New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 2:30 pm, 9th December 2003

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.