Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may—

Lord Rooker: If I may just complete this part, I shall be glad to give way to the noble Lord. In testing the soundness of the regional spatial strategy, the extent of community involvement and stakeholder participation will both be taken into account in the panel's examination of the draft revision. The Secretary of State could reject the revision if he was not satisfied that it had been properly prepared.

We believe that that all adds up to a comprehensive package of community involvement in the regional planning process, with checks in place to ensure that it does take place. Given the way in which it will be carried out, we do not consider that a statutory statement would add value, bearing in mind the process that we are to undertake. I shall now gladly give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Avebury: Some of what the Minister has described is set out in draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning. However, there is one point on which I should be grateful to receive the Minister's advice. The document states that, after discussing community involvement, as the noble Lord outlined, the RPB may also wish to consider the likely cost to participants and whether there is any scope for it or other stakeholders to provide financial support for community and voluntary groups in order to assist their ability to participate in the process. Does the

20 Jan 2004 : Column 946

Minister agree that that should not be discretionary and that, if one is to involve communities in the way that he described—I approve of everything that he has said thus far—there must be some financial burden on the RPB to assist that process?

Lord Rooker: I wholly agree with the point that the noble Lord makes. The short answer is that that is one reason why the Government have increased substantially the funding available for planning aid. This is a genuine issue. Off the top of my head I do not know what the figures are, but we have substantially increased the funds available for planning aid and for organisations in order to help in the exact circumstances identified by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Perhaps I may complete this part of my answer and I shall then turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness. I hope that it is fair to say that we need to get away from assuming that what is right at a local level might also be right at a regional level—that is, in terms of simple replication. A regional spatial strategy is a different document with a very different purpose from a local plan. To begin with, it will not be site-specific. The regional spatial strategy sets out the strategic framework for the region, and the local plan documents detail which sites should be developed. There is no reason why two such different documents should be subject to the same procedures in their preparation. However, in any event, community involvement is fairly important.

The statutory statement of community involvement is a case in point. Although it would not be valuable at a regional level, it would be valuable at a local level in setting out clearly for the local community how it would be involved in a plan-making process that might affect what its neighbourhood would look like in the years ahead. Local plans are literally much closer to home—that must be accepted—and the community has a far more direct stake in the process. Of course, members of the community may have an interest and want an input into the strategic policies in the regional plan. I go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said and the example that he gave of 17 local authorities in one area. Those policies would not be site-specific, but the communities would be absolutely entitled to be consulted right at the beginning and throughout the process.

In principle, there is no argument at all between us in terms of what happens at the local and regional levels. It is a question of how much detail would be on the face of the Bill, bearing in mind that some of that detail would be statutory—that is, in secondary legislation. I cannot recall whether the procedure would be affirmative or negative. However, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of your Lordships' House will bring forward suitable amendments to meet those recommendations in due course. I can say that now, without having the detailed report in front of me.

I have a list of the bodies which the regulations would require the regional planning body to consult. I shall place that list on the record, first, because it is important and, secondly, so that there is no doubt

20 Jan 2004 : Column 947

about the detailed attention that we intend to pay to this issue. Earlier, I gave a summary of the list but I shall now give it in full.

To the extent that the regional planning body considers that the draft revision affects a body, the RPB must consult: a local planning authority, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; a county council, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; a parish council, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; the regional planning body for each adjoining region; the Countryside Agency; the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England; English Nature; the Environment Agency; the Strategic Rail Authority; a regional development agency whose area is in or adjoins the regional planning board's region; any strategic health authority which exercises functions in the region; and any telecoms and infrastructure service provider which exercises functions in the region.

The RPB should also consult, as it thinks appropriate: voluntary bodies, some or all of whose activities benefit any part of the region; bodies that represent the interests of different racial, ethnic or national groups in the region; bodies that represent the interests of different religious groups in the region; bodies that represent the interests of disabled persons in the region; and bodies that represent the interests of persons carrying on business in the region.

Once the lawyers get to work on that list, it covers an incredible spread of opinion. Most organisations will fit one of those criteria because they will be found to have an interest in the region. It is just a question of what we put in the Bill. I agree that the Bill is too long and already too detailed. That is always a difficulty, and one draws a compromise. In this case, there will be regulations and secondary legislation.

Lord Sheppard of Didgemere: I understand the Minister saying that the Bill already covers the community involvement issue; therefore there cannot be much incremental work. I therefore cannot understand why he resists the small number of words in the amendment; they at least would demonstrate that we support democracy upfront in Clause 1.

Lord Judd: My noble friend has encouraged us to watch his back. I assure him—and he knows—that I am not watching his back with any sense of hostility on the issue. I have the feeling that he shares our concern and our objectives and it is a matter of how we get right the Bill's wording. It is good to have a Minister with such sensitivity.

Does my noble friend agree that the trouble with illustrative lists is that the organisations that do not appear on the list inevitably hold some significance? I refer to my interests on the previous amendment: for example, there are two organisations—the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, referred to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but I refer also to the national parks—that have tremendous responsibility on behalf of the

20 Jan 2004 : Column 948

nation, not simply the local community, for protecting and enhancing those assets for the nation as a whole.

I listened carefully—I have a problem with my hearing; however, I do not think that this was due to it—but I heard neither the areas of outstanding natural beauty nor the national parks mentioned in the illustrative lists the Minister gave. I hope that he can say something from the Government Front Bench to the effect that those specific bodies, which carry terrific responsibility, will be consulted in the development of any strategies.

Lord Rooker: It is not my job to make policy at the Dispatch Box; I am not the planning Minister, but the answer has to be yes. There is no question about that. They may fit the descriptions I have given—frankly I would have thought that they do. They may fit under the definition of local authorities; the national parks are planning authorities, so they are probably defined in the law—I see the Liberal Democrats nodding, so apparently I have got it right off the top of my head.

So while I am not making policy on my feet, the answer to my noble friend's question must be "yes". We do not have a point of principle or difference between us.

Lord Sheppard of Didgemere: Will the Minister answer my question: therefore, why does he resist the amendment?

Lord Rooker: I was about to utter the immortal words, which are not on my brief: we will consider the matter. If anything has been missed out, that is no good because it undervalues what I have said. We need to be clear. As we are in Committee stage and at the moment the score is "county councils 1, Government 0", I will go back to the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Keith Hill, the planning Minister, who proved to be good listening Ministers following the drubbing the Bill received on Second Reading. After Second Reading, we tabled massive amendments to Clause 4, to consider the matter and see whether we could accommodate the points I have made without adding masses of extra pages to the Bill.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, the Bill does not say that the regional planning board is to prepare the regional spatial strategy. The Bill creates the regional spatial strategies from the existing regional planning guidances under Clause 1. I do not have the Bill in front of me, but there is a redefinition that one instrument becomes the new instrument. As we explained yesterday, that was done so that there are not great delays that take years. We take the existing regional planning guidance, which becomes the regional spatial strategy. Its revision in due course will be covered by many of the points I made earlier.

There cannot possibly be a case for pressing the amendment on the basis of what I have said. I hope that we can move on to the next debate with a degree of goodwill.

20 Jan 2004 : Column 949

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: Could I challenge the Minister a little further? I accept that the regional planning guidances will be at least part of the regional spatial strategy, but it does not say anywhere that they will be all of it. A number of discussions will ensue to shed light on what is involved in the regional spatial strategy.

It seems more than a little relevant that the regional planning board is responsible. The Bill does not say that it will do anything that the Minister said in his response. Clauses 2 and 3 give the RPB some general functions and say that it must keep the regional spatial strategy and the development of its regions under review and it must monitor and implement. It does not say anything about producing or about being responsible for the original implementation of the regional spatial strategy.

The regional planning bodies are being given a lacuna under the Minister's reply—I accept that the provision is in guidance, but it is not written in the Bill. Too often we rely on what goes into Hansard to justify the Bill and people have to go rummaging around to find the reference, when one subsection under Clause 1 would simply say that the regional planning body is responsible for introducing and implementing the regional spatial strategy. That is the reality of the situation, as the Minister indicated.

I am happy for the Minister not to reply tonight and to receive his reply at a later stage, but it would be helpful not only to us here, who are steeped in Bills and sentences and what people say. It is when it goes beyond here that we need to make clear what it is all about. I ask the Minister to review that provision and to ensure that we may return to it by putting it into a clause if he does not respond quickly. It is an important issue.

While I am on my feet, I declare the appropriate interests, such as being a member of a local authority and a member of a local planning committee, so that that is understood from the outset.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page