Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the argument is a very major but a very simple one. Basically, the whole planning system is intended to see that the country and the countryside are not wrecked. Ultimately, it is the spatial strategy which must take that very long-term view. It is absolutely right that other developments do fit in with it. That is why I strongly support this amendment.

There are plenty of examples of where there have been desirable regional goals which actually would be very harmful in the long-term interests of the country, but I will not take the time of the House listing them. I hope that, by accepting this amendment, we will be enshrining the long-term future of the countryside.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, could I take up with the Minister a question which I raised by means of a

24 Feb 2004 : Column 144

Written Question on 12 February? That is, the mismatch between the policy of the Home Office on burial law in the 21st century—which suggests that an assessment should be made of community needs every 10 years—and the draft PPS11, which provides that the regional spatial strategy should develop a strategy for the region of at least 15 years.

In her reply, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said,


    "For planning purposes, the provision of land for burial is currently considered to be a local, rather than regional, land use issue".

She also said that the consultation paper which has now been issued by the Government,


    "seeks views on whether the provision of burial grounds should be linked to the local core strategy development plan, outlined in planning policy statement 12: local development frameworks. Such plans should cover a period of at least 10 years".—[Official Report, 12/2/04; col. WA 174.]

The provision of land for burial is already a serious problem in many areas of the country, and may become more so in the future when many of the minority communities in this country want to stick to burial rather than to move towards cremation. Therefore, demographers should be able to predict what is the regional requirement for burial grounds over a period of 15 years, and that should then feed into the local development plan.

That is a case where a regional framework is needed and where the Government's consultation paper on burial law and policy in the 21st century has got it wrong. It is not meshing correctly with the current proposals for legislation in the planning field.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have to admit that I have not come briefed on burial law, but I am pleased to note that there is a consultation paper. Therefore, this is a matter on which Ministers have not made a final decision.

On the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about protecting the countryside, the regional spatial strategy is that under which the plan-led system protects the countryside. Anyone would think that everything had been hunky-dory up to now. I can remember looking at some figures when I was at MAFF: in a six-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a quarter of the hedgerows disappeared. That changed the face of the countryside. People may say that everything has been okay up to now, the countryside has been protected and the Bill is wrecking things, but that is far from being the case.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: Is there an interest to declare, my Lords?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, surely the Minister realises that the hedgerows disappeared because a grant was offered by MAFF for their removal.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am simply saying that the idea that everything has been hunky-dory up to now

24 Feb 2004 : Column 145

and the countryside has been protected is nonsense, as that one point shows. I deprecate that, anyway. I was talking about the late 1980s and early 1990s, by the way, when the despoliation of the countryside was obviously financed by the previous government, although I do not want to go into that. I am simply making the point that the countryside has not been protected up to now.

I digress because, by and large, as we said in Committee, we are very supportive of the amendment. The principle expressed in it has our strong support. However, as with one or two other areas, at this point, we do not think the Bill is the right place for an imprecisely defined statement. Whether it could be refined, I do not know—I am not making any commitment.

We think it absolutely right that the regional spatial strategy should set the spatial framework for the regional economic strategy, but this is part of a two-way process. The spatial strategy needs to be shaped by the regional economic strategy as well as shaping it. We think that the way in which the amendment is drafted implies a hierarchical relationship, with the regional spatial strategy at the top. We do not think that is the right way forward. Perhaps we are misunderstanding the purpose, but our view is that the way in which the amendment is drafted would create a hierarchical relationship.

The regions need a joined-up approach; the regional spatial strategy and the regional economic strategy both serve a different role and function, but the one helps create the other. The relationship between the regional planning body and the regional development agency should properly be one between equals. That would not be the case if we accepted the narrow wording of the amendment. It can be a relationship in which there are different points of view reflecting the different purposes of the strategies, but that does not mean that they will necessarily contradict one another.

It is essential is that these bodies—and, indeed, the other bodies that have to work together drawing up key regional strategies—work together to develop a shared understanding of the issues, objectives and opportunities in a particular region. It will be different in each region, as we emphasised in draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning. This is already happening: in Yorkshire and the Humber, for example, joint stakeholder consultations events were organised by the regional planning body and the regional development agency during the recent review of both strategies.

From a practical point of view, people on the front line are making a reality of things. We do not think we need such a provision in the Bill, as it would give a hierarchical view. The amendment is simply not needed, certainly not in its current form. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. I shall reflect on his comments about the hedgerows. It is a classic example of what we are

24 Feb 2004 : Column 146

concerned about in the Bill. The Secretary of State at the time had so much power that he could remove the hedgerows. If we gave any Secretary of State as much power in this planning legislation, bizarre things might happen in the future. The Minister has given a classic example of why we are trying to change the Bill. He has made our arguments about the Secretary of State for us, and we will remind him of that throughout the remainder of the Bill's proceedings.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, you can trust this Government.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: I will give an example, my Lords. First, that happened not under this Government but under the previous one. Secondly, there are 30,000 more hectares in the green belt today than we inherited from the previous government in 1997. We need no lessons in that respect—we have a good record.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will accept that the Secretary of State at that time thought he was doing the right thing, but future generations have reflected on that. There should have been more debate about it at the time, which is what we want to ensure in this Bill. We want to make certain that no one can do anything without a good debate, considering the various points of view before arriving at any planning policies.

I do not want to create any hierarchies—that is not the purpose of the amendment. In my own region, the potential development of Stansted airport is a tremendous economic factor in the eastern region, but it must be tied in with the planning and spatial strategies.

The Minister seems to agree that bodies must work together to make the various strategies happen. I hope that he will reflect on this before Third Reading, as we need clarity before finalising the Bill, and that we can have a further debate on it then. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 4:


    Page 1, line 14, at end insert—


"(3A) The RSS must include sub-regional plans for all parts of the region in accordance with geographical boundaries defined by the RPB.
(3B) The sub-regional plans referred to in subsection (3A) shall be prepared by the authorities falling within section 5(1) if their area or any part of their area is in the defined sub-region."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to a major set of amendments that are concerned with ensuring that counties and other strategic planning authorities have a stronger role to play in the planning process.

Although I welcomed the Government's concessions in Committee on the role of county councils and other authorities, fundamentally I do not believe they have gone far enough. I think I am supported in that belief by many of your Lordships, by most interested outside organisations and by planners.

24 Feb 2004 : Column 147

Amendment No. 9 would put on the face of the Bill a statutory role for strategic planning authorities in the formulation of sub-regional strategies for their area. It is slightly different from Amendment No. 4, and certainly more extensive.

Throughout our deliberations, our approach has been to attempt to make the best of a bad job. We do not believe that the proposals brought before the House in Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill will improve the planning system.

One of the main areas of concern identified in earlier stages of debate, in this House and the other place, has been the wide gap between regional spatial strategies and local development. There is a yawning void created by removing structure plans from the process. It will create a serious problem for effective sub-regional planning and the co-ordination of transport, housing and infrastructure at the sub-regional scale.

The Government have attempted to paper over the crack by proposing that regional spatial strategies should include policies for sub-regions, but it is doubtful whether these will be sufficiently detailed to provide more than broad guidance about development strategy at the sub-regional scale. Furthermore, because they would be produced as an integral part of the regional spatial strategy, there will be a lack of flexibility about when the sub-regional policies can be updated. The fact that there will not be comprehensive coverage will leave some areas without a clear sub-regional strategy to guide development and infrastructure investment. In my own county, we have the Thames Gateway, with clear strategies—we have the developing M11 corridor, with possibly more houses to be built up the A12 than anywhere else. Clearly there will be no sub-regional strategy for these areas, and it is a recipe for chaos.

The draft PPS11, on which the Government have been consulting, stresses that planning issues are not necessarily contained within county boundaries. The point becomes doubly evident at the district scale. There are many examples—I think particularly of some in my own country of Essex, such as Harlow, where the expansion of a largely urban district, with tightly constrained boundaries, can take place only in adjoining districts. These will not necessarily be included within the main sub-regions identified at RSS level. How will authorities plan the development of such areas in a joined-up way without some form of sub-regional planning?

Clauses 28 and 29 provide for adjoining local authorities to produce joint local development documents and for joint committees to be established to assist that process. However, I am sceptical about how many districts will voluntarily join together to produce local development documents on a joint basis. The provisions in this Bill for joint local development documents will not plug the gap in sub-regional planning. Simply put, the proposals do not grasp the full range of sub-regional planning nor the way it is delivered on the ground.

We have already had much debate about the way in which this Bill marginalises county councils from the planning process, despite the fact that they are

24 Feb 2004 : Column 148

responsible for the majority of local services in two-tier areas, some of which are crucial to the delivery of sustainable patterns of development—highways and transportation being the most prominent. However, the Government recognised that, and we welcome amending the old Clause 4, which is now Clause 5, to give county councils a statutory role to advise the regional planning body on the preparation of RSS, although we still believe that the Government underestimate the importance of the role of county councils in strategic planning. I am sure that we will return to this issue later today.

I now return to the point of Amendment No. 4. The Government's amendments in Committee did not adequately address the crucial role of county councils in sub-regional planning. The purpose of this amendment is to plug the gap at sub-regional level by providing for the preparation of sub-regional plans, led by the strategic planning authorities as part of the RSS. It should not be interpreted as an attempt to reintroduce structure plans by the back door. That is not the intention. Nor would it undermine the pre-eminence of the regional spatial strategy. The procedure can be flexible and efficient and will not add another tier to the process. It would give a clear and appropriate strategic planning role to county councils and other strategic planning authorities at sub-regional level. Ultimately, from my own experience, I am absolutely positive that the amendment would help the Government's own objectives for sustainable communities—no joke.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 would further strengthen the strategic planning authority role. It is important to reiterate that there will be no intervening fully democratic level of planning in this country between the district level and the Secretary of State unless we have elected regional assemblies all over England. That looks extremely unlikely to happen—I hope that it does not—at least in the short term. We have an enormous structural gap in the planning system between districts and regions. Ministers must recognise that this will not tend to lead to effective planning. Perhaps they think that they will be able to continue to rely on the strategic authorities for sub-regional planning support. That is not the case. Although there is a statutory role for sub-regional planning, the reality is that many authorities will shed staff that they can no longer afford in order to fulfil the Government's requirements. That would be a disaster.

The Minister gave us his assurance that county councils would not lose any money whatsoever, but they are losing their role in writing county structure plans, in sub-regional planning and associated responsibilities. Surely, there will be a gradual downgrading, even if it is not yet envisaged. That would be a disaster, because capacity in the planning system does not currently lie in the regional chambers or Government Offices. The strategic expertise, technical know-how and wealth of experience in strategic planning is based, not surprisingly, at strategic authority level. To disperse and get rid of that pool of expertise—which, as it currently stands, the Bill would surely do—would be a terrible

24 Feb 2004 : Column 149

waste of one of the most valuable resources in our planning system, and would hinder the Government in their objectives in delivering sustainable communities.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that the success of sub-regional planning will be vital to achieving many of the demanding targets that the Government have set within their overarching sustainable communities policy framework. A statutory sub-regional dimension needs to be written into the Bill's provisions. As I said earlier, we doubt that the provisions for joint committees in Clauses 29 and 30 go far enough in this regard.

The strategic planning function of county councils is a precious resource. We cannot support legislation that treats the bulk of planning expertise in this country as an afterthought to local government reorganisation. The amendments ensure several problems with the legislation are addressed. They will strengthen the effective delivery of sub-regional planning, help preserve some measure of accountability within the proposed new system in the event that Clause 1 is eventually removed from the Bill, and offer more opportunities for public involvement. They will make the system more bottom up and less top down, will mean that counties will be less handicapped in integrating their transport, waste and minerals plans and will ensure that the capacity and expertise of the existing system are not lost. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, again, we are pleased to be able to support this amendment. We tabled an amendment at the last stage that drew attention to the importance of work at a sub-regional level. Our amendment was perhaps a little less prescriptive than this one and therefore a good deal less forceful. The criticisms of that amendment were that we—the criticisms were voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, but meant to refer to all of us—could not afford to see a proliferation of plans under the guise of sub-regional strategies that are poorly integrated and serve only to create confusion and uncertainty, which I understand. The various amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, meet that criticism, both providing for sub-regional plans to be put into place and providing for how they get there. That is an important part of the programme.

I do not think that it is necessary to weary the House by repeating arguments for the importance of a sub-regional as well as a regional approach. Common sense and noble Lords' experience in their own areas make it immediately clear that a gap or lacuna between the regional and district levels does not work well in practice. We support the amendments.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page