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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I support the group of amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. In Committee we probed the Government's intention to make the present RPGs into a statutory format as regional spatial strategies. If the RSS is to be mandatory as far as local authorities are concerned, it is essential that the current tiers of local government should contribute to the formulation of sub-regional planning and that this co-operation
Amendment No. 9 changes the balance somewhat and makes the preparation of the RSS more inclusive for county councils and local authorities at the formulation of sub-regional plans. In the same way, it is important for the bodies mentioned in Amendment No. 10 also to have a role to play in the review and monitoring of the implementation of the RSS.
If the regional spatial strategy is to reflect local areas correctlythe Minister has already identified that it is important that the local area is properly consideredit is vital that county councils and the other authorities nominated in Amendment No. 9 are included at an early stage of the preparation of the strategy. Therefore, the making of sub-regional plans is an integral part of the process. They will be a subset of plans for the region, but important for all that. Therefore, I support the amendments.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am a bit surprised by the tone of the speeches on this issue. I believe that I am as well briefed as I can be, but I have seen nothing from the County Councils Network, for example, to say that it was dissatisfied with the major changes that the Government proposed to the Bill at Committee stage, which have now been included. As far as I know, the Local Government Association stands by its statements welcoming wholeheartedly the changes that took place. Nobody has referred to any specific note, letter, submission or representation, and I am not aware of anything from the county councils. I do not know whether this is a private enterprise operation on behalf of the bigwigs from local government who see their role under threatalthough as I have repeatedly made clear, it is not under threator whether there has been full consultation with the rest of local government. I do not know, as nothing has been said in the three speeches that we have just heard, whether this measure is required and desired by the county councils in addition to the measure that the Government placed in the Bill at Committee stage. I am not at all clear why the amendment has been proposed.
I should also say, before I begin my response, that the Government are not responsible for the grouping of the amendments, and there is no way in which Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 could ever be considered consequential on Amendment No. 4. I am grateful for the wider debate, and all that, but there is no doubt about it: the new clauses in Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 and Amendment No. 4 deal with totally different things.
I shall give the Government's response, but I should be very grateful if in the future we could be told if an issue has arisen from the County Councils Network, as it would obviously help us. Frankly, we would like to know about it, as we have been trying to listen to people. This has been an issue since the Bill was published and since the Green Paper; I fully accept
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she did not want to put everything on the record. Indeed, we might as well just say, "Let's get to the vote", as it probably does not make a blind bit of difference what I am about to say. However, because I believe that the Government have a good case, I am determined to put the full note on the record, just for those outside this place. I feel a bit aggrieved about this proposal being introduced when there were no complaints following Committee stage.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, perhaps the Minister would like me to answer that point now. As a member of the County Councils Network, I have been made aware of all the negotiations that went on for several months. As I have said repeatedly, we welcome what the Government have introduced into the Bill, but it was not what the County Councils Network wanted in the beginningit wanted much more. I am aware of the negotiations that went on, and what the County Councils Network and the LGA started off with was far more than what is proposed in this amendment. The amendment, which I shall explain again later, is totally supported by every county and every strategic planning authority that I know. It is where we wanted the negotiations to end rather than where they have ended. I repeat: we welcome the Government's amendment, but it is not exactly what we wanted.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I hope that I have made it clear that I sincerely respect the role of the noble Lord in the county councils, as he is the leader of a major county council. However, he put a caveat on what he said, when he remarked that the amendment was supported by everyone he knew. In due course, I should like to know how far that goes. Is this the final frontier? Is this it, or do those outside want more? They may say to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, "Well, you tried, but you didn't go far enough as far as we're concerned".
As I have said, the Government have not received any representations in this regard, although the negotiations went on not just for months but for the best part of a year and a half. However, I shall plod on with my brief, irrespective of the consequences.
Amendment No. 4 would require the regional spatial strategy to include sub-regional plans for all parts of the region and for these to be prepared by such county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities and national park authorities any part of whose area is covered by the sub-region. Anyone would think that sub-regional strategies did not already take place. The classic example is the south Midlands/Milton Keynes area. That has a sub-regional strategy, covering as it does several district councils, two and a half county councils and touching as it does on the boundaries of three regions. A sub-regional strategy is taking place, so
Regional spatial strategies will contain a new emphasis on sub-regions. As draft planning policy statement 11 makes clear, where sub-regional strategies are being drawn up, we would expect those authorities with strategic planning expertise in the area to take the lead on, or participate in, that work. However, we expect sub-regional strategies, in the sense of parts of the region having a distinct set of policies, to be the exception not the rule. Surely, that is a fair point. The whole point is to have sub-regional strategies where they are actually needed. The south Midlands/Milton Keynes example is a good one, and I have no doubt that others could be given. The Thames Gateway is another obvious example of where there is a sub-regional strategy, as again it covers three regions and two county councils, plus the GLA. Where they are needed, they can take place now and will be able to take place when the Bill is passed, but not all over the countrythat is simply not needed.
We do not want to see a proliferation of plans, under the guise of sub-regional strategies. The noble Lord said that he did not want the structure plans back, but that is the underlying theme in proposing the amendment and making the kind of speeches that we have just heard. They imply that county councils want to continue their role, so there should be three levels of plan-making. That is what we are seeking to avoid. A two-tier planning system will be much easier to understand, and the ownership of the plans will be absolutely clear and unambiguous. That is very important. Otherwise, when we are faced with a strategic policy deficit, then sub-regional strategies will be prepared to deal with the specific growth or regeneration needs of an area. The three-tier system, which is what is being proposed in the amendmentlet us make no bones about thatconstrained as it has been by administrative boundaries, has sometimes failed to tackle sub-regional issues that are now for the first time beginning to be looked at in the revision of regional plans. The three-city area of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby in the east Midlands is just one example.
Amendment No. 9 is a new clause that would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities to advise not only regional planning bodies but also the Secretary of State and local planning authorities about strategic planning matters. The amendment would place a duty on those authorities to formulate sub-regional planning policy and provide for them to work jointly with other authorities or the regional planning body to do so. I hope that I have covered the sub-regional issue under Amendment No. 4. I would only add that we expect local authorities to work together under arrangements with the regional planning body to formulate sub-regional strategies for their area when they are needed. That includes the county councils. There is nothing in the Bill that restricts that happening. It can happen now and it will be able to happen under the Bill when it is passed.
We see no added value in county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities or national park authorities advising the Secretary of State on strategic planning matters as well as the regional planning body. Those authorities will make their voices heard anyway, through the regional spatial strategy revision process, and influence its outcome. It does not make sense for them to advise the Secretary of State independently of this. It would only result in more red tape, more paperwork, more cost and more bureaucracy. That is what is being proposed in the amendmentslet us be quite honest and open about that.
The unitary, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities will be local planning authorities under the Bill and would be required to advise themselves under the amendment, while the role of the county councils in advising local planning authorities is already clearly defined in draft planning policy statement 12 and the regulations. There is also the option of the county council becoming a member of a joint committee to take on the role of preparing a local development document.
Amendment No. 10the other new clausewould require the regional planning body to take advice from county councils, unitary authorities, the metropolitan district councils and the national park authorities on the preparation, review and monitoring of the implementation of the regional spatial strategy in relation to each region. The reappearance of this amendment is very surprising. The fact that it still refers to authorities in Clause 4(2) and not Clause 5(3) indicates that it has probably slipped through the net. It is a leftover from Committee stage. It seeks to fight old battles which the Government have in many ways accepted by our amendments in Committee. The amendment mirrors almost precisely what the amended Clause 5 already provides for. So we simply do not think it is necessary. Noble Lords have decided that the Government's concessions do not go far enough. However, as I said at the beginning, by no stretch of the imagination are Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 directly consequential on Amendment No. 4.
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