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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the noble Baronesses put their points. I cannot give all the examplesespecially the worst cases, because they are probably the ones that will hit the desk of the Secretary of Statebut I have four or five examples to put flesh on my point about delay.
I want to make the position absolutely clear because, if one listened only to our debate today, one would think that the independent inspector is doing the local authority's job for it. He is not. The independent inspector is not there to do the job of local government; local government has its task to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that local authorities should make the judgments, but it is local authorities that are making judgments about the policy proposals that go into the development plan, not the independent inspector. Local authorities then simply submit them for examination. The inspector will make a judgment on that plan only if the document is found to be unsound in some way. His judgment will be about what changes are needed to make the document sound. In many cases, he or she will refer back to the local authority or reconvene the examination. Some of the examples that I shall give in a moment will show that that is the case. The inspector is not there to perform the judgment about what goes in the plan to start with; that is up to the local authority.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that local authorities must have the final say, but it is quite clear that the previous administration was prepared to contemplate that not happening. The power of the Secretary of State to intervene is in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. So governments of both parties have thought that there needs to be a reserve power concerning the final say; the issue is not new with this Government.
I shall give a few examples of where there has been delay or prevaricationit depends on which side of the fence you are on as to what language you use. The first is Bromsgrove. That is an example of a long delay on a local plan where the authority took a long time to make difficult decisions, yet ended up with an outcome not very different from that which the inspector had first recommended. The inspector recommended in early 1997 that 230 hectares of land be safeguarded as areas of development restraint and the green belt boundaries being set properly for the first time to reflect that.
In the case of Castle Morpeth, the public inquiry on the local plan was held in the summer of 1998 and the inspector's report was published in spring 1999. The inspector's report recommended rejection of a number of the housing policies relating to Morpeth, which was the main settlement in the district. The local authority was uncertain how to respond to the inspector's report and, for the next two years and more, planning policies were determined by a series of Section 78 appeal decisions. Proposed modifications were eventually published in July 2001; further modifications were published in April 2002; and the plan was finally adopted in March 2003. That is a fairly long delay.
The example of Chester-le-Street is worth putting on the record. The inquiry commenced in September 1999, and the inspector's report was published in December 2000. The report did not recommend any difficult or controversial change to the plan. Despite that, it took the local planning authority 20 months to prepare proposed modifications, which were eventually published in July 2002. A further round of modifications was published in March 2003, and the council finally adopted the plan in October 2003.
In Redbridge, a plan was deposited in mid-1999, and the inspector reported in October 2001. The inspector disagreed with the council's residential car-parking standard. The council did not want to set a maximum car-parking allowance for residential development as advocated in national planning policy. The inspector's report recommended that a maximum parking standard be added to the plan. The council did not accept the recommendation, and in its proposed modifications, which were not published until June 2002, sought to retain the policy unmodified.
The Secretary of State objected at that point to the proposed modifications, on the basis of Planning Policy Guidance 3. After three sets of proposed modifications, the council accepted the argument and made the necessary changes. That took considerable time, and the plan was not finally adopted until November 2003. All that added some 15 months to the time taken to prepare the plan.
I have other examples, but I shall not go over them, as the point has been made. There were no major, earth-shattering changes in any of the examples given, yet a good deal of time was lost. The average modification stage following an inspector's report takes six months to a year. The cases that I mentioned involved far longer delays.
On Amendments Nos. 21C and 21D, we are surprised that the noble Baroness proposes a special provision on general conformity with the regional spatial strategy, as the Bench opposite has been opposed to the principle throughout. It now seems to have in mind that the inspector's report should be binding on matters of general conformity. We are not sure whether the amendment would work, given the discretion that the authorities would have under its
Under Amendment No. 21D, an authority could drop recommendations needed because the document failed one of the other important tests for soundness. The document may conflict with national planning policy or be unrealistic and impossible to implement. The proposal, therefore, is neither acceptable nor sensible. We do not think that we should single out one element, as the amendment would, on which the inspector's recommendations go ahead while ignoring other matters. We disagree that any community should face the uncertainty or delay about the plan for their area that some have experienced under the current arrangementsI have given examples. I am not making a great claim about the examples; they are not earth-shattering. We have several others, but I cannot bring them to the House, for the reasons that I have given.
We have heard examples. My noble friend Lady Maddock has more than a little knowledge of Castle Morpeth, one of the authorities referred to. I understand that the new administration after elections, and after the events described followed by elections, got to grips with the position. Is not that the way for things to be changed?
The Government have blanket arrangements for assessing and dealing with local authorities through the CPA process, yet we seem to be hearing that particular arrangements should be imposed on 450 minus 18, or whatever it may be, because of the bad examples. Hard cases make bad law; we should not make bad law. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.