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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am somewhat surprised to see Amendment No. 6, but it goes to the heart of our purpose. The consequences of this group of amendments would be extremely wasteful. Those people outside the House, working in the field, would be extremely annoyed if the amendments were passed. They are designed to ensure that the first regional spatial strategies are prepared by the regional planning board rather than converted from the regional planning guidance; and to rule out any work on revisions to regional planning guidance being carried forward under the new system. We do not see a case for that change either in principle or practice.
It is worth repeating that every regional planning guidance that is to become a regional spatial strategy has been prepared in draft by the regional planning body. There has been extensive consultation and examination in public on each. When the Secretary of State has proposed to make changes to the regional
Scrapping those documents that have already been prepared would not benefit our regions or communities. Perhaps that is part of a plot. It would take at least two years to prepare a regional spatial strategy from scratch. During that interval there would be no regional policies. There would be no framework in which planning could take place, with massive uncertainty and the risk of conflict between one area and the next.
I fully accept that the first regional spatial strategies will be of differing ages and we expect them all to be revised over the next few years. A duty to prepare revisions, rather than starting with a blank sheet, will not mean that regional planning bodies have less freedom to come up with policies for their regions. I hope I made that clear in my comments on previous amendments. A revision could be radical, taking in every aspect of the strategy, or it could be more limitedfor example to reflect a change in national policy on a specific issue.
As I said in Committee, in every region outside London work is continuing to revise all or part of the RPG. In some regions such as the south-west that work is at an early stage. In others, the revision is nearly complete. For example in the west Midlands, the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision of the RPG have been published. The final document is due to be published in the summer.
Amendment No. 42 would mean that all the time and resources put in by the regional planning bodies, those who had participated in consultation and the examination in public would all have been wasted. That is what would happen if the amendments were accepted. I thought that in Committeeand we are talking about a transitional processthis was accepted as a way forward. It probably took a while for the penny to drop, as I was questioned by colleagues in the House, but I though that that was our plan; namely, to move from one system to another by converting the existing guidance into the regional spatial strategies.
There has been concern that people might not recognise that the mechanism can be used only for the transitionthis is the beginning and is a one-off. The point is that the Bill is structured so that, from commencement, the regional planning body and the Secretary of State will have duties relating to the regional spatial strategy. In effect, the Bill abolishes regional planning guidancea point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I hope that it answers one of his questions.
I sincerely hope that that was a practical and reasonable explanation of the consequences of the amendments and why we would be mortified if they were put into the Bill. Imagine the waste of effortI would not like to be the Minister or the Shadow Minister who had to go around the country explaining why people had just wasted a couple of years of their time. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, would follow the footsteps of his new party leader who was in the west Midlands the other daya key area for the next general election. He just wants to tear up everything that they have proposed, just at the end of the process into which they have put all their work and effort. All the people who contributed in public evidence are virtually being told, "Well, nothing you did or said has counted". That would leave the region without any regional strategy for two years, because the process would have to start all over again. That cannot be a practical proposition and I do not believe that noble Lords will push the matter; indeed, the noble Baroness said that she would not do so in any event.
I shall repeat my earlier comments that, while the grouping is not for the Government, Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and Amendment No. 21, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are not consequential on Amendment No. 6. I hope that all the amendments will be withdrawn.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I had not understood that the amendments needed to be consequential to be grouped. As he said, mine was not consequential. Could the Minister clarify his comments? At the beginning of his reply he talked about the work on the regional planning guidance having been done in conjunction with the regional planning bodies. As they do not yet exist, will he confirm that he means the regional chambers, which are now in most cases called regional assemblies? We need to know precisely what he is referring to.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, noI hope I am right. As far as I know, the chambers are the regional planning bodies. The conversion was such that the chambers now carry out the function of regional planning bodies. They will have had a role in the work that has been taking place to date. I accept that those who have existed for a long timea couple of yearsmay have pre-dated part of
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. We do not wish to create a vacuum. We are concerned about the regional planning guidance being merely transferred into the regional spatial strategy. While there have been examinations in public and much work has been done in some areasand I accept the point about the west Midlands being further ahead than other areaswe are still concerned that there is not the same rigid scrutiny in developing the first RSS, which will then be revised. That is our point. The Government are changing the regional planning guidance into the regional spatial strategy, which only then can be revised. We would have liked more input, scrutiny and work done on the original RSS.
Noone wishes to create vacuums. However, this is an area that will need continued examination before the passage of the Bill is completed, to make certain that in the first RSSs there is sufficient scrutiny and involvement in their creation. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment today.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would remove the duty on regional planning bodies to prepare an annual report for the Secretary of State on the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. In an earlier reply, the Minister talked about bureaucracy, paper and many other things, and that is the point of this amendment.
We do not believe that the amendment would somehow sabotage the important process of reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. We accept that a regional planning body should be monitoring and that it should, if necessary, be in a position to report on how a regional spatial strategy is being implemented. Subsections (2) and (3) of this clause more than satisfactorily make provision for that.
As the Bill stands, Part 1 applies only where elected regional assemblies are established. I recall that, in the context of another debate, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that in such a scenario the RSS would not set out the Secretary of State's policies but the policies of the region. That has been repeated today. Presumably the same logic applies to any reporting structure. Therefore, RPBs should, in effect, report to their constituents rather than to the Secretary of State.
Reporting requirements may seem to be a fairly standard item in new legislation but very often the importance attached to them distorts priorities and undermines their achievement. Limited resources and manpower must be diverted to keep up with the insatiable demands of government.
As I have already mentioned, subsections (2) and (3) more than sufficiently cater for the statutory duties of a regional planning body. Furthermore, the regional planning body should have the autonomy to decide when and how it reports to central government. The Secretary of State has so many reserve powers that I am sure that would not inconvenience him too much. I beg to move.
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