Orders of the Day — Planning and Compensation Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 12th March 1991.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, during the last few years I have accepted the responsibility on this side of the House for keeping you out of trouble. I always worry deeply when you stray a little from the straight and narrow. I refer to your response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who raised a point of order about the need for a statement on the Prime Minister's visit to Germany and his discussions there. I was not a bit surprised when I heard you say that you had had no request for a statement, but I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard you add that there had not even been a request for a private notice question.

As you well know, if an application is made for a private notice question and you refuse it, we on these Benches are strictly forbidden to raise the matter. In your final months of office, I should not like to see you making such an elementary mistake.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I have to confess to the hon. Member and to the House that it was a mistake. I am not supposed to give my reasons. It slipped out.

A great many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. Therefore, I intend to place a 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing) 3:57 pm, 12th March 1991

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Our system of town and country planning has been in place for over 40 years, and by and large it serves us well. In a country which is as densely populated as ours, difficult decisions about the proper use of land are unavoidable. Most activities require land—homes, growing food, manufacture, transport, leisure. Conflict is not uncommon between those in both the public and private sectors who wish to change the use of land—whether to provide public services such as schools, hospitals, roads and rail links, or private services such as new homes or shopping centres —and the interests of conservation and amenity and of local people who are reluctant to see change. The planning system provides the framework for resolving these inevitable conflicts. The Bill brings the system up to date, and enhances its credibility.

It does this by ensuring that planning decisions are made efficiently and effectively; that they take proper account of the many interests involved; that the system provides for as much certainty as possible for those who use it; and that its provisions are properly enforced. Our aim is to strike the right balance between planning authorities and landowners; and, in land compensation, between private interests and the public interest. I hope to explain the provisions of the Bill with those fundamental considerations in mind.

Many hon. Members are rightly exasperated at the ease with which people can flout planning controls and get away with it. The present enforcement systems are rightly criticised for their complexity and slow operation. That reduces public confidence in the development control system and appears to penalise those who comply with the rules. It can also adversely affect our environment.

Clauses 1 to 11, and their Scottish equivalents, clauses 28 to 37, contain important measures to strengthen, improve, simplify and speed up the enforcement process. They are based broadly on the recommendations made by Mr. Robert Carnwath, QC, in his report of April 1989 entitled "Enforcing Planning Control". The Government, and indeed everyone concerned with the planning system, are grateful to Mr. Carnwath for his clear and succinct report.

Mr. Carnwath's recommendations were generally welcomed in the extensive consultation exercise that followed publication of the report. They provide a balanced package of improvements so that planning authorities can take effective enforcement action where necessary.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

The Association of District Councils compliments the Government on the improvements in the Bill but is conscious that measures contrary to the interests of planning can occur. No proceedings can be taken when a field is developed by gipsies without planning permission, who then assault officers of the local authority when they serve an injunction on them. Would it not be better if the Bill provided for a criminal offence, so that notices could be served by the police and whoever was responsible for those actions would have a criminal record, which would certainly act as a strong deterrent?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

Many Conservative Members feel strongly about this matter. I had the pleasure of receiving a delegation from my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), when we discussed it at length. Clauses 2 and 3 will give local authorities additional powers, which may help with the problem that he described. The power to take an injunction against persons unknown will be especially helpful in dealing with gipsies, because it is sometimes difficult to get their names from them.

On the specific question of criminalisation, initially I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham that it would be right to bring the criminal law into play, but the Carnwath report persuaded me the other way. The House must take on board several arguments. The onus of proof in a criminal case is far higher than in a civil case. In a civil case, the balance of probability applies, but in a criminal case the onus is on the prosecution to prove it.

The problem with creating a criminal offence is that it does nothing to remedy the offence. The local authority could apply to a magistrates court for an injunction and prosecute, but it may be weeks before the case is heard. Even if the case is won, the offence still occurred. To tackle the underlying injustice, the local authority would have to take enforcement action, so two parallel processes would be going on at the same time.

To reduce bureaucracy and achieve a better system, there must be a better enforcement system, with substantially increased penalties, which we are providing for in the Bill, rather than a criminally based system, which would not deal with the fundamental problem. I hope to say more about that later.

The new planning contravention notice, which is introduced in clause 1, is meant to encourage developers and authorities to talk to each other in the early stages of the process. At present, when a development goes ahead without planning permission but is broadly acceptable in form, the planning authority faces a dilemma: it cannot regularise it by granting planning permission, perhaps with conditions that it wishes to impose, and if the development is not acceptable, it will probably have no alternative to taking enforcement action, even though it might be changed to make it acceptable as a result of discussion with the developer.

In future, the authority will be able to use the planning contravention notice to break the deadlock by requiring the developer to refrain from carrying out further development or by inviting him to apply for planning permission if it would be willing to grant it. The advantage of that procedure is that it does not bring the developer immediately within the scope of the criminal law, and discussions can take place between the authority and developer.

I prefer that more constructive approach, rather than criminalising all unlawful development, which carries a risk of catching a range of minor planning offences which none of us would regard as criminal behaviour. Where enforcement is necessary, the Bill provides important strengthening and improvement of the present enforcement powers, including the possibility of obtaining a court injunction, and greatly increased summary maximum penalties for enforcement offences.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay , Berkshire East

In supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) and the Association of District Councils, am I right in assuming that the provisions give discretion to the local authorities, which would surely not be under an obligation to go down that route? Therefore, the frivolous, small or inadvertent case would not be prosecuted in that way because the local authority would choose a criminal prosecution only when it was faced with persistent offenders.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I understand that argument, but it detracts to no small extent from the argument for criminal sanctions which, as put to me by the delegation to which I have just referred, was that a criminal sanction would act as a deterrent. I do not think that it would act as a deterrent—[HON. MEMBERS: "It will."] It would not act as a deterrent if there was some uncertainty about whether the power would actually be used. My hon. Friends should also bear in mind the fact that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Local Government and Planning Bar Association and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities were all against criminalising this offence. The only representations that I have received on behalf of criminalisation were from the planning officers of the district councils. There is no unanimity that it would be right to criminalise that action among those responsible for enforcing the planning process.

Mr. Anthony Steens:

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in 1989, 74,979 complaints were received by planning departments throughout the country about unlawful developments? That is the scale of the problem. Giving a criminal twist to this matter would mean that those people who build houses without planning consent in areas of outstanding natural beauty, as has happened in my constituency, would think twice before doing so. The threat of criminal sanctions will prevent people from carrying out such anti-social and unlawful acts.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I look forward to a long and vigorous debate in Standing Committee on the question of whether it would be right to introduce criminal sanctions into the planning process. Of course, I recognise the strong feelings of my hon. Friends about the need to enforce the credibility of the planning system.

The proposals in clauses 10 and 36 clarify the lawful use and development of land and are also based on the Carnwath report's recommendations.

Clause 12 makes important changes to the law relating to planning agreements. It introduces the concept of planning obligations, which includes both the familiar planning agreements, and unilateral undertakings. The clause will enable a developer to make an undertaking to carry out works or to contribute to infrastructure, as an alternative to a planning agreement with the local planning authority. I stress—there has been some misunderstanding of this point—that undertakings will be an alternative to agreements, not a replacement for them.

Under the present law, a planning authority may hold out for exessive planning gain or be unwilling to reach an agreement that will resolve its planning objections to a proposed development. The developer can, of course, appeal, and the inspector may be willing to grant the appeal subject to a satisfactory planning agreement, but if the authority still obdurately refuses to reach agreement, the developer is stuck. Allowing him to make an undertaking, enforceable by the authority, will break the logjam.

The second major change is to make provision for the modification and discharge of planning obligations. At the moment, a planning agreement can be discharged or modified only by applying to the Lands Tribunal, and then only on the grounds that it is legally obsolete. But, over time, the purpose behind a planning obligation may disappear, or circumstances may change, so that the obligation is no longer relevant in planning terms. Clause 12 provides that modification or discharge will be possible either with the consent of the parties or by a formal process of application to the local planning authority, with a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend where the application is refused or not determined in time. That right will be available only where the obligation no longer serves a useful purpose.

Clauses 13 to 16 and 38 to 40 make a number of changes to the procedures governing planning applications. They are designed to simplify the development control process and make it more efficient. Clauses 13 and 38 enable the Secretary of State to prescribe in a development order the detailed arrangements for publicity and notification of planning applications.

This will mean that the statutory requirements for publicity and notification can be adapted with greater speed to reflect changing demands and circumstances. For example, we should not have to wait another 10 years for the next planning Bill if we wished to alter the number of days that a site notice advertising "bad neighbour" development was required to be displayed before a planning application for that development could be submitted.

Consideration of clause 13 in another place stimulated discussion about the extent to which planning applications should be publicised, and the options for achieving such publicity. We have stated our intention of tabling an amendment which would specifically require the owners and tenants of agricultural holdings to be notified of planning applications affecting land in which they have an interest. We have also undertaken to prepare further guidance about neighbour notification generally for local planning authorities. I look forward to hearing the views of the House on that subject.

Clauses 14 and 39 are designed to give local planning authorities the power to decline to determine an application if a similar application has been rejected by the Secretary of State within the previous two years and there has been no material change in circumstances. That 'will enable authorities to deal with developers who use repetitive planning applications as a means of wearing down the resistance of local authorities and local communities.

Clauses 15 and 40 would enable the Secretary of State to dismiss an appeal where the appellant delays its progress unreasonably. That is designed to stop developers using planning appeals as a tactical device rather than as an action of last resort.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

The theme of the Minister's last remarks has been efficiency. I appreciate that the point I now raise is not in the Bill, but it seems that much of the delay in the planning procedure occurs in his Department, which first takes a lengthy period to decide whether to call in a decision, secondly, to appoint a date for the inspector to hear the appeal, thirdly, for the inspector to report, and, fourthly for the Minister to make up his mind. If his Department could get its skates on, many of the problems associated with planning decisions would go away.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

My Department is increasing the number of inspectors dealing with that problem. Also, the number of cases being dealt with per inspector has gone up —their productivity is increasing—and that, combined with a reduced number of appeals, will, I hope, mean that the backlog will be caught up and my Department can improve its performance in that respect.

I was referring to clause 15. Amendments to that clause were moved in another place to overcome the problems associated with twin tracking. That is a tactical device of submitting two similar planning applications at the same time. Where a decision is not reached within eight weeks, negotiations with the planning authority can continue on one application while the other is the subject of an appeal to the Secretary of State. If the authority grants permission on the first application before the appeal is heard, the appeal is withdrawn. That can be a useful spur with which to goad some local authorities into swifter handling of planning applications, but it can also waste public resources.

In response to the amendments in another place, we have issued a consultation letter inviting comments on a proposal which would allow local planning authorities to decline to determine a planning application while a similar application is the subject of an appeal. If appropriate, we will table a suitable amendment to the Bill during its passage through this House.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne

Having chaired a planning committee for five years, I am aware of the difficulties that the Minister is addressing; but does he accept that, as well as trying to tip the balance against applicants who take advantage of the system—by making more than one application or appealing frivolously—there is substance in claiming that applicants who are spun out by planning authorities or by his Department should have some redress? Will he consider, as well as saying that, if an appeal takes too long it should be dismissed, saying that, if a planning authority takes too long, the appeal should be allowed automatically because of dithering by bureaucrats?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

As I said, the present system acts as a goad to the local authority. The Government have not taken a decision on whether twin tracking should be banned. We are consulting in an exercise that began on 6 March, and when we have a clearer view of the balance of opinion, we shall reach a judgment and perhaps table an amendment at a later stage.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

Why has the Minister not taken this opportunity to introduce a right of appeal by citizens whose interests will be affected by the granting of planning permission? As the Minister knows, the only right of appeal at present is by an applicant whose application has been turned down. Many people may be adversely affected by the granting of an application, and a right of appeal is a long overdue reform. The Minister should consider this matter.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

The hon. Gentleman rightly reminds the House that objectors have no right of appeal if planning permission is granted. That has always been the case. The theory is that the local planning committee takes the decision as the representative of the community. That is the process by which the views of the community are fed into the decision making machinery. If the hon. Gentleman or any of his hon. Friends wishes to table an amendment giving a right of appeal to objectors, we shall consider it and try to persuade the Committee that it is redundant. That is another debate in Committee to which I look forward with mounting anticipation.

Clause 17 provides the statutory framework for reforming the arrangements under which local authorities deem themselves planning permission. This package of measures was welcomed by most respondents when we consulted on it last year. It will require that all local authority development proposals must be fully advertised and decided in public by a committee that is not responsible for the management of the land concerned. We shall also require that, when such proposals conflict with the development plan, they must be reported to my right hon. Friend, so that he can consider calling them in for his own decision.

Clauses 18 and 41 and schedules 1 and 7 implement proposals set out in the consultation paper on efficient planning, although modified in the light of the responses to that consultation. They provide for development involving the depositing of mineral waste to be subject to the same planning powers and controls as apply to the winning and working of minerals, and extend, for use in suitable circumstances, the power to impose after-care conditions to development involving waste disposal. That will make it clear that local authorities' powers to review mineral working operations and to impose orders updating those operations to modern standards extend to the tipping of mineral wastes as well as to the extraction of minerals.

The House will be aware of the increasing concern about old minerals permissions granted under interim development orders. Indeed, many hon. Members have written to me on this subject. As I announced on 21 February, the Government consider that it is inequitable that the extent and terms of these permissions, which have been existed for close to 50 years, are not recorded, and that householders and others may have been disadvantaged by this lack of knowledge. It is wholly unacceptable that somebody can purchase a house or land in good faith, having carried out all the usual searches and received a clean bill of health, only to find subsequently that there is an interim development order permission affecting his property.

I therefore intend to table amendments to the Bill to require that, unless the holder of such a permission applies to the appropriate mineral planning authority within a specified time for the permission to be registered, the permission will cease to have effect. This in itself is a major step forward in removing an anomaly which has existed since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 came into operation.

However, I am not convinced that registration in itself goes far enough. We are therefore consulting on the proposal that applications for registration should be accompanied by schemes of operating, restoration and, where appropriate, after-care conditions for the mineral planning authority's approval, to ensure that such permissions as are registered are operated in an environmentally acceptable way. Clearly, that would have some implications for the minerals industry, and it is right that I should listen to its views before reaching a decision. The consultation period ends on 15 March, and I will report the outcome to the House.

I turn now to the Bill's provisions for reforming the development plan system which are contained in clause 22 and schedule 3. They give effect to the proposals in the White Paper of January 1989, as modified by our decision announced in September last year, to retain county structure plans as part of the development plan system. That decision reflected the widespread recognition that strategic planning at the county level has a very important part to play in the planning system.

The structure plan sets out the framework for local planning at the district level, together with the relevant national and regional policies and the counties own policies for the area. It is very important, if consistency and coherence is to be achieved, that the structure planning framework is clear and authoritative. Structure plans have successfully established that function over the past 20 years, and for that reason we have decided to retain them as a component of the development plan.

Turning to local plans, the main change is that non-metropolitan districts and national park authorities will be required to produce and keep up to date a single district or park-wide local plan covering the whole of their area. At present, the preparation of local plans is discretionary. We estimate that only some 30 per cent. of the population of England and Wales is covered. Mandatory preparation of local plans should greatly increase the local community's confidence in the planning system and simplify the process of day-to-day develop-ment control. It will also ensure the removal of detailed policies from structure plans, allowing county plans to focus on key strategic issues.

While the plan can never override all other material planning considerations, in future the balance should shift from planning by appeal to planning by local choice, within the framework of national and regional policies, with local authorities taking their own decisions through the preparation of development plans and the process of public consultation that that involves. The proposals incorporate safeguards to prevent districts from ignoring the need for realistic development in plans. Local plans have to be consistent with the relevant structure plan and my right hon. Friend has reserve powers to direct modifications, should it become necessary.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Can the Minister make it clear to the House that the import of what he is saying is that, for the first time for 10 or 11 years, the Government want to move towards a plan-led system of development, rather than a market-led system?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

We want the system to be plan-led. I made it clear that plans had to be consistent with regional guidance, which will fall within national policy. We want the district plan to be the indicator—the signal—of what is permitted development and the market must respond to the local plan.

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me yet again.

How am I to convince my constituents that the Minister really means what he has just said? We strongly welcome the proposition that there should be local plans, but in the village of Wrington, in my constituency the parish council, the district council and all the inhabitants opposed a development which is outside the village fence arid was previously outside the local plan. However, an inspector came along, for some reason decided that the development should be allowed to proceed, and the Minister confirmed that decision. Can the Minister give me an assurance that, from now on, he will use local plans as his yardstick to a far greater extent?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

My hon. Friend will be better able to convince his constituents than I. He can tell them what I have just said in the House, and on the record, as a statement of Government policy. We believe that, when there is a system of district plans which covers the country, instead of 30 per cent. of the country as there is at the moment, we will be able to devolve decision-making down to an extent that is simply not possible nowadays because district plans are so patchy. If there is a coherent system of regional guidance from the department, down through county structure plans to district plans, that system should result in planning by local decision rather than planning by appeal.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I shall just get this paragraph behind me because it is relevant, and then I shall give way, for the last time, to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor).

The new provisions will offer an opportunity and a challenge to the local planning authorities. We are giving greater importance to their role in the preparation of plans—but it will be their responsibility to get on with that task, to ensure that development plans are prepared quickly and are kept up to date. Many authorities throughout the country are already responding enthusiastically to that challenge. We also want communities to see their plans as important vehicles for local choice and for decisions about the local pattern of development to respect people's feelings for their neighbourhood and what is precious in it. Obviously, plans have to be consistent with national and regional policy, and they have to be realistic, but within those constraints, there is much more room for genuinely local choices to be made.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

My hon. Friend is very patient, and I am grateful. Can he make clear from the Dispatch Box today that his inspectors will recognise that the 30 per cent. of authorities which submit local plans that are recognised and conform to all the regulations, will not be penalised simply because 70 per cent. of district councils have not put plans in place? There is a suspicion that inspectors do not tend to pay full respect to the local plans which are already approved.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I can give that assurance—so long as the plans are up to date and conform with regional guidance. The inspector should attach more credibility to such plans than to proposals of an authority that has not got round to having a district plan at all.

Clause 24 gives the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England power to prosecute or to seek injunctions to prevent breaches of listed building control, and also to be treated as a local authority for the purpose of requiring information as to interests in land.

Clause 25 is concerned with the power of the Secretary of State to award appeal costs in certain circumstances when a party's "unreasonable behaviour" in the appeal process results in wasted expense incurred by another party.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

A moment ago, my right hon. Friend mentioned listed buildings. Can he say a few words about clause 26, which removes the right to compensation when listed building consent is refused? This seems unfair to someone who has an unlisted building that subsequently becomes listed. If my right hon. Friend does not have the answer at his fingertips, perhaps he will write to me about the matter.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

The answer to that rather detailed question is indeed not at my fingertips. Perhaps it will be at the fingertips of my hon. Friend when he replies at 9.40. If not, one of us will certainly write to my right hon. Friend.

Parts III and IV of the Bill, together with clause 65, deal with land compensation and compulsory purchase procedure.

Clauses 55 and 57 place the home loss payment scheme on a more generous basis. The residence qualification is reduced from five years to one year. This will mean a very substantial increase in the number of people—tenants as well as owner-occupiers—who qualify for a home loss payment. The rules on eligibility for payment are relaxed in a number of other ways.

For instance, the law already provides for a home loss payment to be made in the case of a voluntary sale to an authority possessing compulsory purchase powers. We are now extending this principle by removing the current bar on payment in the case of blight notice acquisitions. In addition, there is an increase in the actual level of payment to owner-occupiers, for whom an enforced move can be especially traumatic. Such claimants will now receive a payment of 10 per cent. of the value of their home, subject to a minimum of £1,500 and a maximum of £15,000.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I said three times already that I would not give way again. As so many hon. Members want to speak in this debate, I hope that the House will forgive me if I press on.

As I have said, claimants will now receive a payment of 10 per cent. of the value of their home, subject to a minimum of £1,500 and a maximum of £15,000. The changes will take effect as from the day of the Bill's publication–16 November 1990. We estimate that, together, they will lead to a doubling of expenditure on home loss payments.

The Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland. I have mentioned the Scottish clauses along with their counterparts for England and Wales. The only Scottish clause that does not reflect provisions for England and Wales is clause 44, which gives Scottish local authorities power to deal with fly posting—a power that is already enjoyed by the English and Welsh counterparts of those Scottish authorities.

A number of people have criticised this Bill on the grounds that it is not sufficiently green. Indeed, the Council for the Protection of Rural England has challenged the Government to demonstrate their green credentials. However, as I said at the beginning, the purpose of the system is to provide a framework for the resolution of conflicts by ensuring that all material considerations are taken into account. That requires that planning system to be even-handed and to ensure that all interests are listened to. We therefore resisted in another place amendments that sought to place a specific environmental duty on planning authorities.

None the less, the Bill does address environmental concerns in many respects. Both the enforcement provisions and the provisions relating to development plans will make a considerable environmental contribution by ensuring that action is taken against breaches of planning control, and by providing a clear planning framework throughout the country. The Bill also includes a number of specifically environmental provisions, such as the requirement that local plans must include policies in respect of the conservation of natural beauty and amenity, and the after-care provisions in relation to minerals and wastes.

Finally, I return to what I said at the beginning. Overall, the Bill will lead to valuable improvements in the operation of the planning system. It is not intended to tilt the balance significantly in favour of, or against, particular types of development. Planning policies will continue to be effected through the existing mechanisms of planning policy guidance notes and departmental circulars. The Bill will, however, make the system fairer and more efficient.

I emphasise to my hon. Friends who have intervened that the Bill is a decentralising measure. It will give local authorities the opportunity, through the self-adoption of plans, to set out more strongly the pattern of development that they, as representatives of local people, want to take place in their areas; and, through their enhanced enforcement powers, they can do more to ensure that that vision is not spoilt by unacceptable development.

On Third Reading in another place, Lord McIntosh described the measure from the Opposition Front Bench as basically a good Bill, which represented a serious attempt to improve the efficiency and justice of the planning system. It has won wide support outside Parliament, and I hope that it will win equally wide support in the House, to which I now commend it.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 4:30 pm, 12th March 1991

The Minister has just offered me the lifeline that Lord McIntosh offered him in the House of Lords when he said that this was not a bad Bill. I think that that is basically true, but I also think that the Minister will need that lifeline, judging by some of the interventions from his hon. Friends. Our complaint is not that the Bill is bad—although we consider certain parts of it bad and they are among the parts that we want to change. Our biggest criticism relates to what has been left out.

Let me extend a hearty welcome to all the Conservative Members whose speeches I have had the joy of hearing for so many years in planning debates in the House, and who have signed early-day motions and tabled questions. All that has demonstrated that the Government are in an appalling mess over planning; they deserve that, following the way in which they have treated the issue over the past 10 or 11 years. We now have an opportunity to start redressing the balance and we look forward to doing so in Committee.

Let me tell Conservative Members that I shall exert all the influence that I can bring to bear to ensure that as many of them as possible are members of the Standing Committee. I shall give them as much time to speak as I can, and I shall do all in my power to keep their constituents informed about how they vote as well as how they speak. I do not just want to see bared fangs; bared votes are ultimately much more important, and I think that Conservative Members' constituents will find them very interesting.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

As one who will volunteer to serve on the Committee, I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will not need to say a word to my constituents. I shall tell them all by myself how I vote, and I think that they will be very pleased with the results.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I undertake to offer the hon. Lady an additional service, which she will be pleased to receive when it comes to it.

The Minister rightly pointed out that there had been relatively little change in the legislation since the 1947 Act. That Act put this country well ahead of the rest of the world and was generally received as a welcome step in the right direction at the right time. It has served the country very well. Everyone knew that it needed to be changed and updated; what we did not need was the bonfire of planning controls about which the present Secretary of State—the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—talked in 1980.

It is one of the ironies of politics that, when the then Secretary of State was replaced by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—I do not know whether he can be described as his right hon. Friend or not—the latter poured petrol on the flames, arid the right hon. Member for Henley began persuading all his hon. Friends to sign early-day motions criticising what his replacement was doing. Now the right hon. Member for Henley is back in post and, as well as having to sort out the poll tax, the poor man must try to sort out the planning system.

The Bill does not represent a bad offer; as I have said, it is not a bad Bill. There are many good things in it, although there are also many worrying aspects—above all on the bureaucracy side, which some hon. Members seem to think that they are addressing. They are not; they are passing the buck. The main issue is our failure to engage in the debate in which we should be engaging: a debate about the type of planning system that we need for the 21st century, and about how we are to address the 'green' issues that are now so critical throughout the country, especially in the over-populated parts of the south that are now so well represented on the Conservative Benches.

When Conservative Members complain about green-field developments behind their houses or their villages, what they are complaining about is population pressure in a particular area of Britain—the south—where it is most intense. Population pressure exists elsewhere, but it is most intense in the south.

Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield

Will the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) explain what he means? He has told us that the 1947 Act is a good Act which has stood the test of time, and I agree with him. Now he says that we need a radical restructuring of the planning system. What has he in mind? What is wrong with our present system? Does it not contain good checks and balances?

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

No longer, unfortunately. Many of the changes made in the early 1980s were retrogressive, and we missed the opportunity of putting in new things. I hope to address some of those new issues during my speech and throughout consideration of the Bill, and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) is welcome to look at a number of documents published under my name for the Labour party.

We must acknowledge what I shall call, for want of a better phrase, the green issue. In southern Britain we have a population of 22 million to 30 million in a very small area, which makes it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. If we are serious about not just protecting our environment in such an area but enhancing it, we must take account of the green issues. They apply to every other area of Britain, but, because of the population pressure in the south, they bring out Conservative Members like moths to the flame of a candle; they cannot resist coming, because the pressure on them is so great and because it has implications not only for green issues but for jobs, leisure, recreation, transport and so on.

That is one reason why I put this forward as one of the solutions that we can offer: we must have regional structures including a regional planning structure, not least to deal with transport and planning in the strategic sense. The Secretary of State is taking a step towards that with his county structure plans. I was interested to note the words that the Minister used: he spoke of regional guidance being offered. If we need regional guidance, we need regional government on this issue. We cannot get round the problem simply by adding another bureaucratic layer, which is not particularly responsive to anyone, in the Minister's office, looking at questions that the Minister is supposed to answer in detail. He cannot. That is one of the problems of the present system.

When the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) was briefly Secretary of State for the Environment, he said: The planning system is in many ways the most effective tool of environmental management available to us. Anyone interested in green issues who reads the Bill will not believe that it was written by that Minister. I suspect that a large part of it was begun by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury. He was replaced by the right hon. Member for Bath, who saw it, nearly passed out, tore up large chunks of it, put in lots of amendments in another place and passed it on to his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley, who is now dealing with it. There are welcome changes, and I want to accept them.

We shall argue in Committee the need for environmental impact statements. I should like to take the Minister with me on this. The House of Lords disliked the idea arid wanted to reject it, as do some Conservative Members. However, if a local authority cannot say in certain circumstances—not all—that it would like to have a statement on a particular planning proposal, it will he unable to address many of the issues that trouble it, especially with regard to green-field sites. An initial development may not affect a green-field site but it may well have implications for the future. For example, a large shopping centre or new urban development leads to greatly increased use of surrounding roads and causes many other pressures on the surrounding countryside.

The Minister has not, therefore, convinced Opposition Members or, I suspect, some of his hon. Friends that there is no need for environmental impact statements. I accept that it is difficult to define where they should start and end, whether all developments should be included or only some, and how they should be drawn up, but there is no doubt that, in the heavily populated areas of the country, we need these statements if we are to put some flesh on the bones of the idea of protecting and enhancing our environment.

I use the words "protecting" and "enhancing" because too often we think only about not developing a field or forest, in the hope of keeping it as it is. I represent an inner-city constituency, and I believe that to do the right thing, we should positively enhance the green environment. I want some of the countryside in the city, but there are areas in the country where we need to enhance the quality of life generally and to give nature an opportunity to be restored rather than merely protected.

I have already mentioned that we need regional structures. Development is a problem for the Government. I accept that it would have been a problem for any Government, although it has been aggravated by this Government's wrong policies. Development is unplanned in the most intensively developed area of Britain—the south and the south-east—while there is underdevelopment and often the wrong type of develop-ment in the northern and western regions.

It is all very well to say that we do not want development to take place and that it should be for local people to control it, but if we do not follow the logic of that argument and demand better developments in other parts of Britain, things will stay as they are in the south. That is not good enough. There must be development of the right type throughout the country. It is a question not merely of having the right type of development in the south but of ensuring appropriate developments in the north which can take the pressure off the south. That often means that major investment decisions will be influenced by either regional or national Government as France and every other member of the European Community has done so successfully.

It is significant that, in the European Community, Britain alone has chosen not to introduce regional government. In 1992, we shall pay an appalling price for that, not least in London, which will remain the only unplanned capital city, with snarled up traffic and a deteriorating quality of life. Frankfurt and Paris have expressed a desire to take over London's financial role, and they will be more attractive places in which to live and work. If we do not deal with the problem, we shall pay a high price.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

How would the hon. Gentleman deal with the problem that Greater London, the 12 shire counties and many beyond come within the economic commuting ambit of London? If there were a regional government to cover such a huge percentage of the national population, how would that square with the responsibility of the House and, at a much lower level, that of local councils?

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I do not want to deal with that issue in too much detail, because it is a different debate, but a regional government would not cover a region of that size. There is a need for a government of London and the south or the south-east, but there is a problem of boundaries. We have assessed that we should need between eight and 12 regional governments for England. That would provide a number of sensible and logical options about how to deal with the south-east. It is an approach which has been used successfully without exception throughout the European Community. In 1992, Europe will be a community of economic regions and we shall be the one country which does not have regional governments to fight for the regions and look after their needs.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

Other European countries have an entirely different geographical structure. Their population are distributed differently and there are very few cases in which the capital city is so close to the trading exists—whether ports or airports. Such a system would be much more difficult to achieve in the United Kingdom than it is in a disparate society such as Germany, or in Italy or France.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Each area always has individual difficulties, but it is exactly the same in the Ruhr valley and in northern France. They have solved the problem, and I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of the British to solve it.

These are important background issues, but I do not want to deal with them in detail today. The Minister said that he wanted county structure plans, and that the proposal to extend local plans should mean strengthening the importance of planning in general. I intervened in his speech because he made an important admission of a major change in Government policy, which I welcome. He said—I saw that several Conservative Members agreed —that the Government's approach is no longer market-led development but plan-led development. It behoves us to get the planning structure right, and we must stop ducking the question by blaming the bureaucrats in the council or in the Ministry. It is up to the House to get the legislation right, but if we do not get it right, it is no good our passing the buck. That does not mean that the bureaucratic structures outside the House do not cause problems, but it is the legislation rather than the bureaucratic system that is faulty.

We need a far clearer understanding of the rules, as do developers and, above all, local communities. Once they know what the rules are and how plans are drawn up, they can become involved. They also need to know whether the plans are certain. As the Minister discovered, one of the great problems of the present system is the lack of certainty. A decision that has been made locally may be confirmed by an inspector but then overturned by the Government, or vice versa.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, on appeal, the inspector considers not only local plans, which have been properly drawn up and approved by the Secretary of State, but the planning policy guidance? Does he agree that they should not be more important than a valid local plan? At the moment, there is conflict, and the inspector tends to favour development. That should be questioned and changed, so that he follows only a valid local plan.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I have some sympathy with that idea. I want to make certain statements about local plans and to consider the appeal system, but I shall not be wildly out of line with the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). Planning policy guidance is necessary in the short term but in the right planning structure, it would become less important.

The predictability and rationality of the system are important and we need to get them right. The Bill helps by clarifying and improving some of the rules, which is why people have welcomed it as a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough.

Clauses 1 to 11 deal with enforcement. They should impose a general duty on local authorities to ensure that planning controls are adhered to. That is difficult, because, for that to be done, we must get the legislation right.

Several hon. Members intervened on the question of criminal sanctions. The Minister will probably be sorry about this, but I have considerable sympathy for him. It is widely assumed that all probation officers want there to be more crime so that they will have work if they need to look for their old jobs, but that is not correct. I am rather doubtful about extending the role of the criminal law. Generally, it is not a good idea, and the assumptions about deterrence are usually wildly wrong. The theory of deterrence works best when considering the dangers of being caught.

When a developer breaches a planning law, guidelines should aim to ensure that he redresses the breach, and that the building is returned to its original state at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Member for South Hams gave the example of a house that should not have been built and he said that the criminal law would act as a deterrent. A far greater deterrent than putting the gentleman concerned under my supervision —which might not be a deterrent —would be to tell him that he must restore the building to what it was previously. It might have to be restored as a barn, and I suspect that most people would not want to live in a barn. People would not take such action if they knew that there was certainty.

We should consider the time lag. Often, a developer knows that, if he keeps his head down for long enough, he will get away with it. We may need to provide a longer period so that people cannot keep fobbing off the planning officer by saying that they do not have the capital, that they have to do this or that or that they will get round to it. We should make it a harsher system in terms of ensuring that the person cannot get out of it simply by delaying.

There may be a case for criminal sanctions if the position is irreversible. One can give a number of simple examples. An opencast mining development may eat up half the coastline or several fields. It may be difficult to reverse the knocking down of a listed building. If the position cannot be reversed, there may be a case for criminal sanctions. I have my doubts even then, but I should be willing to consider that compromise. We should not kid ourselves that we can stop crime simply by creating a criminal offence. Often one cannot. It is far more effective to deter by ensuring that the person who has done something wrong has to put it right and that he knows that the chances of getting away with it are slim. That means that we must get the planning system right.

Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield

Has not the demand for the criminalisation of unlawful development arisen partly from frustration at the failure of the civil penalties? I see no point in doing what the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) suggests and placing a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure that planning control is enforced. I think that that is what he said. There is no point if we do not give local authorities the powers that are necessary to do such things. I have many examples in my constituency where not just for weeks or for months, but for years there has been no effective enforcement, because the local authority does not have the power.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I have much sympathy with that view. I know of cases in which people have got out of doing what they need to do simply by sending occasional letters saying that they will do it or that they are putting off doing so for various reasons. If they delay matters long enough, it becomes out of time. That is especially true of London with the building regulations. There are a number of areas in which we need to ensure that the matter cannot be put out of time and that local authorities have the power to step in and say, "You have done this without permission. You must put it right." That does not mean that we must always take a hard line. A development may be started reasonably and may not be out of character. One might then need to give retrospective development permission. Those are exceptional cases, but we can get the balance right if we put more faith in the local authorities.

One of my criticisms of the Conservative party, in planning as in many other areas, is that Conservative Members tend to believe that local authorities are incompetent and useless, and that they should be got rid of generally. In fact, most local authorities are efficient and good. However, they need the right powers to do the job. They need the right structure of legislation from us—and that is our responsibility—and they then need to be told to get on with the job. We may need additional safeguards to ensure that they do the job of ensuring that the people who live in the area get the service that they deserve. We must not undermine the competence, management and morale of local authorities and then expect them to do the job well, because they will be unable to do so.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I do not want to give way much more, because I am aware that many hon. Members want to speak. However, I will give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Patrick Ground Mr Patrick Ground , Feltham and Heston

I just heard the hon. Gentleman say that he wanted to make it mandatory for local authorities to enforce planning control. Is he saying that he wants them to stop having to consider whether it is expedient to enforce planning control, which has always been a fundamental aspect of the provision? If so, he is taking away a huge area of discretion for local authorities which some of us think is important.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I deliberately did not use the word "mandatory". I seek a clearer framework of planning powers for the local authorities which would allow them, as I suggested when I gave my example, to give retrospective planning permission. I want to ensure that the local authorities can use their planning powers effectively when there has been a breach of planning law. The present problem is that local authorities often cannot do that, either because the matter is out of time or because they do not have effective powers. We must get such matters right in the Bill; we have not got them right yet.

It is not merely an argument about mandatory versus expedient. It is more an argument for giving local authorities the power to act in both directions so that they can deal sympathetically with the genuine case of a person who has gone ahead with a building repair or change without following through all the regulations. The change may be perfectly reasonable. We want local authorities to allow such a case to be put right retrospectively, without at the same time allowing someone to turn a barn in a field into a mini-factory, which aggravates so many people in rural areas. The general duty for local authorities to ensure that planning controls are adhered to is important and we look forward to the debate on criminal sanctions.

One problem is the appeal mechanism. I suggest to the Minister and to Conservative Members that we have an opportunity in the Bill to consider that mechanism, which is inadequate. In Committee, we may wish to consider whether we should take a bolder step and say that if there is a modern plan, drawn up by the local authority, by the regional government or by the county, it must be, as the Minister seemed to suggest it should be, the guiding light for planning development in the area. If it is, it follows that, if someone makes an application for a development that runs counter to the plan, there is a strong case for saying that there will be no appeal. However, if a person is refused a permission when it is in line with the plan, there should be an automatic right of appeal.

The critical point is that if the plan is out of date or if recent dramatic changes have taken place, such as the building of an airport which might change the nature of the area, there should be a case for appeal—perhaps a judicial review—to see whether the plan is sufficiently up to date for the local authority to decide to refuse permission. There should be a three-pronged approach: a right of appeal if a person's application has been refused when it is in line with the plan, no right of appeal when it is not in line with the plan and a right to judicial review if there are doubts. I do not give that structure in detail, although it is an area on which we have worked. We consider that it has sufficient potential to be considered for inclusion in the Bill.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) said, there is also a case for a third-party right of appeal. That needs to be tightly defined, because we do not want to provide another opportunity to delay development that has already been tried and tested. However, there are cases in which the local authority and the developer both want the development to go ahead for wider reasons, but in which the local people have genuine reasons for saying that the development would not be right or would be out of line with the plan. In such circumstances, we should try to draw up a tightly defined third-party right of appeal, which would go some way to meeting the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham. The third-party right of appeal troubles not only the south but the north. People sometimes feel that their views are not taken into account in some of the larger developments. There is a case for a third-party right of appeal.

Planning gain is an important issue and clause 12 troubles us very much. I urge Conservative Members to look carefully, long and hard at clause 12. All who are worried about green-field development around their backyards will find the dangers in the clause. It would allow a developer to go ahead, having more or less decided what planning gain he or she will give. It does not allow the local authority the right to say no. That is profoundly dangerous, so we should not go down that road. There is a strong case for a far more carefully thought out approach to planning, gain. It is one of the most difficult areas of planning and we often come across it in our own constituencies.

The Hammersmith Broadway project under Brederoe taught me a great deal. An enormous development was going ahead. It seems that the local authority says, "We will slow down your permission to develop if you do not give us certain things." The developer says, "We will fight you all the way, and make it very expensive and difficult for you if you do not give us something else instead." One ends up with a saloon bar face-off over who backs down first and who gets what.

I am not saying that there should be no negotiating process in planning gain—it is almost impossible to avoid it—but if it is seen simply as a negotiating process and we tell the developer that he can keep his development if he gives us certain things, that is wrong. First, it must be decided whether a development is appropriate for an area, and that should be determined on the basis of a plan. Secondly, we need a clear method of deciding how planning gain can be written into that process, not only for the immediate facilities on the site but for the implications of larger sites that affect the surrounding countryside for some miles.

We must look long and hard at clause 12, which I find impossible to support in its present form. For the Minister's own sake, he should rethink it—it requires much thought and effort, and must be changed.

Several other aspects of the Bill are important, but I shall not take the time of the House now. Constituents come to see many of us about developments that have taken place and complain that they were not made aware of their rights. One such difficult case involved my local authority allowing a housing development to go ahead. The windows in that development were not supposed to overlook my constituent's garden. Eventually, once the development had been owned by a couple of companies that had gone bankrupt, windows were installed and it was discovered retrospectively that planning permission had been given by delegated authority without the knowledge of local people.

I have many other examples of local people who were inadequately informed. There is a strong case for looking harder at the need to inform local people about the full impact of any development that may take place. There should be a duty to inform not only people who live in the vicinity but local interested groups, such as conservation groups. In that way, we could involve people in the planning process, as we should want to do.

It would be a sorry tale if we were to argue on the basis of development versus planning. Development should always take place. In a heavily urbanised country like ours, it should fit in with other needs and take on board the growing importance of green issues. We cannot continue with this nonsense of burgeoning development in the south, which we are in danger of concreting over from Andover to Dover, while there is a chronic shortage of housing and it is becoming almost impossible to move on public transport and on the roads. That shows that there is a failure in housing and transport policy as well as planning policy.

I regret that the Government have taken no steps to face those problems but we intend, in the Bill, to try to ensure that we have the opportunity to face them. Judging from the number of nods of support from Conservative Members, I think that they will be voting for me when we debate the Bill in Committee.

Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 5:04 pm, 12th March 1991

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), but he did not have a nod of support from me, and I do not look forward to being on the Committee with him.

I shall focus almost entirely on the question of planning enforcement. Before doing so, I should say that I welcome the provision in the Bill increasing the penalty for defiance of tree preservation orders by increasing the fine. I hope that it will be within the scope of my hon. Friend the Minister's ingenuity to extend the reforming legislation on tree preservation by closing the loophole whereby a landowner appears to be able to anticipate and thus escape a tree preservation order by felling trees in an area of woodland of four or five acres and saying that the area is part of his garden. Such areas are an attempt to secure planning permission by creating a barren, unattractive area in place of an agreeable piece of woodland that formed part of a local amenity. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can bring such cases within the scope of the Bill.

I heard my hon. Friend the Minister's comments and I echo, to an extent, what the hon. Member for Hammersmith said about criminalisation. It would be going too far to bring every breach of planning control within the scope of criminal law, but I have considerable sympathy with the argument of the Council for the Protection of Rural England that unauthorised, irrever-sible development should be made a criminal offence. If my hon. Friend the Minister believes that that is wrong, he should say why. It is surely a crime to inflict such damage on the heritage that has been handed down to us if that damage cannot be reversed. Civil penalties are scarcely adequate in such cases. Some of my hon. Friends may wish to press that point further.

Problems of enforcement worry me most. When I saw that the Bill was coming up for debate and the general welcome that it received, I asked the planning officers of my two borough councils, Woking and Guildford, whether they could give me a sample of the worst cases with which they have had to deal in recent years. I also asked them how they hoped that the Bill might strengthen their hand in dealing with such cases in future. I had an interesting response, although I already have box files on more than one of the cases that they mentioned.

I am prepared to accept that the case of a householder who persists in putting a roof extension on his house, against the wishes of his neighbours and despite being told by the planning authorities that he is breaking the rules, will be covered by the powers in the Bill; and that such a person can in future be stopped in his tracks because the local authority will be able to act quickly and effectively. I hope, too, that a case in which a disused shop is turned into a car hire and taxi business, and run as that for two years to the great annoyance of the neighbours and in clear defiance of planning regulations, can be brought to a halt more quickly than at present.

I hope that the users of the Bill—the people on the other end of the planning process, not only those who apply for planning permission but those who are affected by the granting of permission and the breach of planning control —will judge it according to its effects on the speed with which regulations can be enforced and the scale of penalties for persistent breach of controls. In the two cases that I have mentioned, speed may be the only change that the Bill would bring, but that would be a considerable bonus.

Another case in which marginal farm land is being persistently used for dumping materials to build up ground levels, with the clear anticipation of something more to follow, may also be stopped in its tracks. I hope that the people who carry out such action will be given clearly to understand that there are no gains to be had from it in the short or long term. Using land as a tip is profitable, even if such use is not authorised, and may also involve much undeclared money.

Another case involves somebody who set about laying hardcore, surfacing land within the green belt and subsequently placing a couple of caravans on it. In spite of the local authority's refusal to give planning permission and all its efforts to resolve the issue, the case has continued for the past two years, and the site has become a derelict eyesore. The perpetrator appears to have vanished—the police cannot find him—and despite two public inquiries, it is still impossible for any effective action to be taken to put the land back in its original order. Who will decide who should pay if the man has disappeared?

I have cited a relatively minor case, but a more serious case which attracted a good deal of public attention in my constituency concerns Brookwood cemetery. Anyone who knows what it used to be like and sees it now will be astonished to see that a large part of it appears to have been turned into a battlefield, with enormous piles of waste material and derelict earth-moving equipment parked on it. Although the cemetery owner is at last beginning to understand what needs to be done, and to co-operate with the local authority, that state of affairs should never have come about—it should have been prevented at the outset.

If the Bill has powers to do that and to prevent the deposit of rubble in sites of special scientific interest and the general vandalism of graves and desecration of a considerable national monument, I welcome it whole-heartedly, as will everyone else. The scale of damage done to sites such as Brookwood cemetery is not an everyday occurrence, as there are not all that many such sites, but there are plenty of places where things occur that need to be the subject of firm action.

Not far from Brookwood, in the neighbouring parish of Pirbright, a man named Mr. Crimes got hold of a piece of land on which, over a relatively long period, he has managed to dump thousands of tonnes of rubble. He built up enormous mounds around the site, to which he seems to have obtained unauthorised access across Ministry of Defence land. He has now vanished, and all the local authority's powers to stop the action are ineffective, in the sense that although action has now stopped, it cannot easily be reversed. It will be almost impossible for the county council to find the tens of thousands of pounds needed to restore the site to its former condition as a perfectly ordinary field. It is now a major eyesore.

It is no use looking to Mr. Crimes to make a substantial contribution towards the cost of restitution because he has disappeared. When my hon. Friend the Minister winds up, will he tell us more about restitution costs? Some of the perpetrators of such breaches of the law are very elusive people. Local authorities are not always fortunate enough to locate the perpetrators and make them understand that they must work within the ambit of planning regulations.

I will describe two more cases in which my constituents would like an assurance that the Bill will improve the position in which they have found themselves in recent months. The first may seem small, but it involves a long history of disagreement between neighbours, following'the granting of planning permission at a small infill site. Events have culminated in the owner of the site having more or less deliberately defied the planning condition that he should erect a fence and not seek to establish access along one boundary. By erecting a fence with a gap, flanked by two brick pillars, he appears to be using the gap as a means of access. As the law stands, I do not know how long it will be before that relatively minor case is brought to a conclusion. On past form, it could easily be at least a year.

I heard of the second case only at the weekend. Two of my constituents complained that a neighbour of theirs had recently started to use the land just beyond their garden fence as a dump for wrecked cars. It appeared to be impossible to bring any effective action to stop the neighbour. When I made inquiries, the local planning authority said that it was true that complaints about that activity on the land had started at the end of last year. The owner was eventually traced and said that the use was well established and went back many years.

The owner was given six weeks to apply for an established use certificate or whatever the relevent piece of paper might be. That time limit has expired and the council will have to debate the matter to decide whether to issue an enforcement notice, which will take time. Even more time has to be allowed for an appeal. Meanwhile, the unfortunate people living in the district can look forward to a scrapyard on the back doorstep for at least another 12 months.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that the Bill will bring such breaches to a halt and make those who break planning regulations subject to effective action and penalties. It is high time they were, and unless and until such regulations are seen to be a feature of the planning system, I am afraid that public confidence in the system is bound to be diminished. Our task should be to reinforce and increase that confidence, and this is our opportunity to do so.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East 5:15 pm, 12th March 1991

As a Scottish Member, I have found one of the most striking aspects of the debate so far the high number of Conservative Back Benchers participating. That is not something to which hon. Members are accustomed when dealing with Scottish business. It is refreshing to see that Conservative Back Benchers take an interest in some of the Bills that pass through the House, if not the Scottish ones. That feature of the debate also reflects the continuation of the north-south divide in this country.

The south of England contains the bulk of Government Back-Bench Members, the country's wealth, population and investment, both public and private. Consequently, the south of England has the greatest pressure on its land use and the greatest conflict between environment and development needs. Therefore, it is not surprising that such wide interest is shown by southern Members in a Bill that sets out to strengthen the planning process at the expense of the operation of the free market.

I was also struck by a Conservative Member's reference to the problem of gipsy encampments in fields where there was no planning permission, and the inability of local authority officials to do anything about it. The remedy suggested was to make it a criminal offence and call in the police. The Minister gave his reasons why that would not be a good idea and why he preferred a strengthened planning enforcement system and stiffer civil penalties.

A better approach might be to tackle the underlying injustice of lack of provision for gipsies and travelling people. Such an approach is attempted in Scotland, where we try to ensure that all local authorities provide travelling people with sites. It is then possible for the police to move unofficial encampments to official sites. It is in everyone's interests—Government, local authorities, local people, travelling people and police—that a sufficient network of such sites should be made available to gipsies and travelling people.

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire

It does not necessarily follow that one solves the problem by simply providing more gipsy sites. At present, South Cambridgeshire district council, part of whose area I represent, is not a designated council under the Caravan Sites Act 1968. Over the past few years, numerous new sites have been provided, both privately and publicly, in that district. It has been possible to plot on a graph an exact correlation to show that the more sites are provided, the more gipsies move into the district and park along the roads. It is not necessarily the case that, if one provides sites, one solves the problem.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that not all United Kingdom districts contain sufficient networks of sites. Therefore, if one region provides more sites, it attracts more travelling people and gipsies. If there were equal provision of sites across the country, every local authority accepted its responsibility and the Government accepted their responsibility to help local authorities provide sites through funding, it would be easier to ensure that provision was evenly distributed across the country and gipsies could travel their own routes without being attracted only to districts that provided sites—[Interruption.] The Minister with respon-sibility at the Scottish Office looks restless. If he wants to intervene, I shall give way.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

This Parliament has established a large number of travelling people's sites in Scotland. One is soon to be established in the Dundee district, and an earlier one was turned down on the grounds of representations by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) as well as others. All the facts must be taken into account.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The Minister is right. He did not tell the House that I was merely the candidate for my constituency when I made those representations. But that is entirely beside the point. The original site was the wrong site. It was opposed by Tayside regional council in its entirety —Labour, Tory and Scottish National party members and everyone else. A far better site was available, which will now be provided.

Getting the site right is the problem for people in the local area. There is no doubt that sufficient sites must be provided throughout the country and not only in some areas. That is the approach which the Government should take, and in Scotland they have done so. I cannot understand why such an approach has not been taken in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. It is the approach in England. It is the law. The Government provide substantial financial assistance to local authorities. My hon. Friend the Minister will intervene to give the exact figure. I cannot remember whether the Government reimburse 85 per cent. or 100 per cent. of the cost to local authorities. But we are still left with a problem as a result of the difficulty referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) and of the weakness of the original Liberal legislation of Eric Lubbock, which was woolly-worded and has led to all sorts of difficulties since.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The Government have had 12 years to do something about woolly-worded laws which were passed before they came to office, and they have not done so. If the hon. Gentleman believes that it is the Government's fault, I shall not seek to dissuade him.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

First, the Government meet 100 per cent. of the cost. Secondly, the number of sites provided is now greater than the number of gipsy vans in 1979. It is only because of the massive and rapid growth in the number of gipsy vans referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) that we continue to have a surplus of vans over sites.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

There is a surplus of vans over sites, and there will always be a problem until that surplus ceases to exist, and sufficient sites are made available for gipsies. That is the key approach which the Government should take. They should not seek to criminalise people's way of life or seek to force people into ways of life that they do not wish to follow.

I have not even started the remarks that I had intended to make. Conservative Members have had me going for six minutes.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

Almost seven minutes now.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Yes, as my hon. Friend says, virtually seven minutes.

The Bill has been variously described as a pot-pourri of measures, an opportunity to complete the planning jigsaw and the first opportunity in over 20 years to overhaul the land use planning system and strike a balance between the need to protect the environment and at the same time satisfy the demand for jobs, housing development and economic growth. I have no quarrel with any of those descriptions.

However one describes it, the Bill will surely be judged on how it answers a number of simple questions. Does the Bill make the planning system fairer? Does it make the planning system more efficient? Does that planning system strengthen rather than weaken the environmental policies that we are developing? Above all, is that planning system subject to democratic and local control?

There can be no doubt that developers' demands, opportunities in the marketplace and possibilities of making profits do not always coincide with what is best for the local environment and countryside and, indeed, the well-being of present and future generations of local people. The tension between those two factors is very real indeed. That is why the Government had to resort to introducing enterprise zones, which are areas free of not only local taxes and rates but planning restrictions which might be placed on incoming developers.

We must always remind ourselves that we are not discussing the Bill in a vacuum. Particularly in areas such as mine, there is mass unemployment and poverty, created by the lunatic economic policies pursued by the Government. Local industries, employment and investment have collapsed. If new employment, industries and investment are to be attracted back, the enterprise zone logic means that it will have to be on the terms dictated by those who make key investment decisions. That means that there is no role whatever for planning authorities or people who live in the area and no place for any democratic input.

Whatever the developers want, they get. If they want a retail superstore instead of a housing development, a retail superstore will be built. If they want an office block instead of a travel interchange, an office block will be built. If they want car parking instead of a local museum, car parking will be provided.

The criteria are always the same in areas similar to mine in the north, Scotland and Wales—to maximise the return on the developers' investment and to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of the investment. If that damages the local environment, defeats the aspirations of local people for different types of development and ensures that the jobs created are part-time, low-skilled, low-paid jobs, it does not matter to the Government. In areas of high unemployment, we are not given any choice. We either take it or leave it. We either take what the developers want or have to do without any investment whatever.

Of course, enteprise zones are the exception rather than the rule, but they reveal the real nature of market forces in Britain. They throw into stark relief the true instincts of developers and uncover the driving force of economic decision making in the United Kingdom. It is always profit. It is profit first, profit last and profit before everything else. That is why it is absolutely essential that in this Bill we begin to build in the necessary safeguards to protect people, places, the environment and all of us against the worst excesses of the pursuit of private profit.

The Bill is absolutely right to tackle what has been described as the weakest link in the planning system. Enforcement powers need to be strengthened. I understand entirely that local authorities must be left some discretion in the exercise of their enforcement powers. Inevitably, there are cases in which there is a genuine conflict of interests between protecting amenity and encouraging business activity in an area. A balance must be struck between the need to secure jobs and economic growth by sanctioning a particular development and the need to protect the environmental amenity of residents who happen to live immediately adjacent to the development.

The Glasgow Herald this morning contained a report about a £ 70 million project to build a hotel, housing, a business park, a golf course and a visitor centre at Dunblane in Scotland. Local residents, who fear that it will destroy the amenity of two local villages, have objected to it. The councillors in the surrounding area are divided on the matter. The project was given permission by only a narrow margin—a majority of one. The project has gone to appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The case at Dunblane highlights the tensions that exist in ordinary parts of the country. It shows that any legislation should give preference to allowing such decisions to be taken locally. The particular circumstances of each area vary. The surest way to facilitate a proper balance is to allow the local authority, which knows all the local circumstances, to make a local judgment. It it makes the wrong judgment, it is an elected body and it can be dealt with by the local people at the next local elections. There is also the local safeguard of an appeal to the Secretary of State to protect local interests.

It cannot be right to deny all discretion to local authorities and insist on the strict enforcement of planning legislation, when such enforcement may in itself be against the interests of local people. That is why I especially welcome clause 28, which sets up a new discretionary procedure—the planning contravention notice—for Scottish planning authorities. It will allow local authorities to obtain information on suspected minor breaches of planning control and to increase the penalties for those who fail to comply with such a notice. Above all, it will allow local authorities to consult those involved, to offer advice and to make recommendations, without resort to enforcement through a stop notice. Therefore, the procedure allows for compromise rather than confronta-tion. All hon. Members will welcome that clause.

I also welcome the breach-of-condition notices in clause 29, which will enable local authorities to deal simply and swiftly with instances where a planning condition has been breached. There are many such instances. The right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) referred to some of them. What are essentially businesses are sometimes run from the front gardens of local houses or the streets of local housing estates in clear breach of planning law, which requires planning permission for such activities.

Such activities clutter up and disfigure the environment for all the neighbours who have to put up with the activity. Too often, the existing procedures for dealing with such problems are insufficiently clear and flexible or unduly cumbersome, so far too often, nothing is done about the selfish practices of the few, which are allowed to proceed unchecked and make everyone's life a misery. It is to be hoped that the new breach-of-condition notices will enable local authorities to take swift and effective action in such instances, and to give justice to local people.

I welcome too the provisions of part IV, which improve home loss payments to those whose homes are compulsorily purchased for new road and rail develop-ments. I only hope that those encourage the Government to make the kind of road and rail investments in Scotland which have been required for the past decade but which have so far gone largely unnoticed.

The major quarrel that Opposition Members have with the Bill is not so much what is in it as what is not. No power is given to local authorities to require environmen-tal assessments from developers where the local authorities believe that such investments are necessary. There is no ending of Crown immunity. Surely, at a time when the very survival of the planet is at stake, no one, no matter how high, should be exempt from planning control. Nor is there any increased involvement of ordinary people in the planning system. That system needs to be opened up to democratic influence, and planning decisions must be taken openly and in a manner which allows them to be accountable to those affected by them.

Above all, the Bill fails because planning law as it now stands allows the indefensible to continue. For example, any decision by Nirex to site a nuclear dump at Dounreay in Scotland will be taken in opposition to the local planning authorities, local opinion and public opinion in Scotland. Such a decision can only be taken if there is a Tory Secretary of State for Scotland to side with Nirex against the Scottish people. Any planning system which allows that farcical situation to persist cannot be defended, although the Government try to do precisely that. Even after the Bill is passed, that indefensible situation will continue.

The Government have had more than enough opportunity to do something about that, and they have failed to do so. It is at least in part because of that failure that the Government will fail too when they finally find the courage to face the British people.

Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon 5:31 pm, 12th March 1991

Britain suffers from a lack of space. We are a vastly overcrowded and highly mobile population. When I looked up the figures this morning for this brief speech, I saw that 40 per cent. of the population of Islington moves every year. None the less, it is tempting to think that they are forced to do so because they have one of the worst Labour councils in Britain. That may be the mobile gipsy population that has been mentioned. However, the rest of us move once every five years and inevitably, therefore, there is great difficulty in finding enough room to accommodate all of us in the areas in which we wish to live.

Planning controls of any sort are a large interference in the way in which people move around. As a Conservative, I regard planning controls as an extreme interference in the marketplace, forcing up the price of land and resulting in house prices being too high. Essentially, therefore, I deeply regret the need for any planning controls at all. They give power over local lives and livelihoods which almost matches that of the mediaeval landlord.

Parish councils—the bodies most representative of local views—have no power and scant influence over irrevocable decisions which destroy their lands and carpet them with concrete. I should like parish councils to have some sort of planning teeth, even if they are only milk teeth, with a delaying ability. District councils wield the real power, but most decisions there are taken by officials and not by elected members. The only weapon of the county councils is the county structure plan. Although county councils consistently oppose the districts they are fundamentally powerless.

I will give some examples of what I see as weaknesses in the current legislation and why this new debate is badly needed. They have, of necessity, to be constituency examples; I make no apology for that, because planning is so much a local matter. I use them to put forward five points of national importance.

Compensation for farmers who are not always willing sellers is currently determined under present use. Why should we not ask privatised companies to pay a premium, or even development value, where it is clear that the land is to be developed? Roadford reservoir in my constituency was opened last year by the former Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the chairman of the Conservative party. The inspector at the inquiry authorising that huge development said that all development subsequent to the reservoir being created should be modest and in harmony with the beauty of the place. Plans are now being put forward and will probably be implemented, including a large time-share hotel and probably other property developments. I should have liked the farmers, who were not all willing sellers, to be compensated at those prices.

Tenant farmers have an even rougher time. Many of them are pushed out of the business completely because they are not compensated within our current planning regulations at sufficient value to enable them to go to another farm. Despite the consultation paper, which I and the National Farmers Union warmly welcomed, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced three weeks ago, those of us with farmers in our constituencies know how difficult it is for a tenant farmer to find a tenancy. It will continue to be difficult for young farmers and older existing tenant farmers to find new farms, despite the fact that the new agreements should be more favourable towards them. I should like to see tenant farmers treated more kindly in the new debate.

Involvement is of vast importance. The Opposition have called for a right of appeal by the third party. That will be difficult, but I welcome the continuing exercise of the calling-in procedure where the county structure plan is not being adhered to. Within half a mile of where I live in Winkleigh a large development is postulated on a disused airfield which the district council tells us will incorporate 1,000 houses, another time-share hotel and a golf course. Half a mile into a different district council over the boundary is another plan outside the county structure plan for another time-share hotel, another golf course and more development.

I value the county structure plan immensely and great thought should be given to going against it. It matters to me and, I am sure, to other hon. Members because it reflects local discussion, local creation and a local plan. It has gone through the parish, district and county council structure. It is the one part of the planning process which genuinely involves all levels of local people. That is why I find it so important and beg my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to continue to focus strongly on the calling-in procedure.

Other hon. Members have talked about the criminalisa-tion of unauthorised development. I am not sure whether criminalising it will help. That would be a heavy weapon to use on something that my constituents and I find not just irritating but somehow worse than that. West Devon borough council is scrupulous in its planning processes, but we have another planning authority—Dartmoor national park committee—which has sometimes let unauthorised development go through.

The village of Mary Tavy is a case in point. The Dartmoor national park committee tells me that stopping such developments relies on neighbours spotting things going wrong. That conjures up a vision of neighbours running up and down with rulers, measuring roof heights and trying to see what is going on—a ridiculous situation. We have two planning authorities for one patch of land. Dartmoor national park committee has allowed unauth-orised development to continue even after it has been pointed out that it is outside the agreed plan that the committee itself passed.

My answer would be slightly different from criminalisa-tion, which has already been proposed. I believe that at least one third of the membership of a national park committee should be elected from the parish councils which encircle the national park. It is the local people who care—not those who are nominated or delegated by other bodies to sit upon the committee.

I hope that in Standing Committee we shall debate the importance of architecture. How can planning people, who are elected councillors, know sufficient about architecture to be able immediately to unravel plans put before them at open council meetings? Could we not have guidelines or rules dealing with the pitch of the roofs in a village, or the type of materials used? In Devon we have veritable mushroom farms of drably designed little bungalows, which are very unappealing visually and which neither reflect the local architecture nor enhance the villages. They provide homes for local people, but what will future generations think of the way in which we have allowed the individuality of the United Kingdom to be so diluted?

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

My hon. Friend has made some excellent points, but the last was particularly important. I raised it in a debate about two years ago. Perhaps Department of the Environment rules lay it down, but many modern constructions are of a size which dwarfs the traditional cottages and farm settlements. I hope that my hon. Friend will persist with the point.

Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon

I wholly support my hon. Friend. The point is of keen importance in the western area, not just to us but to those who holiday there and to the many thousands who want to live in our beautiful countryside, because they believe that it is still an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is indeed, but we need to work a great deal harder to keep it so. Back-pedalling needs to take place on matters such as architectural guidelines. It can he done. The French do it. Why cannot we see what our friends across the channel are up to?

Environmental assessment should be at the heart of our planning system. It is a Government policy priority, but I should like to see it on the face of the Bill. Land today must have multi-faceted use. It is not enough to say that it will be for ever agricultural, for ever Dartmoor national park land, for ever heath, or uplands or lowlands, or for ever covered with houses. Things can change rapidly; bad buildings can be pulled down.

The problem is ownership. Here I differ strenuously from Her Majesty's Opposition, who speak so gaily of regional planning, regional ownership and of regional requirements over local people. As a true Conservative, I believe that decisions should be taken as close to home as possible. What matters is the ownership of a project. It is a case of "me and mine" being so much more valuable to a human being than "us and ours". Certainly, in the west, I cannot think of Bristol or Bath as having anything to do with Devon. I sincerely hope that we have no regional planning godfather —that would be a very unfriendly prospect.

The Minister stated that the Bill was basically good, and I strongly agree. I hope that I, and colleagues fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee, can make it an even better Bill.

Photo of Mr David Bellotti Mr David Bellotti , Eastbourne 5:44 pm, 12th March 1991

I welcome quite a number of the reforms in the Bill; I hope that in Committee they will be improved upon.

One of the biggest points missing from the Bill is environmental impact assessment. In every constituency, we know of developments which have taken place without anyone assessing their impact until it was too late. Very often, there is a highway impact because thousands of cars go through streets which are not equipped to take them. Often, the impact on smaller communities, perhaps rural villages, is not seen until it is far too late. It is essential for an impact assessment to be done on every development before it is approved.

In a more micro manner, there are impacts from shops. For example, we see litter from takeaway shops in the nearby streets. Trolleys are wheeled half a mile from supermarkets and left in the streets. Had environmental impact assessments been done earlier, regulations could have been attached to the planning applications to ensure that the local environment was not affected. Whether it be highways or supermarket trolleys that cause the problem, if an environmental impact assessment were done first, it would lead to better results for the local communities, however large or small.

The Bill has fudged the enforcement question. I should have thought that the House would want unanimously to condemn any person or party who deliberately flouts rules by producing a plan in contravention of what has been set in concrete by the local authority. If that is not made a criminal act, we are encouraging it. I hope that, in Committee, the Government will consider criminalising such action; that would be a step towards improving enforcement.

The Bill has also fudged the whole question of Crown immunity. Why should the Crown be immune from regulations which the rest of the people have to follow? I hope that, in Committee, the Government will permit a debate on that. It has always seemed unfair to my hon. Friends and me that the Crown can get away with not being subject to the laws it makes.

We should also consider the way in which planning regulations are interpreted locally. It has not been mentioned so far, but the debate impinges largely on the review which the Secretary of State is undertaking of the structure of local government. Far too often, a district council, having considered plans submitted to it, thinks that the only reason for refusal is a highway ground and leaves the decision to the county council. When it gets to the county council, it takes the view that, because the district council has considered the plan and has not objected, it would be foolish for it to object on that ground alone. That has happened often in East Sussex, with many examples in Eastbourne.

Were multi-purpose authorities to be introduced in the review of local government, that not only would help to speed up planning applications but would lead to better decisions that were better informed.

The comment of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), about regional authorities is helpful. It has been my view for a long time that local authorities should not be judge and jury on their own planning applications. The results of that can be seen across the country, again certainly in East Sussex. It would be interesting and helpful to consider submitting a planning application by a local authority to a regional authority rather than to the Secretary of State. Regional authorities have much more local knowledge than the Secretary of State.

In the context of the review of local government, it is important to acknowledge that, time after time, local council officers do not have the time to follow up what happens to planning applications after they have been approved. They are unable to check what is happening on the ground. That is due to the Government. Government grants to local authorities are such that local authorities have to consider carefully the allocation of tasks within local government departments. All too often, there are insufficient staff in planning authority enforcement departments. I hope that, in his review, the Secretary of State will look again at the help the Government are giving to local authorities so that they are able to enforce their planning decisions.

Recently local authorities have not been helped—this certainly applies to my constituency—by what is referred to as twin tracking. If a developer submits a planning application to a local authority, one often finds that about eight weeks later he submits another one. That places an enormous burden on local authority staff. Moreover, it confuses local people. If they are objecting to or making comments about a planning application, they are confused if another planning application relating to the same land is submitted. Twin tracking ought to be dealt with by the Government in Committee. Before Third Reading, I hope that they will come forward with proposals to avoid it.

I hope that the Government will also examine the question of planning gain. When local council officers discuss plans with developers, they often gain something that will benefit the local community. However, due to this country's economic situation, the land is often sold on; the gain is subsequently lost in the ensuing negotiations. If a planning gain is obtained for the benefit of the community it must be passed on if future applications are made concerning land for which planning consent was previously obtained.

In Sussex, as in other parts of the country, we have a beautiful coastline, and we want it to be preserved as far as possible. A plethora of Government bodies have an interest in the coastline. Therefore, it is impossible for Sussex to protect its coastline when planning applications are made. I refer specifically to the Crumbles, an enormous development in Eastbourne. It will certainly lead to a much poorer coastline.

When planning applications are made, local authorities ought to be provided with far greater powers over coastal development. I visited another coastal area about 10 days ago, the Ribble estuary, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). The planning approval granted for developments in the area has caused considerable concern about wildlife in the estuary. No assessment has been made of the impact of those developments upon it. Local authorities ought to have the power to take environmental matters into consideration.

The Bill does not provide for public participation. I served on local authorities for a number of years. I was always surprised by the fact that the general public felt that they were genuinely participating in the planning process when I knew that in many cases they were not. Members of the public ought to have the right to address planning committees on issues that cause them concern. The Government should consider granting them that right.

As for the shire part of East Sussex county council, particularly Lewes district council, on which I served as a member, I was appalled by the fact that parish council comments were often reported verbally and extremely briefly. Their comments were not given the same weight as those made by developers when submitting their planning applications. I was often surrounded by maps and beautiful drawings provided by the developer, but I heard only a few brief verbal comments on behalf of the parish council, which plays an important part in the planning process. It ought to be given more credence.

The ability of third parties to appeal is another matter that ought to be considered in Committee. They should be given the right to appeal when the permission granted is contrary to the local plan. Such a right would be seen to work, and would be fair both to those who are in favour of a development and to those who oppose it.

All hon. Members could refer to constituency examples of plans that have gone wrong and of people who have a justifiable grievance about what has happened, subsequent to the granting of approval. We could all refer to local authority staff who have a very difficult task to perform in trying to get the plans altered late in the day, or enforcing them after they have been approved. The Bill ought to provide that, if constituents draw planning irregularities to the attention of their local authority, they can be put right.

In my constituency, planning permission has been granted for garage premises. The cars being repaired stand on the highway in a state of disrepair. They are taken in at night and put out again in the morning. Garage owners will always obey any police instruction. Moreover, when the local authority's environmental health officer and planning officer visit a garage, the garage owner always complies for the time being, but thereafter the situation deteriorates again. When applications are made for garage premises, we ought to be able to ensure that regulations are in place that will prevent that.

Houses have been built in Eastbourne that are a metre nearer the road than they ought to be. Planning officers are in a delimma about enforcement. The consequence for local people is that, in order to keep a road the right width, the pavement has to be very narrow, so it is not as safe as it ought to be. The Bill ought to enable local authorities to take all the action that they need to improve the local environment.

The test in Committee will be whether the voices of our constituents on both smaller matters and larger structural matters are heard and listened to. The test will also be whether the House decides to support local authorities that have a difficult enforcement task to perform. The question whether local authorities and our constituents are to be supported ought to be uppermost in the Government's mind in Committee.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. It would be sensible at this time to remind the House that Mr. Speaker has required that speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock should not exceed 10 minutes.

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley , Tonbridge and Malling 5:57 pm, 12th March 1991

I intend to deal with two aspects of the land compensation provisions. One element is already included in the Bill. The second will, I hope, be included by the time the proceedings on the Bill are completed.

The element already included in the Bill relates to the very welcome provisions in clause 49 as they apply to England and Wales, and in clause 61 as they apply to Scotland, whereby highway authorities are to be given wider discretionary powers to buy blighted houses by voluntary agreement with home owners. That, to me, is exceptionally welcome, as I have a major problem in my constituency which I believe many hon. Members will also face in years to come.

More and more of our major roads are being widened. In the south of England in particular, many already go through built-up areas. A major road-widening scheme is taking place along the M20, between junctions 3 and 5, as part of the road improvements for the channel tunnel. That section of road goes almost entirely through an area that is built up on both sides.

The current blight provisions are inadequate. The distance commonly used by the Department within which a blight notice can be served is 67 m. Eccentrically, that distance takes no account of the width of the road. It is calculated not from the edge of the motorway or from the edge of the furthest carriageway but from the centre line of the motorway and therefore is a relatively thin strip.

Those whose houses are within the 67 m distance are happy. Blight notices have been served on them, they are being fully compensated for the unblighted value of their properties and are moving away. But probably hundreds of my constituents whose homes are equally blighted arid unsaleable, but which fall outside the 67 m blight line, are trapped from the day when the intention to widen a road or to build a new road is announced, because the Department of Transport must define the road line arid obtain the funds to build it, and only a year after it is opened, are people entitled to injurious affection compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1973. That will take my constituents five years or more. It is intolerable that people should be unable to sell their main assets and be trapped in that way by the need for public infrastructure works.

I very much welcome the provisions of the Bill, but will my hon. Friend the Minister clarify the criteria to be applied in operating clauses 49 and 61? If a meagre arid parsimonious approach is pursued, those powers will hardly be worth having. I hope that the Government intend that those unable to sell their house due to blight will be able to serve a blight notice regardless of distance from a motorway or major road.

I especially hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure the House that personal hardship will be taken into account. In any sizeable community over a five-year period, some people who cannot move will be placed in desperate circumstances—such as unemployed people who have to move to take up a new job, those whose health suffers and who need to move near a relative who can care for them, and those whose marriage breaks down and who desperately need to sell the matrimonial home so that the assets can be divided between the parties. Such circumstances make it imperative that personal hardship should be taken into account by the Government.

A further personal hardship—this time from a different source—is not covered by the Bill, but I hope that it will be. Some of my constituents face a dramatic worsening of their environment as a result of a huge intensification of use of existing transport infrastructure. I refer, as the House may have guessed, to the proposed designated rail links to and from the channel tunnel.

Those who buy a house near a major road take a chance, in the belief that there is a limit to the extent to which disturbance from the road can increase before new works are necessary, which trigger an entitlement to injurious affection compensation, but it is possible dramatically to change the use of a railway line, particularly an under-used line, without new works and thus without the need to pay injurious affection compensation.

Without exaggeration, some houses in my constituency will be uninhabitable from the moment the channel tunnel trains begin to run in the summer of 1993. The houses are situated by the line through Maidstone, East, the second designated freight line to the channel tunnel, which is currently scarcely used at night. Their inhabitants will be unable to have unbroken sleep. According to British Rail's published plans, channel tunnel freight trains, which will be half a mile long, will run at 75 mph within a few yards of those people's bedroom windows every 20 minutes from 10 pm to 6 am seven nights per week. I suggest that even my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) might not be enthusiastic about purchasing such a property.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport kindly visited my constituency to see for himself the problems that my constituents face. He said that the Government would announce their policy on injurious affection compensation for the intensification of existing use. I had hoped that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would make that announcement today, but clearly he was not in a position to do so. We were promised an announcement early this year, and it is already March. When will the announcement be made? It is extremely germane to the Bill, because, if the Government decide to extend injurious affection compensation on a discretionary basis, a relatively minor amendment to clauses 49 and 61 would give the necessary statutory powers for it to be paid for serious environmental deterioration and when people are unable to sell their house because of an intensification of existing use.

If the Department of Transport can make such an announcement quickly, I hope that the Government will table an amendment to clause 49 in Committee or on Report to give statutory effect to the policy announcement. I look forward with interest to the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.

Photo of Mr Mike Watson Mr Mike Watson , Glasgow Central 6:08 pm, 12th March 1991

I should like to speak specifically to home loss payments under clauses 55 and 57, which amend the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973.

A tenant or owner-occupier whose property is compulsorily purchased and who is displaced—perhaps because of new house building, a road building programme or rail development—is eligible for a home loss payment, which was standardised in 1989 at £ 1,500. Previously, the payment varied according to the rateable value of the house, but that practice was discontinued in 1989, when the poll tax was introduced. The Prime Minister's puzzling comments in the past few days suggest that it might not be too long before rates are on the agenda and, perhaps, back in being. I hope that that does not lead to payments for home loss being viable once again.

When there is compulsory purchase, councils generally offer equivalent housing to their tenants. From time to time, they also make offers to owner-occupiers who are obliged to move and they may offer them local authority housing. I accept that there is a need for differentiation in the treatment of tenants and owner-occupiers. The £ 1,500 payment will remain the standard, but for owner-occupiers there will be a 10 per cent. premium on the market value of their home.

That is fair and understandable, given that people who are obliged to move house have often been living in substandard accommodation and may find it difficult, if not impossible, to buy similar accommodation—if they want to. Such people could suffer considerable financial loss because their homes may even have been dangerous, which is often the reason for the compulsory purchase, and they are almost always obliged to buy up-market, which costs them considerably more.

It has been claimed that a premium in excess of 10 per cent. should be applied. This morning, I was surprised to receive information from the Confederation of British Industry urging that a 25 per cent. premium might be applicable for owner-occupiers who lose their homes in that way. I understand the CBI's motive in making that claim which was stated clearly. It is to facilitate the rapid development of the transport infrastructure, about which Conservative Members representing constituencies in the south-east have been concerned, but which is less of a problem in Scotland.

However, the CBI should balance its argument. If it is suggesting that owner-occupiers should receive an increased premium over and above the 10 per cent. set out in the Bill, it should also advocate additional finance for local authorities to enable them to build more houses to speed up the transfer of council tenants whose homes may stand in the way of developments or which may require redevelopment. If the CBI is serious about this matter, it should strike a balance.

My main concern about my constituency relates to its local authority tenants. I have to admit that they stand to benefit from the Bill because the qualifying period for home loss payments is being reduced from five years to one year. Although that is to be welcomed, I should like to know why any qualifying period is specified. I cannot see that there is any justification for assuming that a family who have occupied their home for, say, one month are less likely to suffer trauma or to be out of pocket than a family who have occupied their home for a year. One of the first things that people generally do when moving home is to decorate, spending a considerable amount of money. Therefore, I cannot see any relevance in the one-year cut-off. If we are reducing the period from five years, why not get rid of the qualifying period altogether, so that anybody who is faced with losing his or her home, whether it is owned or rented, is suitably compensated? I hope that amendments will be tabled in Committee to remove the qualification altogether.

Another area in which I should like to see some improvement relates to the date on which the improved home loss payments become applicable. According to the Bill, the effective date is 16 November 1990. I have a constituency interest in this matter because of what has happened in the Queen Elizabeth square area of the Gorbals district. That complex of multi-storey blocks was designed by Sir Basil Spence in the mid-1960s. I understand that Sir Basil was given an award for his work, but anyone who drives past Queen Elizabeth square, let alone lives in it, must wonder about the judgment of the people who made the award.

The Gorbals area has been much maligned over the years. I will not have the place done down—not least because I have a family connection, in that my grandfather was born and brought up there. The people who live there are warm, genuine and proud. It is perhaps surprising when one looks at the place that, given the chance to leave their homes, which is being offered at the moment, the people who live there do not want to leave the Gorbals district. They will move heaven and earth to stay there. In many cases, people are turning down accommodation in better parts of the city, where there are more amenities and fewer social problems. The Gorbals people have a link with their area that they want to maintain.

Queen Elizabeth square is now 25 years old and has all the problems that are endemic in multi-storey blocks, such as dampness, condensation, alienation of the residents, and many forms of crime. I was intrigued, although I might have been amused if the circumstances had been different, at the comments of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson)—I am sorry that she is not in her place to hear this—who said how terrible it was that drab bungalows were being thrown up all over her area. I can tell her that the people of the Gorbals in Glasgow and of many other areas of cities throughout the United Kingdom would be delighted if somebody said, "We are going to build some drab bungalows in your area and get you out of these multi-storey blocks." That highlights the different world in which we live and puts the question of housing into perspective.

As I said, Sir Basil Spence was given an award for designing that property. Having sentenced people to live there for 25 years, perhaps he should have been obliged to spend —

Photo of Thomas McAvoy Thomas McAvoy , Glasgow Rutherglen

At least 60 days there.

Photo of Mr Mike Watson Mr Mike Watson , Glasgow Central

Yes, at least 60 days, or perhaps even longer than my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) has suggested. If Sir Basil Spence had experienced what it was like to live there, he might have changed his ideas—and those of some other architects and developers—about the concept of multi-storey living.

It is not the fault of Glasgow district council's housing department that those blocks are in their current state. It has done the best that it can with its limited and reducing resources over the past 10 years. Last year, the council was faced with a bill of £ 12·5 million to bring Queen Elizabeth square up to habitable standards. On closer examination, the council found that it would cost one third of that amount to demolish the blocks altogether. With some trepidation, the housing department organised a public meeting, called the residents together and said that there was no real alternative but to move them out of Queen Elizabeth square, to demolish the complex and to build other houses, which would be low-rise, elsewhere.

The council felt that, because of the close affinity that Gorbals people feel with their environment, it would be met with abuse and strong disagreement with its proposals. One councillor has told me that he was reluctant even to go to the meeting. In fact, the housing department officials have been bowled over in the rush of the tenants to accept their right to move out of those flats because they are so terrible and people want something that is more conducive to pleasant family living, although, as I have said earlier, they want to stay in that district of the city.

Last summer, the first of the 400 families living in Queen Elizabeth square began to move out. By 15 November—an important date—150 families had moved out. The point is that 50 more families have left in the intervening period and will be treated substantially differently from those who left before 15 November. I come, therefore, to the thrust of my argument about the part of the Bill that states that increased home loss payments will be applicable from 16 November. In many cases, families left on a purely arbitrary basis. Let us consider two families of similar size, living in identical accommodation. Family A might have found it acceptable to move to a particular house, while family B might not, but if it delayed beyond 15 November, it stands to gain considerably if it did not meet the five years' qualification.

That is not only a great pity, but is extremely unfair because neighbours in otherwise identical circumstances will be dealt with on a two-tier basis. I do not see any reason why the legislation cannot provide that everybody is treated equitably and fairly. I understand the reason for the date of 16 November, but there must be some method of ensuring that everybody who is involved in the clearance of Queen Elizabeth square is treated in the same fashion and benefits to the same extent.

The provisions on home loss payments have their merits, but I hope that they will be amended and approved in Committee. Incidentally—I must finish, because I have now run out of time—we must try to establish some review of the discretionary payments, about which, unfortunate-ly, there is no mention in the Bill as drafted.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West 6:20 pm, 12th March 1991

It is a pleasure to speak following the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) who hit the nail on the head with his references to high-rise blocks and awards for design. I recall my days in Scotland, when I lived in a university building which won for James Stirling the Concrete Society's prize for design. The building leaked like a sieve and was falling apart, but it won a prize.

Like most debates on planning, this one has been conspicuous for the wide variety of views, many in conflict with one another. Indeed, as it is a commonplace that hon. Members should have conflicting views, I can think of no better Minister to pilot the Bill through than the Minister for Housing and Planning. If anyone can reconcile the irreconcilable, he can, with his broad experience and detailed knowledge of these issues. Unfortunately, most people who deal with planning matters do not have such detailed experience, which is why we sometimes end up with haywire and unworkable legislation.

It is appropriate that, almost 50 years after the passing of the 1947 Act, we should be having a major review, although certain issues have been examined before now. For example, I served on the Standing Committee which examined two measures in recent Parliaments, when we reviewed various aspects of the planning system.

I warmly welcome the Bill's provisions on enforcement —they represent a useful step in the right direction—but a large number of other issues are not dealt with in the Bill. they need urgent attention, too, or the planning system will continue to dissatisfy not only those who make most use of it, such as developers, but those whose lives are impinged on, including objectors and others living in the community.

A famous epitaph to an architect recorded, If you seek his monument, look around. The same should be true of planners, because there are good and bad aspects of the planning system. Just as planners gave us the green belt, the most positive planning policy in Britain, so it also gave us tower blocks and all the problems associated with them. I do not believe that that state of affairs would have arisem in a free market system, because people would not have been prepared to pay for flats in tower blocks.

As I represent an area with a large rural hinterland, hon. Members will expect me to refer to the green belt, which is the prime consideration of many of my constituents, whether or not they live in villages in the green belt. I believe that the policy is too hard-line in terms of villages located in the green belt, as opposed to the green areas, a subject to which I shall come.

The Bill purports to address the problem of inefficiency in the planning system. It contains provisions that will, I hope, improve the system. But in terms of dealing with applications quickly and effectively, I see nothing in the measure that will improve on the present situation. Many applications are not dealt with in eight weeks, and that is particularly true of some local authorities with the lowest volume of applications. In other words, there is no correlation with work, for even as the work load has fallen, the performance has not improved substantially.

Between April and June 1990, for example, there was a 13 per cent. drop in the number of applications compared with the same period in 1989, yet there was only a 4 per cent. increase in the number determined in the statutory eight week period over the 12 months. The only way to police the time it takes is to use the appeal system, which is slow and ineffective. I regret that the Bill does not deal with delays either in dealing with applications or in policing any delays.

However much we may welcome a structure plan system, there is still widespread incidence of nimbyism. People say that any pressure for the creation of new housing must come from the economic magnet of the south-east, and that is true to a degree, but it is not the whole answer. We need more houses, because old people are living longer, because young people are leaving home earlier and, sadly, because there are more divorces. I am afraid that those who resist every housing development are, in effect, condemning their sons and daughters and grandsons and grand-daughters either to be priced out of the market by what happens to prices or to decamp into the next town or village further up the road.

Just as I could not have afforded to live in the area where my parents live, so I have no doubt that my children could not afford to live in the area where I now live. That problem must be addressed if we are not to stifle ourselves economically and create an extremely major problem in housing conditions in Britain.

Although reserve powers are built into the Bill for self-certification to protect us against that sort of nimbyism, I fear that that will lead to buck-passing by local authorities, in the same way as the present system often leads authorities to turn down planning applications knowing that any unpopularity will pass to the Secretary of State instead of to the elected members of the local authority. Much of the increase in the number of successful appeals in recent years has occurred not because the Government have overruled the local authorities but because the authorities are shirking unpopular decisions.

Certain matters that should be included in the Bill are not in it. The agricultural exemption is far too wide. The subdivision of farms, particularly in the south-east, supported by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, rides through loopholes in the planning law and leads to the urbanisation of some of our most beautiful areas. The Minister should get together with some of his opposite numbers in that Department to try to get a more reasonable policy on that issue.

The exemption for farm buildings is far too large, so that, without planning permission, one can erect large buildings in a way that affect the visual appearance of the green belt. One can build a hard standing for pick-your-own farming without planning permission, and that can lead to the sort of situation about which we have heard, with ugly tarmac covering the green belt.

I said that the green belt should not be hard-line on urban areas that lie within it. There are villages in my constituency in which, in the urban centre, there are vacant pieces of land for which planning permission is regularly turned down on the grounds that it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty or in the green belt.

If the Minister reads a booklet that I wrote on the subject, he will find the prime case of the owners of cement works in Kent who applied for planning permission to demolish the works and build houses on the site. The application was supported by the residents of the housing surrounding the site on all three sides, but it was rejected on the grounds that it was in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Considering that it was a cement works, the refusal was crazy.

Many of my constituents are concerned with zoning restrictions and believe that the land use categories are not tight enough. We still get many complaints about, for example, building societies taking over high streets. I shall say no more about that today. If I am fortunate enough to serve on the Standing Committee, I shall raise the issue then.

There is no easy answer to the problem of neighbour notification, because it is impossible to define who is a neighbour. A neighbour may live a long way away and have a direct view of an application site, rather than next door to the site, yet most local authorities which practise neighbour notification notify the people in the immediate vicinity without thinking of the view, say, across the valley, or even about the situation a few hundred yards away.

I strongly endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) said about compensation. It is a gross injustice that people whose homes are blighted, often for long periods, should be unable to obtain compensation. If anything, my right hon. Friend understated the case, because the Minister knows that five years is a short time in terms of the planning of a road. In my constituency, we are about to acquire a bypass the planning of which began nearly 50 years ago.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to that point and the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) made earlier, the whole process of getting roads built would be speeded up if more generous compensation provisions were built into the process?

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I agree with my hon. Friend, and we have many lessons still to learn. The Select Committee on the Environment, on which I served, spent much time looking at the effectiveness and efficiency of the appeal system. The Minister should take on board some of the lessons to be drawn from that. Indeed, he should look widely overseas to see what beneficial lessons we might learn in order to implement provisions relating to the whole area of compensation.

I have pleasure in commending the Bill, and hope that it will be amended in Committee.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley 6:29 pm, 12th March 1991

I take part in the debate as someone who has had about five or seven years experience as the chairman of a large local authority environmental planning committee. I also have many years' experience of the frustrations not just of politicians but of residents. I also know about the costs incurred by local authorities in chasing developers who have not complied with planning regulations or who did not receive planning permission in the first place.

Another annoyance is that when a local authority takes a developer to appeal the developer often seems to get away scot free; even when the local authority is in the right, it often has to pay the bill. However, that did not apply in a particular case because the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, changed the rules in respect of one particular application. I leave it to the imagination of hon. Members to work out why the right hon. Gentleman did that.

The Government have tried many ways to speed up planning applications. The introduction of urban development corporations was supposed to do that, and to a limited extent that has worked, but the emphasis has always been placed on speeding up planning applications which give the developer an advantage while lesser advantage and resources are given to planning officers and councils who have to make sure that developments are correct and accord with the environment of the area. Big business has exploited that situation for many years, and losing appeals does not seem to make any difference to it.

At present there is a planning application for a large Tesco development in my constituency, which I and many others are fighting against. It is proposed for the present site of a cricket pitch with a beautiful pavilion and open space just as one enters Sheffield. The application has been going on for months and has taken up a great deal of planning officer time. Amended plans may be coming in and sooner or later the officers will be frightened to death to refuse the application in case it goes to the Secretary of State and finish up with a worse development. The planning department may also have to pay the costs. The restrictions on local government in this area are unjustifiable.

I do not know whether any hon. Members have received the District Planning Officers Society's report on making unauthorised development an offence. I recom-mend it to all hon. Members in the hope that they will accept its recommendations. The society seeks the support of metropolitan planning officers for its proposals to strengthen planning authorities' enforcement powers beyond those in the Bill. The report states: The aim is basically to propose further strengthening to tackle the growing number of deliberate offenders who flout the planning system to their own ends, usually to the considerable harm of local people who suffer the effects of their development for months and years as the planning enforcement procedures take their cumbersome course. I shall try later to give some examples of that.

Everyone accepts that development consideration has to take place, provided that the environment is protected.

People who have invested in housing, and so on, do not want their environment destroyed by people who flout the planning regulations and procedures for their own ends. At the end of the day, such developers usually win. When they lose, they lose little in terms of compensation or cost.

A complainant who is quoted in the report says: Evading planning permission is a very insiduous method of undermining planning legislation and its regulations. These have been instituted to protect the nation's environment, both urban and rural. If one individual or organisation is successful in flouting the valid constraints, a very serious precedent is set for others to follow. That is precisely what is happening now. Exploitation of land, land values and development costs are encouraging more and more people to flout the planning regulations, laws and procedures, and they are doing it every day. I know not only from my experience as ex-chairman of a planning committee, but from the experience of constituents, of the frustrations which can arise from the cumbersome procedure that we have to go through to stop a development taking place, especially before that development has been agreed by a planning department.

I commend the proposals by the District Planning Officers Society for an amendment to the Bill which will make unauthorised development a criminal offence. That is my personal view; I am not speaking on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench or the Labour party in general. The creation of such a criminal offence is the only way in which we can pose a threat of which the offender will take notice.

Planning officers have to go through a long legal procedure, and developers, when it suits them, think that a battle is worth the effort. They think that by going through the procedures they will tire out the city council and the planners and may win on appeal. In the case of a criminal offence, such developers would have second thoughts. That is the whole point of my argument. It may stop further unauthorised developments if the offenders are brought before the courts rather than having to go through the normal procedures with the planners.

Stop notices have been useful in the past, but clarification is needed about compensation. Injunctions have their place and would be more effective than stop notices in dealing with threatened breaches of control. We need stronger deterrents than those proposed in the Bill.

Some people say that the courts are not qualified to deal with such issues, and that may be so. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to magistrates. The matter is complicated. I am not saying that the magistrate should make a judgment about whether a planning application is good or bad. The whole idea is for the court to decide whether a developer, whether a person or a company, is legally right or wrong in starting a development before having proper consent.

The court would not deal with the implications or the effect on the environment or the technicalities of the matter. The bench would have to deal with a straightfor-ward question. If it is not seen as straightforward, a little training could easily be given to magistrates to enable them to make the correct judgments. While that is going on, the planning officers and planning departments in general could still follow their normal professional procedures and carry their usual responsibilities.

I do not propose giving the courts power to deal with planning applications. The proposal is that a court may immediately stop anyone on a criminal basis, rather than making the planning officer follow the cumbersome present procedures. I have many examples, but I do not have time to give many of them. I will give one which is not in my constituency—a meadow which is perpetually defaced by hardcore. A meadow is an area of beauty: it is obviously green belt and should not be used for the dumping of hardcore. The planning officer tells the person who dumped it that it has to be shifted, and the dumper refuses. The example that I am outlining started in January 1987 and the applicants were in the High Court in August 1990—three years after the dumping started. When the planning officer insisted on the removal of the hardcore, it was taken away—but then more was laid down, and the process started all over again.

That is an example of the system being used in an attempt to make the planners give up the ghost, but they do not. People in the area who suffer from such matters become frustrated with the council and ask the council to do something about it. However, although the council follows the correct procedure, it gets nowhere, because, when the hardcore is removed, the order falls. Then when the stuff is put back, the procedures have to start again from the beginning and the process goes on and on. A simple amendment to the Bill to take people to court who have no legal right to carry out a certain activity would allow planners to deal with the planning issues. I feel strongly about the matter and I hope that hon. Members agree with me.

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove 6:39 pm, 12th March 1991

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a subject which is of great importance to my constituency. I regret that I cannot follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) about development corporations. In my experience, they were introduced only when a local authority was unwilling to allow development of any description, or in some cases when an authority felt unable to do so because it could not grapple with the problems. However, I shall follow his remarks about the dumping of hardcore in green belt areas.

First, I must deal with the Opposition's idea that there should be regional councils and plans. I regret that some of my colleagues seemed to assent to that. In my constituency we know what a regional council means— extending the boundaries of the Birmingham conurbation into Worcestershire, hotly pursued by the erection of tower blocks in the green belt and an increase in the community charge. We all know what that means, and we want none of it.

I counsel my hon. Friends further about subscribing to the doctrine of plan-led development. We have seen some examples of Labour plans—we only need to reflect upon the Ryder plan for the motor industry. My goodness, what a failure that was, but Labour spent a great deal of our money on it, leading us precisely nowhere. Labour does not have development plans but embalmment plans in mind.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) did not want any development. He dismissed shops and he dismissed jobs, saying that they were all low-tech and part time. That is a bit hard to take from the hon. Member for Dundee, East, when one remembers what happened with the Ford motor company. If there were no profits, how would all the training be provided? How would all the other goodies be secured, including the social provision which has to come out of taxation?

No, we do not want regional councils and plan-led development. The Opposition have been parading their green credentials. However, in the knowledge that power stations are the biggest source of ozone and the greenhouse effect, they are the ones complaining about the move to nuclear power. The hon. Member for Heeley objected to dumping of nuclear waste and the Liberal hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) complained about proposals for barrages, which one would have thought were a more acceptable form of power. However, he started wittering on about the wildlife involved. It is rather strange to hear the beneficiary of a Liberal by-election victory complain about litter, when one considers the way in which the Liberals fly-post and, one suspects, the way in which they exceed their election expenses.

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove

No. I do not have time to give way. I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's comments about hardcore in a minute.

I welcome the Bill's provisions on compensation, but I couple that with the caveat of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), who undershot when he talked about blight lasting for five years, as 15 is commonplace in the case of motorway construction. However, he was right to say that it is those people whose enjoyment of their property is affected, though their land may not be taken, who cannot achieve any compensation until the 15 years—or whatever period —are over. Some of them are placed in a serious position, as he said, due to loss of a job, illness or break-up of their family and I ask the Minister to consider that, as it is not clear to me that that is covered in the Bill.

It will be no surprise to hon. Members that I shall examine the subject of the green belt, which has been under threat in my constituency for the 17 years that I have served there. Part of that effect—including the dumping of hardcore, to which the hon. Member for Heeley referred and what we call the development of horseyculture, is the degradation and downgrading of land on the urban fringe, despite the valiant efforts of the urban fringe project set up by my county council, assisted by the Department of the Environment.

That effect arises because of the uncertainty that I regret to say was introduced by Government actions. After all, a Conservative Secretary of State decreed that there should be three business parks in the green belt in the midlands on the motorway network. There have already been four applications for the parks that he will permit in my constituency. That upsets everyone, but, more important, it results in a tremendous waste of time for all the officials involved in the prolonged inquiries.

In one case, quite a small group of people raised £ 30,000 to put up an alternative and are now engaged in raising £ 50,000 to be represented at the inquiry. It is not merely a waste of public money but a waste of the public's private money, dealing with vexatious applications which have been encouraged by the Secretary of State.

As regards the structure plan, the Government set housing targets for the county, which divides them between the districts. If one sets a housing target in Bromsgrove, which is all within the green belt, it means that all the houses have to be built on green belt. Where is the commitment to maintenance of the green belt? It has been undermined by strategic guidance given by the Government and passed on through the county. That is a serious problem, and I had hoped that the legislation would contain some measure to deal with it, or at least that it would be accompanied by some announcement on Government policy on the green belt, about which there is so much uncertainty. In the light of the uncertainty, people try to chance their arm in ways that have been described.

Finally, I should mention enforcement. A whole alphabet of subjects, from aerodromes to zoos, are included, and most seem to occur in my constituency.

Photo of Mr Hilary Miller Mr Hilary Miller , Bromsgrove

Yes, heliports are the latest problem, as available planning controls seem to be inadequate.

One of the problems involves the amount of time that people are allowed to carry on activities before any interdiction can be brought. In that context, one thinks of Sunday markets or the stationing of caravans, which are difficult to control as sometimes they only have to move a few yards to evade controls. Local authorities find it dispiriting to try to counter that problem.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing referred to the intensification of use, which commonly happens with lorry parks in my constituency. For example, a few lorries were stationed at a site on Haslucks Green road in Wythall some years ago. Now it is a full container operation, with mobile cranes reaching up between 40 and 60 ft. It is floodlit and diesel engines run all night. The local authority is disinclined to take action because it fears that there is established use and it may be liable for damages. However, the intensification of use is on such a scale that—not only to my mind but to the residents' minds—it has resulted in a change of use. We need more guidance in the Bill on that issue.

I give a warm welcome to the more generous provisions for compensation, citing my experience in Hong Kong, where we used to have to resume land for public purposes. We always made it the practice to pay over the odds to secure the agreement of those living in the vicinity and to accomplish the work more quickly, doing away with the costs and delays of inquiries so that the whole matter proceeded more cheaply. The typical motorway pro-cedure, with preferred route consultations and compulsory purchase orders, followed by a side roads order, results in unconscionable expense and delays, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that before the Bill comes back for Third Reading.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South 6:49 pm, 12th March 1991

In the time available to me, I want to deal in particular with the references to home loss payments to people whose homes are purchased compulsorily. The Bill contains much that is to be applauded. I refer in particular to the proposal to improve the levels of compensation and to the proposal to reduce the residential qualifying period from five years to one year. I must express some concern at evident gaps, particularly in clause 25. I urge the Minister to address the situations which give rise to home loss payments to certain categories of tenants. He should direct his attention also to a couple of issues related to the date of displacement and to the rather loose drafting with reference to disturbance allowance payments.

Under the Bill, tenants who have to move out of their homes permanently for the purpose of improvements to the property are entitled to home loss payments. There is no reference to people who have to move out by reason of major repair work, such as repairs to roofs, and restoration of damp courses. I invite the Minister to address this evident deficiency by being prepared to accept appropriate amendments. If he accepts that there is a gap, he ought to be prepared to close it.

Clause 29 protects the right of secure tenants of councils and of housing associations to home loss payments if their homes are required for redevelopment purposes. I suggest that there is a need to extend this right to assured tenants of housing associations where the landlord requires vacant possession for redevelopment purposes. I urge the Minister to direct his attention to this issue and to be prepared, in Committee, to accept appropriate amendments.

There is a need to define more closely the legal interest which must be present if entitlement to home loss payment is to be assured. For example, there appears to be a need to extend qualification to those occupiers who are statutory tenants under the Rent Acts. Another important category of occupiers who need protection are those who could be described as contractual licensees—persons who pay their landlords for the right to occupy property but who, for whatever reason, are not tenants. This category includes flat sharers, lodgers and people under 18 years of age, as well as others who do not have exclusive occupation. At present, such people have no entitlement to home loss payments unless the landlord is a local authority. I suggest that the exclusion of this category of people represents an anomaly which could be removed if the Minister were prepared to accept an appropriate amendment.

I hope that the Minister will he prepared to extend the entitlement to increased home loss payments. As drafted, the Bill covers owners and the holders of long leases—and rightly so. An owner who has occupied a property for the minimum qualifying period of a year—actually, 13 months —is entitled to full compensation, up to a maximum of £ 15,000. Contrast such an owner with a person who has occupied a property for half a lifetime on the basis of a weekly tenancy. There are examples of such people in my own family—people who live in the older parts of Merseyside. Under the Bill as currently drafted, such people would get the minimum compensation of £ 1,500 for the loss of their home, in which they might have spent the best part of their lives. I hope that the Minister will look with favour on an appropriate amendment to remedy that anomaly.

It is a strange anomaly that the date of displacement is not defined. Problems would arise from the need to work backwards for the purpose of calculating home loss payment. An amendment could easily provide a clear, workable definition, under which a displaced individual would get the maximum compensation. The defined date could be that on which an occupier was required to give up possession. Some definition would be better than no definition at all.

With regard to disturbance allowance, I cite people who live in the area that I represent. People should certainly be compensated for the loss of their home, but such people are not always able to dispose of their old chattels and set up anew. They incur disturbance costs. For example, certain soft furnishings may have to be replaced. People should be entitled to compensation for the disturbance of losing their home as well as for the actual loss of their home. I hope that the Minister will consider whether, in this respect, the provisions of the Bill might be made clearer and more generous.

As my statutory time is about to elapse, I conclude by asking the Minister to receive my suggestions in the spirit in which they are made. The Bill contains some laudable provisions, but there is prima facie evidence of some omissions. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept appropriate amendments.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes 6:59 pm, 12th March 1991

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill. It is a thoughtful and positive contribution to our planning system, which is so critical to the protection of our towns and villages and the countryside surrounding them.

First, let me deliver a message—through my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), the Minister for Housing and Planning. Let me reassure him about the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) about the effect of opinions expressed by local planning authorities, and even more local organisations such as town and parish councils.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently overturned the findings of his Department's inspector regarding development of houses in the grounds of Hoddern farm, an old farm in the south downs close to Peacehaven, in my constituency. That is welcome: such a development would have run counter to every local plan, as the inspector was told. It would also have run counter to good sense, as it would have eroded an area of outstanding natural beauty and, eventually, put at risk other kinds of development in similar parts of the south downs. I note the increasing propensity of Ministers to exercise good sense, and to reconsider after noting reports from their inspectors.

None the less, the planning process is too often flouted by offenders—albeit a relatively small number. Some have been identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and others; sadly, I could identify a myriad more cases, stretching from Chalvington in the east of my constituency to Wivelsfield Green in the west. The problems have rumbled on over the years: offenders have put the planning law to scorn—often persistently— using its weaknesses and gaps to erect buildings and to build extensions, to establish driveways, entrances and exits leading to and from the public highway and to demolish buildings. They have used land for purposes that they know are not allowed under planning law.

Currently, the law can be avoided for eight, 10, 12 or even more years by a determined builder or developer who dodges hither and thither between the appeals and excuses available to him. Meanwhile, the surrounding community suffers, and the planning law is brought into disrepute.

The Bill goes some way towards meeting the problem, but, like other Conservative Members, I do not think that it goes far enough. That is not just my opinion, based on a number of offences that have been committed in my constituency; it is shared by planning authorities almost everywhere, and has been voiced sensibly and forcefully both in the other place and by my hon. Friends today.

The general feeling is that a breach of planning control should be the relevant offence, rather than the breach of an injunction suggested in the Bill. That would dissuade offenders, even if bringing a case of law still rested within the discretion of the local planning authority. It would ensure that such breaches did not recur, or that the offender was made to rectify his offence in a reasonable period, rather than in 10 or more years.

I believe that local planning authorities know the identities of the offenders; they know who are the persistent culprits. I hope that the Government will reconsider their attitude—that they will not merely listen to the arguments and debate them, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has promised, but react more positively than the other place.

What is now needed is a power to end offensive development, and to show offenders that they can no longer continue to offend against the planning regulations: that they must stop, and not offend again. If the Bill achieves that—as I hope that it will, if it is amended—we may at last begin to have effective planning law that will do what all but the crooked developers want it to do.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 7:05 pm, 12th March 1991

It is unusual for an hon. Member representing an urban constituency to quote the views of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, but I was impressed by its briefing, which observed: The Planning and Compensation Bill could be one of the `greenest' Bills to enter the House of Commons for many years. With a few changes to existing Clauses and a constructive approach to the introduction of new ones it would emerge as a linchpin of environmental policy. With robust legislative backing, the planning system will then be equipped to fulfil its wider environmental potential. That, surely, puts the finger on the Bill's "green" potential.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

A green finger, as my hon. Friend has so wittily suggested.

The key amendment to the Bill should be the introduction of an environmental duty for local authorities considering planning applications. The protection of the environment should rank as a priority. That should strike a chord with Conservative Members; after all, they are supposed to want to conserve what is best —at their best, that is. Along with energy conservation, that should be deemed as important as the economic and social considerations with which local authority planning committees must deal.

The marshes that surround my constituency are constantly threatened by developers' plans—road plans, for instance. My local planning authority, and neighbour-ing authorities, should surely be encouraged to try to save the marshes for future generations. The same applies to listed buildings: a penalty should be imposed on developers who destroy or damage them. Planners should be encouraged to respect conservation areas and to adopt the "urban village" approach. There is a notable shortage of improvement areas and parks in towns.

The Government promised to introduce control over demolition. In the last Session, a Conservative Member introduced a private Member's Bill to that effect, but it went no further. Without such controls, ugly sites will ruin the environment.

There needs to be planning gain for the community as a whole. There are very few opportunities for local authorities to do it themselves because the cost of acquiring land is prohibitive these days and they have no money, so using planning to achieve a gain for the community is legitimate. But it must be an open process—the public must have a say in it. There should be no deal between the local authority and the developer, with the public excluded.

The suggestion of third-party appeal, made as an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) in the Minister's opening speech, is a good one. There should be a right of appeal for people affected by a planning application; it should not just be the developer who has an opportunity to appeal. The idea is practicable. The Secretary of State could be given wider call-in powers, as recommended by the Select Committee on the Environment in 1986 or, if the planning application that has been approved, conflicts with the local plan or the structure plan, it could be a ground for a third party appeal.

I welcome the proposal in the Bill to increase compensation for owner-occupiers, but I feel that it is grossly unfair to have no equivalent for tenants affected by planning applications. A number of my constituents are tenants who are affected by the M 11 road scheme. They have been treated shabbily by the Department of Transport and face being thrown out of their homes with no compensation at all. The council cannot help to rehouse them, because it has its own housing crisis. The Government should consider compensation for tenants.

With regard to planning in London, the London Docklands development corporation has a limited life; it was set up with a limited life and it is due to come to an end shortly. In those circumstances, it is not right that it should make the local plans for the area since it will not be answerable for them in due course. It is the boroughs surrounding the docklands area which should be involved in the local plans for docklands.

My main concern about London, however, is the need for a strategic overview of the environment and of planning. There is still a case for an overall London planning authority. It could almost be the authority to decide appeals when more than one borough is involved or in dispute; or when a local authority is trying to give itself planning permission, the planning authority could hear appeals from citizens. I think that it should also scrutinise each borough's local plan, see whether there are gaps in the overall planning environment for London and ask boroughs to review the plans and fill in the gaps. It should also be charged with the "public gain" role for London. There is an important link with public transport, roads and traffic policy as well, but overall it should have a green policy for London. Although the Government abolished the Greater London council, therefore, there is still a strong case for a Londonwide environmental authority.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South 7:13 pm, 12th March 1991

I want generally to welcome the Bill, but I will confine my remarks to parts III and IV, on compensation for compulsory purchase. As a non-practising chartered surveyor, I must declare an interest.

During the past 70 years, the compensation code of this country has been based on open market value; that is, it has been assumed that there was to be an agreed price between a willing buyer and a willing seller. In 1972 the White Paper on development of compensation "Putting People First" introduced home loss payments. The White Paper committee was made up of two senior civil servants as succeeding chairmen, nine local government officials, one private practice engineer and two private practice architects. One must therefore marvel at how helpful the Land Compensation Act 1973 was in looking after the interests of those who have been dispossessed of their accommodation. Nevertheless, I felt then, and I still feel, that it did not go nearly far enough. It was an official's point of view and not a politician's point of view that we finished up with, and that is the main disadvantage of the present legislation.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is absolutely right to mention tenants, and this is a matter to which we must address ourselves seriously. Home loss payments do not go nearly far enough in the context of compulsory purchase.

We must examine the cost of schemes carried out in various parts of the country. Having looked into this matter in some detail, I find that the average cost of the acquisition of land amounts to no more than 10 per cent. of the total cost of the scheme throughout the country as a whole and to no more than 20 per cent. in the London area. In the London area, therefore, the average cost of the other works—the construction, the removal and reposi-tioning of the services, and the construction of the road, railway or whatever it may be—amounts to 80 per cent. of the total cost of the scheme in London and 90 per cent. outside London. So the actual amount paid by way of compensation for land is a very small proportion of the total, and we must not lose sight of that.

When they acquire property people do not want to give up possession of it in most cases; they choose the property because it suits them very well and they want to live there or carry out their small business in that particular area. They do not buy it with a view to being moved on in the near future at someone else's behest. Society therefore owes them a special debt and we have not paid enough attention to this in the past. If we were to ask ourselves whether we would care to be told that we had to leave our accommodation, we would find it very unsettling and unsatisfactory if we did it purely for the benefit of society as a whole.

There is also the question of blight. Everyone realises that there will be an enormous fight over the level of compensation, and that this will be a very unpleasant experience. Because it is so unpleasant, the people who might otherwise be prepared to purchase the property shy away from doing so, and its occupant is left to suffer alone, often for many years—it may even be as many as 20—from the time.of the first mention of a scheme until the completion of the acquisition.

We must therefore take an entirely fresh view of compensation. We must look in a very bold way at what we should offer the man in the street to acquire his interest. We should be considering as much as 50 per cent. over the odds for someone whose property is going to be acquired. If we were going to offer such people 50 per cent. more, there would be no incentive to move out of their houses in advance of acquisition; they would be happy to stay there until the property was needed by the authority acquiring it. So the question of blight could not arise; they would be happy to carry on improving their property as long as they were in it.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

One of the problems in this country is that we are very mean when it comes to compensation, and that is why people are so resistant to new developments; they refuse to go, because they are not paid properly. If they were only given proper compensation when they lost their homes, as such people are in other European countries, we could get on with public developments much faster.

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and he has anticipated what I was going to say. A scheme is entered into because Government Departments believe that people will expect a return of 20 per cent. a year on the money that has been laid out. People fight so hard to prevent a scheme because they know that they will experience aggravation. Clearly the delay costs the community a lot of money.

We should give 50 per cent. extra by way of compensation on top of the open market value as an alternative to home loss payments, so that people would have a choice between the two. The majority would prefer to take the 50 per cent., and would therefore take an entirely different view of being dispossessed.

What would such a scheme cost? If 50 per cent. were added to the 20 per cent. of land costs in London, it would mean an additional 10 per cent. on the total cost. If a scheme had to pay for itself within five years and was introduced six months early, it would have paid for itself. If it had been introduced many years before, the venom would have gone out of the protest movement. Society would be better off and the cost to the taxpayer would be much less. Elsewhere, the scheme needs to be introduced only three months early for it to be worth paying for.

Many schemes are required as a matter of urgency. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) faces enormous problems with the construction of the north circular, and many other hon. Members also face problems with roads and railways. People whose property is to be taken from them, suffer the constant problem of how to make ends meet and how to buy another property to meet their needs. They would have a different attitude if society were prepared to pay the proper rate.

If the 50 per cent. were paid, the taxpayer would be much better off and everything would happen much more quickly. As 1992 approaches, we must compete with the rest of Europe. If we do not tackle the problem quickly and sensibly, we shall be left behind, and it will be entirely our fault.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East 7:22 pm, 12th March 1991

I welcome the Bill, and the opportunity for Parliament to discuss a matter which has not been able to amass much parliamentary time. I introduced a Bill on planning a year ago and I hope that the Government have had the opportunity to study it. Some of the issues dealt with in that Bill are covered in this legislation.

I pay tribute to the local planning authority in Leicester, to the director of planning, John Dean, who is a former president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, to his two deputies, Christopher Gere and Tony Davidson, and to the chair of planning, Colin Grundy. They make a fine team. Although hon. Members are keen to be involved in planning, we perhaps back off when the issues become a little too controversial, saying that it is for the local authorities to deal with them. I do not agree. Although planning issues are dealt with by local authorities and local councillors, they directly affect the work of the hon. Members who represent the areas.

I want to deal with a number of issues and cite the developers as the true villains of planning in Leicester. In various ways, they have sought to subvert and undermine the way in which the planning authority operated. I welcome the Bill as an important step towards controlling the way in which developers have operated in Leicester. If I can convince my colleagues, I propose to table amendments which I hope that the Government will accept. I wish to name the amendments after building firms and developers who have sought to make the lives of my constituents a misery.

I propose to table a Jelsons amendment, named after the firm which sought to cause misery for the residents of Vicarage lane and Stanley road in the Humberstone area of my constituency. Jelsons sought to build a number of homes in the middle of Humberstone Garden City, against the wishes of the local people. The application was turned down by the local authority, but before the matter reached appeal, Jelsons sent in the bulldozers and completely destroyed the land in question.

Mr. Lomax, a local authority officer, has written a long letter to the Minister for the Environment and Countryside in which he sets out a history of the builders who have destroyed land between the time that an application is turned down and the time that an appeal is heard. Stronger powers should be given to local authorities to prevent such disgraceful and irresponsible activities. By the time an appeal was heard in the Jelsons case, the land had changed, so the arguments of local residents who said that it was a wildlife area could not be sustained. In the end, however, the inspector sensibly accepted my views and those of the residents, and dismissed Jelsons' appeal.

I also propose to table the Barratts amendment, named after the firm of developers which has caused misery for my constituents in the Barkby Thorpe area. That area has one of the largest landfill sites in the country. Between 1955 and 1972, various people have dumped waste there, and as a result, there has been an accumulation of methane. Barratts' application went before the planning committee at 5 pm today. Happily, the chairman of the committee said at a public meeting last Friday that he would turn it down.

It is vital that there should be no further development on landfill sites until a detailed report has been prepared by the inspectors of pollution who are sent by the Department of the Environment. Until that report gives a particular piece of land a clean bill of health, no applications for development on landfill sites should be entertained. I shall argue strongly that the Barratts amendment should be accepted.

I also propose to table an amendment named after Welland Homes, a firm of developers which has tried to develop a piece of land in the Barnwell avenue area of my constituency. Again, the piece of land in question has been described by local residents as ecologically sound. They want to retain it as an open space, but Welland Homes wants to develop it for commercial gain. Unfortunately —or perhaps fortunately, for the residents—Welland Homes went into liquidation during the application process. However, I subsequently discovered that the firm can still appeal against a refusal of planning permission. A firm that has ceased to exist still has a right to be heard by the Department of the Environment. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment, which would prevent firms that have gone into liquidation from appealing against a refusal of planning permission.

I shall also table an amendment named after a local Leicester firm called Neal Brothers, which has operated for a number of years, causing a great deal of distress to residents in the Prestwold road area of my constituency. The issue shows the current flaws in the stop notice procedure. I will look carefully at the procedure in the Bill to ensure that it meets the needs of the residents of Prestwold road. We want a stop notice procedure that does what its title says—stops the activity going on. In the case of Neal Brothers, despite the fact that the local authority was able to serve a stop notice, the firm was able to appeal and to delay the procedure, causing a great deal of distress to local people.

I also want to table an amendment based on a constituency issue concerned with Chater close. A piece of land, owned by builders, is described by local residents as having been left as an eyesore. I went to look at it on Sunday. The local authority has no quick, specific or effective powers to ensure that the developers tidy up or fence the land. As a result of the failure of the developers —whom I have not been able to identify, so I cannot name the amendment after them—to fence the land, people are dumping bricks and other debris, and causing a nuisance to local residents.

I hope that amendments will be tabled to make it abundantly clear to local authorities that, if they plan a road through a city or a town, they should ensure that they decide where the road will finish before they begin work on it. The A46-A47 link road links into the eastern distributor road in the eastern part of my constituency. It has been achieved through various stages.

The local authority has spent £ 2 million on building the first part of the road up to Hungerton boulevard, but it has not decided where the third part of the road will go. It has not decided whether heavy lorries will be asked to go down Spencefield lane or Goodwood road. The result is that there is no end to the road, which was begun several years ago. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) has laughed and smirked throughout my speech, but these are serious matters, and I hope that the Government will take them on board.

Photo of Charles Wardle Charles Wardle , Bexhill and Battle 7:33 pm, 12th March 1991

I listened with care to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). I do not share his general distaste for developers, but I can understand the apprehension that large developers cause when they cast covetous eyes on rural areas where there have been improvements in major road schemes. I am fond of suggesting in speeches from time to time that, in the south-east, we face the danger of Orpington creeping yard by yard to the Kent and Sussex coast, thereby destroying the fabric of the rural community. I hope that that will never be the case.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I welcome the proposal to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system, following the Carnwath report, which illustrated clearly the problems that local planning authorities meet in enforcing planning control. The Bill contains many important measures, not least of which are the lifting of the six-month limit for prosecuting an applicant who makes a false declaration, the rationalisation of secondary legislation governing development control and the power for local authorities to impose after-care conditions on landfill sites. Yet in one significant area, the Bill does not appear to go far enough. That as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said earlier, with enforcement when unauthorised development is deliberately and cynically carried on in flagrant breach of the spirit and letter of planning controls.

The problem of enforcement has been addressed by the District Planning Officers Society in its helpful paper, which has been circulated to hon. Members. Nobody knows better than planning officers just how frustrating it is not to be able to bring persistent planning offenders to account when stop notices cannot prohibit activity pending an enforcement appeal and when the use of injunctions is costly and of limited effectiveness in that they can halt, but cannot remove, the offending development.

The paper of the District Planning Officers Society, to which the district planning officer of Wealden district council contributed, includes among its illustrative case studies a notorious eyesore—an entirely unlawful development at Gladwish farm in my constituency, between the villages of Ninfield and Catsfield. In its paper, the society referred to Gladwish farm as the Caravan Park in the Meadow. That is the euphemism which is applied in this case.

I do not wish to amend the Bill to allow unwitting offenders, who have fallen foul of the planning laws by some minor technicality, to be leant on with the threat of court action. However, it is important to consider whether persistent contravention, such as that at Gladwish farm, should be made a punishable offence. That is not the case at present. At Gladwish farm, quarter-acre plots are being sold by the dozen as agricultural land, but at prices that reflect a different intended use, to individual purchasers who promptly use the plots as sites for caravans and for a variety of sheds and similar structures.

The land at Gladwish farm overlaps the boundaries of Wealden and Rother district councils. Along with the Wealden planning officer, the chief executive and the planning officer of Rother, and a number of elected members of both councils, have been helpful in trying to tackle the problem. One of the main difficulties that both councils face at Gladwish farm is obtaining information. As Rother district council puts it: Many of the plots are uninhabited when a site visit is made, and it is not always easy to determine who owns/occupies a particular plot. Current enforcement notice procedures require that a notice be served on all persons with an interest in the land. If correct procedures are not followed there is always the danger of a notice being quashed on appeal. This often leads to complaints that the Council is not taking action quickly enough to remedy the breach of planning control. For those reasons, the development at Gladwish farm highlights a number of weaknesses in the present enforcement system, which are summarised as follows: The difficulty in establishing the owner/occupier of the land. The problems with identifying the actual breach of planning control eg. if an occupier of caravan states it is only used for storage and not for human habitation it is very difficult to prove otherwise.The inability of the planning system to allow for stop notices to be served in respect of dwellings and caravans used as a person's main residence.The fact that even if a stop notice can be served, the liability to pay compensation renders it very unlikely that such a process will be used.The length of time an appeal against an enforcement notice takes to determine, … The lack of a quick remedy once a notice is upheld. For all those reasons, Mr. Gladwish continues to have a field day—no pun intended—and encourages prospective purchasers of his quarter-acre plots with deferred payment schemes involving a down payment of just £ 300 to become a landowner. He suggests to them that they do not have to have a solicitor if they do not wish to and that he can handle the business by himself.

Wealden, in whose area the greater part of the farm lies, reports: Enforcement notices have been served in 34 cases regarding unauthorised caravans or structures. These have been served upon the 'owners' and also upon Mr. Gladwish. In every case, an appeal has been lodged. In total 84 appeals against the service of Notices have been received (34 appeals by Mr. Gladwish, 50 from other individuals). On a recent visit to the site by enforcement officers, there were on the site 20 caravans and one double-decker bus, all of which were occupied, 25 unoccupied caravans and a burnt-out caravan chassis. When I drove past the site while travelling between Battle and Bexhill over the weekend, there was also a large amount of funfair machinery on the site. It seems to be a high old example of a problem that needs to be tackled.

It is more than two years since the agricultural land at Gladwish farm was made over to this bizarre, wholly illegal and rather unsightly scheme. During that period, the officers and members of both councils have been as resourceful as possible within the scope of existing legislation in their attempts to prohibit unlawful development. That they have not succeeded has not been for want of trying. To their understandable frustration, the public have grown impatient of their apparent failure to put a stop to a highly visible blot on the Sussex landscape. Local residents feel threatened and, in some cases, have been menaced by the individuals who inhabit some of those caravans. Unauthorised access has been made to a busy main road between Bexhill and Battle, but nothing decisive can be done without inordinate delays.

Although I welcome the Bill, I hope that Ministers will not forget the lessons of Gladwish farm when they take the Bill on to its Committee stage.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone 7:40 pm, 12th March 1991

I have no problem with caravans in my consitituency at present. Could not the planning authority serve a blanket notice on all the owners rather than on individual owners? I do not know the Bexhill and Battle area, and perhaps planning permission was given. If the land was previously agricultural, planning permission for agricultural land may have been granted. I should have thought that a common order would have sufficed but I rely on the Minister's expertise.

Planning has always been a problem, not only for local councils but for Members of Parliament. I have become a little reluctant to argue about planning, because I have found out, over a long period, that there are no winners —someone always loses. I learned a lesson from the Poulson case and have since kept planning application problems at arm's length. Many people became innocently involved in that case and I always keep it at the back of my mind.

More information on planning should be made available to those who will be affected by the granting of planning permission. Local authorities and other planning authorities often keep information under their hats—per-haps not intentionally—and give only the minimum amount that they are required to give, so the matter often turns sour.

The Coal Mining Subsidence Bill could affect planning in areas affected by subsidence. Searches could provide more details on problems that may arise in the future. In my constituency at present, there is a problem of methane emissions and landfill sites. It would be wrong to go into detail, because the case of those who have bought houses in that area could be blighted if I did so. I prefer not to name any part of the site until the case has been resolved, but I cannot help feeling that, had more information been required before planning permission was granted, about the type of site on which the houses were to be built and the nature of the land adjacent to that site, some of the present occupiers would not be in such a position. Nor would the local authority be faced with what is proving to be an expensive and long-drawn-out problem in trying to get rid of the methane.

Something must be done about such problems and future planning applications should require more information to be provided about the area in which a development is to take place, the existing ground works, and whether there is a landfill site in the vicinity. It is fine for developers—they are in the business of developing— but when they go away and people start to make inquiries, the developers simply say, "It is not our fault: we did our job and built the houses. It is now a local authority problem." The problem eventually falls on the poll tax payers. The provision of all such information should be mandatory before planning applications are approved.

Rural areas present different problems, especially at present, because people want to build homes where they have never been built before. Moreover, people who have lived in rural areas for decades encounter problems when they want to extend their homes, because they are not allowed to do so in green-belt areas. I was one of many hon. Members who embraced lovingly the green belt policy but now find that we must look at constituency problems from a different angle. My constituents complain that they want to build an extension or an extra house for their families. If the building is for agricultural purposes, that is fine, but they are not allowed to build for residential purposes. The Bill could take those matters into consideration.

The Bill should also consider the right to object. When a planning application is turned down, the applicant has a right to appeal to the Secretary of State, but if the local authority grants planning permission, those affected by the development have no right to approach the Secretary of State. That seems to be wrong.

In my constituency, 90 per cent. of the workplace was underground because it was a mining district. We were happy to have a marvellous green belt policy because all the jobs were underground. Now, however, the collieries have gone and it is a different ball game. All new jobs involve building on the green belt and developers will build there only if the infrastructure is right. After so many decades of embracing the green belt policy, I now tell my constituents that I must take a different approach if we are to attract industry to the area and overcome our 15 or 16 per cent. unemployment rate. I do not like doing that, but it is the only practical thing to do.

However, under the current system, the people who do not agree with me about granting planning permission have no right to object. Where can they go if the council and I agree that permission should be granted? All they can do is to set up a fighting fund so that barristers can object on their behalf. That system is wrong. There should be an avenue whereby they have the right to put their objections to the Secretary of State; that is only justice.

During the passage of the Water Act 1989, I raised an issue about the pollution of the Rivers Dearne and Don from the workings of the Bullhouse colliery. The Minister in charge of the Bill promised to come back to me and say how that could he dealt with under planning regulations. I did not think that he could do so and, as he has not yet come back, I have turned out to be right. Any solution would be expensive and I raised the issue then because of the possibility of finance from the local authority, the Government and British Coal. The Government should consider such retrospective problems.

The Bill should also consider the problem of partly developed sites. These days, people often overstretch their finances and go bankrupt, leaving a half-finished site with unmade roads and unfinished sewers. The local authority can do nothing about it and has no choice but to spend its money to tidy up the site for local residents. If the firm has gone bankrupt, it will have nothing to add. Unless the receivers can quickly find somebody else, there is a tendency for the site to become derelict and the rest of the houses to become blighted.

It is wrong that a person should be able to develop a new site without taking into consideration dwellings that already exist. If there is a private bungalow site and a developer wants to build two and three-storey houses, it would break up the district—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon..Gentleman has run out of time.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton 7:50 pm, 12th March 1991

At the outset I declare two interests. I am a tax adviser to the Building Employers Confederation and I own some land and redundant farm buildings. However, my contribution will deal largely with matters which have come to my attention as a constituency Member.

I welcome the Bill for a variety of reasons, not least because it enables us to examine in detail the planning system as it has developed. From my constituency experience of the past four years, I believe that the system is generally working satisfactorily. As my hon. Friend the Minister will have seen from his recent visit, viewed from the railway, the Taunton skyline is acceptable. Only one modern building rivals the medieval church towers of Taunton—a development of Government offices. On the whole, the skyline has not been spoilt, and in the country areas there is generally harmony between development needs and the preservation of the countryside.

I shall concentrate on three aspects of planning: enforcement, consistency and democracy. First, with regard to enforcement, various hon. Friends have raised the issue of criminalisation. As hon. Members, a number of cases are brought to our attention. I cannot give any particularly lurid examples of blots on the landscape, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) did, but I know of a number of cases, such as roof extensions which destroy or limit the view for next door neighbours, the illegal establishment of vehicle dumping yards and other nuisances. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) mentioned the building of houses 1·5 m higher than planned, with intrusive windows. I know of such a case in the Staplegrove district of Taunton.

I support further enforcement and the proposal made by Sane Planning in the South East that there should be a general duty of enforcement enacted on local authorities, which have too often in the past been reluctant to take action against even flagrant breaches of planning control. However, someone who is well experienced in running the planning system recently advised me that "magistrates are odd when it comes to planning: and tend to believe that a property owner should be allowed to do what he wants with his property". As we examine the issue in Committee, we should weigh up that aspect.

Secondly, with regard to consistency, in our constituencies we encounter a variety of applications for barn conversions or the establishment of single caravan sites for individuals needed to work in the local economy, not always connected with farming. We would expect local authorities and planning authorities, including the Exmoor national park planning authority in my constituency, to operate with some consistency. That subject is linked to the proposal in the Bill to prevent vexatious repetition of planning applications.

Will the Minister say whether the measures in the Bill will prohibit the applicant from submitting the same or a broadly similar application during a two-year period, or is that matter left to the local authority? A 'number of us want to see a total ban on the application coming forward within the two-year period. There have been cases in which applications which have been turned down by local authorities are agreed by the local authority a year later due to influence, pressure or persuasion being brought to bear. That is one of the weaknesses of our planning system, particularly at the lower levels.

With regard to consistency I, too, must mention a matter raised by a number of other hon. Members—that of gipsies. Taunton Deane district council, like many others, has complained that the planning system permits gipsies to develop sites when other citizens are prohibited from doing so. The best example involves Bishop's Hull in my constituency. In 1985, before I was elected, someone asked for permission to establish a caravan site. It was turned down and the applicant lost on appeal. Shortly after that, a gipsy applied for a caravan site. He was turned down by the authority, but won on appeal to the Department because he was a gipsy. That is a scandal. I hope that we can pursue this problem. Since I was elected similar cases have arisen involving neighbouring sites in the village of North Curry and Ford Street, near Wellington in my constituency.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I also raise the scandal of the long delay involving the Middlezoy gipsy encampment application, about which I have asked questions in the House. Last July, a constituent wrote to me saying that the inquiry had been completed in March 1989. Residents were not only still awaiting the Secretary of State's decision on the inspector's recommendations, but all inquiries had been fobbed off for months with assurances that the result would soon come. That was in July last year. This month—March 1991—we shall celebrate the second anniversary of the inquiry's completion. We should have a major celebration of that remarkable event. It is disgraceful that development and the planning system with regard to gipsies in the east part of my constituency should be jeopardised by this delay.

Thirdly, on democracy, I am glad that the Secretary of State is taking action on deemed planning permission. My constituents lobbied the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), strongly on the subject because ill feeling had been caused when the county council used its ownership of a site in South road, Taunton to deem itself planning permission for a school. There was a good case for the educational reorganisation in the town and I shared the doubts of the county council about alternative sites, but the process was undemocratic. That is why we are pleased that the Government are now taking action to sort out deemed planning permission.

Another issue related to democracy is being tackled by recent ministerial circulars, but I should be grateful if the Minister could comment if he has time. Great ill feeling was caused in Hatch Beauchamp in my constituency in 1987 and 1988. A site was allocated in the local plan, there were numerous objections from villagers and the local authority said that there would be an inquiry. But before that inquiry began, a developer entered an application, which the local authority could not resist because it could not be faulted on planning grounds. That was a negation of democracy, because there was no way in which the objections could be entertained as the inquiry had not been held. Will that matter be addressed? We do not want to be placed in the same position in relation to the West Deane local plan which now involves the western part of my constituency.

I support the proposals made by Sane Planning in the South East for better notices and information, and a longer period for publicity. It suggests that it might be helpful to extend the statutory period for public comment to 28 days. One such case occured in, I think, Wiveliscombe in my constituency. Notices were published just before Christmas and before people could become aware of what was happening, the time allocated for public comment had elapsed. That is not satisfactory. If the planning system is to work satisfactorily, it must be seen to work by parish councils and by constituents.

I am delighted that the Department and the Secretary of State now regard county councils as retaining a role in structure planning. It is important that the sub-regional element and the role of district councils should be co-ordinated. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was far wide of the mark when he said that the whole of the south-west should be run by regional planning from Bristol.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton 7:59 pm, 12th March 1991

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) referred to gipsy sites. Hon. Members will recall that we had a debate six or seven months ago on the designation of sites for gipsy encampments, during which the Minister promised that the matter would be pursued and that local authorities which had designated sites would be asked to get on with developing them, while those which had not would be persuaded to produce or prepare sites in their area. It is disappointing that, in today's debate on planning, hon. Members have again pursued the issue of caravan sites when promises were made about sites six or seven months ago. Hopefully, the Government will take notice of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House on the matter, the provision of sites will be speeded up and we shall see some progress.

I am worried not by what is in the Bill, but about what is not in it. We must welcome the updating of some planning laws, but I am worried about the law on change of use. There are statutory obligations on change of use, but if a challenge is made, it is for the applicant to prove that a property was used for the current trade as from 1 April 1964.

I can give an example. A person purchased a grocery business 18 years ago, which had a business selling hot and cold sandwiches attached to it. That person wanted to sell the business to someone who wanted to turn it into primarily a hot food takeaway business. The person who was selling the business had to prove that it was a hot food takeaway on 1 April 1964, and it was difficult to prove that after such a long time. The law on change of use should be updated.

If the Bill is to make provisions that will work for the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st century, we should consider issues which give rise to anxiety. Reference has been made more than once to the vexed question of third-party concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) referred to that, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) during the Minister's speech. The Minister said that it was generally accepted that members of the planning authorities represented local communities.

If there are anxieties about a planning application which may be approved by the planning authority, aggrieved people who live in the area which will be affected have no redress. That significant and important matter should be addressed in Committee.

I have no doubt that many planning authorities represent their constituents' interests, but the structure of local authority planning procedures, especially in shire counties where counties are responsible for strategic plans, is such that the centre of administration may be remote from the areas affected by a planning proposal which is causing concern. Constituents may feel that their case is not being properly presented. Therefore, there is a justification for considering third-party concern.

I understand that, in another place, third-party concern was raised, but the problem, examples of which were given from many areas, was not resolved. I hope that consideration will be given in Committee to people who may be genuinely aggrieved by a planning decision but have no recourse to the Secretary of State.

Perhaps the Minister would consider one proviso. If a planning application before a local authority requires an environmental statement—which must be drawn up as part of a public exercise—the Secretary of State has the right and the responsibility to make a judgment on the environmental factors. If it is possible that environmental problems could be created by the proposed development, there could be a public inquiry. Against that background, local people could have an input into a planning application which is causing anxiety in a community.

Perhaps we should also consider in greater depth when an environmental study should be made of the effects of a planning application. We should also address the need to consult parish councils, town councils and the com-munities which will be affected by any problems that may develop. While planning authorities have a statutory responsibility to consult parish councils, there is a general feeling in communities that it is simply a question of tolerance, and that meaningful consultation is not undertaken.

The Committee should consider the possibility of strengthening the role of parish councils, town councils and the community councils in Wales. Their role should be strengthened to give that branch of local Government more involvement in planning decisions.

Many planning applications and decisions affect people's standard and quality of life and the destiny of an area. Therefore, there must be meaningful consultation. I hope that, as the Bill proceeds, we shall consider strengthening the process of consultation.

If the Secretary of State feels that an environmental statement gives cause for concern and that there should be a public inquiry, local people can have a say. As more information is made available by various organisations undertaking studies on environmental issues such as traffic movement, noise, dust or lighting, the Secretary of State should call for an environmental statement to be updated before the final decision is taken.

There is some provision for overhead cables in existing legislation, but it is not sufficient to give the reassurance that people in development areas need, particularly those near power stations, where there is genuine concern about the effects of such cables. Therefore, I hope that that matter will be taken into consideration.

The Minister for Housing and Planning referred to the importance of unitary development plans and the fact that they should be considered in greater depth by local authorities. He stressed the importance of public participation. I hope that the Committee will consider the involvement of the community and the public in unitary development plans.

Hon. Members have dealt more than once with the use of recreation land for housing or industrial development. If local people protest about permission being given to build on a football pitch or a cricket field, they are told that the decision was taken when the local plans were being considered five, six or seven years previously. Local people should be in no doubt about provision in local plans for recreational areas to be developed for housing or commercial or industrial premises.

The same should apply to common land. For the past three years, the Government have promised to introduce legislation to protect common land, but so far nothing has been done. The protection of common land is another issue that the Committee should consider, despite its absence from the Bill. There is too much encroachment on common land, in many cases without planning permission. That matter should be given serious consideration and, where there is such encroachment without planning permission, immediate action should be taken to restore the land to its previous use.

Developers, particularly residential developers, often submit planning applications and then make changes during the development of the site resulting in cramming rather than planning. New planning rules should be in the best interests of the people who will live in such areas, and should also take into account the general improvement of the area. The environmental impact of a residential development should be considered. We should see better planning and less cramming.

It is what is not in the Bill that is important, not what is in it. The issues that I and other hon. Members have dealt with should be given serious consideration, so that the legislation will take us into the next century and provide better planning provisions for people in generations to come.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I appeal for brief speeches in the limited time remaining. A number of hon. Members have sat throughout the debate, and I hope that they will not be disappointed.

Photo of Mr Anthony Coombs Mr Anthony Coombs , Wyre Forest 8:16 pm, 12th March 1991

Before I welcome the Bill, I should declare an interest. I used to make my living as a house builder and I still have an interest in what, due to the current state of the housing market, is inevitably a fairly dormant building company.

More importantly, my constituency of Wyre Forest has a large green belt which is subject to the depradations of, among others, the occupants of Hagley hall and their noble friends. We have a large road building programme —the west orbital route, and a number of areas of special scientific interest and of great natural beauty. We also have the second largest concentration of caravans in the country and a great deal of quarrying and excavation.

I therefore welcome the Government's adoption of the Carnworth proposals, which make it more difficult for developers who irresponsibly try to circumvent the planning system. I welcome, too, the right of the local authority to ignore persistent applications and the more flexible powers of enforcement available for authorities, particularly planning contravention notices and the breach of current condition notices. I also welcome the fact that stop notices can now be applied to residential caravan sites which have been developed without planning permission. Too often in my constituency people try to put pressure on the planning authorities, saying, "We will put gipsies on the land—try and get us off if you can."

I would not go so far as some hon. Members, who have said that they would make the contravention of planning permission a criminal offence, although I think that it is vandalism of a particularly permanent sort, but I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that there should be a general duty on local planning authorities to uphold and enforce the planning laws. If an authority refuses to enforce the planning regulations in an area, the only way to make it do so is to take it to court. That is often beyond an individual landowner, and certainly beyond an individual householder. I urge the Government to do something about that.

I am pleased that, under clause 18 and schedule 1, county councils can directly control the development of quarrying and waste, and can make reinstatement orders to ensure that the land reverts properly to its original condition. That is logical, given that county councils are responsible for mineral plans.

I am concerned about a possible conflict of interest between county councils—which may not have people on the ground to ensure that the provisions that they lay down are properly monitored—and the detailed environ-mental policies of district authorities. Lickhill quarry in my constituency has been quarried for many years, and many people have reservations about the amount of topsoil that has been put on. The county council does not seem to be monitoring the position adequately. If county councils are given total control, I am concerned that their provisions and restrictions may contradict the policies of the district, leading to confusion and to a coach and horses being driven through planning policy.

It is all very well to provide for after-care after tipping, but what happens if quarry companies go into voluntary liquidation deliberately before the after-care is done, so that they do not have to carry it out? The county council will have to pick up the bill. A strong case could be made for performance bonds to be lodged by quarrying companies or their insurance companies so that people will know that money will be available for after-care when it is needed.

Interim development orders have been the subject of a consultation paper by the Department of the Environment. I was pleased to hear what the Minister said today. The position is scandalous. I am glad that the Royal Society for Nature Conservation has drawn to our attention the fact that there are no fewer than 1,000 IDOs, 330 of which pose a major threat to the environment.

As the demand for sand and gravel grows with the road programme, particularly in my area where various major road schemes are about to come on stream, the threat from IDOs grows. Of course, permissions for IDOs last as long as the minerals. Brant farm in my constituency has not been developed for a long time, but with new quarrying techniques, previously unmined quarries can now be mined. Quarrying companies can go back to a quarry and mine to a deeper level, and because of the IDO the planning authorities have no control over that process.

There is a strong case for proper legislation and for compensation for home owners where IDOs are discovered next to their homes. We should insist that all IDOs that have not been worked for 10 years should be the subject of environmental assessment before they are allowed to be revived. If the sites are redeveloped, they should be subject to performance bonds to ensure that the ground is properly reinstated.

On compensation, I am pleased that home loss payments of 10 per cent. above market value are to be instituted by the Bill, and also that, if there is a change of use after the compulsory purchase order has been made, the resulting difference in value must be paid to the former landowner under clause 52.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), £ 15,000 is peanuts for many properties. For instance, in my constituency which will be affected by road schemes, properties are worth £ 300,000 if they are worth a penny. When a person pays 2 per cent. stamp duty to move, which is £ 6,000, and when he has paid his moving costs, there is scant recompense from the state for the compulsory purchase of a property which the person may have lived in for years. The compensation above market value should be at least 25 per cent., or possibly even 50 per cent. Certainly the Government should consider that point carefully.

Tenants should get compensation for home loss, particularly if they are lessees under long tenancy agreements. A tenant may have a 50-year tenancy which may be worth more than many freeholds. As I understand it, under the Bill tenants will not be entitled to compensation above £ 1,500. That should be put right.

There is a case for a better rate of compensation for the forced sale of commercial premises to reflect the goodwill inherent in the properties. If a person has been in a property for 20 years, he may get the value of the business from the city council that is taking over the property, but he will not get any payment for goodwill. Premiums should be paid, as in France, for forced sale of commercial premises in order to reflect the scarcity value.

Overall, the Bill is a worthwhile measure and I shall have pleasure in supporting it tonight, if necessary, or on Report. I say that advisedly. I wish the Bill the best, because it will make a significant improvement to planning and will stop up many of the holes which the less scrupulous developers have previously ridden through.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend 8:26 pm, 12th March 1991

Subject to—[Interruption.] In view of the murmurings from the Conservative Benches, I should point out that I was in the Chamber until about 7 o'clock and that I came back at 8 o'clock—

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

Do not explain to them.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

I feel the need to put right the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen); he has lost a few moments of time because I had to do that. It will be his own fault if he fails to be called.

There is much to be welcomed in the Bill. Apart from a few provisions that we should like to see amended, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, the major problems are the matters that have been omitted, particularly when we bear in mind the White Paper "This Common Inheritance". I should have thought that the Bill provided an excellent opportunity to take up some of the environmental issues that rely on European Community legislation or on planning guidance and notes, sent out by the Department of the Environment, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office.

It was surprising to find nothing specific about environmental issues when the Bill was introduced in the Lords. Although the Government made sympathetic noises in the other place, when it came to substantial amendment, there were no concessions. I hope that in Committee we shall take the opportunity to make additions that will display to the public the Government's real commitment to enact in primary legislation many of their fine words on sustainable development and on handing over a better planet to future generations.

Specific environmental duties should be laid on planning authorities. As was pointed out in the other place, the Government charge a wide variety of bodies with specific environmental duties. They cannot argue that there is no precedent. There can, therefore, be no real argument against the Government's including a provision in the Bill to impose on local authorities specific environmental duties when considering planning applica-tions. It would strike a positive note.

At the moment, we have to rely on a European Community directive relating to projects that are deemed to have a major environmental impact on the environment. In the annexes to European Community directive there are lists of defined major developments that are subject to environmental impact assessment. An example was alluded to in the other place. Sewage treatment plants are subject to environmental impact assessment under the directive, but potable water treatment plants are not subject to such an assessment, even though they may have as damaging an impact on the environment as any sewage treatment plants.

I hope that, instead of placing reliance on environmen-tal impact assessment directive, the Government will, as they promised, extend its application by tabling amendments in Committee. In particular, I hope that they will carry out their promise to subject private Bill legislation relating to major developments to environmen-tal impact assessments. At the moment, such developments are specifically excluded under the terms of the environmental impact assessment directive. For the purposes of the directive, private Bills are deemed to be public legislation.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and other hon. Members who have spoken convincingly about the need to end the scandal of interim development orders. The Government have already made a commitment to take certain measures, even before the full consultation process has been completed. That is a welcome step in the right direction, and it will be supported with enthusiasm.

I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to widen the scope of planning controls to include farm buildings and major agricultural and forestry develop-ments. They ought to be the subject of appropriate planning applications. Unfortunately, all too often ill-considered developments disfigure the landscape. It is time that they were brought within the scope of the planning law, as happens with industrial developments.

A statutory duty ought to be placed on local authorities to approach all neighbours who may be affected by a development. Many hon. Members have referred to the problems caused when neighbours feel that their views have been ignored during the planning application procedure. It leads to bad feeling. Perhaps planning decisions are then coloured by bad feeling between personalities rather than the issues involved being considered dispassionately.

The Government ought to make a commitment to allow third-party planning appeals. After a planning application has been approved, people with a clear interest in the development ought to have the right to appeal, in just the same way as developers have the right to appeal when a planning permission application is refused.

On common land, I ask the Government to look again at their last election manifesto and to table amendments to the Bill to enable them to implement those commitments.

I do not say that a particular organisation or institution ought to be responsible for coastal zone planning under our planning procedures, but the Nature Conservancy Council's report on our coasts and estuaries and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' report and survey of our estuaries demonstrate that there is a pressing need for additional steps to be taken to protect our coastal zones. Just about every estuary worthy of the name is subject to development proposals. Whether they relate to tourism, energy, transport, commercial activities, or a combination of them all, we believe that they should be subject to the most rigorous planning procedures.

Even if an estuary is not the subject of a development proposal, our planning procedures ought to include the steps that need to be taken to protect and enhance the estuarial environment. Estuaries are vital for migratory birds. The flora and fauna must be protected. Due to development pressures in the south, the south-west and Wales, planning authorities need to introduce coherent plans to protect long stretches of coastline that lie beyond the responsibilities of just one planning authority.

I hope that all these issues will be considered in great detail in Committee and that on Report the Bill will include significant improvements that will help to preserve our common inheritance.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Somerton and Frome 8:37 pm, 12th March 1991

May I reinforce two points so ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs)? They concern mineral extraction, in particular mineral extraction from the Mendip hills in Somerset—part of my constituency. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the principal source of crushed rock. It is the nearest source of supply for the south-east—the principal area of rock aggregate consumption in the United Kingdom. Millions of tonnes of stone are exported each year. Our exports are increasing rapidly. Any measure that affects the responsibilities of mineral planning authorities—in our case, Somerset county council—is of great importance to us.

Two truisms are well known in this sphere. If the economy is to thrive, an adequate supply of minerals must be available to the construction industry. Minerals can be worked only where they occur naturally. Modern extraction of stone creates substantial environmental disturbance, especially in such confined areas as the east Mendips. Every effort must be made to minimise such environmental disturbance.

Under the Bill, the planning rules on the depositing of mineral waste will be brought in line with those on mineral workings. Although complex provisions will be necessary, they should be supported by all hon. Members.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest and the Minister said, there is nothing in the Bill on interim development orders. Those orders go back a long time and were introduced in a hurry in the 1940s to pump-prime the industry at the end of the second world war.

Most of the principal quarries in the east Mendips, of which there are about nine, are operated by major companies in or near areas that are subject to interim development orders. Minimal conditions are attached to the winning of minerals. Therefore, IDOs should be registered as soon as possible. The Government are losing no time in ensuring that that happens. All IDO permissions will be known to the mineral authority and to those who must make official searches on behalf of people who wish to buy houses.

Such certain knowledge would to some extent reduce the fears of individuals and groups who live in the area that further damage will be done to SSSIs if long-dormant workings were reactivated without conditions being imposed and a planning application being considered.

The majority of mineral operators want good relations with those who live and work in the area. In the Mendips, the quarry advisory committee brings together represen-tatives of the quarry management and elected authorities, from Members of Parliament to parish councillors, so that they can listen to each other's point of view on the conflicting interests in quarrying.

I hope that, when consultation on IDOs has taken place, the operators will take a reasonable view of the Bill's proposals. I believe that they will. However, they may not do so if, under the Bill, existing mineral working rights are appropriated without compensation. The Government could fall into a minefield of traps if they pursued that policy.

The Government have undertaken to review all aspects of the compensation regulations. My hon. Friend the Minister will want to strike the right balance between meeting environmental concerns and ensuring that essential crushed rock resources are supplied to customers at a reasonable cost.

The long-term restoration schemes of quarry workings was mentioned. Somerset county council, our minerals authority, has a long and commendable record of pioneering environmental conditions attached to planning consents and to IDOs. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), it is concerned about funding and long-term maintenance responsibilities long after mineral workings cease. I should like to hear what solutions, if any, Ministers have in mind and whether long-term restoration funding has been seriously considered. It will not be easy to achieve the right balance in the controversial issues surrounding IDOs.

I would welcome a visit from my hon. Friend the Minister so that he could see the extent of quarrying in a relatively small area. Huge holes have been dug in the ground by modern machinery, and to a large extent they are carefully concealed by banking and trees. Much long-term capital investment is involved, including major public road and rail links. Limiting environmental damage is of prime concern. The long-established work force in the area must be considered.

If Ministers cannot achieve the right balance in the short time before the Bill is enacted, I hope that they will still take the opportunity to do so, because the matter needs to be treated sensitively for the future of the environment, and particularly for all those who live in the area.

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire 8:46 pm, 12th March 1991

I welcome the Bill and should like to make four points, three of which are covered by the Bill. The one that is not covered, which probably would be better dealt with by a planning policy guidance, is the vexed subject of infill, which, more than any other planning policy, has destroyed the village structure of many rural communities. It has led to the concept that every square inch of available land in a village is built on, to the exclusion of stretching the village envelope.

The traditional broken village frontage has gone, and many villages in my constituency have only a market town high street with no green space, orchards or gardens visible from the main road. That is a tragedy. I would far rather that we developed back lands, punched out the odd close, keeping development close to the centre but behind the village street rather than cramming it into every piece of available land. I am sorry that the Bill does not address that, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will take my point on board.

My second point, which is covered by the Bill, is to welcome the moves under clause 17 to deal with deemed planning consent and land owned by interested planning authorities. I noticed that, on Second Reading in the other place, my noble Friend Baroness Blatch, a former leader of Cambridgeshire county council, referred to single-tier authorities that dealt with planning. Clause 17 also deals with county and district councils.

It is reasonable to allow a county council to make a decision on use of its own land, perhaps to construct a school, but it is patently wrong, when county councils are understandably looking for capital receipts, that they should be able to give themselves planning consent for residential development and then sell it on the open market. Everybody has to apply to the district council to erect a porch, so it is wrong that county councils can do otherwise. Of course, the boot can be on the other foot: district councils can develop their own land. Although that is less common, it happens and it should be addressed.

There is also the problem of local authorities wanting to use land for their own purposes. I have a particular problem in my constituency at the moment. The district councils proposals to build its own new headquarters are causing considerable local dissatisfaction, I shall write to my hon. Friend the Minister about it.

I am also concerned about the date of implementing those provisions, which is not included in the Bill. If we are to change the controls over deemed planning consent, I believe that the date of implementation should be with effect from the date of the First Reading of the Bill, which is already being used in relation to compensation; otherwise, between now and the Bill coming into force, authorities seeking to get around the provisions will cause a rush of deemed planning consents.

My third point has already been covered several times, but I have a particular angle on gipsy and traveller encampments. We in Cambridgeshire have suffered badly at the hands of travelling people, who have simply turned up and parked anywhere, on roadsides, in laybys, in parking places and on private land without any "by your leave".

I have two district councils—one is designated under the Caravan Sites Act 1968; the other is not, but is seeking designation. As I said in an intervention, the number of travellers in the area is constantly increasing. I am not saying that the county councils are getting the job absolutely right at the moment, but the proposals in the Bill to extend their legal powers and to introduce stop notices so that they can deal more quickly with such contraventions are an important addition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) said that gipsies appear to get favourable treatment. That is a common belief. People all over my constituency are under the impression that gipsies are getting away, in planning terms, with things which ordinary law-abiding citizens would not get away with. That is not acceptable. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind the fact that the powers to deal with that problem will have to go beyond what is in the Bill. The Department of the Environment will have to instruct its inspectors to take a much sterner attitude to unauthorised developments by gipsies, which are then the subject of late applications or appeal.

Over and over again in my constituency, a gipsy has applied for planning consent for a caravan and been turned down by the district council, but has then gone to appeal and been granted consent. Three years later, the same gipsy applies to build a house on the site, goes to the district council, is turned down, goes to appeal and is granted that consent. The result is a property in the back of beyond where nobody else would have a chance of getting planning consent. When implementing the provisions of the Bill, it is important that the Government ensure that they get other factors right, as well as the legal language of the Bill.

My fourth and final point relates to compensation. I very much welcome the Government's decision to address this issue in the Bill, but I am disappointed at the way in which it has been dealt with—

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) says, the outcome is not enough.

It is a pity that the Government rejected a number of amendments that were tabled in another place. Their resistance to offering sweeteners to people who will be affected by planning applications and developments is short-sighted. As several of my hon. Friends have said, we must bear natural justice in mind. It costs a lot of extra money when one loses one's home and has to move—not just the 10 per cent. that is provided for in the Bill. There are also the other associated problems. However, the effect of having one's farm cut in half or losing part of one's garden goes far beyond the simple value of that piece of land and we need to recognise the case for natural justice.

A sensible case for offering sweeteners can also be made on the grounds of expediency. This country spends far too much money in the delay associated with and the execution of public inquiries. While it may not sound high-minded, I believe that there is a substantial case for stuffing people's mouths with silver if it means that the development can be achieved.

Of course I feel for those people who are affected. If my property was affected, I would probably oppose the development, object to it and take the matter to inquiry. That is totally understandable, for the simple reason that, if one does not do so, one gets nothing out of it. As several of my hon. Friends have said, the present arrangements are simply not adequate. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will reconsider their proposals and stance on compensation.

I appreciate that the hand of the Treasury is firmly involved in this matter, as in so many things. We cannot get away from that, but the cost of the delays and of the inquiries that inevitably result from the objections is far too great and must be taken into account. Now that compulsory purchase powers are held by private sector bodies, many of which were formally in the public sector, it is important that we ensure that those powers are used properly. In my own constituency, the dualling of the A11 in the near future is causing big problems. I believe that greater compensation could have short-circuited many of them.

The Bill goes a long way to resolving many of the planning problems that we are all acquainted with from our mail bags. I have outlined one or two points, but I emphasise my particular concern about compensation. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will look at that matter again.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. We have 25 minutes left and four Back-Bench Members are still seeking to catch my eye. The arithmetic is fairly obvious.

Photo of Mr Patrick Ground Mr Patrick Ground , Feltham and Heston 8:56 pm, 12th March 1991

I must declare an interest in this debate in that I have practised at the planning Bar for more than 20 years.

I generally welcome the Bill and should like to make four short points about it.

First, the provisions for planning contravention notices, breach of condition notices, and the right to apply to the High Court and county court for injunctions are useful additions to the enforcement powers of local authorities. They are likely to be effective because they are sensibly based on the practical experience of operating the existing system of planning control.

Secondly, I do not believe that it would strengthen planning control to make a breach of planning control a criminal offence. I welcome the increase in penalties for existing criminal offences, but local authorities have always had discretion and have had to consider not only whether there has been a breach of planning control, but whether it is expedient to enforce the provisions. That element of discretion remains an important part of planning practice.

The role of the criminal law in planning matters should be as narrow and circumscribed as possible. The criminal courts are not good at handling matters involving planning judgments or estimations about planning policy and the present pattern of enforcement in planning control is right in seeking to separate all judgments about planning policy from the implementation of criminal sanctions. The system is sensible in giving the local authority and the Minister power to make all the necessary planning judgments and then leaving it cut and dried for the criminal courts when it comes to prosecution.

I recall when things were otherwise and we had the most disastrous series of adjournments in the magistrates courts because they did not want to consider the criminal aspect of the case while there were applications for planning permission to the local authority and possible similar appeals relating to planning merits already pending. That would be the wrong path to follow.

Thirdly, I greatly welcome the changes that have taken place in what was clause 24 and is now clause 25 of the Bill. I am pleased that the Government have changed those provisions. I welcome discretion being given to the Minister in dealing sensibly with pre-appeal procedures and the sanction of costs for unreasonable behaviour.

It was undesirable to penalise someone for asking for a public inquiry simply because that person had exercised a right. Time and again, I have seen people who were inarticulate on paper and who made no impression in the written procedures subsequently attend and transform the whole course of the planning inquiry by explaining the issue to the inspector and answering questions in a way which dazzled and completely answered expert cross-examination.

It is important that that right to a public inquiry should be preserved, not only for the appellant but for local authorities, which often have a series of local residents wishing to put their points of view about a development. That would be lost if the matter were dealt with solely by way of written representation. I am therefore pleased that people will not be penalised in the way that was proposed. What is now in clause 25 seems a sensible way of dealing with one aspect of unreasonable behaviour.

Fourthly, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) said about clause 17. The area about which I am least happy in planning practice and law is the position when a local authority is making a decision on planning policy permission in relation to its own land or a development in which it is involved. I have several examples in my constituency. The local authority gave itself planning permission for council offices on land acquired for a public park. It allowed housing on land that was acquired or used for public open space. Recently it promoted a hostel jointly with the health authority when it clearly runs the risk of breaching planning control. Certainly seven people will be in residence. It is difficult to believe that matters would follow the course that is being pursued if a private developer were involved.

I welcome clause 17, but I shall be looking hard at it, because I am far from satisfied that it completely lays to rest a problem which I regard as one of the greatest difficulties and weaknesses of the present planning system.

Photo of Mr Mark Wolfson Mr Mark Wolfson , Sevenoaks 9:02 pm, 12th March 1991

I am pleased to follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), and shall endeavour to emulate the dispatch with which he made his points.

I welcome the Bill. It is seldom that an opportunity arises to alter and, one hopes, to improve the planning and compensation laws, so it is essential that we get the Bill right. I wish to focus on two aspects in particular—those dealing with enforcement and compensation. I will begin with compensation.

I support those who have argued that compensation for compulsory purchase should be higher, for all the reasons that they have eloquently stated, but particularly for reasons of speed in getting an application through and saving the money that is otherwise spent due to the huge cost inflation of projects. We now often have compulsory purchase not simply for the provision of what used to be solely a public service but for commercial gain, so it seems right that the individual losing his property—not just his home but, in the same category, possibly farmland— should have a beneficial gain, as well as those who will benefit from holding the land and developing it in the future for whatever purpose.

My right hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) specified the particular problem of blight and the importance of amending the Bill to enable people to be bought out for future development of roads and, in my case, the high-speed rail link. Such people should not suffer years of blighted property, as a result of which their whole life style may be broken because they cannot sell their home and move.

We must look abroad. For example, French railways pay 125 per cent. of the value of property. That is an extremely sensible policy. As a result, people who are about to be or will be bought out for the development of a railway line in France cannot understand why we in Britain have difficulties over such matters. The reason, of course, is that under our arrangements for buying out, compensation for compulsory purchase is far too low.

I shall now deal with enforcement in the case of unauthorised development. Here we deal with buildings, tipping and gipsy sites. I am extremely uneasy about the improved enforcement powers in the Bill, because I think that they will prove to be inadequate. Perhaps, after much consultation, lengthy work in Whitehall and many parliamentary hours, the Bill will still be toothless in terms of enforcement.

I have high hopes for the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo). Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, he is dealing with his first major Bill, and I am sure that he does not want to produce toothless legislation. He wants red-meat legislation and I look to him to respond to the many concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who opened the debate, has already made clear his conversion—whether on the road to Wigan pier I do not know—to the case against criminalisation of unauthorised development. I regret that view, and I shall be one of those who will continue to argue vigorously for a change in the Bill. We ought to listen to the District Planning Officers Society, which knows the problem. I appreciate that my view contrasts with that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston who has a strong legal background and is familiar with the issue. We should be open-minded and ready to appreciate the force of the argument advanced by those who are desperately trying to carry out enforcement orders on the ground in our constituencies for the benefit of the people who live there. We should give them the powers they seek.

Legislation exists to protect the environment, both urban and rural, which belongs to us all. When an individual or an organisation succeeds in flouting those valid constraints, it sets a serious precedent for others to follow. It also brings the law into serious and deepening disrepute. People naturally say to themselves, "If he can get away with it, why shouldn't I? Is it really worth being law-abiding?" The national situation is serious. There is a major problem of unauthorised development. In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) spoke about that and gave figures. I am convinced that it should be made a criminal offence.

Local authorities encounter a multitude of difficulties when trying to exercise their enforcement role. The enforcement notice is almost inevitably followed by an appeal which takes months or years to achieve. It is then necessary to go for a confirmed notice followed by prosecution in the courts for non-compliance. That is not cheap, and the public are paying the price. So far, the penalties have been derisory. The Bill will increase the penalties, but they will still not be enough.

Understandably, the public accuse councils of allowing the transgressor to get away with it, and the credibility of the system is therefore badly damaged. Although some of the difficulties have been fully explored in the Carnwath report and are addressed in the Bill, I do not think that the proposed legislation goes far enough.

I share the view that the deterrent effect of immediate court action is needed to restore proper public credibility to the system. Unless we have that, the deliberate offender —there are a number of them, and they are often well known at local level—cannot be effectively dealt with. Such offenders should be branded, publicly, as criminals.

My comments refer to unauthorised development of buildings, to tipping and to gipsy sites. I want other hon. Members to have the opportunity to speak, so there is not time to detail the problems that we have had with gipsy sites in my constituency. An authorised site for two caravans exists but, since 1987, there have been up to 30 caravans on it at one time. That is not good enough, and it is not for want of the local authority's trying to get the law enforced.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire 9:10 pm, 12th March 1991

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak about this important Bill. From what I have heard in the past five hours, I am one of the few Members of Parliament who, broadly speaking, welcomes development in my constituency, and is generally quite pleased about the changes happening in south Derbyshire.

Like the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) opposite, my constituency used to be a coal-mining constituency and many of the old developments—for example, the pits and the clay-taking which took place at the same time and in the same place —occurred long before planning law. The result was a terrible mess in much of my area, and there are now a large number of planning applications to clear the land, which cover thousands of acres, which I welcome. The applications are to clear the tips and to clean up old clay areas, and often involve opencast mining for minerals such as coal, and gravel. I have therefore experienced all the problems that have been mentioned tonight. However, I am convinced that, if this work is done, the net result will be a great improvement in south Derbyshire.

As I listened to Opposition Members speaking tonight it occurred to me that, if they were a little less negative about some of the suggestions for their areas and a little more positive, they might have what we have managed to achieve in south Derbyshire, despite the closure of pits —an unemployment rate below the national average, and I hope we shall keep it there.

Nor is it any accident that most of my colleagues on the Conservative Benches have spoken strongly about two major issues—enforcement and delay—and I shall give them some brief, but strong, support. It is apparent that we all share the same problem. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that it is no use writing more legislation if we cannot get it enforced. We already have masses of planning legislation—more than the rest of the European Community put together, I suspect—but enforcement has turned out to be a problem that defeats many of our local councils.

The gipsy problem is apparent in south Derbyshire. South Derbyshire district council is designated under the Caravan Sites Act 1968. There are only four gipsy sites in the county of Derbyshire, and two are in my constituency, which has been designated for years. We have all the powers that we are supposed to need, and all the powers that exist in English planning law to get gipsies off unauthorised sites, but it has proved to be virtually impossible to do so.

My hon. Friends will be familiar with what happens. Someone—a Mr. Smith—buys a piece of land from an unsuspecting farmer. Overnight, a hard standing appears, as well as electricity, lighting, dogs and 24 caravans. Then it is heaven's own task to try to get these people off the land: residents will complain; planning permission is applied for and turned down; an appeal is submitted, which is turned down; residents complain again; an enforcement notice is served, which is accepted by the court; an appeal is offered and goes through the courts; and still nothing happens. Then residents complain again, and before we know it we are back in court.

In one example that I can think of, this process has taken four years to the point that I am describing. The local newspaper is having a campaign against the district council, carrying headlines saying, "Family to be moved off their own land, says council", when there have been nothing but complaints from local residents about the fact that the "family" and its cohorts should never have been there in the first place.

I to serve notice on my local council that, when the legislation is carried—either in its current form or, with the support of my hon. Friends, tightened up—it had jolly well better make use of it and get these people off land that they are not entitled to use in that way. We must bear in mind the fact that they are exercising rights that the rest of my constituents—most of whom pay their community charge and all their taxes—do not have and feel aggrieved about.

My other point concerns compensation. I am becoming convinced that my hon. Friends who have said that the compensation being offered under the Bill is not sufficient are probably right. That being the case, we give the Minister notice that, as well as coping with the Opposition's case, he may have to deal with pressure from his own side. I therefore hope that he will hearken to what has been said.

The insufficiency of compensation is one of the main causes of the unhappiness, grief or distress that attend all planning applications in this country—especially major applications in respect of public works, such as the development of the Stoke-Derby M6-M1 link road, which will go right through my constituency, and in respect of which a planning inquiry is currently proceeding. That road is very necessary in the public interest—national as well as local. The current road is really just a country lane and is extremely dangerous. There have been several fatalities.

So far as everyone is concerned, the sooner the new road is provided the better. The problem is that the financial and personal interests of a substantial number of people will be damaged. I am quite sure that, if the compensation scheme were as generous as possible, I could help to sell the project. I think I could persuade people that they would do well by withdrawing their objections—and there have been 40 major objections.

However, it is not sufficient to have a good compensation scheme; payments must be made as quickly as possible. The situation in respect of payments resulting from compulsory purchase orders leaves an enormous amount to be desired. I should be pleased to know whether the Minister has any plans to make local authorities, when they are involved, hurry up.

In south Derbyshire, many compulsory purchase orders are made as a result of property being made unfit through mining subsidence. It is typical for a compulsory purchase order to be granted and for the price to be agreed, but for the seller to have to wait several years for payment. I am currently dealing with cases in which people have waited three years for compensation, having lost their homes and been rehoused by the council. When the money is eventually paid, it will not be nearly sufficient to take account of the increase in house prices in the interim.

These poor people have been paying mortgages and have had to meet the cost of double glazing and so on. Interest has also accumulated. When the money comes eventually, it will not be sufficient, and these people will be left without homes, without a penny of equity, and with substantial debts. I am quite sure that, if compensation were paid more quickly, many of the problems would disappear. If that could be achieved by amending the Bill, I hope that my hon. Friend will consider introducing the necessary amendments.

I hope that many of the faults about which we have heard today will be put right by this legislation, into which so much effort has gone. The extent of the consultation has been admirable. If the Bill works, it will be a most sensible and worthwhile addition to our planning law.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams 9:17 pm, 12th March 1991

It falls to me to wind up for Members on the Back Benches. I shall try to do so in the next eight minutes.

This Bill provides us with a wonderful opportunity to deal with planning law. We have not had a planning Bill for 20 years. This one is supposed to tackle the faults of the planning system, but it does not do the whole job. It is really a very modest, tinkering Bill, which increases compensation for compulsory purchase. Although it incorporates some of the Carnwath recommendations, it does not make building without planning permission an offence.

I wonder whether the Minister has any idea of the scale of this problem. In 1988, there were 64,381 complaints about unlawful development. In 1989, the number went up to 74,979—an increase from 380 to 405 in the number of complaints per authority. Where else can people cock a snook at the law and, as often as not, get away with it? Other hon. Members have concentrated on whether it should be a criminal offence to build without planning consent. I propose, in the brief time available, to dwell on two matters that the Bill should, but does not, deal with. The first is the national scandal of vacant derelict public land. The register that was set up 10 years ago lists, even today, 82,400 acres of vacant public land—and that is just the tip of the iceberg. The register is already limited by a number of categories, and estimates from reliable sources suggest that the amount of vacant land is nearer 150,000 acres. The documentation of land in the register is as extensive as a large London telephone directory. Public authorities are not property developers; few know how to market the land, and there is little incentive for them to do so.

While all that public land lies waste, however, developers are constantly exerting pressure for the building of more houses that will encroach on green-field sites—because, they say, no other land is available. That constant pressure on the countryside causes outrage and concern in the shire counties represented by a vast number of Conservative Members, which is understandable in view of the vast tracts of publicly owned land that are lying idle in urban areas.

I know that not everyone wants to live in the inner city, but inner London alone contains 136,000 "homeless households". The damage being done to those people and their children is incalculable, and it is a disgrace that so much good land should lie idle for want of Government action.

For the past 12 years, I have campaigned for such action. I have proposed the auctioning of public land, and I have also suggested that the land should be transferred to regional property development companies which could market and sell it, in a scheme affectionately known as PLUMS. The idea is that the land bank will not be reduced without new initiatives from the private sector, with the possibility of profits to spur the companies involved into action.

Mention of the need to help the homeless brings me to the issue of housing and local plans. The Bill will make local plans compulsory everywhere in Britain. That is a welcome move: only 25 per cent. of rural areas, in regard to population, are now covered by local plans, which can enable future housing needs to be discussed and incorporated into an area's development plans. England alone contains 1·25 million "homeless households"; surely one of the chief purposes of the planning system is to facilitate the provision of sufficient homes in the right places.

Household formation forecasts are made by four people at the Department of the Environment, and are based on population forecasts provided by six people at the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The forecasts are then handed down to the counties, which then draw up structure plans in, as it were, tablets of stone. The counties apportion the figures among the districts.

However, by the time that the houses are being built in those districts, the Department is revising its forecasts. In my county, Devon, 32 per cent. fewer households will be formed in the last five years of the 1990s than in the first five years of the 1980s; England will experience a total overall drop of 45 per cent. The earlier forecasts, however, have already been incorporated in the Devon local plans, and the districts are already building houses to suit the earlier projections based on the 1980 figures. The entire programme has been distorted.

Surely it would be more sensible to base local house building plans on local, rather than national, figures. The district council in Totnes has a far better idea of how many houses will be needed in Aveton Gifford, in my constituency, than anyone in Holborn or Whitehall. Local plans should also take into account the state of the infrastructure: that is more important than the simple issue of development. No houses should be built unless planning applications explain how the extra infrastructure is to be provided.

It is not just sewerage but gas, electricity, water, hospital beds, doctors, police cover and so on. No new estate should be given the go ahead until the infrastructure to support the increased population is in place. In Roborough in my constituency, for example, a new estate was built but no extra school places were provided. In South Milton, so many new houses have been built that the sewage now backs up into the village. In Stokeham, so many houses have been built that the local electricity substation is frequently overloaded and the pub regularly plunged into darkness.

Not only must we get numbers and infrastructure right; it is just as important to get the houses to look right. Often it is the shape and design of buildings that offend people. There are quite a few monstrous carbuncles on the face of well loved Devon villages which caused an outcry when first built and which still appear intrusive and out of scale. When I mention design, I am always told that it cannot be regulated, that it is too subjective. That is a cop-out. Aesthetics and design must be discussed and guidance given in local plans, so that local people and local officials have at least some say in the way in which new buildings affect their area, especially when these are specially designated conservation areas.

I have mentioned some of the glaring omissions from the Bill, but they can easily be amended. With my suggestions and the good will and the drafting of the Government team, we can make positive and constructive progress. The planning system is crying out for improvements, and we have the opportunity in this Bill to put things right.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:26 pm, 12th March 1991

I suspect that, when the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) entered the Chamber this afternoon, he expected a somewhat warmer welcome for the Bill. In the speeches at the various stages of consideration of the Bill in the other place, there was a much more comprehensive welcome for the legislation than we have heard today. I will come to a general welcome for some aspects of the Bill in a few moments. I will just say now that no one speech from the Government Back Benches has welcomed the Bill in its entirety; in every case, the speeches have been critical not of what is in the Bill, which we all welcome, but of the omissions from the Bill and the faults in the current system that right hon. and hon. Members feel will not be put right by the Bill as it now stands.

We generally welcome the Bill, particularly clauses 1 to 11, which improve the enforcement procedures arising out of the Carnwath report mentioned by several hon. Members. The publication "Enforcing Planning Control" was widely welcomed and well consulted on and, on the whole, we think that the Government have translated it intelligently into legislation.

There has been some discussion about criminality and whether transgressions against planning law should be criminal offences. On the whole, the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is a good one—that, where the development without permission is irreversible, as in the case of open-cast mine workings or listed buildings, it should be a criminal offence. There is a logic in that. In other cases it should be a matter of simply returning the site to what it was before. The Minister of State took some interest in that suggestion. If he wanted to co-operate with us in bringing in an amendment in Committee, we would want to co-operate with him on it.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , Wealden

Will the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) not go further than something which is "irreversible" and look at the question from the point of view of blatant breaches of planning control? They are perhaps not irreversible but, by golly, the way things are now, it takes years to get anything done, and the way in which the Government have phrased the Bill does not improve it as much as we would like.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am always more than happy to accept an invitation by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith). I think that he is referring to the rate at which things can be changed. If the development can be reversed, we should concentrate on speeding up the process by which it can be reversed rather than going for criminalisation. However, if the hon. Gentleman differs from his ministerial colleagues, I have no doubt that he will take up those differences through the other channels available to him.

In response to an intervention, the Minister confirmed in his opening remarks that the Government intended to move towards a plan-led system rather than a development-led system. We welcome that. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) took us on a perambulation of the heinous crimes committed by developers in his constituency and he will also welcome the Minister's remarks. The points that my hon. Friend was trying to make were dealt with because a plan-led system is better than a development-led system.

Having uttered those brief words of welcome, I shall spend some time dealing with the issues which we feel that the legislation as drafted does not cover in sufficient detail or covers in a way which does not make the best use of the potential available.

One body of opinion feels that a general duty should be placed on local authorities to ensure that planning controls are properly and fully complied with. Certainly, the abuses mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East would be better dealt with in that context. With regard to enforcement, we accept by and large that complete criminalisation of the process would not be the best method. However, we believe that an exception should be made in the case of irreversible developments. We shall seek to deal with that in Committee.

The Bill should also increase the importance given to development plans. They should be a major consideration, especially during the appeal stage. I have some sympathy with that idea because of what I have seen in my own constituency. At the moment, the problem is often that local authorities' planning committees and the councillors who sit on them have to act on the advice that they receive from officers. That advice—certainly in my constituency —is sometimes based on the likelihood of the plan going to appeal. It is not straightforward planning advice about what would be good for the area and about what would fit in with the local plan. It often takes into account what would happen if a lawyer took the plan to appeal and if various statements were made. That is wrong—local plans should be the major consideration. I hope that the Bill will give inspectors a stronger context in which to consider recommendations and that the process of strengthening local plans can be developed more fully in Committee. That would answer some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara).

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) talked about the opportunities for and the justice of greater public participation in the planning process. We should like to see more thought given to how people can have more say in the planning process, not because of any NIMBY sympathy but simply because we believe that there are many vested interests in development, not least those of the people who live in the area. I should like to be convinced of the case for a third-party appeal system because it would be an obvious route for public objections.

I know—and it is fairly evident from the speeches made by Conservative Members—that although when I was first elected to the local council in 1971, planning was usually not a matter of great concern, if one wants to fill a public meeting these days, one should have a meeting about a planning proposal. On one occasion in my constituency 1,000 people, unbelievably, turned up at a public meeting to discuss a planning proposal about an incinerator. There is widespread public interest, and we must take account of that as we deal with legislation and the reform of the present system.

We believe that a new used class should be included in the planning system and we will raise that matter in Committee. We will raise especially the question of social rented housing, which could have significance in urban and in rural areas. It is unquestionably true that there is a widespread demand, which is largely recognised, for an increase in the supply of affordable rented housing. It is estimated that we require between 100,000 and 150,000 new units a year. Let us take the conservative estimate and say that the figure is 100,000.

The affordability of land is an issue in trying to achieve those objectives. We believe that creating a new class of social rented housing would identify the land available that the local authorities felt could be used for the purpose, and would stop the escalation of value which occurs when land is turned over for general housing use, which means that social rented housing has to compete with other forms of development. We hope that that issue can be taken up in Committee.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) fully covered the lack of green issues and of environmental impact assessment in the Bill. Given the shortage of time, I will not detain the House on that in detail. The potential exists for taking a more comprehensive look in the planning system, at green issues, but that does not seem to be covered in detail in the Bill. The Opposition will seek to realise that potential in Committee. There is considerable potential for green issues to be taken into the planning system, and the planning system should be used as a positive tool in that respect. We hope to use the opportunities available to us to table amendments through which to raise those issues.

In parenthesis, I want to give one reason why green issues are important, and I speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton). I invite all Ministers, before or during Committee, to look at the coal dust problem in the docks at Bootle. They would then realise the enormous problems with which people are confronted. Ministers would have to recognise that something should be done in the planning system. At present, the local residents, the Member of Parliament and Sefton borough council are frustrated in their efforts to do something about the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South spoke about home loss payments. We accept that the Bill proposes a fairer system of payment for tenants and for owner-occupiers. In the case of tenants, the maximum payment would be £ 1,500. It is unjust that an owner-occupier, apart from the compensation that he is paid for the property, could expect to receive up to £ 15,000 whereas a tenant of any description would receive a maximum in home loss compensation of £ 1,500. There is little difference in the distress suffered by a tenant and by an owner-occupier. It does not justify a tenfold difference in the payments, and the matter should be considered again.

In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), I believe that retrospection is important and we will raise it in Committee. The Minister is committed to going back to 13 November which is, I accept, the publication date of the Bill, so the decision is not entirely unreasonable on the surface. However, some cases that have been going on for some time before that date remain unresolved. We should consider including some such cases in the Bill. My two constituents, Mrs. Reid and Mrs. Davidson who were thrown out of Whitefield square in Kirby, would be grateful if we included retrospective measures to help them.

The Bill's limitations have been so graphically portrayed by hon. Members that the welcome that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and I gave to the Bill almost pales into insignificance compared with the grievances and complaints highlighted in the debate. I hope that even if Ministers do not listen to Opposition Members in Committee they will at least listen to their hon. Friends, who feel that many grievances are as yet unresolved. I suspect that it will take a Labour Government to sort out those grievances.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 9:40 pm, 12th March 1991

This has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate, which I interpreted in an entirely different way from the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). My hon. Friend and I welcome many of the constructive and useful suggestions from our hon. Friends, and the overall atmosphere of the debate could hardly have been more positive. It is gratifying to know that the wide acceptance that the Bill enjoys outside the House has been reflected on both sides of the Chamber tonight. Many points have been raised, and I shall try to deal with as many as I can in the time available.

I shall start with the issue of enforcement and criminalisation—making unauthorised development a criminal offence. The subject has been raised by a great many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), in a ferocious speech, for South Hams (Mr. Steen), whose views are well known, and for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), most of whom prayed in aid the report of the District Planning Officers Society.

Criminalisation was opposed in the debate, not only by Opposition spokesmen, to whom I am grateful, but by some distinguished practitioners, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground). The issue was looked at closely by Robert Carnwath, who concluded: the margins between lawful and unlawful development are simply not sufficiently clear-cut to form an acceptable basis for a new criminal offence". The Government believe that there are serious and specific objections to criminalisation. Supporters of criminalisation make two conflicting claims. They argue that planning authorities would use the draconian measure only sparingly, in the most serious cases, but in the next breath, they maintain that the deterrent effect of such a power would be widespread. If planning authorities were to use the power so rarely, how effective a deterrent would it be?

Criminalisation will not provide a quick remedy. An information may be laid quickly in the magistrates court by the planning authority, but there may then be a waiting period until the case can be heard. Throughout that period, the allegedly unlawful development would continue.

Criminalisation would impose a heavier burden of proof on planning authorities by requiring them to show "beyond reasonable doubt" that a breach of control had occurred. At present, in enforcement appeals, decisions are taken on the basis of the civil standard of proof, which is the "balance of probability".

Criminalisation does not provide any remedy. Even if an offence were successfully prosecuted, the breach of planning control would remain. Therefore, in practice, planning authorities would have to take formal enforcement action as well as prosecuting for an offence, so they would be involved in parallel proceedings in serious cases, involving considerable extra cost and complication.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I am sorry, but I cannot give way; I have too many points to answer.

If the other provisions in the Bill were properly used by local authorities, they could prevent, much of the unauthorised development to which hon. Members understandably object..

My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) raised some environmental issues. I should remind the House that it is already an offence to knock down a listed building. Making irreversible, unlawful development a criminal offence has a superficial attraction but involves serious problems of definition. In any event, if we could define that category satisfactorily, we would find that only a small number of developments could be classified as irreversible.

As for my right hon. Friend's question about restitution costs, existing legislation provides, under certain circum-stances, for authorities to take action to enter a property and then to charge the owner for the cost of remedial action.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) when he opened the debate for the Opposition, the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) and others, have mentioned environmental considerations. An environmental impact assessment is already required for nine categories of major development, as provided under European Community directive 85/337. An environmental impact assessment is also required for a wide range of developments that are likely to have significant environmental effects.

An amendment was moved in another place to enable that list to be extended. It is already pretty comprehensive and includes, for example, many projects on agriculture, the extractive industry and the metal processing industry. It includes aspects of the fruit industry such as the manufacture of dairy products, brewing and malting and infrastructure projects such as oil installations, yacht mariners and projects for hotel complexes and holiday villages. All such projects can already have an environmental impact assessment if the proposed development is likely to have a significant effect. However, we agreed to consider the amendment made in another place, and will report on our conclusions in Committee.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned environmental assessments for private Bills. We have just issued a consultation paper on the implementation of the recommendation made by the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure that there should be a requirement for environmental assessment for such Bills. The consultation paper was prepared in conjunction with the authorities of both Houses.

The possibility of third-party appeals was mentioned by the hon. Members for Hammersmith, for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and for Eastbourne. Allowing third-party appeals would take more decisions out of the hands of local authorities. That is exactly the opposite direction to the one in which the Government are now trying to move. We should like more decisions to be taken locally. My experience leads me to believe that, were the third-party appeals procedure introduced, a significant number of such appeals would take place. If only one tenth of the applications now granted permission went to appeal as a result of that procedure, the number of cases appearing before my right hon. Friend for determination would immediately double. Therefore, the consequences of third-party appeal in terms of the extra cost and delay in reaching decisions are horrendous.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

No, I shall not give way, as we are short of time, and I would rather deal with the other points that were raised.

In a characteristically robust speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) took exception to the approach outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning for a planned philosophy in terms of determining planning policy and planning decisions. There has been no weakening in our policies for the protection of the green belt. One of the key functions of the development plan process is to work out, through a process that involves wide public consultation, how the need to provide new housing and other development is best reconciled with the need to protect green belts and other vulnerable areas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes account of those factors in determining housing requirements for a particular area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove also mentioned the quality of the urban fringe. Again, I draw it to his attention that only last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stressed that we need to seek ways of improving the green belt by dealing with land that is too often brown rather than green, thus improving amenity and increasing the opportunity for quiet enjoyment. I hope that my hon. Friend is much reassured.

The development plan system will be at the heart of our planning process in future. The provisions of up-to-date structure plans and local plans will guide the deliberations of local authorities and the decisions of inspectors and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that the development plan system will help to promote the consistency that was so eloquently advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) in a forceful speech.

I can also confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton that local authorities can refuse to determine identical applications that are made within less than two years of the date of the previous identical application. My hon. Friend suggested that local authorities might be intimidated by applicants. That is not an issue which is easily dealt with in legislation.

Many hon. Members, notably my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) and others, made it clear that they favoured bigger home loss payments. Let us be clear that our proposals in the Bill are considerably more generous than the present provision. We are increasing the maximum from £ 1,500 to £ 15,000.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks referred to the French system, but that is not as generous as it seems. Although it involves a figure of 25 per cent., it is subject to a maximum of FF100,000, which at the current exchange rate is just over £ 10,000. The maximum figure that can be claimed under the 25 per cent. rule is only £ 2,500—only one sixth of what we propose in the Bill.

Our proposals will lead to a doubling of the payments for home loss from £ 47 million a year to £ 97 million a year, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning said when he opened the debate. Of course, it has been difficult for us to decide on the right level for home loss payments. It is impossible to measure objectively the personal distress involved in the loss of a home, but our proposal is reasonable. We could make a choice only on the basis of a judgment of what was reasonable from the point of view of the claimant who loses his home, but we also had to take into account the burden that the taxpayer or local charge payer could be expected to bear.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South mentioned delays in the payment of compensation. Claimants are entitled to an advance of 90 per cent. of the estimated compensation as soon as they move. The precise amount then has to be negotiated. I am not aware that problems have been caused by payment being withheld after the amount of compensation was agreed. If my hon. Friend would like to draw any specific cases to my attention, I shall certainly follow them up.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and others made a point about tenants. It seemed to us that the home loss payment for owner-occupiers should be higher than that for tenants. After all, tenants are statutorily entitled to be rehoused by the local authority. They do not face the problem of searching for another home. They also stand to benefit from other aspects of our proposals. In particular, many tenants will be eligible for the home loss payment as a result of the reduction of the qualifying period of residence from five years to one year. Many people who would previously have been excluded from the scheme will now be included.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The point that I made has not been adequately covered. I accept that there are differences between tenants and owner-occupiers, but the effect on home owners is not 10 times that on tenants. It is not the difference between £ 1,500 and £ 15,000.

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

The home loss payment is different, but not every owner-occupier will qualify for the maximum £ 15,000. The majority will have a much smaller figure—10 per cent. of the value of their house, which may be only £ 4,000 or £ 5,000. The difference is much less than the hon. Gentleman suggests. In addition, a tenant or an owner-occupier can claim complete removal costs, which nowadays can amount to a substantial sum.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West that, under clause 53 and schedule 12, we are providing for additional compensation to be paid in future if, within 10 years of a compulsory purchase, there is further development on the land that has been acquired.

In reply to an important point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), I can confirm that the extra power contained in the Bill can be used by authorities to help in cases of hardship. In reply to his request for news of when an announcement may be forthcoming about possible compensation for the intensification of existing railway lines, I can only say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to come to a conclusion soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) rightly drew attention to our important proposals regarding interim development orders. His views on the need for conditions to accompany the registration process have been noted and, as he knows, the current consultation exercise ends on Friday.

I assure my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) that we have recently commissioned research on the important subject of whether performance bonds are needed to cover the cost of restoration schemes. I also compliment my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerset and Frome on his powerful speech; he drew attention to the impact of environmental disturbance resulting from mineral extrac-tion in the Mendips and I assure him that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and I will take his points on board extremely carefully. I am acutely aware of the sensitivity of the issues he has raised, on which he has been in correspondence with me.

I must apologise to hon. Members whose points I have not had time to answer in detail. I hope that many of them will take part in our deliberations in Committee, when I have no doubt that a number of the issues that have been covered briefly today will be explored at much greater length.

I am sure that all hon. Members receive frequent requests for help about planning applications, planning appeals and even planning decisions, and in relation to the planning process generally. Long before I had any ministerial responsibility for planning matters, I concluded that the more certainty and coherence which could be injected into the process of reaching planning decisions and the decisions themselves, the easier life would be for all hon. Members and, much more important, the happier most of their constituents would be.

The Bill is designed to promote that certainty and coherence. I know that many hon. Members and members of the public are worried about specific aspects of planning policy. Those anxieties frequently centre on the possibility that unwelcome or allegedly inappropriate development will take place. No legislation can remove such fears, but it can provide a framework within which planning decisions are made and enforced and in a way which promotes the formulation of policies designed to reflect the best long-term interests of the community. The Bill is a valuable step in that direction.

The Bill is certainly varied, as the wide range of points with which I have just been dealing shows. It is also an important Bill. On many of the issues with which it deals, especially compensation, we have had no opportunity to update the law for many years. Efficiency and fairness require that the details of legislation are carefully looked at from time to time, but that does not detract form the importance of the new measures in the Bill.

I recognise that not everybody likes everything in the Bill. Many hon. Members have suggested that, in one respect or another, they do not think that it goes far enough, but I invite the House to consider the Bill as a package of measures which together strike just about the right balance; a balance which we have to strike between the needs of applicants and those of authorities, between the interests of conservation and the interests of development, between the reasonable demands of claimants and the protection of the public purse. I welcome the general support for the Bill. I look forward to a full discussion in Committee of the many issues raised. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).