New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 1:45 pm, 9th December 2003

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.