We have no plans to repeal sections 44 to 47, which make provision for references to a planning inquiry commission. Section 48 empowers my right hon. Friend to make provision for appeals against planning authority decisions on matters of design to be heard by an independent tribunal. As part of the relaxation of controls over local authorities we propose to repeal this section.
In view of the failure of previous administrations at the Scottish Office to allow planning inquiry commissions for such matters as oil platform sites, nuclear power stations, airports and petrochemical developments in Scotland, will my hon. Friend at least give an undertaking that he will give serious consideration to setting up such a commission if further developments of national importance and significance, such as further petrochemical developments at Barry Buddon or elsewhere up the East Coast of Scotland, come before him?
We accept that there might be circumstances which would justify the use of these powers. Where the actual planning permission sought by an applicant relates to matters of national or regional importance or unfamiliar technical aspects, which make it impossible for a proper evaluation through a public local inquiry, these powers could very well be appropriate.
Since the Government have no plans to repeal this part of the Act and since the two points which the Minister has just mentioned are matters of a national or regional importance or where the subject is of a particular technical nature—and since both of those apply very much in the case of the Loch Doon inquiry—why did the Secretary of State see fit not to set up a planning inquiry commission in that case but, instead, decide to resort to the entirely inappropriate arrangement of a public inquiry for dealing with local planning matters, which clearly the Loch Doon case is certainly not?
In the case to which the hon. Member refers the planning permission sought relates to the siting of six small portable buildings or caravans and permission for test boring. Therefore, it is not considered appropriate for this procedure to be applied. However, I assure the hon. Member that there will be no restrictions at all on the sort of evidence that can be put before the reporter in that inquiry as long as the reporter feels that it is relevant to the matters on which he has been asked to report.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the purposes of holding a public inquiry is to allay public disquiet, and that sections 44 to 47 of the Act would allow such a planning inquiry commission to take place, which could have precisely this effect? Will he not take account of the fact that the appeal by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority against the original rejection of the planning application by Kyle and Carrick district council included a number of grounds which had everything to do with nuclear waste disposal and nothing at all to do with environmental matters?
The matter which will be the subject of the inquiry in respect of Loch Doon will not by itself determine the very important and controversial issue of waste disposal. Irrespective of the outcome of that inquiry, there will be many steps to be taken and many years will pass before that matter can be resolved. I have not the slightest doubt that there will be a need for further inquiries before any decision can be made on that subject.
There is no question of anyone changing his mind. What we are concerned with is a particular application that is before the Secretary of State. What the Secretary of State has to decide is the most appropriate procedure for determining the very limited question that is the subject of the planning permission that was refused by the local planning authority in this case.