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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I think I have a good answer to this one. The requirements in the Bill and the regulations do not pose a new burden and therefore everything that we have just heard does not apply. Every regional planning body has submitted an annual monitoring report or statement for 2002–03, either in draft or final form, covering almost the same ground as they would be required to cover in future under the Bill and the draft regulations.

Therefore, the requirements in the Bill and the regulations are not a new burden. We are enshrining good practice—for example, by specifying that the regional planning body must report on problems and possible solutions as well as providing data. The better annual monitoring reports—I do not want to single out any boards—already do that. In addition, we want a common timetable so that timescales can be properly compared. The regions themselves, as well as other people with an interest in this matter, would want that. I repeat: this is not a new burden; we are trying to enshrine good practice in the Bill.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I accept what the Minister says, although I should have liked him to deal with the point that I raised concerning the duty being one of informing the constituents of a region rather than the Secretary of State about what the regional planning body was doing. As the Minister said, there is no new burden, but I should still have liked the line of communication to be downwards to the people of a region rather than always being upwards to the Secretary of State. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 8:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to moderate the Bill's language. As it stands, this subsection places a duty on regional planning bodies to give advice to other bodies if they believe that will aid the fulfilment of the regional spatial strategy.

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In Committee, we touched upon this matter briefly and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that he was happy at all times to look at the language of our legislation. Therefore, we return to this subsection now because the language matters. By definition, the word "must" is prescriptive and we should like the Government to be less prescriptive regarding what the regional planning body does. On the other hand, the word "may" gives the regional planning body choices.

The word "must" seems to put the onus on the regional planning body to second-guess who would want or need advice. That would lead to the planning body constantly having to identify any new organisations to which to give advice. That would add considerably to their workload as there would also have to be some kind of protocol or process to determine what type of advice should be given to what kind of organisation. Should the advice be unsolicited? Do they have any powers of enforcement if the advice is not taken up?

Therefore, we suggest that it would be more desirable to permit regional planning bodies to tender advice. That would enable a far better working relationship between all the parties involved. The word "may" fits much better with the rest of the wording and with the substantive context. As a symbol of trying to inject some discretion and autonomy into the Bill, I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 18, which is grouped with Amendment No. 8. The purpose of Amendment No. 18 is to ensure that all district councils are consulted and informed about the activities of the regional planning body. The provision of housing will be a very important element of the regional spatial strategy. The district authorities are the housing authorities, and the directly elected district councillors will draw up local housing strategies.

Given the importance which I believe we all attach to the provision of more affordable housing—I know that the Government are putting much energy into that—it seems to me absolutely vital that we do not lose this link in the new planning arrangements. I hope that, even if the Minister does not consider this to be the appropriate way in which to put the provision into the Bill, he will accept that it is very important, particularly in relation to housing. This is the one thing which I believe slips through the net in the Government's arrangements here, and I hope that the Minister will understand the point that I am trying to make in my amendment.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Bill and the associated regulations and guidance try to strike a balance between requiring the regional planning body to involve and consult others where that would add value while avoiding the construction of an empty consultation apparatus that benefits no one. Our view is that the two amendments fall either side of that line.

I believe that I can dispose of Amendment No. 8 by saying that we consider the concern about the word currently in the Bill to be unfounded. The regional

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planning bodies have not said that it will create any difficulties for them. I should have thought that, that being the case, together with the fact that they are operating out there now, it would be better to leave the matter alone.

Amendment No. 18 would require the regional planning body to keep informed and consult all district councils in two-tier areas in its region. We do not consider that to be sensible. It runs the risk of creating additional bureaucracy, which achieves very little beyond what the existing arrangements provide for. Indeed, it is a more onerous requirement than that placed on county councils at present.

Through their membership of the regional planning body, many district council representatives will be taking part in the key decisions that are made as the draft regional spatial strategy emerges. The draft regulations in Part 1 of the Bill already make district councils statutory consultees both before and after the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy is published. Therefore, the regional planning bodies will be able to enter into arrangements with district councils under Clause 5(4) of the Bill to undertake work on their behalf.

The district councils will, through their service delivery responsibilities, be key players in implementing the policies in the regional spatial strategy, particularly, as the noble Baroness said, in relation to housing. The regional planning body will be very wise and will need to maintain a dialogue with district councils if that is to be achieved. That is why we believe that both amendments fall either side of the line that I drew at the beginning and, therefore, I hope that noble Lords will not proceed with them.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thought that the Minister might be able to give a little on this amendment but obviously he cannot do so. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Assistance from certain local authorities]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 11:

    Page 2, line 34, at end insert—

"( ) The RPB must publish its response to advice given in accordance with subsection (2) and in the case of any advice which it does not accept in full must not proceed before a period of four months from publication has elapsed during which period the RPB and the authority shall discuss the matter."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment builds on the amendment moved by the Government in Committee, which provides a role for county and unitary authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said earlier today that, although those amendments were welcome, they only go so far. They provide for the regional planning body to seek the advice of county and unitary authorities in its region. The term "seek advice" differs from "consult". "Consult" has an element of listening to advice, even if it will be disregarded and discarded. One of the characteristics it should have is feedback to the points that have been made during the

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consultation. So thinking about how the seeking of advice would work, I want to be absolutely certain that the regional planning body would do something with the advice. My amendment proposes that the RPB publishes its response to that advice and, where it does not accept the advice, it does not go ahead until there has been a period—four months may or may not be the right period—so that the regional planning body and the authority in question can discuss the matter on which the regional planning body does not take the advice of the county or the unitary authority. I hope that that is clear. It is intended to add a very important step to the process, to add flesh to the amendment that the Government proposed and your Lordships accepted in Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, we support this amendment. We discussed the relevant government amendments in Committee. I shall repeat that they were welcome, but they did not go as far as the LGA would have liked initially. It should, of course, have commented before but the LGA and the County Councils Network forgot the processes that the House of Lords goes through before a Bill is completed. They did not realise that there is a second democratic process and that it would all be debated further. They are aware of that now.

The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, adds some transparency to the amendment that the Government tabled in Committee. I hope that, in a spirit of taking matters forward, the Government will be able to accept this. It makes some sense with their initial amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I understand the thinking and the spirit behind this amendment. However, I have come to the conclusion that it is overly prescriptive. I feel that if the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were looking at this just from a local government point of view, they would probably think that this is not user-friendly but an onerous, unwieldy and bureaucratic burden.

The amendment creates a requirement on the regional planning body to publish its response to all the advice it receives from those bodies with a statutory advice-giving function under Clause 5. If it does not accept any of that advice in full then it must not proceed until after four months have elapsed. During this period the regional planning body and the authority must discuss the matter.

An amendment of this kind has serious practical consequences. In our view, it would drain time and resources and would not add to an effective planning system at regional level. The regional planning body will receive and consider vast volumes of advice from county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities, national park authorities and so on as it prepares draft revisions of the regional spatial strategy, keeps it under review and monitors its implementation.

Not all those pieces of advice will be consistent with each another. What one county council thinks should happen in respect, say, of a hierarchy of town centres for

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retail development may be at odds with what the neighbouring county council thinks should happen. Two districts with retail centres that are in need of freshening up might enter into a friendly dispute through the regional planning process. I can think of several cases in my experience where exactly that might happen. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, with his vast experience at county council level in Essex would think it very strange if he agreed with his colleagues in Suffolk or Norfolk. The viewpoints may be valid, but they are going to provide conflicting advice. The role of the regional planning body is to weigh up the differing advice it receives and to make a balanced judgment based on all of it.

It cannot be sensible for the regional planning body to publish a response to every single piece of advice that it receives. It would be hugely resource-intensive. Advice will often be better considered in the round rather than on a case-by-case basis. If the regional planning body has to hold up the revision of the regional spatial strategy for four months each time that it does not accept in full a piece of advice that it receives, it could take for ever to get agreement or to get to the stage of an examination in public. I do not think that that is in keeping with the aspiration, which I think that we have all shared during the course of the Bill, of ensuring that plans are up to date.

The regional planning body is in the lead in preparing the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. It must make judgments between competing viewpoints and not try to accommodate every piece of advice that it receives. The regional planning body will be answerable for the content of the draft regional spatial strategy at the examination in public.

When the regional planning body submits the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to the Secretary of State, it must also submit a statement setting out who it has consulted, how it has consulted them, the main issues raised and how these have been addressed in the draft revision. The decisions that the regional planning body has made, based on the advice that it has received, will be open to scrutiny.

The regional planning body cannot simply ignore the advice that it receives. Both the regional planning body receiving the advice and the authorities providing that advice are under an overriding duty to act reasonably. If the regional planning body fails to take proper account of the advice given to it by county councils and other councils—district, parish or town—or national parks and so on, it could ultimately be subject to a legal challenge for failing to act reasonably in the circumstances.

We argue that the accountability and transparency is there. We do not think that this is a helpful additional extra burden. We think that it will slow the process down. The purpose of this legislation, in part, is to ensure that we have a planning system that is transparent, fair, effective and efficient in its operation. We do not think that this amendment guides us in that general direction. I hope that, having heard that and in view of the

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reasonable way in which we expect the planning body to work, the noble Baroness will happily withdraw her amendment this afternoon.

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