Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, are they affected by STV?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that could be included as well!

The proposals are not only difficult to understand but are not set up for the convenience of planners or the comprehensibility of anybody trying to deal with the planning system.

This proposal for a new set of documents to replace the widely understood concept of a local plan does not come from practitioners in the field. This simplifying

24 Feb 2004 : Column 210

amendment is supported by the Town and Country Planning Association, which includes over 100 local planning authorities within its membership, and Friends of the Earth, which represents some of the many users of the planning system.

These amendments closely follow proposals by the Town and Country Planning Association, with some tweaking by us, and removal of the binding nature of inspectors' reports. The proposals for this complex local development framework scheme have been widely criticised by developers, who find them extremely hard to understand.

In Wales, where the Minister responsible for this subject in the Welsh Assembly is a professional planner, they have been too wise to contemplate such a proposal. The amendments, which are based entirely on the system proposed for Wales, would bring the benefits to England of the system that the Principality will enjoy.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said in Committee that,


    "the provisions of Part 6 have been developed through close co-operation between the United Kingdom Government"—

that sounds good—


    "and the Assembly with the goal of achieving planning reform in a way that reflects the Assembly's aspirations as to how the planning system should operate in Wales. I am sure the noble Lord knows that as Part 6 stands, it enjoys enthusiastic, all-party support in Wales".—[Official Report, 5/2/04; col. 890.]

Regrettably, Part 2 of the Bill does not command all-party support—I am sure the Minister understands that now. There is no enthusiasm for it in England. The response of local councils and planning professionals to the proposals is generally one of complete dismay at its complexity. An unamended and complex system of the kind proposed by the Government will militate against community involvement.

These amendments, though many, seek to bring clarity where there is confusion and approachability where there are acronyms. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is not bad in six minutes. I am tempted to play the noble Baroness at her own game and read out some of the 50-odd amendments, which are written in gobbledegook.

In Committee, I had a single sheet of A4 paper with a little diagram explaining how each document fed into the other—some were statutory, some were not. I am quite happy to make it available if we can find it.

The noble Baroness can have a bit of fun with all her initials. Fancy sitting there all day, waiting for that point. She comes along, with a proposal from the Conservative Party, to impose on England what has been chosen by the elected Welsh Assembly, for Wales. Why does it fit for Wales? The first reason is unitary local government. I have seen no proposal for unitary English government from the Conservative Party. The noble Baroness did not imply that that was part and parcel of it. In other words, the system works in Wales because the governance arrangements and the local government structure are different there, and the devolved Welsh Assembly chose to use it.

24 Feb 2004 : Column 211

I do not know who the Minister is in charge of planning, but the noble Baroness seems to set great store by the fact that that person is a professional planner. Ministers who are experts are dangerous people. That is not an attack on that Minister. Ministers do not need to be experts—that is quite dodgy.

The Welsh Assembly chose this system for Wales to fit its local government structure. We do not have the same structure in England, and it certainly would not work here.

I made a lengthy speech in Committee, and if I shared the notes with the noble Baroness, which I am not about to do, we would be here for the rest of the night. I described the new system, explaining it in words that could be easily understood, instead of all those acronyms she used. Using acronyms is very confusing to people outside. So far, during the Bill's proceedings, I have never once, on Second Reading or in Committee, fallen into the trap of using acronyms. The Civil Service loves acronyms—there are catalogues of them—but they do not explain things in the way that people need to understand them.

I do not want to go over this in great detail, because I would be repeating what I said about how each document is structured, how each document is formulated, how one document leads to another, how it is a portfolio system of a set of documents which makes them incredibly flexible, and how some of them will be subject to examination in public while others will not because they are subsidiary or daughter documents. I thought that I had explained that perfectly satisfactorily. Quite clearly, the map that I was using at the time is not available. What we need on Report with this type of operation is a screen at the end of the Chamber so that we can explain things more easily than is possible by reading out lists of acronyms.

We operate a plan-led system. We must have comprehensive up-to-date plans and we believe that the new system will enable that. The noble Lady may want to defend the present system, but I remind her that, 14 years after the system was put in place, 29 local planning authorities have yet to adopt an area-wide development plan for their districts. That is an absolute disgrace. Exacerbated by the time it takes to put plans in place, with a complicated process of multiple deposits, examinations and modification stages, the present system has still not stopped thousands of objections being considered at examination. For example, I am told that there were 20,000 objectors to the unitary development plan in Leeds.

We have set out a clear system for local planning that contains straightforward elements that link in a clear way. Each of those documents to which the noble Lady referred—in a way that nobody would understand—are clearly linked. One leads to another. The amendments would set out an alternative approach. We do not think that that approach would work because it is based on an entirely different system—unitary development plans across Wales and a different role for the Welsh Assembly. The Welsh Assembly has decided that it wants

24 Feb 2004 : Column 212

to go down a different route to our approach in England. I remind colleagues in this House that that is what devolution is all about.

I believe that we are introducing a system to deal with some of the problems, which I could set out in answering all of these amendments—most if not all of which we dealt with in Committee. The system will be faster and more flexible, and more responsive to plan making in England. It will allow much more effective community involvement than we have today. The idea that because the system is faster means that it is less fair is not true. There will be more involvement and more opportunity for involvement. We are not imposing an English system on Wales and the Welsh system should not be imposed on England—it could not be, because our local government structure is entirely different. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw their amendments. Otherwise, I shall read them all out for the record.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the Minister seems to has lost his usual cool. Somewhere along the line I must be striking a note which is causing him irritation. The irritation can only be because I am getting at his new system of development and planning control. The only reason that I am standing here getting at that system is because there are people out there beyond the Doors of this Parliament, who are completely perplexed by what is proposed and totally against it.

We do not dream up these things without having some evidence that people are concerned. There is plenty of evidence that those involved in the planning world are concerned about this plethora of planning documents. The Minister may say that they interweave with each other. However, I can knit and drop a stitch, but I cannot knit a jersey. No matter how many loops there are leading things one into another, somewhere along the line there will be a tumble and the system will not work. The system is complex and difficult. It may not be as difficult and complex as it sounds, but it sounds manic. That is what is generally considered.

As I said in Committee, we know that the UDP system was not absolutely brilliant. It had its flaws, one of which was the time-scale. The Minister told me that 29 area wide plans have not been done and I have no reason to doubt that, but why have the authorities been allowed to get away with that? My local authority would not have been allowed to get away with not producing a UDP and getting it on the stocks in a timely fashion; the elected members would not have allowed that. It says something about the people involved in those areas that that has been allowed to happen. However, the system is simple. The Welsh, whether or not they have a different unitary government, have a simpler system. The UDP system has worked within the rationale of the Government and the local government of the present day, and we believe that it is perfectly possible to translate it back, although the Government are hell-bent on everything being regional.

24 Feb 2004 : Column 213

I said what I said about acronyms slightly tongue in cheek—it is always desperately worrying when one has to explain a joke. However, since the Minister has risen to the bait a little, I hope that the issue has been raised. The Minister is right in saying that he has never used an acronym in discussing this matter, but he is going to be alone. Acronyms will come into being whatever happens, and they will all be received with the usual incomprehension by people reading papers and trying to draw conclusions about what it is all about.

The Government have set up a system to fail, as it has far too many tracks down it. The idea that it will engage the public and give them a real feeling of being involved is probably quite wide of the mark. I know that the Minister does not like all my amendments, and I dread the thought that he may go through them all one by one. What a threat at this time of night!

9.30 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I want to take this matter seriously. I could have gone through the amendments, but I realised that that was not the intention behind them. I realise that the noble Baroness was having some fun at what she thought was my expense. However, I want to make her an offer. Since only the Front Benches are present, why do not my four noble colleagues accept the invitation to come into the ODPM and listen to the civil servants who put the legislation together explain how all the documents fit together? They will do so using modern English, and show how the thing will gel before Third Reading.

If there is confusion, and the Front Benches accept the offer that I have made to take them through it, they will see why the confusion outside is totally unnecessary and unfounded. There is always confusion with a Bill going through Parliament; it has been in this House and the other House a long time and has changed substantially because of all the changes that we have made. I know that I am taking too long—I am only intervening. However, I wanted to make that offer. Noble Lords do not have to accept it now, but I strongly advise them to do so—otherwise, maybe at Third Reading if we return to the matter, I shall have some fun at the expense of the noble Baroness. My offer is meant genuinely, because I take what she says as genuine. It is a question of linking the documents with the new terminology and explaining the matter easily over a cup of tea, in less than an hour. The noble Baroness will come away thinking, "Ah, I have something here after all".


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page