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I am happy to put on the record that the change does not remove the requirement to produce, consult on or conform to the statement of community involvement or to keep people involved. That is still in place. Our recent guidance on a local development framework suggests that local authorities should provide real-time information on plans to update the documents.
We are removing the need for independent examinations of the SCIs. Let me explain why. It is a benign move. We have to recognise that time has
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Each examination costs about £600 in inspector costs, which has to be borne by the authority, but the format is unsuccessful because, more often, what is driving objections to the SCI is not to do with planning issues but how much money the local authority is able to commit to engaging with the community on consultation processes. The Planning Inspectorate is not well placed to examine or assess that issue. Section 18 of the PCPA 2004, therefore, will still require local planning authorities to prepare a statement of community involvement. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to the debate in the other place, where the Minister was saying that there are better ways of achieving the same goal of ensuring that the community is able and encouraged to participate in that process.
There are some new strategies in place which do not replace the SCIs but simply reinforce them. First, we expect local planning authorities to ensure that their engagement strategies are up to date and fit for purpose. Secondly, there are new assessment regimes which are better suited to the appraisal of local authorities; in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, the new comprehensive area assessment. That will look at the level and quality of public engagement by local authorities and local partnerships. It is an important development because it means that we expect the CAA to assess how well local partners understand their communities and how well they have been involved in defining the priority outcomes and assessing whether outcomes have been delivered. It reinforces the process. We are consulting on the CAA at the moment and expect that to be finalised by next year.
Thirdly, a new agency is already in place which amplifies the local voice. The recently published planning policy statement 12, Local Spatial Planning, emphasises the need for local strategic partnerships to take a strategic approach to community involvement and a corporate approach to community engagement through the duty to involve. We spent several hours when debating the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill exploring how we could strengthen the engagement between local authorities and communities. This is all part of that and I think it will strengthen the process. I hope that that will reassure noble Lords. I accept that the clause is quite complex and does not particularly reveal its intent in this respect, so I understand why the bodies referred to have been a bit confused. I hope that this explanation will reassure them as well.
Let me turn to a separate issue, expressed in Amendments Nos. 409A, 409B, 409D and 171A. These seek assurances about the status of national policy statements and whether they will have proper weight in the planning system. My noble and learned friend Lord Boyd referred in particular to the renewable energy national policy statement. I want to be quite economical about this. It is essential that the national policy statement is reflected throughout the planning process and the different levels of planning decision-making. We have explored that in different ways. It is not necessary to include specific reference to either national policies or a renewable energy national policy statement. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 already requires regional planning bodies and local planning authorities to have regard to national policies.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to limits and whether it will all be reflected. We expect that all forms of development will be considered throughout those processes. We are not talking about any discrimination towards different levels or thresholds. I hope that that will reassure my noble friend. I can give the same answer to my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd.
On Amendment No. 171A, I should make it clear that the conformity test is one of general conformity and not absolute conformity. Under the planning system, only where a local development document would cause significant harm to the implementation of the RSS or, in the case of London, the mayors spatial development strategy, should it be considered not to be in general conformity. It is therefore not necessary to extend the provision to include the requirement to be in general conformity with national policy statements. I hope that that covers the points of detail raised by both noble Lords.
Where local development plans are out of date, national policy statements will be a material consideration in any decision. They will have to be taken into account. We have made, to date, rather slow progress in developing the new local development frameworks. I am pleased to say that we are making increasingly rapid progress and that more and more local authorities are coming forward with up-to-date plans. By the time the IPC is in full operation, I am hopeful that most local authorities will have up-to-date plans.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: Before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, replies, may I say that I am extremely grateful for the amount of trouble that the noble Baroness has taken to respond to the case I put to her about community involvement? We shall study what she said with some care, but it sounded to me very reassuring. I am most grateful.
Lord Greaves: Before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley replies, I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Government on a small outbreak of common sense on the statements of community involvement. The process has been long-winded and bureaucratic, and having to put them to an independent inquiry has been ridiculous.
To have to put amendments to a local inquiry would be ludicrous. The statements exist now, so it is probably not worth abolishing themalthough I would. They are often quite thick documents which in most cases have done little or nothing to improve or change the amount of public involvement in the planning process. They have not changed much; that would have happened anyway in the requirements for each of the development plan documents. At least there is a small outbreak of common sense here. From these Benches, we approve of the amendment.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her response. I take great comfort from her statement that it is essential that an NPS is reflected throughout the planning system and I shall study what she said with great interest. My only concern was raised also by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw: will local authorities always take notice of it? The Minister said that she wanted local authorities to have greater space for innovation, but greater space to perform a nimby act is another worry. However, on the whole, I feel comforted and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) an extension of Crossrail, or
(b) the provision, otherwise than as part of an extension of Crossrail, of a railway facility for use for the purposes of or in connection with Crossrail.
( ) be accompanied by evidence that the applicant has taken all reasonable steps to secure conformity with the local development framework policies of the affected local planning authority and, where applicants have departed from local policy, an explanation for any such departure.
The noble Lord said: This group of amendments follows on naturally from the discussion that we have just had. Amendment No. 176 would ensure that, where a planning application was being considered by the planning commission, the applicant had worked to make sure that the application was reasonably consistent with the local development framework. That is essential if applications are to receive general acceptance. The
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Amendment No. 185 also follows that principle by requiring consultation with local residents. I accept that that may prove difficult practicallyresidents affected can be deemed to run quite widebut they should have their views taken into consideration. One can raise questions whether the local planning authority is sufficiently representative or, in more rural areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would say, whether the local parish councils might be able to do it, but there may still be large bodies of people who feel that their views have not been taken into account, and we thought that we ought to raise these points.
The relationship between national projects and policies and the current system is a difficult matter. It seems that we are making the current system more complex to comply with the speed that is required for the system being introduced. It is the old question of swings and roundabouts. These are important matters; it is a large group of amendments that indicates wide concern around the Committee. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: I would like to speak to my Amendment No. 191, which is in this group. It relates to our discussions last Tuesday. I am mystified, because we have as policy, firmly entrenched and working very well, the principle that the national park authorities are responsibleif they are responsible for anythingfor planning. Yet anyone proposing to undertake action as referred to in this clause is not required by law to consult the national park authorities. My best interpretation, as I said last Tuesday, is that this is an extraordinary oversight. My worst interpretation is that it is quite sinister and is actually the beginning of a deliberate policy to undermine the authority of the national park authorities. It is as serious as that.
I simply cannot believe that my noble friend, with her deep commitment to the parkswhich I know from first hand, from meetings with her at the department and elsewherecould possibly be going along with a policy of that kind. Therefore, I want to believe that my first interpretation was right and that this is an oversight, which must be corrected.
I also emphasise that I very much support the concept of strengthening national planning. At the moment, we are in a mess. Just to take the contentious issue of windmills, for example, we have one tactical skirmish after another, wasting masses of time. We need a national policy, but the right national policy. It needs to insist on strategic considerations, but also on the importance of the social dimensions of planning, so that we do not end up with the least articulate and most deprived communities having all the energy developments dumped on themthe waste, infill, pylons and windmills.
We must also have in mind, as I have emphasised on several occasions, the whole quality of our society and why we need energywhy we need a strong economy to preserve a United Kingdom worth living in. What the national parks are about is essential if we are not to slip into becoming a bland, suburbanised society throughout the country as a whole. I feel passionately about this, as my noble friend knows and I therefore hope that she can reassure us.
I welcome the whole tenor of this group of amendments and I very much welcome the amendment about the handicapped. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, is doing a tremendous service to the Committee by keeping that priority constantly before us. That is splendid and it matters and I hope my noble friend can reassure us.
I would like to make one correction about what I said on Tuesday in the context of the other debate. I sometimes get a little caught up in the pastI suppose we all do at our ageand I referred to being a vice-president of the Council for National Parks. In the past few weeks, we have had Charity Commission approval to change our title to the Campaign for National Parks.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his appeal to include national park authorities as local authorities. In a way, they themselves are national infrastructure projects of huge importance. It is correct that, as great contributors to the quality of life in this nation, they should be consulted on projects.
My Amendments Nos. 189 and 192 are about whether parish councils should be consulted by the applicant. I was very disappointed by the Ministers response to my submission on these amendments on Tuesday, so, I fear, I must make them again more strongly. Parish councils are part of local government; they are elected; they raise a precept; they are statutory consultees on planning applications. They are a local authority, so it seems strange that they should not be included in the definition of a local authority. They are also a tier of local government to which this Government have given considerably enhanced credibility in recent years, trying to raise their prowess, abilities and standing, particularly in the light of the desire in certain cases for unitary authoritiesin that context, in some larger counties, parish councils will play a very prominent part.
Parish councils are often at odds with their district or county council. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said on Tuesday that district councils would decide whether parish councils should be consulted. That is a very strange concept. To put it into an urban context, let us assume that an applicant has decided to build a reservoir at Wembley to enhance the water supply for Westminster. Actually, let us not take Wembley, which is only 10 miles away; let us say Slough, which is much more applicable as a large district or county council. It is like saying that Westminster Council will decide whether the citizens of Slough should have a say in the matter when they are the ones who will be flooded and have their landscape changed to give water to the council. Such a situation is inconceivable, but it is an
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Perhaps, as proposed in my amendment on Tuesday, including parish councils as consultees on site-specific national policy statements is a step too far, but, given all the emphasis that the Government have placed on parish councils in recent years, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to accommodate my amendments in respect of consultation by the applicant or indeed the IPC.
My Amendment No. 203 is about the applicants response to consultation and publicity. I still have slight doubts about this process. Is it right that a pre-consultation process should be run by the applicant, who will undoubtedly be driven by making profits from the project and so could easily be influenced by the wish to maximise returns? It would be beneficial to the applicant to cut corners or to minimise the mitigation measures sought by locals. I wonder whether this process will get off to a good start by having the body that would make money out of creating a nuisance ask locals and others what they think about the creation of that nuisance. While I cannot think of any other way to do it, Clause 48 needs tightening. Applicants should have to spell out not only all the responses they get, but what they have done to accommodate them or, ultimately, why they were unable to resolve the problems.
I support Amendment No. 188 of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who spoke to this group of amendments on Tuesday. The management of our seas, the marine environment that surrounds our sceptred isle, is as important as the management of our land itself. It is not to be undertaken without expertise or a holistic approach. While we have 50 years experience of planning land development, it is a sad reflection of the out of sight, out of mind approach to our oceans and seascape that there has in the past been relatively little thought given to planning considerations for our oceans. With the marine Bill around the corner, I raise my voice in support for a seamless approach to the overall management of our seas and seabeds.
I also put my name to Amendment No. 197, on the time for individuals responses to the applicants consultation. It is currently 28 days, and the amendment would make it 56 days. First, I support the principle of a deadline; it is important that we are trying to expedite these projects as quickly as possible. However, 28 days is not enough. There is a lot of work to be done by a consultee. Sometimes it takes 28 days to get a response from a lawyer, and there will be professionals involved. In fact, in my experience of responding to planning applications, or submitting my own, a lot of people are involved. Sometimes there are engineers, landscape consultants, experts in badgers or bats, highway engineers and so on. It is important that you consult with your neighbourhood to put in a co-ordinated response, and 28 days is too shorteven if none of the aforementioned people or professionals is not on holiday for 14 of them. I think that 56 days is pushing
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I shall not move Amendment No. 199A, because I had misinterpreted the issue. I did not realise that it was about responding to the applicants proposals to consult rather than the applicants consultation itself.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. I like to feel that if we got replies from Ministers to our letters within 28 days, that would be a considerable advance. I shall say a word about that in a moment.
I have a number of amendments in this group but, before I come to them, I shall respond to the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I am happy to take advice from the various disabled groups. They came to me because, as I said in an earlier intervention, I used to serve on the council of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I cannot compete with some other Members of the Committee in the amount of time and effort that they give, but I was grateful for the noble Lords words.
In return, I say this about national parks: the Committee will be aware that, as I mentioned the other day, the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme is in the process of seeking volunteer communities that would be prepared to host a deep underground repository for the disposal of the most hazardous nuclear waste. In return they are invited to put forward proposals to compensate the local community for undertaking this enormously important task.
West Cumbria may well wish to put forward such a proposal given its long experience of dealing with nuclear matters. One of the proposals that local authority might be wise to consider is far better road communication to that part of west Cumbria. Anybody who has done that journey knows that it is very difficult and time- consuming. It is inconceivable that a dual carriageway linking west Cumbria to the M6 north and south could avoid passing through the national park. Indeed, that is why this might be a difficult proposal. Would such a road have to be constructed in a tunnel under the national park, which would be hugely expensive? However, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, the suggestion that the national park should not be consulted about such a proposal is bizarre.
Lord Judd: The noble Lord will understand why I am intervening. I emphasise again my relationship with the Friends of the Lake District. There is no reason why such a road should go through the national park. I am saddened that some years back the A66 was chosen as the trunk route through the national park to the west coast because it has completely ruined the whole essence of that fine mountain, Blencathra, which now has traffic running right in front of it. However, if the route went north, avoiding the park, in my view there would be great economic arguments in favour of it because it would bring together the west coast, Carlisle and Newcastle, which make an interrelated growth area for the region.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I was perhaps unwise to embark on this, and I shall say no more about it. The noble Lord has clearly given much thought to the matter. However, to my mind it would be bizarre if the national park were not consulted.
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