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Lord Greaves: Yes, wisdom comes from all parts of the Chamber. Does the Minister really believe that structure plans are all many years out of date and will always be many years out of date; and that his wonderful new regional plans will all have been agreed and decided last week?
Lord Hanningfield: Perhaps I may comment on that point before the Minister answers. With structure plans one could have county spatial plans. It has not been the county structural plans that have held up the system; it has been various governments who have put various timetables on it. The faults have not been with counties but with governments on timetables. You could have very speedy county spatial plans in a modern way. Therefore, we cannot agree at all with what the Minister has just said.
Lord Rooker: The short answer to the noble Lord, Lord Greavesand the only one he is going to getis "No". That is the answer to the question. We are going to argue about this, I suspect, for some time. I take the point.
Lord Rooker: I gave the noble Lord an answer. He asked me a specific question, and I answered him, "No". I am not going to elaborate. He may not like a one-word answer, but that is the answer I shall give however many times he asks the question.
Lord Greaves: What the Minister does not realise is that I am not going to ask the same question again. I want to point out that the whole of the Minister's argument has been based on his allegation that structure plans are always out of date and that the new regional spatial plans will always be up to date. That is the whole of his argument. He is asking: "Will people agree with that?" When I ask him whether that will always be the case, he says "No". So he has undermined his own argument, absolutely and completely in one word.
I accept that the chambers are not directly elected and that that is a bone of contention. We are being realistic about that; no one is arguing to the contrary. On the other hand, although there are all kinds of democratic structures, the levels of directness of democracy vary widely. For example, the parliamentary second chambers of some of our European partners are not directly elected but are composed of people elected in a different way. I am not arguing that that is not so. Those chambers are not directly elected, but they are representative of both local authorities and stakeholders more widely in the region.
Local authority members represent their local authority on the regional planning board. Members from other stakeholder groups such as business or the voluntary sector will equally speak up for the interests they represent. They will have been put there through some kind of process for the particular body concerned. However, that is not democratic in the sense that we understand the term, at a local government ballot box. Nevertheless, they are there as a voice to ensure that we have the widest possible sounding board for the region. I think that that is legitimate.
Through legislation and guidance we are ensuring that everyone in the region with an interest can get involved in the regional planning process. There will be consultation, representations and, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, an examination in public conducted by an independent panel. For the
We have heard that we must delay our reformsa point put by one or two noble Lordsuntil the elected regional assemblies are in place. However, knowing the process being undertaken, anyone who makes that case should realise that such a move will simply delay putting into place the more effective planning system that we so urgently need. Planning Bills are not often considered by Parliament but are a double-decade opportunity. Currently there are too many plans and too much confusion. Our reforms will produce a simpler, faster and more flexible system that creates plans and delivers policies at the right level. They are the right thing to do and it is about time that we made the changes.
On referendums, which I mentioned already, we have not yet set dates for the other regions. We clearly stated why we have not set dates when we debated the previous legislation. We have made it clear, however, that a referendum will be held in a region if there is sufficient interest in holding one. These amendments are a recipe for muddle because there is no guarantee that referendums will be held in a particular region. There would be different structures for plan making between areas with elected regional assemblies and those without. In short, we believe that our planning reforms will produce a simpler and more comprehensible system and that these amendments would just cause more confusion.
Where an elected regional assembly is establishedwhere there is a successful referendum; and legislation will be introduced in Parliament if there is a successful vote in one of the three regionsit is unarguably right that it should take over responsibility for regional planning. However, we should not conflate that with reform of the planning system. That reform needs to happen now. We cannot wait for such reform until the creation of elected regional assemblies, if that is what the people in those regions decide. As I said, the matter depends very much on the choice of people in those regions.
The assemblies may come to pass or they may not. However, our planning reformsI plead with the Committeeshould not be dependent on decisions which will be taken for wholly different reasons. These reforms stand on their own. Although they may be connected to the reform and election of regional government, for heaven's sake, given the current difficulties with the planning system, they should not be dependent on that. I therefore hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
If there is no elected assembly then the Government's proposals will not be the way to go. If the Committee accepts the amendment some matters of detail will have to be considered. If the amendment is not accepted, a great deficit in the first part of the Bill will have to be addressed at the next stage. I did not try to rewrite the whole Bill for the Committee stage.
The main point is that there seems to be nothing to prevent the current regional planning guidance involving people in the region and becoming much more effective. That could trickle down in the way that the Minister says the Bill will allow. The Government themselves say that they will "save" structure plans for three years. So do we not have to an opportunity to get this right? In the Minister's presentation it seems that convenience overrides the issues of democracy and accountability to which so many noble Lords have referred.
The Minister suggested that noble Lords had perhaps based their arguments on a misunderstanding of how planning works, by ignoring the issues of development control and of dealing with individual planning applications. As the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, said, he did indeed deal with that. Furthermore, Clause 18the provision that deals with local developmentsays that the local development document "must have regard to" the regional spatial strategy for the region. Is it not verging on the disingenuous to suggest that the regional spatial strategy has nothing to do with how planning applications are dealt with? From the moment that the Green Paper was introduced many practitioners said that many problems could be dealt with without primary legislation. I suggest that this is one area where we do not need to take the drastic steps that the Minister is asking us to agree.
The Minister said that the proposed regional planning body needs to be sufficiently inclusive. It is up to the electors to decide who should represent them through that body. Regulation 4 of the draft regulations states:
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that we should be prepared to fight certain battles. This is not just a bone of contention, as the Minister described it; it is fundamental. This is a battle that we are prepared to fight. I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.