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Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that reply. He raised the question that we will probably

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now move on to in other amendments about the binding nature of the inspector's powers. I thank him for his explanation, particularly about the factors included in the Town and Country Planning Act. That matter had escaped me, but I am grateful for his reply, and I shall read Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 102H and 103 not moved.]

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 103A:

    Page 12, line 33, leave out paragraph (d) and insert—

"(d) the document may be taken into account for the purposes of development control by the authority until the Secretary of State has approved, modified or rejected the document or (if the direction relates to only part of the document) part of the document"

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 103A would enable development plan documents that have been agreed by a local planning authority but are still subject to a direction by the Secretary of State to be treated as material considerations for development control purposes, while someone is waiting for the final decision by the Secretary of State on the document.

Any development plan document agreed by a local planning authority should reflect the authority's intention for the area covered by the document. The only obstacle to its adoption is the intervention of the Secretary of State. The outcome of the direction may be modification of the document. In the interim, it would be reasonable for the local planning authority to use it as a basis for development control decisions. If nothing else, it would encourage the Secretary of State to proceed speedily with his intention in the matter. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 103B, owing to pre-emption.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, explained perfectly the effect of her amendment. It would allow planning applications, for example, to be considered against policies that the Secretary of State then finds so flawed as to warrant rejection. It could create considerable chaos. To our way of thinking, that is unacceptable.

We expect that, in common with the current system, draft local development documents may be material considerations in development control decisions. The weight to be attached to them in decision making may increase, the further they proceed towards adoption. That is right because the closer that a document gets to adoption, the more the likelihood of it changing decreases. However, that general position should not apply to development plan documents that the Secretary of State has called in. A document will be called in only if the Secretary of State considers that it warrants it and thinks that it should not proceed to adoption without further consideration.

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The Secretary of State may approve, approve with modifications or reject a called-in document. He may decide to approve a document without further modifications, but that cannot, obviously, be known in advance. It is important that development control decisions are based on sound policies. The power of call-in should not be used lightly, and I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will exercise the power only in exceptional circumstances. Because of that, we do not think that it would be sensible to allow documents that have been called in to be taken into account in what can be sensitive development control matters.

For those reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Maddock: I hope that the Minister is right and that the Secretary of State will not call in lots of documents. If that is to be the case, there is less need for the amendment. My noble friend and I will ponder what the Minister said, but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 103B and 103C not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Withdrawal of local development document]:

[Amendment No. 103D not moved.]

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 103E:

    Page 13, line 7, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Baroness said: With the other amendments, we begin to move into the question of the binding nature of inspectors' decisions. Amendment No. 103E deals with why a local authority, even after it has submitted its development plan, should not be allowed to withdraw it again if for some reason it believes that it needs to be modified or contains some measure that it does not like. I appreciate that it can do that at any time until the moment it lodges the document. However, it cannot do so once the inspector has begun to consider the document. My amendment would ensure that it could withdraw that document at any time.

Amendment No. 103F seeks to leave out,

    "(other than a development plan document)",

because it does not seem to make sense. A local planning authority may adopt a local development document other than a development plan document. I should welcome the Minister's explanation of the difference between the two.

Amendment No. 104 replicates an amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee; namely, to insert a sub-paragraph (c) to allow a local planning authority to take account of any recommendations made by the person appointed to carry out the independent examination of the document.

Amendment No. 106, which seeks to leave out subsections (2) to (4), brings us to the question why a local planning authority can only adopt a development plan document if it has effectively been authorised by the inspector.

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There is a great deal of concern that local development plans will be constructed by local authorities on the basis of consultation and will then go forward to an inquiry. As matters stand at the moment, the inspector's recommendations are for a unitary development plan. With this situation, the inspector's recommendations are binding. That begs the question why the views of the local authority and those of the local community should be overridden by the inspector and that he should be able to insist on the developments and on the recommendations being made after he has put them forward.

Amendment No. 106ZA is a major amendment, which seeks to challenge the position of the binding recommendations. The amendment proposes that where the inspector has made a decision, it should not in certain circumstances be absolutely final and that there should be an opportunity for the local authority in effect to appeal those decisions and have a number of factors re-examined. The essential point is that these development plans are put together for local consumption, for local development control, after consultation with local people and the statement of community involvement has been lodged, and that there should be at least some route whereby local authorities can go back to the inspector with questions and obtain a redetermination of what has been said. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Rooker: The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has asked some important questions on this group of amendments. I therefore hope that she will forgive the length of my reply.

As the noble Baroness said, Amendment No. 103E would extend an authority's ability to withdraw a development planning document after its submission for independent examination. It would also remove the power of the Secretary of State to direct that the development planning document be withdrawn after its submission for examination. Our view is that no authority should need to withdraw a development planning document once the examination has started, provided that it has done its job properly. The development planning document should be submitted in the form in which the local planning authority wants to see it adopted.

As the pre-submission processes are expected to be thorough, each authority should have sufficient scope to address any difficult issues and prepare a sound plan. The withdrawal of a development planning document by an authority during or after the examination would undermine the investment that it had made in the preparation of the document. It would also be a waste of community investment and effort in the plan-making process. The withdrawal of a development planning document after submission for examination will, of course, slow the process. That is why the power to do it is restricted to the inspector and the Secretary of State.

However, the Bill caters for situations in which a withdrawal is necessary. As presently drafted, subsection (2)(a) allows the independent inspector to recommend a

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withdrawal. Representations could highlight, for example, serious defects in the development planning document that the examination and the inspector's recommendations may not be able to rectify. It is right that in such a situation there should be a mechanism for withdrawing the document. That is the ultimate purpose of the Secretary of State's power under Clause 21(2)(b)to direct a withdrawal, although it is likely to be exercised following a request from a local planning authority.

There should be no scope for a local planning authority to be able to withdraw a development planning document, after its submission for examination, in an attempt to avoid recommendations emerging from the examination. I am not suggesting that local planning authorities would do that, but we do not believe that there should be any scope for them to be able to do it. The Secretary of State will not use that power without serious consideration. He is obviously under a general duty to act reasonably and will consult local people and organisations before directing that the document be withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 105, 106 and 106ZA raise the issue of whether inspectors' reports should be binding on local planning authorities. Taken together with our other reforms, inspectors' binding reports are a key to speeding up the plan-making system and enhancing community involvement in it. Binding reports will cut out the stage at the end of the process following the inquiry, referred to as the modification stage. If a further inquiry into a modification is needed, that process can take six months or longer.

The new approach for authorities and interested parties is that we want all the options and ideas that could form part of the final document to be clear for everyone to see at the outset. There is an incentive for early discussion and decisions, rather than leaving key matters to be settled right at the end of the process. Binding reports will not mean that local communities will have fewer opportunities than they currently have to influence the content of the document. Under our new approach, the community will be involved in preparing the documents from the start of the process. Authorities will no longer be able to fail to act on an inspector's recommendations that are soundly based on an independent examination and representations made.

Concern has been expressed that an inspector may make changes to a development plan document that had not been considered at the examination. However, the inspector will be able to recommend a substantive change to a development plan document only if people have had an opportunity to make representations on it, or it has been considered at the examination itself and the representations or debate support it. If the inspector believes that a development plan document should be changed significantly in some other way, that could happen only if the examination is reconvened to consider the matter; otherwise, the matter would have to be dealt with by referring the development plan document to the local planning authority for further consideration.

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Our key concern is having up-to-date plans. This is best for communities and has been the policy that we have clearly set out from the beginning. Amendment No. 106ZA would add a new stage to the process. It would give the authority a power to ask the inspector to reconsider any of his recommendations or the need for further changes. The authority would be able to do this if it considered that circumstances had changed; if the inspector had made an error of fact; if, in interpreting a policy, there was a legal error in a recommendation or the reasons for it; if the proper procedure for the examination had not been followed; or if a recommendation was unclear.

The inspector would have a duty to reconsider whatever the authority requested. He would have the power to make further recommendations, revise or expand on his reasons and, indeed, reopen the examination or invite further representations. So if a problem is raised there should always be a way of addressing it. There is no question about that. We believe that serious mistakes will rarely happen but, if they do, we have put in place a number of safeguards.

If people believe that an inspector has made a simple error of fact or omission, they can ask the local planning authority to bring the matter to the attention of the planning inspectorate, which will obtain the inspector's views. If necessary, the inspector will issue an addendum report to correct the error or omission.

Under Clause 20, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct changes to a development plan document or call in the document before it is adopted and make modifications to it if needed. If a local planning authority felt that the inspector's recommendations were unreasonable it could ask the Secretary of State to consider using these powers.

Finally, any person who is aggrieved by the adoption of a development plan document will be able to challenge the document under Clause 109 on the ground that it is not within the powers of the Bill or that a procedural step has not been complied with. We believe that these safeguards cover the ground and minimise the risk that they will be used to frustrate the delay in the plan-making process.

I have given a long explanation but this is an important issue. As with one or two other provisions, it is an innovative part of the Bill. It is a part of the new process that the inspector's report shall be binding. I hope therefore that my explanation has been satisfactory.

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