New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Liberal Democrat, Ludlow 3:58 pm, 9th December 2003

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.