Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Judd: When the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, moved his amendment, he said the objective was to tease out more information from my noble friend. I rather took it from that that this amendment would

20 Jan 2004 : Column 953

not be pressed to a Division. I hope that in replying to the interesting observations made from the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Cross Benches the Minister will say in the context of this debate what I have heard him say powerfully on other occasions; that is, that one of the key planning purposes in our overcrowded, over-stressed society is the enhancement of the countryside and not simply for the benefit of those living there. Psychologically and physically it is absolutely indispensable for the health and well-being of the whole nation. Will the Minister say authoritatively that all that is being done shows the Government's determination to ensure that this rich resource—the countryside—is enhanced as an asset for the nation?

Viscount Ullswater: On this occasion I rise to help the Minister by opposing the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that it is a probing amendment. I hope he will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are made. I have always accepted that there should be regional planning guidance. Such guidance has informed the making of local plans and structure plans for many years and has been extremely successful. In another life I was Minister for Planning and therefore had a certain responsibility. I have already expressed my opposition to a statutory body such as the RSS without an elected assembly but I recognise that it is restrictive to put such constraints on the face of the Bill, as this amendment seeks to do. I hope that the Minister may find a way of writing into the Bill the fact that the RSSs will be the embodiment of RPGs instead of us having to rely on his words in Hansard. That would help the construction of the Bill and also your Lordships' understanding of it.

Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I may ask the Minister about one issue included in my noble friend's amendment. I refer to the regional housing strategies which are the responsibility of regional housing boards. Can the Minister explain either now or later exactly how he sees them tapping into this structure?

Lord Avebury: I should like to ask a question before the Minister comes to reply. I have read carefully the passages under the heading, "What is an RSS?" in the Consultation Paper on Draft Planning Policy, Statement 11. I see nothing in there about the specific question of wind power which has been quite controversial. Many applications for planning permission for wind turbines on land have been turned down on environmental grounds. While I accept entirely what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the primary objective of the RSS should be the enhancement of the countryside, I do suggest to the Minister that there are many areas, which are neither areas of outstanding natural beauty nor national parks, where wind farms would be perfectly suitable. I say that in the context of agriculture in this country. The primary agricultural purpose of land has become unprofitable. Many farmers are looking to alternative ways of making money. In upland areas, one of them could be the use of land no longer suitable for

20 Jan 2004 : Column 954

sheep. Unless there is something in the RSS which specifically refers to it, will not local authorities continue to be as negative as they have been in the past?

Lord Rooker: I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question except that I was minded to look into the Moses Room where the Energy Bill is being discussed. That would be my immediate reaction. On the point that he raises, I have no doubt that I will get a note to help me to respond.

To respond to what my noble friend Lord Judd said, the Bill deals only with certain aspects of changes. As I said in my closing speech at Second Reading, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is working to a master plan—the Sustainable Communities Plan published on 5 February last year. We make it clear that we are interested only in sustainable developments. We want to redevelop the cities to make them living bodies. My noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside said on Second Reading that the only real sustainable community is in a city. The other side of the coin is that the countryside is protected. It stops the flight from city to countryside if cities are good for living, working and quality of life.

In the Sustainable Communities Plan there is a map on Page 43 which I have used many times at various meetings. It shows the amount of land in England covered by national parks, green belt, and areas of outstanding natural beauty. You can superimpose the urban areas. It is an interesting set of statistics. We have to be very careful. What we have said is that in building sustainable communities, particularly in growth areas, we may have to impinge on certain parts of the green belt. However, we intend to grow it and leave more statutory green belt than we started with. We have already done this. There are an additional 30,000 hectares of green belt land now compared with 1997. I realise a large part is in one area of the country but nevertheless it is statutory and far bigger than it was. I would also say that green belt is not the same as AONBs. Most green belt serves as a buffer around urban areas. It is not land of high visual quality; it is purely designed to stop cities and towns joining up, which is quite right. But green belt and AONB are not the same thing and are separate from the statutory national parks.

This is an important issue. Quite obviously noble Lords are testing the Bill to discover the Government's thinking behind these issues which legislation in the form of a Bill does not always set out. I shall try to set out our thinking and also address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Somewhere in my notes is a reference to regional housing boards and I can definitely say that I will cover the noble Baroness's point.

Amendment No. 3 would amend Clause 1(1) to provide that the RSS must consist of the following: first, a concise strategic framework for the spatial dimension of government policies in delivering and maintaining sustainable economies, communities and environment in the region. That would include other regional strategies and programmes that have a

20 Jan 2004 : Column 955

bearing on the use of land, such as the regional economic strategy, the housing strategy and the cultural strategy.

Secondly, it should include the regional transport strategy. Thirdly, it should set out the policy and general proposals in respect of the development and other use of land in the region, including measures for the improvement of the physical environment and the management of traffic. Finally, it should include any other matters that are prescribed.

Amendment No. 7 of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, would amend Clause 1(2) to provide that, among other things, the regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's policies for major transport and infrastructure provision in the region.

By what I have said previously, I hope the Committee can agree that the Government concur with much of what is said in the amendments concerning the content of an RSS. We differ on whether it needs to be set out on the face of the Bill rather than in policy pronouncements and guidance and, if necessary, in regulations.

Paragraph 1.3 of draft planning policy statement 11 makes clear that the RSS should set out the regional transport and major infrastructure proposals that are necessary to deliver the strategy set out in the RSS. Detailed policy and guidance on what the regional transport strategy should contain are set out in Annex B to the document.

It is crucial that the RSS sets out the regional transport and major infrastructure priorities. In issuing an RSS the Secretary of State will endorse the principle of these proposals as he sees appropriate, taking full account of the report of the panel following the examination in public into the draft proposals. There will then be an opportunity for people to make representations on the precise location of these proposals through the normal statutory routes. The procedures for doing so include a planning inquiry, a highways inquiry and an inquiry into a Transport and Works Act order.

The RSS must be careful not to stray into such site-specific proposals and thereby subvert these statutory procedures and the safeguards they provide.

So, we want to emphasise the role of the RSS in relation to establishing regional priorities. Proposals of national importance need to be considered at the national rather than the regional level. The principle of the need for nationally important proposals will have been established not in an RSS but rather—for example—in a White Paper or in debate in this Chamber. A good recent example that I have used elsewhere is the airports document. The Bill changes how major infrastructure inquiries will be dealt with, but the key to making that change is a clear statement of policy by government on what the issue is—whether it be airports or other matters. So that is necessary; otherwise, the system will not work.

I turn now to the detail of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Paragraph 1.3 of draft PPS11 makes clear that the RSS should provide a broad development strategy for at least a 15-year

20 Jan 2004 : Column 956

period. It goes on to state that the RSS should, among other things, identify the scale and distribution of provision for new housing and priorities for the environment, transport, infrastructure, economic development, agriculture, minerals extraction and waste treatment and disposal. I think that demonstrates that if we were to prescribe on the face of the Bill what the RSS should contain it would have to say more than the selective references to such matters as,


    "the improvement of the physical environment",

to which the noble Lord's amendment refers.

I say that only because otherwise the legislation is left wide open to people who wish to frustrate development or misuse the proposals. All it does is to make loads of money for the lawyers and slows down the decision-making process. Whether the decision is yes or no does not matter; it slows it down.

Paragraph 2.8 of PPS11 makes clear that the RSS should provide the long-term planning framework for the three regional strategies—to which the noble Lord refers—and the other relevant strategies. I have already referred to the policy and guidance in PPS11 on the contents of the regional transport strategy and to the role of that strategy as an integral part of the RSS.

There is, therefore, no issue between us of what the RSS should contain but merely where we should say it. We are not arguing on any issue of what it should contain. In our view it would be a mistake to fossilise it on the face of the Bill because we would be making references to what matters the RSS should contain, which may change in the future. This is where I turn to the example and answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, refers in his amendment to a new type of strategy introduced last year after the Bill had been introduced—the regional housing boards. Who knows what the future may hold? If we put things in great detail in primary legislation, we are making a rod for our own back with other changes that may occur in the future. There is a procedure for doing this. There is the policy and the guidance and, if necessary, the power to use regulation to make good any items that are missing or changes that have come about. So it is only a question of where the issue is written down.

I have some specific answers to give to points raised by Members of the Committee, which I hope I can deal with adequately. The RSS is not site-specific and so would not identify areas for wind farms. It will define broad locations and criteria for wind farm development, to be taken forward by the local development framework. The RSS will plan positively for renewable energy—I think that we take that for granted—but it would not go into that detail.

The regional housing strategy assesses the regional housing needs of the region. This is a fairly new process, which is less than a year old. It will identify housing investment priorities. The information forms the RSS, which sets out the housing requirements for which the planning authority should provide. The

20 Jan 2004 : Column 957

point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that these issues are very delicate and sensitive, but unless there is planning we end up with sprawl, unsustainable growth and unsustainable communities and we diminish people's quality of life. Therefore, there are some tough decisions to be made.

I hope that the noble Lord in his guise as a local government bigwig of some quality will help me with the communities plan in the growth areas. Of course, as I have told my colleagues, I am working with people of quality in this place—some more important than others—because they carry a lot of clout on the communities plan.

I shall deal with how RSSs will be different from structure plans. Many structure plans repeat what is already national or regional policy. They do not address planning issues that cross administrative boundaries; in other words where the problems are. I explained that matter earlier. We want to explore that area in consultation. The boundaries are important but they are not the be-all and end-all. We need to reach across them. The problems stretch across the boundaries.

It is not true that RSSs will consist of the regional planning guidance and Part 1 of the UDPs and the structure plans. RSSs will be the regional planning guidance and, through time, the sub-regional policies that are actually needed in the relevant areas. They are obviously different around the country. They will not be the same in every area. The RSSs will evolve over time. It is a question of where it is written down—it will be written down. That is the point, and I hope that I have made it clear. The issues will be written down; the question is where they are written down. They will be written down in such a way that people will not be able to avoid them. I am confident of that.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Cobbold: I am not sure that I am totally happy with that response. It is important that the Bill should state some of these important issues—the Minister mentioned the airport issue, which would clearly materially affect a region if central government decided that was to be done. I feel that RSSs must take account of these major national issues to the extent that they affect a particular region. I ask the Government to think about that. I will not be pressing my amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page