'(1) The local planning authority must prepare and maintain a plan to be known as their local development plan ("the plan") which will contain a number of Local Development Documents, each of which will cover a different subject matter as specified in the plan.
(2) The plan must specify—
(a) the documents which are to be local development documents ("the documents");
(b) the subject matter and geographical area to which each document is to relate;
(c) which documents (if any) are to be prepared jointly with one or more other local planning authorities which will be treated the same as if one single authority had prepared it;
(d) any matter or area in respect of which the authority have agreed to (or propose to agree) to the constitution of a joint committee under section 28;
(e) the timetable for the preparation and revision of the documents;
(f) such other matters as are prescribed.
(3) Different plan documents must, amongst other matters, include:
(a) those matters in which the County Council or Unitary Authority has a role;
(b) a plan for each of the larger settlements as detailed in the plan;
(c) a plan for any other settlement which may be designated in the plan;
(d) a plan detailing all section 106 matters including the formula or tariff including the provision of social housing;
(e) a plan detailing how specific planning designations, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty will be operated;
(f) a plan detailing how land use, sustainability and economic regeneration are to be managed;
(g) such other matters as the Secretary of State prescribes.
(4) The local planning authority may withdraw their plan or documents at any time before they are formally adopted.
(5) The local planning authority must—
(a) prepare the plan and documents in accordance with such other requirements as are prescribed;
(b) submit the plan and documents to the Secretary of State at such time as is prescribed or as the Secretary of State (in a particular case) directs;
(c) at that time send a copy of the plan and documents to the RPB or (if the authority are a London borough) to the Mayor of London;
(d) prepare, publish and have regard to a Statement of Community Involvement as negotiated by section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22).
(6) The Secretary of State may direct the local planning authority to make such amendments to the plan or documents as he thinks appropriate, but only when the Secretary of State and Authority can not agree on any matter.
(7) A direction under subsection (6) above must contain the Secretary of State's reasons for giving it.
(8) The local planning authority must comply with a direction given under subsection (5).
(9) The Secretary of State may make regulations as to the following matters—
(a) publicity about the plan and documents;
(b) making the plan and documents available for inspection by the public;
(c) requirements to be met for the purpose of bringing the plan and documents into effect.
(10) The local planning authority must revise their local development plan and documents—
(a) at such time as they consider appropriate;
(b) when directed to do so by the Secretary of State.
(11) Subsections (2) to (10) above apply to the revision of a plan or documents as they apply to the preparation of the plan or documents.
(12) When preparing the local development plan or documents under (1) and (2) above the local planning authority must have regard to—
(a) national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State;
(b) the RSS for the region in which the area of the authority is situated, if the area is outside Greater London;
(c) the spatial development strategy if the authority are a London borough or if any part of the authority's area adjoins Greater London;
(d) the RSS for any region which adjoins the area of the authority;
(e) the Wales Spatial Plan if any part of the authority's area adjoins Wales;
(f) the community strategy prepared by the authority;
(g) the community strategy for any other authority whose area comprises any part of the area of the local planning authority;
(h) any other local development document which has been adopted by the authority;
(i) the resources likely to be available for implementing the proposals in the document;
(j) such other matters as the Secretary of State prescribes.
(13) The local planning authority must submit their local development plan and documents in their entirety to the Secretary of State for independent examination.
(14) But the authority must not submit such a plan or document unless—
(a) they have complied with any relevant requirements contained in regulations under this Part, and
(b) they are satisfied that they are ready for independent examination.
(15) The authority must also send to the Secretary of State (in addition to the development plan) such other documents (or copies of documents) and such information as is prescribed.
(16) The examination must be carried out by a person appointed by the Secretary of State to be known as the Independent Inspector.
(17) The purpose of an independent examination is to determine in respect of the local development plan and documents—
(a) whether they satisfy the requirements in this section;
(b) whether they are sound in all material aspects.
(18) Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development plan must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to submit a summary of each person's representations in writing to the Independent Inspector (as defined in subsection 16), who may decline the evidence if he has reason to believe that it is a repetition of evidence which he has already received from another person.
(19) The Independent Inspector must—
(a) make recommendations; and
(b) give reasons for those recommendations.
(20) The local planning authority must publish the recommendations made under subsection (19).'.—[Mr. Clifton-Brown.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 19—Local Development Plan (No. 2)—
'(1) The local planning authority must prepare and maintain a plan to be known as their local development plan ("the Plan") which will contain a number of Local Development Documents ("the Documents"), each of which will cover a different subject matter as specified in the plan.
(2) The Plan must specify—
(a) the Documents;
(b) the subject matter and geographical area to which each of the Documents is to relate;
(c) which Documents (if any) are to be prepared jointly with one or more other local planning authorities which will be treated the same as if one single authority had prepared it;
(d) any matter or area in respect of which the authority have agreed (or propose to agree) to the constitution of a joint committee under section 28;
(e) such other matters as are prescribed.
(3) When preparing the Plan or the Documents under (1) and (2) above the local planning authority must have regard to—
(a) national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State;
(b) the RSS for the region in which the area of the authority is situated, if the area is outside Greater London;
(c) the spatial development strategy if the authority are a London borough or if any part of the authority's area adjoins Greater London;
(d) the RSS for any region which adjoins the area of the authority;
(e) the Wales Spatial Plan if any part of the authority's area adjoins Wales;
(f) the Plan of any adjoining Local Planning Authority together with any of its documents which may be relevant;
(g) the community strategy prepared by the authority;
(h) the community strategy for any other authority whose area comprises any part of the area of the local planning authority;
(i) any other local development document which has been adopted by the authority;
(j) the resources likely to be available for implementing the proposals in the Documents;
(4) The "Documents" must include inter alia—
(a) a statement of those matters in which the County Council has a role;
(b) a Document for each of the larger settlements as detailed in the "plan".
(c) a Document for any other settlement which may be designated in the plan;
(d) a Document detailing the matters relating to the Authority's policies on planning contributions and the provisions of social housing;
(f) a Document detailing how land use, sustainability and economic regeneration are to be managed;
(g) such other matters as the Secretary of State prescribes.
(5) The local planning authority must—
(a) prepare the Plan and the Documents in accordance with such other requirements as are prescribed;
(b) submit the Plan and the Documents to the Secretary of State at such time as is prescribed or as the Secretary of State (in a particular case) directs;
(d) prepare, publish and have regard to a Statement of Community Involvement when preparing the Plan and the Documents as negotiated by section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22).
(6) The local planning authority may withdraw the Plan or the Documents at any time before submission to the Secretary of State in accordance with (5)(b).
(7) The Secretary of State may direct the local planning authority to make such amendments to the Plan or the Documents as he thinks appropriate.
(8) A direction under subsection (7) above must contain the Secretary of State's reasons for giving it.
(9) The Secretary of State may make regulations as to the following matters—
(a) publicity about the Plan and the Documents;
(b) making the Plan and the Documents available for inspection by the public;
(c) requirements and timetable to be met for the purpose of bringing the Plan and the Documents into effect, which may not exceed six months.
(10) The local planning authority must revise their local development plan and Documents—
(a) at such time as they consider appropriate, which may not be later than five years from the date the plan came into effect;
(b) when directed to do so by the Secretary of State.
(11) Subsections (2) to (10) above apply to the revision of a plan or documents as they apply to the preparation of the Plan or the Documents.
(12) The local planning authority must submit their local development plan and documents in their entirety to the Secretary of State for independent examination at the times and in the manner laid down in subsections (5) and (10).
(13) But the authority must not submit such a plan or document unless—
(a) they have complied with any relevant requirements contained in regulations under this Part, and
(b) they are satisfied that they are ready for independent examination.
(14) The authority must also send to the Secretary of State (in addition to the development plan) such other documents (or copies of documents) and such information as is prescribed.
(15) The examination must be carried out by a person appointed by the Secretary of State to be known as "the Independent Inspector."
(16) The purpose of an independent examination is to determine in respect of the local development plan and documents—
(a) whether they satisfy the requirements in this section;
(b) whether they are sound in all material aspects;
(c) whether all or part of the Plan and the Documents need to be subject of the examination.
(17) Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development Plan or Documents must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to submit a summary of his representations in writing to the Independent Inspector who may decline to hear either in writing or orally the evidence if he has reason to believe that it is a repetition of evidence which he has already received from another person.
(18) The independent inspector must within three months unless otherwise directed by the Secretary of State—
(a) make recommendations;
(b) give reasons for the recommendations.
(19) The local planning authority must within one month publish the recommendations made under subsection (18) which must be either confirmed by the Secretary of State or modified and published with reasons within the prescribed period under subsection (9)(c).
(20) The local planning authority must comply with directions given by the Secretary of State under subsections (2), (4), (6), (7), (9), (10), (12), (14), (18) and (19).'.
Amendment No. 39, in page 8, line 12, leave out Clause 14.
Amendment No. 40, in page 9, line 16 [Clause 15], leave out 'scheme' and insert 'plan'.
Amendment No. 41, in page 9, line 25, leave out Clause 16.
Amendment No. 42, in page 10, line 22 [Clause 17], leave out subsection (3).
Amendment No. 43, in page 10, line 34, leave out Clause 18.
Amendment No. 27, in page 10, line 40 [Clause 18], at end insert—
'(aa) the housing strategy prepared by the authority under the Local Government Act;'.
Amendment No. 44, in page 11, line 27, leave out Clause 19.
Amendment No. 45, in page 12, line 8, leave out Clause 20.
Amendment No. 46, in page 13, line 4, leave out Clause 21.
Amendment No. 47, in page 13, line 14, leave out Clause 22.
Amendment No. 83, in page 13, line 35 [Clause 23], at end insert—
'(c) any recommendations made by the person appointed to carry out the independent examination of the document.'.
Amendment No. 84, in page 13, line 36 [Clause 23], leave out subsections (2) to (4).
Amendment No. 48, in page 14, line 27 [Clause 24], leave out 'document' and insert 'plan'.
Amendment No. 49, in page 14, line 29 [Clause 24], leave out 'document' and insert 'plan'.
Amendment No. 50, in page 14, line 31, leave out Clause 25.
I am very pleased to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on this group of new clauses and amendments. For the convenience of the House, may I say straight away that new clause 10 has been supplemented by new clause 19? When I tabled new clause 10, I realised that it could be improved, so I shall speak to the revised version—new clause 19—but I do not say that new clause 19 could not be improved as well. I would very much welcome the Minister and his civil servants attempting to improve it, if he were minded to accept it. We shall come to that a little later, but although I suspect that he is not minded to accept it. Nevertheless, I have carefully studied the Minister's remarks in Committee during the previous Session, and I have redrafted my proposals in light of the criticisms that he made then, so I hope that new clause 19 will meet with his full approval and that he will accept it. [Interruption.] I live in hope. It is better to travel in hope than to arrive.
New clause 19 deals with the whole local plan-making procedure, and the success or failure of the Bill rests entirely on whether the regional and local plan-making processes actually work. I shall not say anything about the regional plan-making process because it is not relevant to new clause 19. Suffice it to say that the Opposition oppose the regional plan-making process. I want to deal with the local plan-making process, which is hideously complicated. Indeed, I have good reason to believe that even the Minister and his civil servants do not fully carry at the top of their heads exactly how it works.
New clause 19, which I have drafted, would combine eight or nine clauses, depending on which we include and which we exclude, so halving the number of pages. Moreover, this is not just a simple question of consolidation; new clause 19 would make it far easier for local authorities, businesses and, indeed, all those who get involved in the planning process to understand how the local plan-making process worked in one simple new clause. I shall state why I think that it is superior to the Government's eight or nine clauses.
The Government's stated wish is to produce a simpler, fairer and more transparent planning system. The local plan-making process contained in part 2—clauses 12 to 36—is highly complex. Instead of all the various categories contained in the Bill—the local development schemes, the local development documents, the local development frameworks, the local development plan documents and the joint development documents and schemes, and so on—all with their own provisions for commencement, revision, community involvement, appeals and independent inspections, I propose a simplification that uses just two categories: local plans and local documents. The Bill deals with those two categories. Again, instead of six different tiers and frameworks, I have two—much simpler than the Bill.
New clause 19 would provide county councils with a statutory role—something that the Government have consistently failed to do. Unfortunately, we will probably not reach new clause 23, which I also tabled. Nevertheless, a statutory role for county councils is important because we believe that county councils, in some cases centuries old, have built up a huge bank of knowledge that could be lost to the planning process if we are not careful. We cannot even consider an amendment that would make county councils statutory consultees in the new regional strategy documents.
The Government do not dismiss the fact that some parts of the country will clearly not have elected regional assemblies. Clearly, my own area will not a have regional assembly. Does my hon. Friend agree that county councils provide an important input into planning in those areas? What he proposes would be very much supported throughout the shire counties of England—areas such as my own.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. We tried very hard in Committee to persuade the Government to give county councils a statutory role in the regional plan-making process. Although we won the argument, we failed because the Government used their huge majority. Members of another place will wish to return to this subject. At this stage, however, I am dealing with the local plan-making procedure, and it is absolutely right that county councils have a statutory and proper role in that process.
My new clause deals with clause 14, which provides that documents should be submitted to the Secretary of State for independent inspection. Both my new clause, however, which is modelled on the Bill, and the Bill itself provide that other documents are to be submitted to the Secretary of State. The Law Society and others have concerns about that provision, because they feel that if other arbitrary documents are submitted, confusion may arise about what are legal documents and what are not. I would therefore prefer the new clause to be drawn with just the plan and the documents, and no other documents, to be submitted.
My proposed new subsection (6) allows the local planning authority to withdraw its documents at any time up to submission to the Secretary of State. The Bill allows those documents to be withdrawn at any time up to adoption. In other words, they can go through all the independent examination, and consultation with neighbouring authorities, regional planning bodies and so on, and then suddenly, a few days prior to adoption, be withdrawn. What a waste of time and money.
In my proposed new subsection (8), the Secretary of State must give reasons for directing a local authority to make amendments to its plan. Again, if a local planning authority has gone through all its committee structures, has carried out its community involvement, has consulted the regional planning body and neighbouring authorities, as required under my new clause and the Bill, and the Secretary of State comes along and directs it to change the plan, surely it is only reasonable and fair that he must give his reasons for doing so. The Bill does not provide for that.
My proposed new subsection (16) provides that all or part of the plan and documents are to be subject to an independent examination. That gives much greater flexibility than the Bill, which requires all documents to be subject to an independent examination. I envisage that under my system, the plan, which sets out the overall strategy for the area, might remain in place for 10 years. The analogy in relation to my system is that the plan is the filing cabinet and the documents are the individual drawers or files within it. The plan might therefore remain, but the documents, which cover all sorts of areas—[Interruption.] Yes, I know that the Minister for Housing and Planning will say that that is his plan, but the trouble is that it is not, because he has so many other different categories. I have just two: a filing cabinet and drawers. Anybody who wants to do so can pull out those drawers at any time, and they can be subject to revision, independent examination and re-adoption of the new plan—simple, flexible and easy to revise. One of the Minister's main criticisms of my proposal in Committee related to that.
My proposed new subsection (17) provides that in an independent hearing certain repetitive evidence need not be considered by the inspector. We all know of cases in which action groups—suddenly formed, not particularly well organised and with one typewritten statement—file into an independent hearing one by one and read out exactly the same statement. Surely the inspector must have powers to disregard such repetitive evidence, or a great deal of time could be wasted under clause 19(6), which provides that everybody must be heard orally. The Minister must consider that, if nothing else in my new clause.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that for a very long time inspectors have requested, when they are going over such repetitive ground, that they should be able to say, "We have heard about that, we know about it, and we can now move on." Is it not a great pity that the Government have not taken their advice?
I imagine that my right hon. Friend, who is a former Secretary of State for the Environment and has huge experience in these matters, will have come across this problem time and again. He makes a timely and potent intervention, and I hope that the Minister will consider such an amendment even if he does not consider anything else.
I have some sympathy with the point that has just been made about saving time in inquiries. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that it is important that if 100 people, for example, submit the same piece of evidence, those 100 people are counted as objectors or supporters of a proposal? If we are not careful, the system that he proposes could be used to lower the number of objections, and in some cases stop an inquiry being triggered.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. I would have no objection—in fact, I would find it desirable—if when the independent inspector makes his report he were to say, "And 150 residents of Little Acacia on the Green objected to this proposal with the same evidence. Although I took evidence from Mrs. Black, I had similar evidence from another 149 residents." That would be perfectly reasonable, and I do not seek to stop it in any way whatever. We need some form of power, however, to stop repetitive evidence. After all, in this House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would soon rule me out of order if you felt that what I was saying was unduly repetitive—indeed, Standing Orders provide that you do that. A court of law may do exactly the same thing. There does not therefore seem to be any reason why an independent inspector in a planning hearing should not be able to do the same.
My new clause provides for strict times within which various events should happen. Again, the Secretary of State reserves powers to do that by regulations in the Bill. Those are arbitrary, however, and can be revised at any time. It is vital that timetables, or at least the main timetables, are laid down in statute. Otherwise, the new system will fall into exactly the same failure as the present system. The problem with the present one is that nobody forces local authorities to draw up their plans and to revise them within a certain timetable. Unless that is rigorously upheld, with the complexity of the new system, we will hear every excuse under the sun as to why the new plans are not to be revised. My new clause therefore provides that within five years the plan and the documents must be revised. On reflection, the plan must be looked at but it does not have to be revised—some documents, however, must be revised within the five-year period.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend on the need to introduce sensible timetables for provision and revision of development plans—I prefer to call them development plans rather than documents or schemes as he has done in his amendments. Good precedent for that, whether or not the system works properly, is provided by the fact that a local planning authority is required to give a determination of a planning application within eight weeks; otherwise, the applicant has the right to appeal.
My hon. Friend, who has huge experience in these matters—he referred yesterday to his entry in the Register of Members' Interests and to his previous posts—is absolutely right. A strict timetable should be in place, particularly for revisions of plans, or at least of documents—perhaps the plan should be looked at to determine whether it is still current, but the documents must be revised.
The timetable should then provide that when the plans have been submitted to the Secretary of State for independent inspection, the independent inspector has three months to carry out his work. Again, unless the independent inspector has a strict timetable, things will just drift and not get done. There must be a proper impetus for him to provide his report within three months unless the Secretary of State directs otherwise. The local authority must then publish the results within one month—having received his report, which may in some cases be quite lengthy, there is no reason why it should not do so. When the Secretary of State confirms the plan or modifies it, there is no reason why it should not be brought into effect within six months.
I am not saying that those timetables are absolutely right, but some form of timetable along the lines that I have suggested must make eminent sense. Again, I hope that the Minister will consider whether those timetables can be included in the Bill rather than being determined by regulations, which are arbitrary and can be revised at any time.
New clause 10 represents a simpler approach. It considers the plan-making process as one entity to allow local planning authorities, businesses and individuals to be much clearer about how the system works and make them more likely to become involved in the process. If it is to be as complicated as the Bill prescribes, people will feel alienated from the planning process and will not have a clue about it. Few people get involved in the planning process even now. They become frightfully surprised when a planning application for several houses next door comes along and a local authority says, "We can't refuse that because it was in the plan that we made four years ago," although the residents had no idea about the plan. That is an unsatisfactory way in which to proceed, so I hope that the new process will at the very least encourage more people to participate in the community element of the plan-making process.
The already overly complicated plan-making process has been made even more complex by yesterday's proceedings, so I fear that it will drown under such complexity. If that happens, the Bill will utterly fail to achieve the Government's stated aim of promoting speed, transparency, community development and a user-friendly process, with the net result that economic growth and sustainability will suffer.
The Government will probably reject new clause 10 today, but I hope that those in another place will appreciate that having one holistic whole—a dreadful phrase—for the local plan-making process, set out in a relatively simple new clause, would be far better than the provisions in the Government's eight equivalent clauses.
I rise to provoke a debate on amendment No. 27, which I tabled. The amendment relates to local housing strategies and was prompted by my discussions with the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing. I appreciate that the amendment has arrived on the scene somewhat late, but it is worthy of discussion. I should declare an interest as a full member of the Chartered Institute of Housing. Sir Sydney Chapman said yesterday that, rather than receiving any money from such bodies, he paid them. Similarly, rather than receiving any resources from the Chartered Institute of Housing, it takes money off me—I draw no financial benefit from it at all. Both the institute and the National Housing Federation are excellent organisations that contribute to the wider debate on housing and planning in the UK.
I want to discuss the broad parameters of the link between housing and planning, although I do not intend to take up too much of the House's time. The amendment is an attempt to join up local housing and planning strategies, so that better planned housing that matches local economic, social and environmental needs can be delivered. It would ensure that the local housing strategy was explicitly included in the list of considerations to which local development documents must have regard.
Before I came into the House, I spent a long time working as a housing strategy manager. I tried to integrate the workings of a large local authority's planning and housing departments—it was quite a struggle at times. Documents such as local housing strategies were often produced completely independently of local planning documentation. Local plans tended to be dominated by professional planning officers who worked at regional level, often with little input from other local authority officers. Housing targets cascaded down the system and arrived on the doorstep of housing strategy officers after decisions were signed, sealed and delivered. It is important to integrate housing strategies more effectively with the local planning process.
For many years, local housing strategies were framed by local authorities' ownership of large amounts of municipal stock. In the 1980s, the then Government rightly promoted the establishment of an enabling authority—Mr. Gummer was involved in that. Local authorities' strategic housing functions are extremely important because they need to be integrated effectively and coherently with local plans.
I have made the case for better integration. Strategies are often inconsistent and conflict with each other. Many local authorities have housing strategies that promote the growth of affordable housing, but local planning documents often do not take any account of that, which means that sites do not become available for new housing developments. There is often a deep conflict between the actions of local authority departments. We need to put that right, which is why amendment No. 27 would provide that local housing strategies must be considered as a key component of the development of local planning documentation.
The amendment would create a strong incentive for authorities to reconcile planning and housing policies. It would provide for greater clarity and decrease the number of disputes involving authorities and their stakeholders, especially on planning applications for housing developments. Perhaps most important, it would create a culture of positive planning for housing by reinforcing the mutual importance of planning and housing in achieving sustainable development.
Why should we co-ordinate the strategies? It is no longer appropriate to think about the housing market and affordable housing separately. We must ensure that areas have a single perspective on the housing market because people move across sectors and tenures to find suitable housing. We need a comprehensive analysis that covers all elements of the housing market in a local area, so planning documentation requires a comprehensive understanding of the way in which the housing market operates. We need to promote a good mix of housing types—houses for affordable rent, shared ownership and owner-occupation—because that creates more stable and sustainable neighbourhoods. We must integrate our housing approach with authorities' wider planning strategies, because factors such as transport, communication and proximity to community facilities are important.
I agree with the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. The importance of what he is saying is shown by the fact that developers may currently say, "Okay, we'll do 20 or 30 per cent. affordable housing," yet design two estates with a wall through the middle, so that social and private housing are never mixed. His point is well put: we need integration, rather than fencing communities off from each other.
The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to develop what could perhaps be called "tenure-blind estates", in which people could walk down a road without being able to tell which properties were rented, owner-occupied or in shared ownership. We need a process to integrate tenures throughout a neighbourhood and to ensure that all facilities are consistent for everyone living there. That is how balance may be achieved and sustainable communities built.
Another key point about the co-ordination of strategies for housing is that the delivery of affordable housing is being hampered because of inconsistencies in local plans and housing strategies. That provides an opportunity for appeals against decisions. Local housing authorities need to do much more to understand their housing markets and they should integrate the results of housing need and housing market surveys into their planning strategies. Developers often challenge authorities because they are not confident that their housing market analysis is correct. Such authorities tend to back off because they are not sure that they can win the case. We need a strong and consistent approach between authorities' housing and planning departments to ensure that, if cases are taken to appeal, housing officers will have a commitment from their planning colleagues that the assessments will be defended.
Government policy is starting to tackle failing housing markets but I wonder whether planning practice is responding to that. When we develop comprehensive regeneration strategies for areas in consultation with communities, we need to ensure that our planning colleagues—if I may say that as an ex-housing strategy officer—respond to them positively and plan estates coherently and effectively.
The debate has been enjoyable. It is a bit like groundhog day, with the same few Members in the Chamber, but the debate has been of a high quality.
Amendment No. 27 recognises that the Local Government Act 1992 requires local authorities to draw up a housing plan. They are also required to draw up a homelessness plan under the Homelessness Act 2002 and a sustainability plan under this Bill. The Opposition are keen that all the plans should mesh together; otherwise local authorities will drown under the weight of drawing up separate plans with separate provisions.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments—that is why my probing amendment was tabled. I want to hear what the Minister has to say about how the new structure will integrate the variety of strategies that local authorities are required to produce. In particular, it will be interesting to hear what guidance will be issued to local authorities on the integration of housing strategy with planning policy.
Our debates have been interesting on both days. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response before I decide whether to press my amendment to a vote.
In tabling the new clauses and attached amendments, Mr. Clifton-Brown has given us an opportunity to discuss the scheme at the heart of the plan. Once again, he has produced a revised alternative scheme.
We have been discussing the Bill for almost 12 months and there is now a great danger of consensus emerging, with our positions getting closer and closer.
But is that not what Parliament is all about—debating matters until a consensus is reached? The Government approach things with a sledgehammer, using their huge majority to vote out any sensible proposals from wherever they emerge.
If a consensus emerges, that is all good and well. Some of us have moved along a little faster than the hon. Gentleman, for whom it is sometimes a case of "Hurry up at the back."
The extra time, perhaps unintentionally on the part of the Government back in January, has been valuable for a huge number of reasons. The hon. Gentleman may have touched on one of them.
A consensus is building around the idea of a flexible scheme. Before the Minister claims the phrase as his own, I think I originally referred to a filing cabinet or box file comprising a series of folders. He pinched my words and used them around the country, and I am delighted to have given him such assistance. After our deliberations in Committee, the hon. Member for Cotswold has moved on to similar ground. There is an understanding that we need a flexible scheme.
A local example highlights why such a scheme is needed. It concerns an application for an eco-business park on the edge of Ludlow, currently before the Under-Secretary of State, Yvette Cooper, who is the planning Minister for the west midlands. South Shropshire district council realised that it was running out of business development land. It is revising its local plan, but its implementation is probably about 18 months to two years away. The council will run out of business development land before the plan is likely to come into force.
Almost two years ago, the council entered into a process of considering where future business development land might be. It is a controversial process, because no one wants to be next to such land. The council held an inquiry in public, although it cannot be called a public inquiry, over two days. All sorts of organisations were able to give evidence, and possible sites became clear. The council committee made a decision on them and adopted their development as part of council policy. They are included in the new draft local plan but are obviously not in the current plan.
An application has been made, which the council accepted, but it has been called in because it is not in the current plan. The difficulty is that the process has been gone into in great detail locally. In fact, the Audit Commission holds it up as an excellent example of open local government. A more flexible scheme would have allowed South Shropshire district council to make changes to the local development document. The application would not have encountered the same difficulties and Government officials would not be clawing all over it. So greater flexibility is important.
As the hon. Member for Cotswold said, new clause 19 is the key clause. However, it is deficient. He is trying hard to produce something so that he does not have to agree with the Government's scheme, although his proposals are close to it.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman might as well accept that the Government's scheme is satisfactory.
Unlike the Government's proposal, new clause 19 does not stipulate that statements of community involvement are to be documents in the scheme. The effective use of statements of community involvement will speed up the planning process more than anything else. The schemes that go through the planning process with the least difficulty are those on which there has been the greatest consultation before a planning application is made. The most enlightened developers do that with large schemes. They carry out extensive local consultations, which iron out many of the problems, before the application is made.
I hope that councils will be encouraged to ensure that there is sufficient pre-consultation on those elements. The problem is, of course, that we do not know for sure whether that will happen until the regulations and guidance are published in their final form, but the suggestion is built into the Government's scheme. Unfortunately, however, it is not included in new clause 19. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cotswold intends it to be included in another document under subsection (4) (g), which refers to:
"such matters as the Secretary of State prescribes."
Statements of community involvement are fundamental to the success of a faster and more open planning system. I am surprised at their absence from the new clause.
The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. Community involvement in plan making is one thing; pre-application discussions on an individual application are a different matter.
New clause 19(3)(g) would ensure that the local planning authority has regard to community strategy. The Local Government Act 1992 requires local authorities to draw up a statement of community strategy. As that will have to be done anyway, why should it also be one of the documents? If a local planning authority does not have regard to that community strategy, it will be subject to judicial review.
I think that the hon. Gentleman fails to understand the full importance of the potential of a statement of community involvement. When the council draws up such a statement, it will set out exactly the way in which the community will be involved in individual plans. It is a document in the scheme and it sets out the process. There is no mention of a statement of community involvement, but there is mention of a community strategy, which is a different issue. I shall understand if the hon. Gentleman says that he meant to mention a statement of community involvement in the new clause, which has had various incarnations as it has moved gradually towards being the same as the Government's proposal.
There is another area with which I have some difficulty. A number of councils—I mention South Shropshire council again, but only because I know it well as it is in my constituency—have been quite forward thinking in developing planning policies. There is no law that prevents that. South Shropshire council has its own separate document setting out its affordable housing policy. It also has its own separate document on policy that relates to how it deals with mast applications, which is quite a controversial issue. That is something that many councils have not done. The council uses the document to guide those who are making mast applications so that they know how they will be dealt with—central Government have not said that the council cannot adopt that approach. It is creating effective local policies in other ways, too.
My understanding of the Government's scheme is that, in effect, local development documents will be allowed to include documents that relate not only to geographical areas, not only to settlements, not only to housing and not only to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but also to specific areas such as business development land and a strategy for dealing with masts, for example. That is a great degree of flexibility, local decision making and local choice. I thought that all three parties were trying to compete with one another to show just how much they are in favour of the new localism, to use a word that comes from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I do not think that there is sufficient flexibility in new clause 19 to allow councils to do that. There is too much structure in the clause.
I used to think, particularly back in January, that the Government had created a scheme that involved a plethora of new terms and far too many new clauses. In creating flexibility, it is difficult to have only one scheme. I urge the hon. Member for Cotswold to withdraw new clause 19 which, as I have said, moves broadly down the route that the Government have taken.
I am pleased that David Wright tabled amendment No. 27. He was right to do so. I suspect that it will not be necessary to give effect to it, but it has enabled him to raise some important issues relating to housing strategies and their close involvement with local planning. I was struck by his rightful call to see proper mixed-tenure estates, rather than divided estates. The Government need to be careful that by changing section 106, which we debated yesterday, they do not create a situation where non-mixed tenure estates are encouraged by the back door. One way to avoid that is the close involvement of housing strategies in local plans. I hope that the Government guidance will include a strong line recommending to councils that that is exactly what the Government would expect to see. We do not want all the social housing at one end of the settlement and the owner occupiers at the other end, with a high wall and protective fencing round it. Heaven forbid that we ever move down that route.
When I served in local government, we did much to try to promote shared ownership housing—this meets the sort of objective that the hon. Gentleman and others have been talking about. We found that that worked well on mixed-tenure estates, and also when such housing was built next to private estates. It did not seem to worry anybody and it gave everybody an opportunity to get a foot on a rung of the housing ladder. It is something of which I have always been proud.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Given house prices, we shall have to see a growth of shared equity of various forms. There are various ways of arriving at shared equity. The key thrust is not only mixed-tenure estates but, as the hon. Member for Telford said, the experience of walking down a street without knowing the tenure of the properties. There has been a tendency to get through the social housing obligation by putting a couple of boxes at one end of the estate and then building some nice five-bedroom houses on the rest of the estate. That approach has been adopted in some areas, but it is not satisfactory.
Once again, the hon. Member for Cotswold has done the House a favour by tabling his new clauses, because he has allowed us to debate matters that are at the heart of the new planning system. I was worried when he said that he wanted independent examination of his drawers, but, to be more serious, the new clauses have allowed us properly to debate these matters. However, I think that new clause 19 is unnecessary and I hope that he will withdraw it. This part of the Bill is now satisfactory and does not need substantive amendment.
Is the Liberal spokesman saying that he thinks that the local plan-making process as provided in the Bill is entirely satisfactory?
I would struggle to say that it is entirely satisfactory. I suspect that there are few pieces of legislation that any of us would describe as entirely satisfactory, but this part of the Bill moves in the right direction. As with any new system, it may need tinkering with later. The Government have made a good stab at trying to create a flexible and more open system.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Bill is not entirely satisfactory, may I ask him, mischievously, why he has tabled no amendments to try to improve this part of the Bill?
Time will probably tell us where the deficiencies lie in the Government system, as time has told us where the deficiencies are in the 1990 Act. Given what the Government have set out, and given the slight amendments that have been made over time, I think that the Government have made a reasonable stab. I think that they have moved in the right direction in creating flexibility, local decision making and accountability, and that that will lead to some speeding up of the planning process. However, I do not follow the mantra of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that speeding up the process is the be all and end all, and that British business would suddenly flourish even more if we speeded it up so that somebody could get an application through in a week. That is a lot of nonsense. We would do the public and business a great disservice if we pretended that that could be achieved. A well-structured, efficient and flexible planning system is what local business people and others want.
First, I declare an interest both as an honorary officer of the Town and Country Planning Association and of the Landscape Institute, and as a chairman of a company that, among other things, gives sound planning advice, particularly of an environmental nature. Perhaps that means that I care particularly about the simplicity of the documents and measures that we are considering. I suggest that the House gives serious consideration to some of the amendments, including the one tabled by David Wright, which deals with a key issue. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to ensure that the Bill takes a more integrated approach, and has used the example of the housing strategy, although it has a wider application. We must ensure that when we make planning decisions and write local plans we do so holistically. That is crucial, as that does not happen at the moment and will not do so under the Bill in its current form. The Minister will no doubt help us by saying that he will introduce regulations to achieve that end. However, I commend the amendments because the requirement for an holistic system should be included in the Bill.
My hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown has done the House a service, both generally and specifically, in tabling his amendment. It is hard to conceive how local plans will work if the county council, which has responsibilities not only for the overarching plan but for highways, education and other concerns, is excluded from their operation. Why, then, is it wicked to remind the country that the county council is, and ought to be, a statutory consultee? I do not believe that the Minister is a bad man or has a hidden agenda, but there is an unattractive antagonism towards county councils in the way the Government talk about planning.
In many parts of the country, the county council is an historical structure that covers an area that, for the people who live there, equates closely to the locality. Nobody in my constituency has much love for a region called East Anglia. The people of Trimley St. Mary find it hard to believe that they have much in common with the people of Rickmansworth, and I doubt whether they will be seeking a close association with Essex. My hon. Friend Angela Watkinson may believe that the feeling is mutual, but it is worth making the point that the concept of the regional nature of locality is alien to many parts of the country. However, there is a commitment to the county, even when the county is in the care of the Labour party and its Liberal supporters. I am sure that those Liberal supporters will be considering why, yet again, their party wants to push up the county rate. The Liberals will be blamed, as they deserve to be, for their association with this spendthrift Government. Even when we have just suffered an 18.5 per cent. rise in council tax, we still like our county structure and believe that it is important. That ought to be reflected in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that last week the Audit Commission's report made it clear that, regardless of political control, council tax has been forced up by the council tax system, with the biggest effect resulting from the central Government grant. The report makes it clear that external forces are responsible, so I do not accept that rises are dependent on party control.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I was saying. In Suffolk, we have consistently asked the Liberals to stand up and say that it is the Government's fault. We have told them to stand up and attack the Government. We have told them that we do not expect them to support the Labour party any more because of the damage done to the county. However, as usual, the Liberals have sycophantically supported the Government, as they always do and always will. They are the other Labour party.
How does the right hon. Gentleman answer the point that in Devon the councillors who run the county are a coalition not only of Tories and Liberal Democrats but of Labour and independent councillors? In Devon, the Tory party is tied to the Labour party as well, so what he has just said about the Liberal Democrats surely applies to his own party.
Not at all, because the Conservatives in Devon have made it perfectly clear that they oppose the Labour Government and want to get rid of them. They also want to get rid of the need to associate themselves with the Liberals, which must be a very unpleasant experience for them. I very much commend them on putting the county's interests above the unpleasantness of being close to the Liberals.
I shall move on, because I have not been able to tempt the third Liberal in the Chamber to speak—I shall have to be a little more extreme to get Mr. Heath to intervene. There is a serious problem with the Bill. I wish that the Minister had been much more radical, as many things should have been covered in the Bill, including sustainability, energy saving and the way in which building regulations should develop. The Government ought to be legislating on many of those things, as they are important. The Bill is truncated, and does not include many things that we have been pressing for on an all-party basis. I am concerned that the provisions on local development plans are not wide, progressive or radical enough. I am sure that that is not the Minister's fault, and that it was his predecessor who got us into this situation. However, I wish to put down a marker for the future.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of county councils, does he not think that almost all their responsibilities, including transport, highways, archives and education have a critical bearing on the planning system? If those councils are excluded from the fundamental plan-making part of that system, I do not see how it will work.
My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important matter, which I have raised myself. The difficulty is that the Government may say, "Yes, that is perfectly true, but we do not need to say so." However, if it is true, it cannot do any harm to say so. There must be a reason why the Government do not want to say so, and I believe that it is their antagonism towards county councils. They do not like them because they are old. The Government have got a thing about anything that has gone on for a long time and is working. They usually stop such things working by changing them when that is not necessary, leaving us with a much worse situation—vide the House of Lords. However, we do not want to get into that now.
I did not know why the Government did not like me very much, but now I realise that it is because I am old. In fairness to the Minister, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is reference in the Bill to sustainable development, but it is confined to clause 38. As I argued in Committee, the Bill mentions sustainable development, but it does not even define what it is. Given my right hon. Friend's vast experience as a former Secretary of State for the Environment, does he not think that sustainable development needs much greater attention in the Bill? The opening clause in the relevant part of the Bill should begin with a definition of sustainable development.
I need to be careful, lest you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should feel that I am straying from the amendment that we are discussing. One of my criticisms of my hon. Friend's amendment is that it does not make clear that very point. Perhaps I know why sustainable development is not defined. If they define it, the Government have to admit that so far they have spoken a great deal about it, but done little. The trouble is not that they need joined-up government. They need joined-down government: there ought to be a connection between the mouth and the action. There needs to be more done and less spoken. I hoped that the Bill and this part of the Bill would deliver so many of the things about which the Government have rightly spoken. For five or six years I have tried hard to be non-party political and bipartisan on the subject of the environment, but it is increasingly difficult to continue, because there is no delivery in that regard. Although I am sometimes less than utterly polite about Liberals, on this occasion I think they would agree that we need more action. In the context of local development plans, I should have liked to see a much greater sense of urgency about sustainable development spelled out in a way that could insist upon action.
I am wondering whether the disparity between action and words on the part of the Government in relation to the environment was due to the fact that the environment itself was mostly old.
On sustainability and new clause 19, the Government would argue that they have left the matter open so that they can deal with it through regulations because it is such a difficult subject to deal with. I understand that one of their own consultations came up with 50 different components of sustainability, including happiness. The right hon. Gentleman is right. The Government should have written some definition of sustainability into the Bill, leaving themselves the ability to add to it later through regulations, because the argument is evolving—we are at a different place now from where we were 10 years ago as regards sustainability.
The hon. Gentleman is right, particularly in his last point. The Prime Minister said that sustainability was at the heart of the Labour party programme. The heart of the Bill is the part that we are seeking to amend, and sustainability should be included in that. For that, it must be defined. It is better to have a poor definition that gives at least some indication than merely to use words with no definition and to tell the House that everything will be done by regulation afterwards. I shall say something in a moment about regulation, with particular reference to the new clause.
In new clause 10(3)(f), I specifically included a reference to
"a plan detailing how land use, sustainability and economic regeneration are to be managed".
I took out an entire subsection about that because I knew the Minister would criticise me for putting some things in and not others, so I decided to take the whole lot out. I accept my right hon. Friend's criticism. Perhaps I should have left the whole subsection, particularly paragraph (f), in new clause 19.
I hesitate to force such an apology from my hon. Friend. Indeed, I see the new clause as a mechanism for asking the Government to rethink in time for the discussions in another place. My hon. Friend will no doubt agree that it is difficult for the Opposition to produce such a detailed clause. I am sure the Minister will make some such comment—I have made such comments myself from the Government Benches—and I know that one should not look towards them, but the officials will glow with pleasure at the fact that the Minister has reminded the House that without their help it is difficult to proceed.
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will do that in the same elegant way as we have all tried to do it from time to time, but I hope he will not use that for an excuse. I hope he will undertake to look again at the fundamental concerns behind the new clause. I shall explain what I think them to be. First, as I said, one does not have the feeling that the Government have grasped the concept that the exercise should be holistic. That is where I agree with the hon. Member for Telford. Secondly, the Government have failed to define sustainability and put it at the heart of what they are trying to do in this part of the Bill.
Thirdly, I have a problem with the approach whereby the Government intend to deal with the matter in regulations. There is a real issue about the House's control. Someone came into my constituency surgery in Woodbridge recently complaining about a particular part of a Bill. She asked how any sane collection of people could pass that clause. I looked it up and I know why. We never discussed that clause, as we did not discuss almost two thirds of that Bill, because the Government made sure that we could not do so. We had to make a choice between proper discussion of part of it and no discussion of the rest, or improper discussion—if that is the word—of the whole Bill.
The emasculation of Parliament by procedure has been the mark of the Government. The same is true of the over-use of regulations. Of course it is true that in many cases regulations have to be made beyond the Bill, because of their detailed nature, but we do not have a satisfactory mechanism in the House for dealing with regulations. Many regulations are therefore not properly produced, and they affect the rights of the citizen. The Government should have given a much clearer indication of the nature of the regulations that they propose under this part.
The fourth reason why I hope the Government will think again is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold made about the complexity of this part of the Bill. The Minister goes round the country talking as though this part were as simple as the amendment that has been proposed by my hon. Friend. When the Minister talks about it, he does not explain how many documents, papers and so on must all come together. He has a simplistic and rather attractive way of presenting it. Those things should be in the Bill, and not merely be his explanation of what is in the Bill. The public would never understand it if he presented what is written in the Bill. They would be caught up in terminology such as "hereinafter" and "before him", and would begin to wonder whether they were supposed to have access to the system at all.
The Minister does not try to explain that. He explains, more or less, what my hon. Friend has proposed in his new clause. I hope the Minister will think again about his excellent speeches—not the ones that he makes in the House, but the ones that he makes in public, when he explains to ordinary people what he is trying to do—and ask himself whether he can put that into the Bill so that people will understand what it is about.
Fifthly, I hope the Minister will take notice of the timetable issue. When I was Secretary of State, one of our difficulties was that we did not have enough powers to insist that local authorities completed their plans. Some of them, of all political parties, were unbelievably long-winded about trying to do it, not because they were so busy consulting and listening to the public, but because they were so incompetent that they never got to the point at which they could do that. It needed the use of the law to get them to do it. For that reason, I commend to the Minister the concept of timetabling. We may have got it slightly wrong—perhaps we should have given an extension in some cases and shown more flexibility in others—but does he accept that if we do not have something more akin to a timetable, he will find it difficult to get out of some local authorities the work that he needs?
To elucidate the right hon. Gentleman's point about local plans, I understand that 38 local authorities still do not have their first ever local plan, let alone a revised one.
The hon. Gentleman underlines what I was saying; that given that I was trying to do that five years ago, I was not all that successful, and the Government have not been very successful since. If we now have a new system that supersedes the one that they have not filled in, it is doubtful whether those local authorities will ever end up producing anything at all. If the Minister were prepared to seek to do more it would be helpful.
I was intrigued by the point made by Matthew Green. I see that, rather than being tempted to intervene, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has now been forced out of the Chamber, so I am pleased that I have at least half won. The hon. Member for Ludlow referred to local authorities' ability to take a forward look at aspects that are particularly pertinent, and my local authority of Suffolk Coastal is also good at doing that. One knows where one is with Suffolk Coastal and it is prepared to be radical. I am pleased that it has given planning permission for an outstanding modern house in the countryside, totally contrary to what the Minister seeks to do, giving real jobs to architects who will do some really good work. I declare an interest, in that I serve on a committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects. That is the sort of interest that shows that one may know something about this matter, which usually excludes one from speaking in this House—but there we are. The Minister has tried to reduce and withdraw the employment of architects and builders of quality by the changes that he has already made. But one of the things that my local authority tries to do is to meet the particular needs of the area in advance so that people know where they are. I do not know South Shropshire district council, but it clearly works in the same way.
I am all for that kind of material being applied, but the Minister should not forget the point that has been made, which was also made by the Law Society. I rarely like points made by the Law Society because they are usually wrong and are usually about protecting the interests of lawyers, which I sought not to do when I came into the House. It is important that not every bit of paper or statement should be admitted, simply because it means that there may be circumstances in which that which is simply not appropriate, applicable or right—truthful—might find itself treated as if it were on a common basis with that which was obviously necessary. There is an issue here that should be looked at.
My last point is the one in relation which I intervened earlier. We need to enable better local consultation, and one way in which to do that is stopping otiose repetition. It is not proper consultation to have 92 different versions of the same pressure group appear one after the other before an inspector. It is not proper consultation for small groups to hijack the discussion in particular areas and to prevent the wider community from playing a proper part, and I think that both sides of the House would agree. One way to avoid that is to give greater powers to the inspector.
I warn the Minister what his officials will do to him, because they did it to me. After a very important inquiry had finished when I was no longer in office, I criticised the length of time that it had taken and the length of the inspector's report. He asked to talk to me and he revealed that he had asked to see me as Secretary of State before he had started the inspection, and that he had wanted to say that if the job was to be done properly he wanted to do it in a particular way, at a certain speed and to produce a certain type of report. Officials not only made sure that he was not allowed to do that, but never told me that he had asked to do so.
I warn the Minister that there is a kind of fear that he should be too implicated in these matters. Of course he must not become implicated in the sense of being unfair, but we must have a planning system where the Minister can facilitate its speed and efficacy when the law allows him to do so, but is not so detailed as to ensure that it happens automatically. Therefore, I hope that he will give himself the elbow room to make it possible for inspectors to do the job that he wants them to do, and to listen to the general public and not to be hijacked, and insist that the law be not applied in so inflexible a manner that he is not even allowed to understand the concerns of the inspector whom he has appointed. It should not happen like that, I can show that it does happen like that, and I am perfectly sure that that is still going on. Unfortunately, nothing in the Bill gives me the feeling that it may stop.
Is it not curious that the Government, in the Bill and in statutory instruments on tribunals inquiries, have given themselves very much the sort of powers that my right hon. Friend adduces for major infrastructure projects, but they have not taken the same powers in this part of the Bill relating to local plans? That is a curious anomaly.
I am entirely in favour of what the Government have done on major infrastructure projects. That is crucial. I would have wanted them to go further, and I supported the previous proposals. That is something that the general body politic needs if Britain is to be able to make difficult major decisions. However, as my hon. Friend says, the principle should be extended to these issues. In terms of a locality, these decisions are just as important. They may not be important to the nation, but in my constituency a decision relating to whether a new park-and-ride service should be at one place rather than another, is, to the people who live nearby, just as crucial as a decision relating to terminal 5. Therefore, the system must not be hijacked by a small number of campaigners. I say that about wind farms. I would not like to embarrass the Minister, but I oppose a particular scheme in my constituency. For the people round about, such issues really matter, and he should have the powers to ensure that inspectors can do their jobs without being hijacked by small groups.
For that reason, I hope that he will be careful in his reply, offer to take some of these points on board, and use the other House for the excellent purpose for which it exists, which is to revise. There is no shame about second thoughts; I have had them myself, and I certainly will not crow if the Minister is kind enough to take some of those points on board.
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. If I may spare his blushes, I have to say that, among many of the professional institutions at least, but other organisations as well, he was regarded as one of the finest Secretaries of State for the Environment, at least in relation to environmental issues. I hope that I am in no way passing any comment on those on the Government Benches in saying that, because there is now no such person as a Secretary of State for the Environment.
I am with David Wright on his amendment No. 27: I believe that adopted housing strategies are of key importance in planning any community and that they should be included in the new clause. Clause 18, which he seeks to amend, already contains 10 categories. In Committee, a bipartisan attempt was made to try to keep the number of categories to a minimum, as Members wanted to include archaeological finds and other such items. Of course, the Minister may argue that clause 18(2)(f), which deals with community strategies, could include housing strategies. He might advance the same argument about paragraph (h), which refers to
"any other local development document which has been adopted by the authority".
Presumably, that could include housing.
Incidentally, if I may say so, I think that it is idiocy that this House can meet in two places at the same time. The reason I say that is that an important debate on affordable housing is being held in Westminster Hall at this very moment. This is not a point for the Minister to deal with, but I again ask the Government to reconsider the issue of this House meeting in two places at the same time.
I should like to address one remark to Matthew Green, whose interventions and performances—I say this very sincerely—I always find interesting. I am very much in favour of pre-application consultations where necessary, post-application consultations on significant applications where necessary and the undertaking of public consultation before local development plans are drawn up. I am 100 per cent. behind him on that issue, but I wish to make what I shall call a human nature observation. I have found, especially as a Member of Parliament, that the more a local planning authority consults the public, the more angry the local community will be if the authority does not seem to take its advice. That is a human nature point that must be overcome, but I think that we must recognise that it exists.
Does my hon. Friend agree that another problem is that people can be consulted to death? The response to consultation can be in inverse proportion to the amount. Sometimes, people feel that a second consultation does not need the same level of response—for example when a second planning application is made broadly along the same lines as an earlier one.
I hesitate to say this, but I cannot give definitive proof that I have yet been consulted to death. None the less, I agree with the generality of what my hon. Friend says. There must be a sensible balance, with full consultation. If there has been full consultation at an earlier stage, less will be needed at a later stage.
The hon. Gentleman speaks about consultation as though it is only the local authority that reacts to it. One of the reasons why I am keen to see a lot of pre-consultation on planning applications is that it is often the applicant who reacts to what the public have said and alters his or her application to lessen the likelihood of public opposition. One of the key elements is that the applicant responds to the consultation by listening and making changes, rather than the local authority responding by deciding whether to say yes or no.
I agree. I am in favour of pre-application consultation, which should obviously be organised by the applicant rather than by the local authority, which would consult on significant cases after the application had been submitted.
I am anxious to make progress. I should like to consider new clause 19, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, in a slightly different light. As I understand it, his one, albeit long, new clause seeks to replace eight clauses and parts of two other clauses. It is worth pointing out that his amendments propose the deletion of clauses 14, 16, 18 to 22 and 25, and parts of clauses 17 and 23. I am very much in favour of Bills being as simple as possible. A year ago, the Government heralded the introduction of the Bill by saying that they wanted a firmer, fairer and simpler planning system. We all say amen to that. It is not for me to argue now whether the Bill is fairer and faster—perhaps I can do so later today—but I am anxious to ensure that it is simpler.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold is on to a good point with new clause 19, which would make the legislation simpler. I know perfectly well that, as the Minister will probably point out, legislation must be complicated and comprehensive to a certain extent. For example, we could decide across party divisions that it was a good thing to ban spitting on the Queen's highway on the Sabbath. However, we could not merely introduce a 13-word clause stating, "it is an offence to spit on the Queen's highway on the Sabbath". We would have to define the Queen's highway, spitting—I shall go no further on that point—and the Sabbath, which, as I understand it, represents different days to different religions. I therefore understand that, in order to attempt to cover all eventualities and any loopholes, legislation is necessarily more comprehensive and complicated than we might at first think it needs to be.
I have not been able to compare new clause 19 with the Government's clauses, because of the time factor. Whatever professional reputation I have, although I am retired, I must cover myself by making that comment, but I ask the Minister most sincerely—he does respond to genuine points—to consider whether his clauses can be made simpler, even if he feels unable to accept new clause 19 as it is drafted.
I should like to say how much I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer about the importance of public recognition of county councils. My constituency, which is situated in the Greater London area, used to have a county council. It now has the Greater London Authority, which I suppose is a regional council of some sort, although it can be argued that the natural region of the hub of our country, London, extends well beyond the boundaries of the Greater London area. I strongly support him in stressing the importance of county councils. If, perchance, any part of England ever has a regional council or assembly—I hope that will not happen, as such a body would be yet another tier of government—I hope that the Government will take to heart the public identification with the county council in the name that is given.
I feel that it would be quite wrong to transfer any powers from a county council to a regional assembly unless and until that assembly was democratically elected. I shall say no more about that, as I raised the same matter in Committee, but I think that it is vital. The Minister might say, "Well, of course, the regional assemblies include nominations from county and borough councils," or whatever, but I think that that direct link with the voter who votes for the county councillor makes it essential that we do not lose sight of that important point.
Does my hon. Friend, with his enormous expertise and knowledge, agree that the bulk of knowledge that county councils have built up over decades, and in some cases centuries, has not been given enough weight in today's debate? If we are not careful, that bulk of knowledge and the very experienced strategic planning officers who are employed by county councils could be lost. That would be greatly to the detriment of the sort of county council areas that my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer and I represent.
I agree. County councils are known and accepted by the public. People had great difficulty in identifying with the new councils—Avon or Humberside, as I think the latter was called—that a previous Government introduced.
Yes, and although I shall not be standing at the next election, I shall willingly join anybody who wants a mention of any fine piece of architecture in their constituency—although I do not suppose that any of those will have been designed by me.
I seriously commend to the Minister the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that instead of talking about development documents and development schemes in different parts of the Bill, we go back to the phrase that everybody knows—development plan. The development plan in operation in my local planning authority area is the unitary development plan, which consists not only of plans and maps but of statements and reports. "Development plan" is an all-embracing phrase that is accepted and understood in town and country planning.
I also agree with my hon. Friend's wish to introduce more timetables. He said that each local planning authority should revise its plan every five years, and I would suggest a scintilla of amendment to that proposal by saying that a review should be begun five years after the plan is approved, which means that it may not be completed until a few months later. That is a trivial point, however, and I do not need to explain it further. There would then be three months for the inspector to report, although there could always be exceptions for big cases, for which the Secretary of State could suggest six months or whatever. The report should then be published within one month. I stress that idea in particular, because I know that Secretaries of State sometimes delay a report if they feel that it is politically sensitive and an election is looming—although I am sure that that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal never did that.
I am very much in favour, as we all are, of the community participating in the planning process. In my area there are Agenda 21 forums, which could be used to gauge opinion. They do not necessarily reflect all public opinion in their communities, but it would be a good thing to use them.
New clause 19 consolidates eight clauses and parts of two others, and I am in favour of it. Whatever Bill goes on to the statute book, while we are talking about consolidating clauses may I make a final plea to the Government—this may be my last opportunity to do so—that as the principal Act is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 this would be a good time to have a consolidated town and country planning Act embracing all the relevant legislation that has been passed since 1990?
The hon. Gentleman made exactly the same recommendation in favour of a consolidated planning Act in the Standing Committee, and at the time I said, as I expect he recalls, that I wholeheartedly agreed with him—so long as I was not the planning Minister who had to take it through.
This has been a good and amiable debate, which has gone to the heart of the Government's new planning framework. I assure the House that I have listened carefully to all the arguments that have been made, although I do not suppose that I shall be able to respond wholeheartedly to them all. As usual, the debate has been sustained by what I have come to describe as the planning Bill repertory company—in which I can now include my hon. Friend David Wright, who has sat through two days of our proceedings on the Floor of the House. There was also a fleeting but welcome appearance by Mr. Francois, and we have listened to an interesting contribution by a distinguished former Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Gummer. I assure him that I listened to him as carefully as I avidly read his column in Estates Gazette, and as avidly as I visit his delightful constituency, which contains the nation's premier serious music venue.
I am grateful to Matthew Green for his growing enthusiasm for our local development framework. He was absolutely right to attach such importance to the statement of community involvement and its implications. I fully acknowledge that he invented the filing cabinet metaphor. He will remember that as I am a somewhat old-fashioned chap myself, my metaphor of preference was the concertina file—but the filing cabinet image seems to have taken hold.
Sir Sydney Chapman will have to forgive me if I do not follow them down the path of talking about the role of county councils now. It goes without saying that that matter has been well ventilated already in our proceedings, and I am reasonably confident that it will be reverted to elsewhere.
I shall focus on the new clauses tabled by Mr. Clifton-Brown. He promised that he would return to the subject of how local planning should work and how we should legislate for it, and as always, he has been as good as his word—or perhaps I should say twice as good, because we have not one but two new clauses to look at, and they are not even the same.
The hon. Gentleman starts from the view that the system that we are putting in place is too complicated. Secondly, he believes that attempting to cover local planning arrangements in a single clause, however long, will make the system better and easier to understand. Thirdly, he believes that the arrangements in his new clauses—or at least, those in one of them—would lead to a better local planning system than would part 2 of the Bill. I have to reveal to him that I disagree on all three counts.
It is the Government's contention that our new arrangements, although precise, are not complicated. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet was right to say that we believe that they will deliver simpler, clearer local planning that is faster and more flexible, and with which the community can more easily become involved.
Describing the component parts of the system in sufficient detail means that people can be certain how it operates. Each element of our new system is there for a reason—to address the problems in the present system and to contribute to the goals of our planning reforms. The proposals of the hon. Member for Cotswold not only fail to address some of those problems, but would create some entirely new problems.
Our proposals are perfectly straightforward. Each authority must have a core strategy, covering 10 or more years. There will be a proposals map, showing which land is to be developed and which is to be conserved. Authorities may choose to have one or more area action plans showing in more detail what will happen in areas where there will be a lot of change, or in areas that will be kept as they are.
Those documents will be subject to independent examination. They will be known as development plan documents and, with the regional spatial strategy for the area, will form the development plan. What could be simpler than that?
The number of plans is mushrooming by the second. I picked out six in the Bill, but today I have heard from the Minister about two new ones that I have never heard of before—a proposals map and an action plan, neither of which is mentioned in the Bill, so far as I am aware. The system is getting more complicated every second. Instead of the two filing cabinets in my system, the Minister's system now has eight.
As I shall seek to demonstrate, the hon. Gentleman himself has suggested no fewer than six elements in his local plan. At the core of the Government's local development framework are proposals for three development plan documents—those that I have mentioned. Of course, as we have already said, a local authority may expand the number of those documents if it chooses. They are the categories of the development plan document.
Local planning authorities will also be able to set out more details on their main policies, or on their policies in relation to, say, accessibility or design. Those elements will be known as supplementary planning documents.
The hon. Gentleman has sat through fifty-five and a half hours of this. He knows perfectly well that SPDs are proposed. They correspond to what is normal practice already. I fail to see the problem with them.
Each local planning authority will also have a statement of community involvement, which will explain how local people and other interested parties will be able to influence, and express their views on, plans for their areas. I confess that that is new, but it is perfectly reasonable and straightforward. To make sure that those elements are put in place within a reasonable time, each area will prepare, and stick to, a project plan. That plan will set out what documents it will prepare, and a timetable for them, and it will be known as the local development scheme. That, too, is surely eminently sensible.
Our proposals will also ensure that local planning will not suffer from the serious problems encountered under the current system. No longer will plans take far too long to put in place, and no longer will it be extremely difficult and time consuming to update them. It is worth reflecting that half the local plans compiled by the nearly 300 local planning authorities are out of date, and that 15 authorities never completed one in the first place. We intend things to be different. The plan will have to set out a clear strategy for an area's future development, and not merely list hundreds of policies that make it hard for anyone to see what development might happen where. No longer will preparing a plan be such a mammoth endeavour that residents and businesses find it too hard or too off-putting to get involved, and stay involved, in the process.
Does not the scheme have another potential advantage? At the moment, local authorities preparing the mammoth documents that are local plans inevitably get involved in a public inquiry. Preparing the plan in a series of folders carries the advantage that, if one of the folders is controversial and ends up the subject of a public inquiry, the other folders will not require such an investigation. At the moment, a local plan is put to a public inquiry even though most of it is not controversial. That means that local plans are held up because of problems in one element.
The hon. Gentleman is right. A great advantage of the Government's proposed schema is that it offers the flexibility that he describes. We have already debated in Committee the possibility that the new framework would mean that, if a new site unexpectedly became available—say, after the closure of a factory—it would not be necessary to respond by initiating the complex process of disentangling the existing plan. The new framework will make it possible to look at the site and to slot it into the relevant part of what the hon. Gentleman calls his filing cabinet and what I call my concertina file.
I admit that these are new arrangements. As with all changes, it will take time for people to become familiar with them. No one expects reading a Bill to be the best way to grasp a new system, but we have already taken action on various fronts. We have published for consultation five drafts of the key documents in local planning. They are the part 2 regulations, the transitional regulations, planning policy statement 12 on local development frameworks—that is, the policy statement that sets out the new system—a guide to procedures, and the code of practice which is aimed at helping interested parties and the person on the street to get involved in the new procedures. We have also published a guide to creating local development frameworks, which is a "how-to-do-it" guide for local authorities and others involved in preparing the new local development documents.
Comments are welcome up to mid-January, and we will take them fully into account in preparing final versions of the documents. They will be published in an accessible fashion.
I am holding the documents to which the Minister refers. My local planning officer asked me the other day how his staff were supposed to cope with getting to grips with all the documentation. His department is already overstretched, as there are not enough planning officers to deal with the present system, to say nothing of the new one. How are they supposed to deal with the new system, with an even more complicated section 106 procedure system as well?
I accept that there is a resource scarcity in planning departments around the country. The Government are addressing that problem. We want to incentivise improvements in planning performance by means of our £350 million planning development grant over the next three years, £50 million of which has been disbursed already. I am very pleased that, although the grant is not ring-fenced, many local planning authorities are putting the grant money back into the planning system. Despite the scarcity of resources at local level, the latest figures show that planning performance in all categories is at its highest levels for 10 years. A problem exists, but I am delighted to say that the planning system is responding to it.
We are engaged in preparing further guidance on the availability appraisal, the strategic environmental assessment—the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal will be interested in that—and on monitoring and indicators. We are working with a range of organisations to spread the message about the new system and to train planners in it. Those organisations include the Planning Officers Society, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the British Urban Regeneration Association, and the Town and Country Planning Association. We are engaged in a major programme of communication and training. The aim is to develop knowledge and appreciation of the Government's new proposals, so that planners have the attitudes, skills and resources they need to practise our new spatial planning proposals effectively.
I have attempted briefly to describe the Government's new planning framework and the planning reform agenda. However, I take seriously the Opposition's alternative proposals, and I shall focus on some of the detail.
The task has not been easy, as I have had to study two new clauses that are similar but not identical. In light of the problems clearly experienced by the hon. Member for Cotswold in drafting the new clauses, it is slightly ironic that they are supposed to be a simpler alternative to the Government's, and easier to understand.
Flexibility in revising the local plan is at the heart of the Government's proposals. It is not clear that the new clauses offer that. I was confused by the fact that both new clauses have a plan containing documents. It is not clear whether the local planning authority would be able to prepare or revise one document at a time—and we believe that to be of critical importance, as noted by the hon. Member for Ludlow—or whether it would have to tackle everything at once, with all the problems that we know that that causes. Both new clauses suggest that the authority would not be able to do that. That is a fatal flaw that would perpetuate the problems of the existing system.
One might have expected that the alternative plan would be about planning policies, but I could not see what it was supposed to be about. Although there are various elements that the alternative plan must include, neither new clause says that that plan must set out the authority's spatial or land-use planning policies. As far as possible, there must be a separation between the purposes of real planning and the process by which real plans are put in place.
Admittedly the Opposition's schema—the plan, its document and any changes that the local authority wants to make—will have to go through an independent examination. However, the plan and/or documents will include practical matters too. What these will be depends on which of the new clauses one examines. In new clause 10, the practical matters included are joint working, joint committees, the timetable, and the role that county counties and—oddly, because they are planning authorities—unitary authorities would play. In new clause 19, the list has been cut to joint committees and the role of the counties. Why subject these processes to independent examination? I simply cannot see the justification for such an onerous procedure for any changes to these matters.
The hon. Member for Cotswold has attempted to address that point in new clause 19 by specifying that the examination would consider whether an examination was necessary. Therefore, a proposal that a county council should do something more or different would have to go to an examination, and then the inspector would carry out an examination to decide whether an examination was needed. Perhaps I have got it wrong, but that hardly seems a sensible approach. It would be a barrier to county-district co-operation and partnership. This approach, which mixes real planning with how it will be done, is also incompatible with our plan-led system in which planning applications are determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations dictate otherwise.
The hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of complexity, but he wants every authority to have at least six separate documents or plans within the overall plan dealing with various subjects. The approach to particular planning issues under our proposals is far more sensible.
Let us consider settlements, for example. The core strategy will set out which settlements in a local authority's area will be a focus for new development, such as housing and employment, and will take into account national policy guidance and the regional strategy. It will apply other strategic policies to different settlements, such as restrictions on the scale of growth that can take place in villages in the countryside.
I hope that the Minister will take this point seriously, but can we remove for ever from our planning jargon the word "settlement"? I know of nobody who lives in a settlement. People live in either a village or a town, but my county has scattered settlements. I live in one of them, but I have never said that I live in the scattered settlement of Winston. I hope that we can start using language in planning that is the language of the people and not of planners. Can we lose the obnoxious word "settlement"?
As a very new Minister for Housing and Planning, I have no stake in this matter, and I am absolutely willing to examine that proposal. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman use the word "stake", but even if I do not wholly succeed, by and large, I manage to excise from my remarks the expression "stakeholder", about which I am not entirely enthusiastic. I take his point about settlements: I am sure that his own is delightful.
The proposals map will show all the policy designations, such as green-belt or conservation areas, that apply to "settlements" in the area arising from the core strategy and other development plan documents. The map will identify where land is allocated for particular uses through development plan documents. It may also show the boundaries to those living areas to which the right hon. Gentleman takes such exception. When there are proposals for change or conservation in a settlement or part of a settlement, the authority could choose to set out the comprehensive set of policies that will apply to that area to achieve what is wanted in an area action plan.
New clause 1(3) provides for regulations to require the authority to set out in the development plan document, or such other documents as is prescribed, the key matters relating to the policy that it is adopting on planning contributions. The hon. Member for Cotswold raised that issue. On areas of outstanding natural beauty, as I have already made clear, designations will be covered in the proposals map. National park authorities are, of course, the local planning authorities for their areas.
The last document that the hon. Gentleman's proposals would require is one that would set out how land use sustainability and regeneration are to be managed. These issues will be central to an authority's core strategy, which must set out not only the vision and the strategic policies, but the proposals to deliver that vision. He also proposes that the plan and/or document should specify the matters on which county councils and—oddly, under new clause 10—unitary authorities would have a role. I am certain that district councils will work closely with their county councils when preparing their development plans and supplementary documents, but surely it cannot be sensible to set that out in the plans and/or documents themselves. Would the county be unable to play a role until a plan and/or document was adopted? What would happen if everyone agreed that the county was to play a role on a matter that had not been specified?
I could make many more observations about the hon. Gentleman's proposals. However, in the relatively short time that I have before I deal with amendment No. 27, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford, I should perhaps say a brief word about the timetables about which several Opposition Members expressed a view. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Cotswold was revising the timetable for his proposed revisions as he went along. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal also raised this issue, and I say to him that we expect the local development scheme, which is the project plan for the emergence of the local development framework, to be in place in local planning authorities by the end of 2004. That will set the timetable for the development of the local development framework, and we expect LDFs to be in place by 2007. We shall monitor the process very carefully. I also point out that this matter is not in the possession of the Secretary of State. They will be local development schemes and project plans that set out what is to go into the LDF and what the timetable for that framework will be. That will be published locally and it will be owned by the local authority and known by local publics. To that extent, there will be a powerful compulsion on local planning authorities to develop their LDFs.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford for the able way in which he spoke to amendment No. 27 and for his expertise in housing policy. However, I suspect that it will come as no surprise to him to learn that I shall have to invite him not to insist on the amendment. It would require the local planning authority, in preparing local development documents, to have regard to the housing strategy that it has to prepare under section 87 of the Local Government Act 2003.
Our planning reforms are about getting authorities to take a comprehensive and spatial approach to planning. We do that through a primary duty in clause 16(3), which says that
"local development documents must . . . set out the authority's policies . . . relating to the development and use of land".
That is not restricted to policies implemented through planning permissions.
Draft PPS12 on the local development frameworks also makes it clear that under the new system local development documents should provide an agreed vision for an area signed up to by the community and interested parties. That will involve linking strategies and programmes that exist at the local level, but it will not be restricted to matters that may be implemented through the planning system.
One of those strategies would, of course, be the housing strategy. However, the range of policies, programmes and strategies that authorities should have regard to when preparing local development documents is wide. Frankly, we believe that it would be impractical to identify and set out every one, even of those prepared by the authority itself, in the Bill. Indeed, the only strategy prepared by the local planning authority listed in the Bill is the community strategy. That is included because it is the statement of the authority's strategic vision for the area and the context for all subject-based strategies, policies and programmes.
I doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford would question the importance that the Government attach to housing issues. For example, in the past year we have published the sustainable communities plan and an update to planning policy guidance note 3 on housing. A consultation on a full replacement for PPG3 finished on
Regulations made under the Bill will also strengthen the consideration of housing by requiring the authority's annual monitoring report to set out how many houses and flats have been built during the year. If I might say so to my hon. Friend, in any event the Secretary of State has power under clause 18(2)(j) to prescribe other matters that authorities ought to have regard to should it transpire, for whatever reason, that difficulties arise with that approach. While I entirely understand his desire to highlight the role of housing and the need to integrate housing in local planning, I must tell him that I believe the amendment to be unnecessary. I urge him not to press it.
I have attempted to deal with many of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold, and the House owes him a debt of gratitude for allowing us once more to turn our attentions to the core of the Government's proposals, but I have to say that we find his new clause unnecessary and defective. I urge him to withdraw the motion.
While I accept that my proposal is not drafted perfectly—if it was, I would be seeking a job as a parliamentary draftsman—it is sufficiently robust to show that the four pages on which eight Government clauses are printed could be consolidated in one simple new clause. We did not get a chink of light to show that the Minister is prepared to consider anything in the new clause, despite some experienced voices on the Opposition Benches pleading with him to give county councils a greater role and to give greater powers to the inspectors to enable them to control the independent hearings more judiciously and more expeditiously. On that basis, I urge my colleagues to vote in favour of the motion.
Question accordingly negatived.
It being more than two hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Remaining Government amendments agreed to.
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have held full and extensive debates on the Bill. I again sincerely thank both Opposition parties for the serious and responsible way in which they contributed to the proceedings. The Bill is in good shape and it is right that we now commend it to the other House, where I hope that it will receive a fair and impartial hearing from both sides.
As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear, we have a huge agenda to deliver sustainable communities. A reformed planning system is a key part of our strategy for those communities. The challenges of sustainable development, of building sustainable communities and of dealing with the problems of providing decent and affordable homes for our people should be taken up by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The Government are rising to those challenges, but we can and must do better on planning. The Bill will help us to build a better planning system to help us to achieve those goals. It delivers on our commitments to introduce a simpler and more flexible plan-making system regionally and locally. Perhaps most important, effective community involvement and the achievement of sustainable development are at its heart.
This is an important Bill and I commend it to the House.
I am pleased to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, in what has been a real marathon. The Bill was read the First time in the House on
The regional element of the Bill and the sidelining of county councils will only diminish the legitimacy of the planning system and increasingly distance people from the planning decision-making process. If people feel alienated from their own planning process, they will not participate in it. It will become less effective, so it will decline. Limiting the role of county councils effectively breaks up a large bank of planning knowledge that has been built up over centuries in some cases. County councils have a clearer view of a local area's needs—and a superior grasp of the important strategic detail in an area—than large regional authorities. Counties allow for accountability. Local people readily identify with them. They also have a long-standing pool of planning expertise and local knowledge.
The local development framework—the local plan-making system, about which we had a long debate before Third Reading—will be unnecessarily complex and cause further delays in the planning system. In that debate, I identified no fewer than six types of local plan in the Bill. I was absolutely horrified when the Minister, when replying to that debate, identified a further four types of plan that are not even in the Bill: the proposals map, the action plan, the project plan and the local development scheme. No wonder plans will be implemented more quickly—there are so many of them that each must take less time to implement—but the question is whether they will all be implemented.
My suspicion is that the local plan-making process will be so complex that huge excuses will be made not to revise the plans regularly. Surely the major lacuna in the present system is that 15 authorities have no plans at all and many others never revise them. It would have been far better to fix the present system, rather than to rip it up and implement a new system that is bound to cause delay and, at the very least, to become a lawyers' paradise.
Other elements of the Bill are reprehensible. The idea of replacing outline planning permission—a legal process—with a statement of development principles will cause developers many problems because they will not be able to obtain finance on the basis merely of such a statement, which has no binding effect on a local authority. The Secretary of State's power is greatly strengthened in the Bill. It has almost become a planning system by diktat of the Secretary of State. This hugely centralising measure will take powers away from local people and local authorities. It will move powers upwards, rather than devolve them, which is what we sincerely advocate. Add to all that the complexity of an alternative system to the section 106 procedure, which we discussed yesterday, and I am not sure how local planning officers, who are often in scarce supply, will cope with the whole process.
The proposal to cut the duration of consents is wrong. The principal legislation—the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—already provides flexibility on the duration of consents. Local planning authorities already have the power to grant planning consents for only three years if they wish to do so, so why make that mandatory? Developers on big developments will have a great deal of difficulty with consents of three years' duration. It often takes three years to overcome certain things, such as compulsory purchase. The Government rejected our amendments that would have ensured that the three years ran from the end of any statutory procedure in the plan-making process.
The proposal to remove the so-called twin-tracking process is wrong. Under that system, if the local authority does not determine an application made by a developer within eight weeks, which it is supposed to do, the developer continues negotiating with the local authority but at the same time puts in an alternative application, which it takes to appeal. If the system works properly, the local planning authority is able to negotiate with the developer, the original application is passed, or sufficient reasons are given why it will never pass and the alternative proposal is withdrawn. Under the system in the Bill, however, there will be far more appeals, because local developers will have no alternative but to appeal.
We welcome parts of the Bill—the clarification of the compulsory purchase procedures and the Crown immunity provisions—but we have grave concerns about the general resources available for planning. Many times in Committee and during debates on Report, the Minister said that the Government are already distributing part of the £350 million planning grant. The problem, however, is that it is not ring-fenced. Therefore, cash-strapped local authorities are likely to spend some of it elsewhere. In any case, I believe that a large chunk of it will go into setting up an unnecessary and unwanted regional tier of planning.
The Bill is hugely complicated and hugely bureaucratic—that is just the regulation so far related to this Bill. By the time that we finish, my guess is that the quantity of regulations related to the Bill will be even bigger than the pile in front of me. How on earth will local planning authorities, which are already hard-pressed to deal with existing regulations, devote their energies to enforcement, which we have discussed under various amendments? I simply do not know how the planning system will cope.
This is a bad Bill. It will cause delay and a great deal more complication in the planning system. Mr. Byers said when he started the review of our planning process:
"The customers"— you and I, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everybody who uses planning departments—
"have a right to an efficient and user-friendly service. Business, in particular, needs to know that their planning applications will be dealt with efficiently and predictably. Time delays caused by bureaucracy, lack of skilled staff or over-complex systems are bad for business and do little good for anyone else. Delays in receiving a planning decision can mean loss of competitiveness for business, something that we simply cannot afford in the modern global economy."
I agree wholeheartedly with every word of that. The trouble is that it is completely hollow, because the Bill will be completely contrary to everything in that paragraph. We will see, but I bet the Minister—he has been unfortunate enough to be cast in the role of trying to sort out this mess; it is Hill's Bill and it will be a testimonial to him—that there will be at least one and probably several planning revision Bills in the next five years to sort out the mess that he has created. On that basis, I will urge my colleagues to vote against this bad and over-complex Bill.
May I start by congratulating Mr. Clifton-Brown on his shortest contribution so far in all the stages of our consideration of this Bill? I sometimes wonder whether the reason the Conservatives are always antagonistic towards programmed Bills is that they work on the principle, "Why make a five-minute speech when a 25-minute speech will do?"
We welcome much that is in the Bill, as the Minister and Members who have followed this debate will know. We broadly welcome the new planning system at the heart of the Bill, with the local development schemes and local development documents. It should lead to a more flexible, open and accountable system, which should result in fewer appeals to the Secretary of State, fewer public inquiries, more public contentment—happiness is probably too strong a word—with the planning process, and, therefore, a speedier process. I therefore want to put on record that the idea that moving to an entirely managerial process—of which we hear more from the Chancellor than from the Minister—will solve the nation's economic problems is far-fetched. The reality is that it will take some time for a proper and effective planning system to work, but it does not have to take the amount of time that it sometimes does at the moment.
Had the right hon. Gentleman deigned to participate in any of the Bill's stages before Third Reading, he would have anticipated that I would address some of the Bill's problems, including the regional elements, and explain why we shall vote against it.
There are other aspects of the Bill that we like. It contains a provision on sustainable development, although we would have liked it to include a definition of that. We hope that the regulations will be effective. At least there is now the intention for sustainability to form part of the planning process. Although the clauses that concern Wales have not found universal approval, no one can find any reason to object to them and the Welsh seem happy with them, so that is good enough for me. The local development orders represent a step forward and the Bill's provisions on Crown immunity are long overdue. Although I am worried that the section 106 reforms might have perverse consequences for affordable housing—I am sure that the Minister will work to try to prevent that—the changes are broadly welcome, as are the Bill's compulsory purchase provisions.
We have some worries about the Bill, though. We did not discuss the simplified planning zones—or "Gordon's planning zones", as I call them—at length in Committee. I think that the provisions are in the Bill only because the zones were mentioned in last year's Budget. If the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister were honest, I am sure that it would rather that the provisions were not in the Bill because broadly similar provisions exist, although no one—including developers—uses them or is enthusiastic about them. Developers and businesses often prefer a structured process to a simplified one. When development takes place, people want to ensure that there is some control on what happens next door. I suspect that the Bill's provisions on such zones will not be used.
We are also worried about the introduction of statements of development principles. The Government rightly had to row back from abolishing outline planning permission because of the question of land banks and their value. There is a danger that the statements of development principles will become rapidly discredited because they will be relatively worthless. It would be good if the shift from outline planning permission to statements of development principles could be achieved, because the statements would allow planners to detail what they would like to see on a site, rather than using a reactive system in which they must wait for applications to come forward. However, it will be difficult to make that transition and given that the Government are rightly allowing outline planning permission to continue, the statements of development principles will be fairly worthless.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman said that the Government had to row back on the abolition of outline planning permission, but I understand that that is not the case. A provision to abolish outline planning permission remains in the Bill and the Minister in Committee said that such planning permission would be abolished once the Government had decided that statements of development principles were working properly.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Bill still contains such a provision. The Government have rowed back because the Bill originally provided that if a development was covered by a statement of development principles, outline planning permission could not be issued. They have removed that provision and left the situation for outline planning permission unchanged. The Bill does include a provision to abolish such permission, but the Minister will never be able to use it because he will find that statements of development principles will unfortunately be discredited and considered to be worthless. It will be potential objectors or people with a third-party interest who will apply for them, rather than developers, who will continue to opt for outline planning permission.
Those are the technical details. There is one fundamental reason why we will not support the Bill. The regional element means that powers are transferred from elected county councils and elected principal local authorities up to a regional tier. That would be acceptable if elected regional assemblies were in place. Regional planning can make a great deal of sense, especially for transport, which is difficult to organise at a local level. However, in many cases power will be transferred before elected regional assemblies exist. In some cases, it will be at least a decade before those assemblies are established, because the Government will not win referendums in the south-east and south-west unless they review the regional boundaries. The powers will go to the regional planning bodies, which are accountable to no one except the Secretary of State, who appoints them.
The transfer of powers from elected to unelected bodies is unacceptable. That is a strong enough reason to vote against the Bill, regardless of its good aspects. A compromise is possible. As I made clear in Committee, and as I have told the Minister at other times, if the county councils or principal local authorities have a power of veto over the new regional spatial strategy, the elected county councillors could indirectly hold the regional planning body to account and it would be forced to take note of their views. That would be a step forward, which might go some way to allaying some of the concerns raised.
As I have said before, the Minister has the numbers on his side in this place, but he does not in the other place, which will be greatly concerned by issues such as the transfer of powers. If he wants the good parts of the Bill to survive, he needs to find a way around the problem. I cannot foresee circumstances in which the other place will accept that proposal in its current form.
Overall, there is much in the Bill to welcome, but the fundamental problem remains. I am surprised that the Minister has signed up to it, because I should not have thought that he would want to sign up too often to allowing power to be taken upwards, away from elected people to unelected people. For that reason, I too shall urge my colleagues to vote against the Bill.
I want to pick Matthew Green up on one thing. He complained about the length of the performances of my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown. They were as long as they were because my hon. Friend allowed Members on both sides of the House to intervene to raise specific points, which, ultimately, saved time. The hon. Gentleman spoke for longer than he intended because he accepted an intervention from my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood.
My main point is that here we are again, involved in a rushed and shortened Third Reading of an important Bill, with not enough time to consider it on Report. The Government amendments went through on the nod and the same thing happened in Committee.
I have one point to make. As I said on Report, the Government could have crashed the Bill through Parliament in the last Session. Instead, they took time to consider its contents and to carry it over into this Session. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that it could have been crashed through with a large parliamentary majority?
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point in my own time, because I wish to raise that specific matter.
The purpose of the Bill is to speed up the planning system—that is the summary in the explanatory notes. I accept that the Government would say that they want to "speed up the planning system while ensuring that it becomes fairer or remains as fair, and is as simple as possible."
Of course I welcome parts of the Bill, as Mr. Clifton-Brown. If we could speed up the handling of major infrastructure projects, that would be a good thing. The devil is in the detail, and we must look into that. There is a good case for simplified planning zones, except perhaps for people who live in the affected areas, who may not think that a simplified system is necessarily the best way forward.
On reforms relating to the handling of planning applications, I do not think that the process will become quicker and more efficient, except possibly in the simplified planning zones. The regulations have been made more and unnecessarily complicated.
I am sorry that the Minister resisted the timetable proposals for drawing up development plans and for the inspector examining them and publishing the reports. Like the hon. Member for Ludlow, I feel strongly that there should be no question of transferring any powers from county councils to regional assemblies unless and until those assemblies are directly elected. That is not an unreasonable point to make. Even at this late stage, I ask the Minister to think again. I am against the strategy of regional assemblies. In the whole planning system, I think that outline planning applications serve a useful purpose and in many instances save time and money.
Let me deal with the remarks of David Wright. The Government introduced the first Bill, if I may call it that. We had a Second Reading almost a year ago and the Bill was rushed through Committee in January. The Government said that they rushed it through because they needed to get it on to the statute book quickly—those are their words, not mine. We then waited expectantly for no fewer than six months before the Government decided to recommit the Bill. That was unique in my experience in this place. The Government then added substantial new clauses.
The Bill now returns to the Chamber, having gone through a special procedure and having been carried forward into a new Session, and the Government have added more new clauses to the revised Bill.
The hon. Gentleman made many sensible contributions in both Committees. He will recall that in Committee in January Mr. Wilshire made several hundred references to Heathrow airport and terminal 5—every clause seemed to have an issue to do with Heathrow and terminal 5. Some account should be taken of the fact that time may have been wasted during some sittings of the Committee.
I cannot speak for my hon. Friend Mr. Wilshire; I can only say that if my constituency included Heathrow or was adjacent to it, I would raise the issue of terminal 5 as many times as I could. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that we are here to defend our constituents' interests at all times within what we believe to be the national priority.
Instead of rushing the Bill through now, and given what the Minister has said about the planning contribution proposals, it would have been far better to have delayed the Bill until perhaps next year, when the consultation period will have finished and the Minister will have had time to reflect on the public view on many of the issues that we have been discussing.
The Government claim that their timetable has not rushed the Bill and that all the major parts of it have been discussed. Clause 44, to which my hon. Friend has referred, deals with major infrastructure projects. It is a highly complex clause covering five and a bit pages. It was never discussed in either Committee. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a disgrace?
I do indeed, and I entirely accept the point that my hon. Friend makes. I have been trying to make the point, perhaps with a little resistance from Liberal Democrat and Labour Members, that far too little time has been devoted to those important issues.
Whatever the time constraints, which may not be the Minister's fault, I want to try to finish on a bipartisan note and congratulate him, the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Yvette Cooper, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and, indeed, the hon. Member for Ludlow on dealing valiantly with some big issues in a relatively short time. Finally, may I make a plea to the Minister for Housing and Planning about a matter that applies more to this Bill than perhaps to any other with which I have been involved in the Commons? It is essential that there is sufficient time to deal with these matters in the other place. Planning is not a party political issue, and it is a priority to get the best possible legislation on to the statute book. I hope that the Minister and the Government will think for a long time about, and consider sympathetically, any amendments that may be made in the other place.
I share the worries of my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman about the lack of time for debate. My objections to the Bill are fundamental, which is why I wish to make them on Third Reading. I was given guidance earlier that time was limited on Report and that the Government kept rewriting the Bill in Committee, so it was a good idea to wait and see what the final outcome was. However, now that I have seen that outcome, I am afraid that the Bill is little better than it was originally and the big problems that were apparent when it was introduced remain. I have declared my interests in the Register.
The first objection that my constituents and I have to the Bill concerns the phenomenal powers that it gives the Secretary of State. Secretaries of State have traditionally had substantial powers, which are often vexatious for constituencies and councils, including those in my area, because they are usually used to encourage more development than is desirable for the local community or can be easily accommodated, given the inadequacies of investment in transport, health and education. The Bill will make that problem far worse, as it gives the Secretary of State phenomenal powers to drive through major infrastructure projects and his own housing targets as part of the regional spatial strategy. It will cause endless disagreements and difficulties with elected councils and communities, which will be angry when the Secretary of State flexes his muscles and uses those powers.
I am suspicious about the delay that will be caused by throwing the existing planning system into the air and having to build a new one at considerable expense. Undoubtedly, the Secretary of State will then panic about the delay preventing the development that he would like. That, I fear, is likely to mean that the present Secretary of State or a future one will want to increase the targets even further, whatever the wishes of reluctant communities, as there will be another shortfall in housing provision, as assessed by him, caused by the uncertainties of the new planning system.
Good points have already been made in our short debate about the lack of democratic accountability of the new regional planning bodies. Like my hon. Friends, I do not welcome regional government of any kind in England, and certainly do not want it to affect my constituency—that is also the majority view of my constituents. Regional government is a waste of money, and it is offensive when it is designed, as it is in the Bill, deliberately to override the wishes of local communities as expressed through their elected unitary authorities or county or district councils. What is the point of all the costs and expenses of elections, planning officers and councillors in our areas if they will simply have to dance to the Secretary of State's tune on all the major issues that matter to those local communities?
I am sure that the Secretary of State has one good intention, and would like more development on brownfield sites. But we know that in practice the regional spatial strategy will be used to demand development across the piece, including development on the large number of green fields that remain in constituencies beyond the main metropolitan areas.
We also know that the Government's transport shambles continues apace, and that there are no plans now or on the horizon for increasing rail or road capacity to serve the large new housing areas that will undoubtedly emerge from the regional spatial strategies. Once again, the Government have produced a solution to the problem that will not work. Once again, that shows their inability to indulge in joined-up government. The Department for Transport is stumbling well behind the pace, with no ability to provide the links that are needed, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is responsible for planning, is worried that it is not driving enough housing through in areas with green fields, so it has invented a new planning system that will allow it to do that, making the transport and other infrastructure problems far worse.
My constituents in Wokingham and I have a heavy heart about the legislation being driven through this afternoon. We hope that in another place wiser counsel will prevail. Regional government in England is unnatural and a waste of money. Regional government directed by a Secretary of State who is out of touch and sympathy with many of our constituents is an abomination to us democratically, and it leads us to wonder why we go to the expense and trouble of building and electing local authorities when they are to be treated in such a cavalier fashion. I hope that in the other place those wiser counsels will force Ministers to think again. If they mean what they say about devolving power to local communities and acting democratically, they should tear up a large chunk of the Bill.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice on the problems of the postal service to and from the House of Commons using franked House of Commons envelopes, and the disadvantageous effect on constituents? I had an advice centre session lasting from 10 o'clock to 6 o'clock on Saturday, and I did a tape, with which I travelled 25 miles to Totnes to catch the midday post on Sunday. The franked House of Commons envelope has still not arrived. There were some important cases and serious issues on that tape, and the Post Office has completely failed to deliver the mail. Is there anything you can do to ensure that House of Commons envelopes get priority when posted from constituencies to the House of Commons?