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As noble Lords will recall from Committee, the amendment would require that the Government put on the face of the Bill a measure to ensure that regional spatial strategies include statements of community involvement. We had a worthwhile discussion on the
What was particularly interesting was how much we all agreed. We agreed on the principle of the aim of the amendment to ensure the involvement and consultation of communities in the process of revising regional spatial strategies. We also broadly agreed on the practicalities, although we did not discuss that in much depth. Thus, the only point of difference that remained was the question of how much detail would be on the face of the Bill. That is the particular point that I want to pursue today.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stated that the Government would guarantee community involvement in the RSS process by detailing the requirements of consultation in regulations; that is, secondary legislation. Our attention was also drawn to the draft planning policy statement on regional planning, PPS11, which sets out what a regional consultation should look like.
However, as helpful as the Minister's replies werewe were grateful to receive a detailed list of all the relevant bodies that the regional planning body must consultthe fact is the Minister could not justify the Government's reluctance to put this measure on the face of the Bill. Specifically, he was not able to justify the Government's position on two related questions. Those were and remain, first, why are the Government putting in Clause 18 a statutory requirement for local planning authorities to prepare statements of community involvement and yet are legislating for such a requirement for regional planning bodies only via secondary legislation? Secondly, why do the Government resist such a small number of words which would demonstrate their commitment to democracy at all levels of governance, especially when they have embraced the aim of the amendment?
I regret to say that the Minister's responses to those questions were less illuminating than is customary for him. For that reason I am trying to be as clear as possible in asking those questions again. I do not dispute that most of the details of how to secure community involvement in the RSS process are best left to guidance and regulations. Nor do I dispute that the regional spatial strategy will be quite different from the local development plan and therefore will require different processes in its preparation, including the process of securing community and stakeholder participation. But accepting these two points in no way lets the Government off the hook.
Despite the fact that we have made some strong progress in terms of the Bill's provisions regarding accountability, I believe that we should still be seeking to give the proposed changes much more robust democratic credentials. The proposed system needs to be less top-down and more bottom-up.
This short amendment will go a long way towards achieving that aim. It would help emphasise and guarantee the continued centrality of democratic engagement to the planning system in this country. The message to regional planning bodies would be
As I previously said, according to research conducted by the Local Government Association, 95 per cent of planning authorities said it would not be easy to secure meaningful community involvement in regional planning. Thus, given the obvious concerns of the community of professional planners about how community involvement will be achieved, it is vital that the Government send the signal that securing community participation is an essential part of the regional planning process.
The amendment is nine words long. Thus, we can hardly be accused of overburdening the Bill with unnecessary detail. I think we all agree that securing meaningful participation will represent a positive aim for the new system to try to achieve. If we value this as highly as I think we do, and as I think we should, a statement of community involvement must be included in the RSS and this must be legislated for on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, our Amendment No. 31 is in this group. We very much support the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. We have chosen, however, to try and express the issue in Clause 6 and at somewhat greater length than has the noble Lordalthough I recognise that that is not always a matter for congratulation in this House.
Our amendment proposes that not only must the regional planning body prepare a statement of community involvement, but before it does so it should also consult people whom it thinks have an interest in matters relating to the development and use of land within its region, and it states:
If the Bill when enacted lasts for as long as have previous major pieces of legislation regarding town and country planning, this Government are unlikely to be the Government for the whole of its tenure.
The draft regulations require the regional planning body to consult such of the "general consultation bodies" as it considers appropriate and, indeed, require a statement on consultation. The "general consultation bodies"and they are bodies and not individualsare voluntary bodies, which represent racial, ethnic and national groups in the region, different religious groups, the interests of disabled
What about, for instance, education? The Minister may say that that is not a spatial matterat any rate not at regional level. But I wonder whether that is actually so, especially when one thinks about higher and tertiary levels and skills training, and, as I have said, the provision relates to bodies and not individuals. There seems to be no place in this thinking for individuals to contribute.
We are keen that the new planning arrangements and their outcome are, to use the jargon, "owned" by the communities, which they should be designed to serve. The communities, of course, are made up of individuals who may express themselves sometimes through bodies but at times as individuals.
The Government may know that they will always require a statement in such an approach, but do not trust the local authorities to provide a statement of community involvement without including it in primary legislation. So, do they trust all future governments?
I know that it is not easy to collect and collate views at regional level, but planning requires a lot of public trust; and the more remote it is the less is the trust. I have referred to the draft regulations, but I think that the annex to the consultation paper is splendid in this regard on community involvement. It states that "community" means,
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