Planning Bill

Part of Deferred Division – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 25th June 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe 4:15 pm, 25th June 2008

From Second Reading onwards, I have spent a lot of time considering various aspects of the Bill. I have made it clear that I support its main intention, which is to provide a more expeditious way of dealing with planning applications for major infrastructure projects. At the same time, I have expressed several concerns about the initial proposals and have sought to try to improve the Bill rather than to oppose it. I have accepted the need for these matters to be dealt with expeditiously and tried to find a way of ensuring that that is done while bringing more accountability and scrutiny into the process. I must say bluntly to Mrs. Lait that I have heard her say that she is in favour of finding a more expeditious method, but I have not heard her propose anything that would deliver it.

It is all right for us in this House to pass resolutions and legislation committing ourselves to dealing with climate change, putting forward appropriate targets and perhaps even seeking to improve them, but the reality is that if we do not have a mechanism for ensuring that applications for nuclear power stations and wind farms get through in a relatively short period, subject to all the proper scrutiny that is needed, we will never meet any of those targets.

I have had discussions with right hon. and hon. Friends about the final say in these matters and whether it should be a recommendation or a confirmation process for the IPC, and I have tabled amendment No. 60 and other consequential amendments. It is a difficult issue. My right hon. and hon. Friends have advanced arguments, which we also had in Committee, about whether this is a judge and jury process and whether it creates too much unpredictability. I do not accept either of those arguments. By their very nature, planning applications are unpredictable; otherwise, there would be no point in going through the process of considering them.

However, I have to accept that there are two areas of concern. First, there will be an additional delay in applications, perhaps of a year or more. I have sat with colleagues and looked at the empirical evidence for that. I would say to hon. Friends who have tabled other amendments—for principled and proper reasons; I respect them for that—that I am not sure that merely stipulating a fixed time in which Ministers would have to reach a conclusion is necessarily a satisfactory way of dealing with this. Ministers might well need more time, and if they are not given it, we could end up with a set of different problems.

I accept that the existence of policy statements constrains, in political terms, the planning decisions made, whoever makes them. Therefore, I welcome what the Minister promised on the first day of Report—that the policy statements will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Secondly, I welcome the location-specific promise given for the policy statements on nuclear power and airports. At that stage, with parliamentary scrutiny, and with Ministers taking decisions, real political decisions will be made, not quasi-judicial decisions on where developments happen. That is quite important.

I welcome the process improvements that have been agreed, particularly the commitment to accept new clause 42 and related amendments, which I will want to put to the vote, on the role of local authorities. The commission will have to have a statutory regard to the report produced by authorities that considers views of constituents and an application's relevance to and relationship with the authority's local development framework. Those measures raise local government to a different level in the consultation, and it is important that the body of elected representatives in an area should have that elevated role. I welcome support for that amendment.

I welcome support for the right of individuals to be heard where compulsory purchase orders affect them, and the acceptance of new clauses 40 and 41, and related amendments.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website