New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 2:15 pm, 9th December 2003

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.