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Baroness Hamwee rose to move Amendment No. 21B, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 21 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 21A, leave out "not".
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the provision is for all local development documents, including the development plan documents, to be dealt with in the same way as in the original bill, providing that the development plan document cannot be adopted other than in accordance with the inspector's recommendations.
The Commons reason for disagreeing with our amendment is that it would not be consistent with measures to speed up the plan-making process. The Minister has been very forceful on that pointfar more forceful, if I may say so, than when we originally debated whether the inspector's report should be binding. At that time we were talking about periods of around six months; now, it is several years.
Ministers have talked about the opportunities open to local authorities if the inspector gets it wrongrecourse to the courts, reconvening the examination in public, preparing a new document and even requiring the intervention of the Secretary of State. It seems to me that any of those courses might take far longer than the six months, which is what we were told was in issue.
I understand the arguments that have been made during the discussion of this issue about the front-loading of community involvement, and that "soundness" as a criterion covers everything that the local authority would itself want to have regard to. That is so. Presumably, under the proposed new system, if a developer appeals against planning refusal on a matter on which the local planning authority takes a different view from the inspector, the local planning authority's views would not even amount to a material consideration. At the moment if there is a difference that provision comes into play. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to confirm or deny that.
What it comes down to is that the Government would prefer to trust an inspectorI shall not quarrel over his independent status, although I do wonder whether it is necessary to have an independent person to check whether a local authority is complying with its own policy, which is what has just been suggestedrather than an elected local authority. Even having listened to the argument made again today, I do not understand that. In a matter of judgment, is it not right that the democratically elected body not an appointeean independent person but an appointeeshould make the judgment?
It may be that the Government do not want to say that they do not trust local authorities not to obstruct house-building plans. We have heard the Minister describe the problems of nimbyismI apologise to him for using an acronym because we have tried to avoid themat local level, but the Government have not actually said that. If the inspector has done the job thoroughly, the local planning authority is likely only very rarely to object to the recommendations. At the price of six months, or perhaps just occasionally a lot longerif it is a lot longer the position must really be very complicated and I would suggest that there must be many issues to sort outis it not worth not just getting the development plan right but being able, by putting the weight of the local authority behind it, to show that it is right and widely accepted?
I have not yet been struck by lightning for suggesting that six months is not terribly long in the matter. The older I getand we have all got a lot older during the course of the Billthe shorter the period I feel that it is. Amendment No. 21D standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, proposes that the authority cannot adopt a development plan unless it is certified as being in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy or spatial development strategy in London. As I said to her before we came into the Chamber, I am not entirely sure whether that is very cunning or whether it makes no difference in that general conformity would be required in any event because of that being about a part of the plan being soundto use the technical term. I had hoped that we might hear whether the Government have comments on the amendment or indeed might accept it. We have not heard that, but I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's arguments. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 21C. It is undoubtedly a matter of great cunning, to follow up on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. At Third Reading we debated what we perceived to be unsatisfactory proposals in the Bill that recommendations made by an examiner or an inspector of a development plan documents should be binding on the planning authority. The issue was bound to reappear for a further run if the Government were not prepared to agree to or to look at amendments.
I am disturbed to know that it is because of 18 recalcitrant local planning authorities that this clause is deemed to be germane. I am not sure how many planning authorities there are in this country. There must be in the region of 450 to 500 local authorities, so 18 is a remarkably small percentage to be dictating legislation.
We must emphasise that we do not stand here pulling all these amendments out of the top of our headsor at least, not usually. They are normally supported by groups of people relevant to the legislation. The Local Government Association is certainly concerned about the matter, as are a number of other bodies relevant to planning.
Perhaps the Government do not understandit may be more accurate to say that they are not prepared to understandthe importance that local government places on a planning authority having the final say on the contents of its own development plan document. That will have been prepared following detailed consultation, as the Minister rightly said, from the
Accountability for the implementation of the documents lies with the democratically elected representatives in local government. We can blur that as we like with regional planning bodies made up of elected and non-elected people and with anyone else with a role to play in the preparation of the document, but, at the end of the day, the system of government in this country is still that the local level is democratically elected representation. That is where final decisions on the content of the development plan should lie.
We must recognise, not least because we have had a battery of discussions on the matter during the course of the Bill, that the documents must be in general conformityand we have heard the Government's interpretation of what "general conformity" as opposed to "conformity" meanswith the regional spatial strategy. That is where we believe that there is room for a compromise over that whole delicate issue. Our amendments would require that the planning authority did not adopt the development plan document unless the inspector was satisfied that it was in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy. If it was not, the planning authority would have to comply with the regional spatial strategy.
The Minister may say that that is evident in any event in Clause 23(1). However, to rely on Clause 23(1) to ensure that general conformity would mean that the parties end up in the High Court, which may be reluctant to interfere. So that may not be an ideal solution and the matter may be better dealt with by the amendment. General conformity with the regional spatial strategy would then be the only part of the development plan document over which the inspector had binding control by his comments. The local authority could then make the final decision on the local development documents, which will have caused the most interest and concern to the local population, following the inspector's comments. I hear what the Minister says about the areas in which he would be able to take up those comments.
Whether or not my amendment or that of the noble Baroness is accepted, it would be incumbent on the Government to make provision in PPS12 for the inspector's report to be published in draft form, so that representations can be made on it. Again, that is a real problem. At present, a unitary development plan is open to the inspector's recommendations and an authority then responds to them. That does not resolve the problem that I am discussing because, at the end of the day, the local authority will want to make a decision, but it would at least be fair to ensure that there was some comeback.
The Government's concern with speeding up the planning process could not be seriously hampered if my amendment was accepted. Indeed, we would argue that it would not be hampered if the previous amendment spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were agreed to. But speed is not
The development plan documents need to be acceptable to the community to which they refer. The amendment leaves control in the right place and for the right reasons.
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