning zones in which planning consent will not be necessary for certain businesses so long as strict quality standards are met. We propose that each region should have at least one zone to promote technology companies.
The Green Paper seeks to put communities at the heart of the planning system. We propose better community participation in the preparation of our new local development frameworks and action plans. A statement of community involvement will set standards for consultation on planning applications and plans. Master planning of major sites will help developers to plan for higher quality development, in partnership with local people and local authorities. There will be a much clearer procedure for submitting planning applications and a new emphasis on openness and accountability within the planning process.
We also propose to speed up the handling of planning applications that have been called in and appeals that have been recovered for my determination. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gives reasons where applications are called in but, up to now, they have not been given when he has decided not to call in an application. In the interests of greater openness he shall, from today, give reasons in both circumstances.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As part of our fundamental review of the planning system, we have decided that as from today we will give reasons for our decision not to call in planning applications. This decision, which forms part of the raft of measures in our planning Green Paper published today, is in the interests of transparency, good administration and best practice. The courts have established that there is no legal obligation to provide reasons for not calling in an application.
It should be borne in mind that the issue before him for decision is not whether the application should be granted planning permission but whether or not he should call it in for his own determination. The Secretary of State's policy on calling in planning applicationswhich is to be very selectiveis set out in the written reply by my right honourable friend, the then Minister for Planning, (Richard Caborn) to a Parliamentary Question on 16 June 1999 [Official Report, Commons; col. 138] in another place. That approach is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless it is necessary to do so. Local planning authorities are normally best placed to make decisions relating to their areas and it is right that, in general, they should be free to carry out their duties responsibly, with the minimum of interference.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Following the fundamental review of compulsory purchase procedures and compensation, we are publishing today a consultation paper setting out our proposals for major changes to the way that the compulsory purchase and compensation system operates. Our objective is to make the system simpler, fairer and quicker. We will simplify the law, clarify the powers available for acquiring land for planning and regeneration purposes; speed up the confirmation process; ensure that implementation follows promptly once an order is confirmed; and provide a fairer basis for assessing compensation.
On Galileo, Ministers were asked to agree to the release of funding from the Trans-European Networks (TENs) budget to enable the project to proceed to its next phase, and to agree on the management structure that the project would have. My right honourable friend was among Ministers to press for deferral of decisions on the project. He drew attention to the concerns which the recently issued PriceWaterhouseCoopers report had raised, on public sector funding, overall cost and lack of commercial benefits. The report made clear that any decision on the joint undertaking would have funding implications, so he argued that a decision on this should not be taken while funding issues were not sufficiently clear. There was also some discussion of the details of the draft regulation to establish the joint undertaking, but a majority of member states declined the Commission's request for a vote to agree the text. Decisions on the next phase of Galileo were deferred and no formal conclusions were agreed. The Presidency indicated that the Galileo project might be discussed further at the European Council at Laeken later this month.
The Council reached a political agreement on a regulation establishing a Community framework for airport security standards and monitoring. The Commission had initially insisted on arrangements to oversee member states which were operating more stringent security measures. But in response to concerns which we and others expressed about the need for freedom to respond to perceived security threats, it accepted that member states should be free to apply additional measures, provided they were in accordance with Community law. This important measure should ensure that high standards are in place throughout the EU and create a safer environment for air passengers using EU airports.
There was discussion of a draft directive on occurrence reporting in civil aviation, on the transposition of JAR-OPS standards into EC law, and on a draft directive on the training of aviation cabin crew. No decisions were reached on the first two issues, and the Presidency concluded that no progress was possible on the third. The UK view is that provision for cabin crew training should be included in the JAR-OPS legislation.
The Council reached political agreement on the regulation to establish a European maritime safety agency, which was proposed as part of the ERIKA II package of maritime safety proposals. We are content with the text as agreed.
The Council agreed the text of a directive to simplify reporting formalities for ships leaving and entering Community ports. It was able to accept the European Parliament's position on the proposal, and therefore reached agreement at the First Reading.
My right honourable friend and the French Minister, with support from the Commissioner, stressed the need for member states to make quick progress on ratifying the Hazardous and Noxious Substances convention and other maritime pollution compensation conventions, as the December 2000 Council Conclusions had urged.
The Council noted a Presidency progress report on the proposal to update Regulation 3820/85 on commercial drivers' hours and rest periods. Further consideration of this will pass to the Spanish Presidency.
My right honourable friend maintained the UK's opposition to the proposal to extend the fitting of speed-limiting devices to goods vehicles above 3.5 tonnes and to coaches/buses with over eight passenger seats regardless of weight. He argued that we were not in favour of a threshold below 7.5 tonnes, but that an extension of European regulation of 7.5 tonnes would be in line with UK law. We expressed our doubt that the safety and environmental consequences of fitting limiters to lighter vehicles would be beneficial. The Presidency concluded that Council adopted the proposal by qualified majority. The proposal will now be considered by the European Parliament early in the new year.
Following the recent fires in Alpine road tunnels, the Commission reported to the Council that it would propose legislation early in 2002 to improve safety. The proposals will address issues relating to technical equipment, driver information, traffic controls and training of operational staff. We await further details of the proposals, and will need to examine them carefully.
Under XOther Business", my right honourable friend raised the issue of the new digital tachograph and the deficiencies in the regulation on which the specification is based. I had previously written to the Commissioner asking her to propose amendments to address these shortcomings, which would create serious enforcement difficulties. Other Ministers at the Council supported me in asking the Commission to re-examine the issue and bring forward a new proposal to amend the regulation. My right honourable friend expressed his disappointment at the Commission's response, which did not address the concerns we had put forward.
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will tomorrow publish the statement The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available at my department's website at www.culture.gov.uk.
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