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The relevant provisionsClauses 2(4) and 17(5)make clear that statements of policy in the regional spatial strategy or local development documents have precedence over background material. We probably all agree with that as a principle. The reference in the Bill is to avoid wrangling about the precedence of different paragraphs.
The amendments seem to imply that policies will be drawn up in complete contradiction to "facts" contained in the regional spatial strategy or the local development document. I cannot see how that would happen. Policies have to be based on evidence. That is one criterion for soundness. A policy divorced from the facts would not survive the examination.
The draft regulations on local and regional planning both draw a distinction between the policy and the reasoned justification for it. This is intended to make clear the policy matters which would provide the framework for development control decisions; and to make sure that the local development document has some explanation of and justification for the policy.
The draft guidance says that the reasoned justification is kept to the minimum necessary to provide the context. In a situation where there was some issue with a fact, it would be given weight as a material consideration. We cannot, of course, fetter the Secretary of State's discretion by saying that this will always be the case but it seems likely that the fact would outweigh the policy. I suggest that it would be irrational for a policy to prevail if it were based upon a proven inaccuracy and would be open, therefore, to challenge.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I shall read the Minister's remarks. However, he seems to be saying that the Secretary of State should not be fettered even if he got it wrong. All I seek is to ensure that there is no elephant trap in this part of the Bill. If the Government do not consider the amendment necessary, I shall not pursue the matter. However, I was apparently opaque in my introduction. The "information" which might be in conflict with a policy would be based on fact. It could containno one is perfect, not even the people in the ODPM who have written the RPGsomething which purports to be true but is not.
In his reply the Minister said that the matter could be sorted outthat is obviously comfortingand that it could be dealt with at an examination in public. However, the long and the short of it is that I am trying to help. I am not trying to undermine what the Government are trying to do here. If they are content that there is no problem, I do not want to push the matter any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the aim of Amendment No. 6 is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to make the existing regional planning guidance, or parts of it, part of the regional spatial strategy and so part of the development plan without going through the procedures outlined in Part 1 of the Bill. The removal of Clause 2(6) is consequential.
We had an extensive discussion about this issue in Committee and since then some or most of us may have seen the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, detailing the way in which RPG will be transmogrified into RSS. However, we believe that if the regional planning body is to become responsible for ensuring the regional spatial strategy is issued, implemented, monitored and eventually revised, it must have considerable input in the preparation of the initial RSS. The Bill before us should reflect that principle.
The issue is more than symbolic. At the heart of it, and as the Bill stands, we have the Government saying that in order to prevent a vacuum in regional planning arising in the transitional period, the Secretary of State will convert so much of the regional planning guidance into the regional spatial strategy. We do not wish to underestimate the importance of that argument. It is important for local plans and communities to have a strategic context within which they operate. However, we do not believe that the Government have sufficiently justified the distinction that is drawn in the Bill between the Secretary of State deciding what will be in the initial regional spatial strategy and the rigorous procedures to be followed by the regional planning body when revising the RSS. We believe that the consultation process for RPG is inadequate.
I should like to move on to the related amendments. The Bill contains a procedure for the preparation of revisions to the regional spatial strategy. Clauses 6 to 12 assume that there is a regional spatial strategy and that the responsibility of a regional planning body is to prepare a draft revision. However, a procedure for adopting a regional spatial strategy is also necessary for two reasonsone is practical, the other is one of principle. The practical reason is that the Bill does not put in place a regional spatial strategy by some other means. Under Clause 2(1) there is to be a regional spatial strategy. However, there is merely a power to make regional planning guidance the regional spatial strategy for a region in Clause 2(5). Even if that power remains, it will not necessarily be exercised. Furthermore, the existing regional planning guidance may be inappropriate as a regional spatial strategy. A regional spatial strategy is, after all, different. The Government intend it to be part of the development plan. They intend more weight to be attached to it and they intend local development plan documents to be in general conformity with it. The draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning says that these documents are intended to be more specific. Therefore, there needs to be a procedure to create a regional spatial strategy from scratch.
The point of principle is that regions should be involved in preparing the regional spatial strategy. There is a clear procedure for revisions: regional planning bodies prepare draft revisions, a sustainability appraisal takes place, an examination in public can and usually would be held, the Secretary of State has to consider the report of the panel and can make changes to the draft revision, giving reasons if he does so.
If the procedures are necessary for revisions, they will be even more necessary for the preparation of a regional spatial strategy. The absence of proper open, democratic and fair procedures for the preparation of regional spatial strategies cannot be justified by administrative convenience.
Amendment No. 19 assumes that Clause 2(5)allowing the Secretary of State to prescribe that part of existing regional planning guidance is the regional spatial strategyremains, but caters for the possibility that it is not exercised. Amendment No. 20 would apply if Clause 2(5) were removed from the Bill. Without these amendments there is a lacuna right at the beginning of the Bill, which represents a serious democratic and procedural deficit.
I now turn to Amendment No. 42. This amendment seeks to remove the Secretary of State's power to apply part of regional planning guidance as a revision of the RSS. Surely if regional spatial strategies come into force, regional planning guidance will no longer apply. If that is the case, why does the Bill make provision for such a retrograde power?
Although, as my previous amendments have shown, we oppose the process, we can follow the logic as regards the provisions in Clause 2 with regard to the adoption of parts of regional planning guidance as the regional spatial strategy for a region.
Clause 10(8) allows for the Secretary of State to provide for a completed process of regional planning guidance that corresponds to one that needs to be done for a regional spatial strategy to have effect as a revision of the RSS. It does not make sense that the two processes are occurring in parallel. Either we have regional planning guidance or we have regional spatial strategies. With this subsection and those that I have just dealt with in Clause 2, we have the situation where the Secretary of State decides what is in the first RSS and also what can be a revision to it. That is a top down, nationalised planning system, as we have said before.
What is the status of the regional planning guidance once the regional spatial strategy is in place? Unless the Government are planning on updating regional planning guidance even after we have regional spatial strategies I should have thought that this would be an unwise and backward looking step.
I am also concerned that this provision allows the Secretary of State to bypass the procedures in place that hold regional planning bodies accountable, including examinations in public. That is particularly worrying. We have said a lot already about the democratic deficit, so I shall not detain the House on this point. However, I wanted to register my concern.
Nevertheless, in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, reassured noble Lords that subsections (7) and (8) are meant to apply only during the early transition period when RSSs come into force. Could this not be made clear on the face of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, helpfully suggested? I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, Amendment No. 21, which is included in the group of amendments that we are discussing, stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Maddock. As we know, regional planning guidance morphs, or, as the noble Lord said, transmogrifies into the regional spatial strategy. However, I am not sure that that is quite accurate as what changes to start with is the title and not the substance.
I go off at a slight tangent to say that the noble Lord referred to a letter from the Minister. I have copies of two or three letters but I do not think that I have one of that particular letter. I may be missing something in terms of explanation from the Government but I shall check with the Minister's office tomorrow that I have everything that has been sent out.
Under the Bill the duty of the regional planning body is to revise what started life as the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance. Therefore, it seems to me that it will always be at heart the Secretary of State's guidance or strategy. The amendment suggests a way of giving ownershipto use the term againof the first major piece of work, the regional spatial strategy, to the regional planning body. I have provided that rather than requiring it to undertake a revision, it should replace what it inherits and put in place a regional spatial strategy which, as I say, would be its own. The drafting is a little inelegant. I have words in parenthesis by way of definition simply to avoid a great many amendments that would otherwise be required to other parts of the Bill if I were to be totally consistent. The Minister will gather from that that I do not intend to press the measure today. However, it is a point at least worth putting on the record.
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