Planning Bill

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

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

In the end, we can learn from the process whether we should change it and the policy statements in any way. The policy statements will form the basis of the decisions. If the commission has made a decision outwith the policy statement, it is automatically judicially reviewable. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm that we should make it clear that decisions must be based on the policy statements. If we would be more comfortable referring some matters to Ministers, that can be fed into the two-year review.

Sir Paul Beresford knows that, even in the current circumstances, when a Secretary of State makes a decision on the recommendation of a planning inspector, although the Secretary of State can be brought to the House to explain the decision, the House cannot change it. The position of the House will therefore be no different from that under current town and country planning legislation.

There is a problem with mission creep, which perhaps my right hon. Friend could examine. We set off thinking that there might be 10 to 20 applications a year to the commission. We have now been told that the figure might be 45. Much of that is due to Highways Agency schemes and a view in the Department for Transport that every such scheme should go to the commission. We should reconsider that. Perhaps some Highways Agency schemes of a more local nature could be referred to local authorities or groups of local authorities. That would reduce the need for the commission to consider them all.

I accept that final decision making is difficult. I have tried to consider it in the context of the need for expeditious decision making and better scrutiny and accountability. I know that some hon. Members of all parties feel that we have not gone far enough, and I hope that we will make some progress. The Secretary of State's proposals will improve the Bill and I am pleased that she has agreed to support some of my amendments. I would like clarification of one or two points, and then I am more than happy not to push amendment No. 60 to a vote and to support the measure, with my right hon. Friend's assurances.

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