'Schedule [ Power to decline to determine applications: amendments] (power to decline to determine applications: amendments) has effect.'.— [Caroline Flint.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2— Evidence on applications, appeals and inquiries—
'After section 323 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 there is inserted—
"323A Evidence on applications, appeals and inquiries
(1) If an applicant for planning permission or any director, servant, agent or person on the applicant's behalf, for the purpose of procuring a grant of planning permission—
(a) knowingly or recklessly makes a statement which is false or misleading in a material particular;
(b) with intent to deceive, uses any document which is false or misleading in a material particular; or
(c) with intent to deceive, withholds any material information, he shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) If any person, for the purpose of procuring a particular decision on an appeal, application which it has been directed should be referred to the Secretary of State or on proceedings for the confirmation of an order by the Secretary of State, under this Act—
(a) knowingly or recklessly makes a statement which is false or misleading in a material particular;
(b) with intent to deceive, uses any document which is false or misleading in a material particular; or
(c) with intent to deceive, withholds any material information, he shall be guilty of an offence.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) or (2) shall be liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum; or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.
(4) Any person giving expert evidence, whether orally or in writing, to an inquiry or hearing held under this Act shall make a declaration that the evidence they give shall be their professional opinion."'.
New clause 3— Amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—
'(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 71A insert—
"71B Telecommunications masts: precautionary principle statement
(1) Every application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus shall be accompanied by a precautionary principle statement ("the statement").
(2) A local planning authority on receipt of an application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus, and on the receipt of a notice of appeal, shall—
(a) make copies of the statement available for inspection, and
(b) indicate how representations can be made in respect of the statement, in such manner as may be prescribed by regulations.
(3) A local planning authority in considering an application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus, or the Secretary of State on an appeal against a determination or non-determination, shall not make a decision until it, or he, has first taken into account the information contained within the statement and any representations received in respect of that information.
(4) Where the statement indicates that there is a threat of damage to health or the environment, it shall not be a ground for granting planning permission that there is a lack of full scientific certainty about the extent of the threat of damage to health or the environment.
71C Telecommunications masts: beam of greatest intensity certificate
(1) Every application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus shall be accompanied by a certificate ("the certificate") which sets out—
(a) the area and maximum range of the beam of greatest intensity,
(b) the minimum and maximum distances at ground level of the beam of greatest intensity,
(c) an explanation of the way in which the intensity of radiation falls off with distance from an antennae and of the level of the intensity of radiofrequency radiation,
(d) an indication of where the beam of greatest intensity falls and the nearest and farthest distance from the antenna to these points.
(2) A local planning authority on receipt of an application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus, and on the receipt of a notice of appeals shall—
(a) make copies of the certificate available for inspection, and
(b) indicate how representations can be made, in such manner as may be prescribed by regulations.
(3) Where a beam of greatest intensity falls on any part of any premises or land occupied by or consisting of an educational or medical facility, or of residential property, planning permission shall not be granted before first taking into account the information contained within the certificate, and any representations received in respect of that information.
(4) For the purposes of section 71B and this section—
"beam of greatest intensity" means where the greatest exposure to the radiofrequency radiation signal occurs;
"educational facility" means any premises used for the education of children and young adults, whether such education is full or part time, and includes a nursery school;
"exempted apparatus" means—
(a) a public call box, or(b) an antenna which cannot be used for receiving a signal transmitted from a telecommunications mast, and(c) radio equipment which cannot be used in connection with a telecommunications mast;
"medical facility" means any premises used for medical treatment or care;
"precautionary principle statement" means a statement accompanying an application for planning permission for telecommunications masts and associated apparatus which describes the effect upon the environment or human health which might arise from the installation or use of the telecommunications masts and associated apparatus;
"telecommunications masts and associated apparatus" has the same meaning as the term "electronic communications apparatus" in the electronic communications code, except that the definition of that term does not include exempted apparatus.".'.
New clause 4— Amendment of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, etc.—
'(1) The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (S.I. 1995/418) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (6).
(2) In Article 1(2) (interpretation), at the appropriate place in alphabetical order, insert—
""electronic communications code" means the code set out in Schedule 2 to the Telecommunications Act 1984;
"exempted apparatus" means—
(a) a public call box, or(b) an antenna which cannot be used for receiving a signal transmitted from a telecommunications mast, and(c) radio equipment which cannot be used in connection with a telecommunications mast;
"telecommunications masts and associated apparatus" has the same meaning as the term "electronic communications apparatus" in the electronic communications code except that the definition of that term does not include exempted apparatus."
(3) In Part 2 of Schedule 2 (minor operations) at end insert—
D Development which consists of—
(a) the use of land by or on behalf of an electronic communications code operator for a period not exceeding 3 months to provide access for and station temporary moveable telecommunications masts and associated apparatus, which is required for the sole purpose of temporarily replacing unserviceable telecommunications masts and associated apparatus; or
(b) the replacement of telecommunications masts and associated apparatus, including associated equipment and structures and the provision of means of access, which is required for the operation of the Electronic Communications Code Operator's system where such existing telecommunications masts and associated apparatus has become unserviceable.
Development not permitted
D1 Development is not permitted by Class D if the telecommunications masts and associated apparatus are not of the same type and capacity as the unserviceable masts and associated apparatus they are to replace.
Interpretation of Class D
D2 For the purposes of Class D "moveable telecommunications masts and associated apparatus" means masts and apparatus attached to a vehicle, trailer or moveable structure.".
(4) In Part 17 of Schedule 2 (development by statutory undertakers), in paragraph A1 (development not permitted), after subparagraph (c) insert "or
(d) telecommunications masts and associated apparatus."
(5) Part 24 of Schedule 2 (development by electronic communications code operators) is revoked.
(6) Part 25 of Schedule 2 (other telecommunications development) is revoked.
(7) The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/2718) is revoked.
(8) The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/1878) is revoked.'.
New clause 36— Appeals against enforcement notices—
'(1) Section 174 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2) omit paragraph (a).'.
New clause 38— Development of plant or machinery by railway undertakers—
'In Schedule 2, Part 17, Section A.1(c)(i) of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 after second 'building', insert ', plant or machinery'.'.
Amendment No. 300, in clause 149, page 77, line 7, leave out 'the regional development agency for its region' and insert
'a local authority for an area within its region (whether singly or jointly with other local authorities)'.
Amendment No. 311, page 77, leave out lines 10 to 21.
Amendment No. 301, page 77, line 12, leave out 'the regional development agency for the region' and insert
'a local authority for an area within the region (whether singly or jointly with other local authorities)'.
Amendment No. 302, page 77, line 18, leave out 'the regional development agency for the region' and insert
'a local authority for an area within the region (whether singly or jointly with other local authorities)'.
Amendment No. 303, page 77, line 23, leave out 'regional development agency' and insert 'local authority'.
Amendment No. 304, page 77, line 25 , leave out 'regional development agency' and insert 'local authority'.
Amendment No. 312, page 77, leave out lines 29 and 30.
Amendment No. 305, page 77, line 31, leave out 'regional development agency' and insert 'local authority'.
Amendment No. 306, page 77, line 36, leave out 'regional development agency' and insert 'local authority'.
Amendment No. 313, page 77, leave out lines 38 to 40.
Amendment No. 307, page 77, line 39, leave out 'regional development agency' and insert 'local authority'.
Amendment No. 308, page 78, leave out lines 1 to 28.
Amendment No. 290, in clause 155, page 84, line 2, at end insert—
'(7) A local planning authority may arrange for the discharge of their functions under this section by a panel of elected members drawn from other local planning authorities.'.
Amendment No. 2, page 84, line 37, at end insert—
'(2A) In section 78 (appeals to the Secretary of State against planning decisions and failure to take such decisions) after subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) Where a local planning authority approves an application for planning permission and—
(a) the planning application does not accord with the provisions of the development plan in force in the area in which the land to which the application relates is situated;
(b) the planning application is one in which the local authority has an interest as defined in section 316;
(c) the planning application falls within the definition of "major applications", as defined by a person appointed by the Secretary of State for that purpose;
(d) the planning application is accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment; or
(e) the planning officer has recommended refusal of planning permission, certain persons as specified in subsection (2B) below may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State.
(2B) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permission in the circumstances specified in subsection (2A) above are—
(a) any persons who have lodged a formal objection to the planning application in writing to the planning authority for the area in which the land to which the application relates is situated;
(b) other persons at the discretion of a person appointed by the Secretary of State for that purpose.".
(2B) In section 79—
(a) in subsection (2), leave out "either" and after "planning authority" insert "or the applicant (where different from the appellant)";
(b) in subsection (6), after "the determination", insert "(except for appeals as defined in section 78(2A) and where the appellant is as defined in section 78(2B))".'.
Government amendments Nos. 190 to 193
Amendment No. 329, in clause 161 page 93, line 34, after '(3B)', insert 'Subject to subsection (3C),'.
Amendment No. 323, page 93, line 36, after second 'development', insert
'within the curtilage of a dwelling house'.
Government amendment No. 194
Amendment No. 330, page 94, line 4, at end add—
'(3C) For the purposes of subsection (3B) the Secretary of State may by order prescribe the development orders, or the classes of development described as permitted development in those orders, to which that subsection applies.'.
Government amendments Nos. 195 to 198
Government new schedule 5— 'Power to decline to determine applications: amendments.
Government amendment No. 275
Government amendments Nos. 280 to 286
We now turn to matters pertaining to part 9 of the Bill, including a number of measures that we hope will streamline and speed up the planning system. I understand that those policies were generally welcomed in Committee, although a number of hon. Members had queries about how some things might work in practice. We propose six sets of Government amendments that will make the provisions clearer and easier to use. I will try, in a thematic way, to cover the issues raised and the way in which we deal with them in our amendments, and to respond to the amendments tabled by the Opposition and by some of my hon. Friends.
First, clause 149 enables the regional assembly to delegate its regional planning functions to the regional development agency. The clause is effective only where the regional assembly chooses to use it and the RDA agrees. Moreover, it enables only delegation, not transfer of planning functions. I know that concerns were expressed in Committee, and have been expressed since, that we may be accused of pre-empting the new legislation required to implement the sub-national review proposals. That is absolutely not the case. I would like to make it absolutely clear that the clause leaves unchanged the ultimate responsibility for regional planning to regional assemblies, whose membership is predominantly drawn from elected local government.
Amendments Nos. 300 to 308 would replace references to the regional development agency with
"a local authority for an area within its region (whether singly or jointly)".
First, regional assemblies can already delegate planning work to local authorities so there is no need for legislation to that effect. Secondly, those changes would mean that they were not allowed to delegate to the RDA, even if they wanted to, because RDAs are currently precluded from doing such work.
Amendments Nos. 311 to 313, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Betts, would mean that a regional assembly could delegate its work to the RDA, but if the Secretary of State were undertaking the same functions, she would not be able to do so. Under planning legislation there is a reserve power for the Secretary of State to act as the regional planning body. This is, of course, a last resort to be used if there were a very serious problem, such as the collapse of the regional assembly. In such a case, the Secretary of State may want to involve the RDA and the amendments would prevent that from happening.
I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend on this matter; I tabled amendments just to express concern and raise the issue. Is she saying that those transfers would be encouraged on a voluntary and agreeable basis, and that the power is one of absolute last resort, which the Secretary of State would use only in those circumstances?
Absolutely. That is a very clear explanation of what we are saying. The power is one of last resort. We will not take planning powers away from regional assemblies in advance of new legislation, and we will make sure that the Secretary of State undertakes the role of a regional planning body only as a last resort. Only if the regional assembly were to cease to function, or refuse to carry out its duties, which I hope is highly unlikely, might we need to resort to delegating, but not transferring, powers to the RDA.
While I am reassured that the current Minister would regard the transference and exercise of those powers by a Minister as an act of last resort, we know from experience that assurances given at the Dispatch Box are not tantamount to guarantees out in the country. What reassurance can we have that a less benign Minister—someone who prefers to centralise such decisions more than she would—would not use that power to centralise decision making and sweep away local democracy?
Clause 149 makes it clear that the delegation of planning functions to the regional development agency could happen only when the regional assembly chooses to use that power and the RDA agrees. That should be enough. I hope that those assurances are sufficient to enable hon. Members to decide not to press their amendments.
Clause 161 covers compensation for removal of permitted development rights. Government amendment No. 194 would reform local planning authorities' liability for compensation for the removal of permitted development rights. It would allow for a maximum amount of time to be set out in secondary legislation between notice being given of a proposed restriction of permitted development rights and its coming into force. Only by giving such notice can the right of compensation be removed. We have already set out a minimum time between notice of a proposed restriction being given and its coming into force to ensure that residents have adequate notice of changes. However, we will consult on the maximum time limit in any secondary legislation to avoid cases in which the time limit was so long that residents would forget about the changes.
The amendment also makes it clear that when developments commence before notice is given, or during the notice period, and they can be lawfully completed, no compensation is payable. Mr. Curry has tabled amendments Nos. 323, 329 and 330, and I understand his reasons for doing that. Amendment No. 323 would apply clause 161 only to householder development. Amendments Nos. 329 and 330 would apply it only to classes of development that were specified in secondary legislation.
I recognise that the amendments imply concerns that clause 161 might have adverse consequences, resulting, for example, in farmers being prevented from carrying out seasonal duties such as providing land for camping, caravanning and so on. The National Farmers Union has made representations on that. We are equally keen to ensure that businesses retain the ability to carry out works without the need to apply for planning permission, when that is appropriate. However, it is important to get the detail right and we want to ensure that any changes do not have adverse consequences. That will mean more work with stakeholders. As a result of that, I expect us to revert to the subject in another place, and I am happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss it further. On that basis, I ask him not to press his amendments.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has decided to take that course of action. We are trying to work constructively.
Thank you very much. I have been praised twice on the record; that is not too bad. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support.
Local member review bodies have created huge debate in local authorities and among those in the planning profession. Several hon. Members have supported the principle of local member review bodies, for which clauses 155 to 158 provide, while pointing out that it is important to sort out how they work in practice. We have discussed the provisions extensively with local government and planning professionals to explore that. I have also received several representations about what is workable. We need to consider whether, given the large number of planning reforms that we are asking local planning authorities to implement, it is also right to ask them to focus on the initiative.
Although I recognise that amendment No. 290 seeks to be helpful, it would be contrary to the principle of local accountability on which our proposals are based. It would allow local planning authorities to discharge their local member review body functions through panels of elected members drawn entirely from other local authorities. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a vote.
Government amendments Nos. 190, 191 and 192 are minor technical amendments to ensure that, when delegated cases are exceptionally determined by a committee or sub-committee of a local authority in the first instance, the right of appeal to the Secretary of State remains. Amendment No. 190 inserts the necessary provisions for planning applications under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Amendments Nos. 191 and 192 insert parallel provisions in relation to applications for lawful use or development certificates and in relation to applications for listed building consent. As I have said, there remain a number of important matters to work through on that proposal, and we may have something further to say when the Bill reaches another place.
Turning to development consents, I should like to deal with three sets of largely technical amendments, the purpose of which is to make the development control system run more smoothly. Clause 159 deals with repeat applications and twin tracking. Government new clause 30, Government new schedule 5 and Government amendment No. 193 replace clause 159 and enhance the provision already in the Bill. They do so, first, by ensuring that the provisions dealing with repeat applications and twin tracking cover cases where an application is deemed to have been made by way of an enforcement appeal, and, secondly, in the case of twin tracking, by ensuring that applications made on the same day are covered.
Government amendment No. 195 modifies the provisions in clause 162, which concerns non-material changes to a planning permission. Government amendment No. 195 has the effect that where an applicant has an interest in some but not all of the land to which a planning permission relates, the power can be exercised only in relation to that part of the land in which he or she has an interest.
The third set of technical amendments relates to clause 163(3), which concerns challenges to decisions called in by the Secretary of State on applications under development orders. Government amendments Nos. 196 and 286 relate to the current drafting of subsection (3), which contains the words "Secretary of State". That wording potentially causes a problem for Welsh Ministers, since it might be contested that the term "Secretary of State" does not include Welsh Ministers. Our amendments fix that problem by removing the words "Secretary of State".
Let me turn to the issues relating to trees. Government amendments Nos. 197, 198, 275, and 280 to 285 are all related to clause 164, which, together with clause 165, I hope will simplify and bring uniformity to the existing system for making and maintaining tree preservation orders. The provisions in those clauses were generally well received in Committee. I hope that the amendments make further small but helpful improvements. In particular, they allow for regulations to permit a local planning authority to impose a time limit on consents for work to protected trees. Currently, consent given for pruning or felling protected trees lasts in perpetuity. However, where approved work has been delayed by several years, it may no longer be appropriate to undertake the work.
Those amendments also allow for regulations to make provisions ensuring that trees planted as replacements for those that are felled with consent are automatically protected, unless that provision is waived by the local planning authority. In addition, those amendments will ensure that it is an offence not only to carry out unauthorised tree works to protected trees, but to commission a third party to carry out the work on someone's behalf.
Let me turn to some non-Bill-related measures. There are six amendments that we do not feel relate to the Government's agenda in part 9: Amendments Nos. 2 and new clauses 2, 3, 4, 36 and 38. I hope to persuade hon. Members that those amendments should not be pressed. Let me deal first with amendment No. 2, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Drew, which concerns third-party rights of appeal. Amendment No. 2 would establish a third party right of appeal against decisions on planning applications. Of course interested parties have the opportunity to have their say on planning cases, but we do not think a third party right of appeal is desirable.
First, a third party right of appeal would dramatically increase the work load on the appeal system and cause significant delays in issuing decisions, and could also be used perversely to delay many otherwise acceptable developments. In addition, third parties have an opportunity to make their views known through representations at the application stage, via elected councillors, who have a responsibility to act in the general public interest. We in the Department are already working on a review of the planning application process and are also considering ways in which we can make community engagement far more constructive in planning applications at the local level.
The Minister will be aware that, in effect, developers currently have two opportunities to appeal against planning conditions, first at the application stage and again, retrospectively, once the cement is dry. Many people who are uncomfortable about the power of developers feel that they are not on a level playing field. Given what the Minister has just said, which I find reassuring, what can she say to those citizens who feel that developers have it more their way?
The hon. Gentleman is right to make a case about how development is viewed. One of the problems we face is that planning is often seen as bureaucratic and distant, while development is seen as bad. None of those descriptions is a reality, but there is more we could do on that front. It is important for local authorities to get on with their local development frameworks because that is one way to engage communities in their wider vision for their neighbourhoods.
The local development framework is a very important document when it comes to assessing future planning applications. That is why we are adopting a number of different activities to improve the basis on which local authorities take decisions on planning applications. They should be based on the vision that communities have, what they need for infrastructure and everything else. Authorities should also look for more imaginative ways of involving communities at the local development framework stage, but also in different ways during the planning process. We often hear the voices of those in communities who are against, but we do not necessarily hear the voices of those who are for, particularly those who do not have a roof over their heads, for example. We are trying to work through some of that, but with all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I am not sure that the amendment provides the right answer, so I hope that he will withdraw it.
In a sense, I understand that we should be looking at the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, but I wanted to look further into how communities can advance their views. I agree with the Minister about the local development framework. The problem is that as those frameworks evolve, communities do not often get the opportunity—and they certainly lack the voice—to make the necessary representations. If the Minister would like to talk to me some time about the possibility of a community enhancement Bill, we could look further into how to give communities the voice they need.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We recently relaunched planning policy statement 25, which relates to local development frameworks. We also provide online some of the best examples of how local authorities have gone about developing those frameworks, and we refresh that information every six months. That should enable communities and those working in planning departments to have a look at the best approaches. We have also streamlined some of the arrangements by reassuring local authorities that they do not need as many of the documents as they think they need for the local development frameworks. What we want is a clear expression of the vision. We want to ensure that it is easy to develop and easy to convey, while allowing input from the local community.
Notwithstanding the Minister's comments in dismissing the amendment on third party rights of appeal, does she not accept that many communities need further checks and balances, particularly where an application contravenes a planning policy but is nevertheless passed, where it works on the margins of local planning policy, or where, as in my constituency, the regional development agency has been involved in instructing a developer to apply for a certain number of houses, knowing full well that the RDA will have a role in determining the outcome of the application later in the process? Surely in those circumstances, it would be appropriate to have a more transparent mechanism by which the local community could have a third party right of appeal?
As I have said, I am not convinced of the argument that we need such a mechanism, but there is a lot more that we could do to make earlier parts of the planning process more inclusive and more accessible. There is a statutory obligation on local planning authorities to produce a statement of community involvement and policies for public involvement in planning functions in section 18 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me about some of his concerns, I will try to share with him some of our ideas for improving community engagement.
I would like to correct myself; I have issued so much new guidance recently. PPS25, which we updated the other week, deals with floods; it is PPS12 that relates to the local development frameworks.
New clause 2, tabled by Mr. Benyon, would make it a criminal offence to give false information on planning applications and appeals. We do not have evidence that that is a widespread problem. With very few exceptions, such as when information is sensitive, all documentation relating to a planning application or appeal is made public, and can therefore be challenged. The Planning Inspectorate already has plans to require witnesses to endorse claims that their evidence is true and represents their professional opinion. It can also take evidence under oath to establish the facts, although that is rarely considered necessary.
I tabled the new clause following representations made to me by a constituent who was the victim of a planning application on a neighbouring site that had been made on the basis of what he believed to be false information. On investigation, I saw that there was no sanction in law to deal with cases in which an individual obtains planning permission by giving false information on an application. I tabled the new clause as a probing amendment, as it were, to test the Government and establish whether they knew that the problem existed. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that she would be prepared to discuss the matter further.
Obviously, when individual cases occur we should be mindful of them. As I have said, according to the Planning Inspectorate there is no evidence that the problem is widespread, and public documents presented during the process are open to challenge. We fear that routinely checking the accuracy of documentation relating to the large number of applications that are submitted would hinder the speed and efficiency of both the application and the appeal stage.
The current system is generally trusted, and its decisions are respected. For us to change it, we would require substantial evidence that it was being extensively abused. I accept that the case raised by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituent is important, but I can tell him that the fraudulent obtaining of planning permission is a ground for judicial review, so there is some recourse to the law for individuals.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive approach.
New clauses 3 and 4 deal with health and permitted development rights in connection with telecommunications. Our policy on health in relation to telecommunications is clear: the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. That view is clearly stated in planning policy guidance note 8 on telecommunications, and supported by the National Radiological Protection Board.
All telecommunications masts should comply with the international guidelines on radiation set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. We believe that those guidelines provide the necessary level of protection for the public, and that submission of a "precautionary principle" or "beam of greatest intensity" statement is not necessary.
New clause 4 would revoke a range of permitted development rights relating to telecommunications masts and associated equipment. We believe that our planning policy in that regard strikes a balance between allowing local residents to have their say in development proposals and ensuring that our telecommunications network remains fit for purpose. We are currently reviewing the permitted development rights relating to electronic communications code operators, and if we decide that change is needed we will consult publicly on any options. New clause 4 would circumvent any public consultation and full consideration of an important planning issue.
New clause 36, tabled by the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), would remove ground (a), one of the seven grounds for making an appeal against an enforcement notice. I understand that the hon. Members' concern is focused on those who carry out development in breach of the conditions of a planning permission and appeal on ground (a) when subsequently served with an enforcement notice.
If a breach of condition is the sole reason for taking enforcement action, the local planning authority can serve a breach of condition notice against which there can be no appeal. If the breach is not remedied within the specified period, the developer has committed an offence and is liable to prosecution. I therefore believe that local planning authorities have sufficient powers to deal with this issue, and that the removal of ground (a) would cause unnecessary administrative difficulties for the parties concerned. I hope I have reassured the hon. Members that the current system is the most efficient way of dealing with the issue.
Moving on to the development of plant or machinery by railway undertakers, new clause 38 would remove permitted development rights for statutory undertakers to undertake essential maintenance and development work without first obtaining planning permission. Permitted development rights for statutory undertakers are well established and rightly allow a large number of routine but essential works to proceed without the need for planning permission. It would not be right to restrict these rights generally, but there may be problems in specific cases. Statutory undertakers should publicise any plans for permitted development if they consider that it might affect amenity or environment. That would give an opportunity for the local planning authority to consider whether to make an article 4 direction requiring the statutory undertaker to apply for planning permission. I believe that these arrangements generally work well. If the hon. Member for North Cornwall has evidence that that is not the case, I will be happy to discuss it further, but at present I think we should retain the current position.
We are rapidly running out of time in our consideration of the Bill, and we now come to a second significant group of amendments, but before I start addressing it let me welcome the Minister to our deliberations. I think she is the fifth Minister with whom I have now debated aspects of this Bill, so clearly the entire departmental team feels it is worthy of their time and attention.
First, let me address the amendment of my hon. Friend Andrew Stunell. The Minister recently referred to telecommunications masts, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to expand on the topic, so all I will say is that he has campaigned on it for a long time. I dispute the Minister's comments on the balance being right, however; many of our constituents feel that it is not quite right, and that there are insufficient opportunities for people to contest decisions about telecommunications masts, and in terms not only of health, but of other matters such as their visual impact.
My hon. Friend Tom Brake and I have tabled amendments to improve the planning system, particularly in enforcement; again, the Minister recently discussed that. Planning conditions can make a huge difference to a community's tolerance of whether a particular application is acceptable. Often, our constituents can be dissatisfied about an application winning approval, but hard-won conditions mean that they at least feel that their views have been taken on board as part of the process. However, if a developer then goes on to flout those conditions, as happens all too often, it serves to undermine people's faith in the planning system—their faith that their views can effect change and are taken into account. One of our amendments seeks to remove one of the opportunities developers have to apply retrospectively for the lifting of a condition that had been made when the planning application was considered. That would encourage people to believe that their views are being taken into account.
New clause 38 addresses permitted development rights for railways. I should note that I informed Keith Hill that I would refer to an issue that was raised with me by some of his constituents, and that he is aware that we will discuss it. The Minister was kind enough to say that if there are specific problems around permitted development rights, she will look into them, and I will pass on the information that has been passed to me. This particular case involves Southern railway having built a substantial plant to clean trains. It is not a minor plant at the edge of a station, as some Members might think, but a substantial building that cause problems of noise and light pollution to local residents, and they feel that it is the sort of structure that should have been covered by a planning application. I accept that there is a strong case for permitted development rights for smaller additions to ensure that institutions such as railways can operate effectively without having to make a planning application for every minor change. However, the local community would clearly feel that it should have its views taken into account in the case of a significant building.
I am pleased that Mrs. Lait has, as ever, done considerable work in tabling amendments, especially on the proposed planning powers for regional development agencies. As my hon. Friend Lembit Öpik—who is no longer in his place—said, some suspicion may remain, despite the Minister's helpful reassurances, that we may be seeing a centralisation of power and an undermining of the democratic accountability of local authorities and their ability to take planning decisions. I have made the case in the past that RDAs are the correct repository for some of those powers. I appreciate the problems, and the Government have announced that regional assemblies are not long for this world. That situation needs to be resolved, but RDAs were set up with clear and limited objectives, and it is perhaps asking too much of them to take on these powers as well.
Does my hon. Friend share my chief concern that the RDAs, which report to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, have a primary focus on economic development, rather than the wider issues of sustainability and housing development, so their priorities will differ from those of other organisations? Does he also share my concern that there are currently no satisfactory accountability processes for RDAs? In theory, that takes place through the regional Ministers, but although they are in place, there is no way to hold the RDAs to account.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and her point is reminiscent of a debate we had in earlier consideration of the Bill, when Mr. Drew was keen to ensure that the IPC took account of environmental and sustainability concerns to a greater degree than had been guaranteed by the Government's amendments. Bodies that are established by the Government with a narrow set of objectives will naturally seek to meet those objectives and they may well not therefore prioritise other aspects such as sustainability.
Local member review has been controversial in some areas and we have been lobbied on the issue. I remain convinced that it is a helpful move in the right direction, and I hope that it will be defended. That would encourage people to believe that accountability is indeed being strengthened.
Mr. Curry, who is no longer in his place, has withdrawn his amendment after reassurance from the Minister. Despite what I had to say about permitted development rights in another context, most of the issues about which the right hon. Gentleman was concerned are slightly different from those that I described, such as the case of a major light industrial building in an urban area. I am pleased that the Minister is continuing to negotiate on those issues and that we can reach a resolution that will satisfy those in the farming industry that their rights are being protected.
I am pleased that the issues around RDAs are being aired because they are a cause for concern to many people in the House and outside. I also look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove—if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—on the issue of telecommunications masts.
I rise to speak to new clause 38, which was tabled by Dan Rogerson. As he said, it seeks to respond to a railway development by the side of Streatham Hill station in my constituency that has blighted the lives of many of my constituents who live in Sternhold avenue. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to refer to my constituency in the debate.
The problem for my constituents arises from the construction in 2005-06 of five new platforms, three 300 m long canopies and eight new lighting columns at the railway sidings that immediately abut the rear garden walls of the homes in Sternhold avenue. Not only is there now cleaning and maintenance activity throughout the day and night at the sidings, but the sheer presence and visual impact of the columns and canopies is horrendous. The local topography means that the sidings stand on higher ground than the adjacent houses, so the canopies tower over the homes up to a height of 7.5 m, and at a distance from some homes of only 12 m. For all those poor residents, it is like having a highly modernistic airport terminal building at the bottom of their garden.
The visual impact of the development means that it dominates the lives of residents and probably also reduces property values, yet the development was carried out under permitted rights without consultation and with limited scope for challenge by the local authority. Whether it was correctly carried out under permitted development rights is a matter of contention, although I suppose that it is arguable that, in drafting the new clause as an amendment to the law, the local Lib Dem councillors and the Lib Dem Front Benchers are tacitly acknowledging that the case was a permitted development and that the law needs to be changed.
Unfortunately, of course, since the law does not work retrospectively, there would be no benefit to my Sternhold avenue constituents if the new clause were passed. Although I welcome the opportunity to raise this shocking matter in the House on behalf of my constituents, I am not sure that anyone would be helped by the new clause. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall said, its purpose is to require railway undertakings to seek planning permission when they want to install plant and machinery on operational land. However, the issue for my constituents is not the construction of plant and machinery on railway land, but the closeness of the development to their homes. That is why new clause 38 does not meet the case.
I have looked in detail at the operation of the general permitted development order—indeed, I had responsibilities on it some time ago when I had the honour and privilege to be the nation's Planning Minister. On the whole, the GPDO works well as it is applied to the railways. When the working of the GPDO was last reviewed in the Lichfield report of 2003, only 5 per cent. of responding local authorities reported problems with class A of part 17, which is what we are dealing with. Only 2 per cent. considered class A's permitted development rights to be too loosely defined.
Railway undertakings make about 1,000 applications under the GPDO each year, many of which involve plant and machinery. I accept that it would be an unreasonable obstacle to the efficient working of the railway and a big new burden on local planners if all proposals to construct plant and machinery were subject to planning consent. I repeat the fact that the problem for my constituents is not the presence of plant and machinery on operational land but the proximity of the development.
Is this not almost déjà vu for the right hon. Gentleman? He dealt with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for the Government when I was the Opposition spokesman, and he will recall that that Act exempted Crown exemptions, so that the Crown now has to apply for planning permission. Does he not think that these utilities should be treated in the same way so that when large infrastructure is involved—such as the example from his constituency—they ought to have to seek planning permission?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that trip down memory lane. He is right to say that we had many exchanges on these matters. Although I contend that it would be inappropriate for every item of plant or machinery to be subject to planning consent, the point that I want to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister is that the Lichfield report anticipated that there may be circumstances in which a condition ought to be applied for the development of large infrastructure on railway land.
The Lichfield review of the GPDO suggests in two places that there is a need to consider introducing a distance restriction on developments that might involve night-time activity and visual impacts near residential areas. Paragraph 30 of chapter 21 of the report deals with part 17 of the GPDO, which discusses a failed attempt by a local authority to resist a particular railway development. The report says:
"Whilst it is not clear that this is other than isolated case, it suggests the need to consider whether some restriction of Class A development should apply within a specified distance of residential properties".
The following paragraph recommends that further consideration be given to clarifying whether buildings related to the washing and maintenance of railway vehicles should not be defined as an industrial process, as is the case with the Scottish GPDO. Interestingly, the report goes on to say:
"This would have some potential for adverse impacts on residential amenity, although this may perhaps be addressed by a condition requiring a minimum distance, e.g. 50 metres, from residential premises."
In 2003, when the Lichfield report was prepared, it seemed that there could be a problem with intrusive railway developments close to people's homes. Today, in 2008, the Sternhold avenue case shows that such a problem exists: it would therefore be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister would undertake to consider amending the GPDO along the lines suggested by Lichfield and bringing forward appropriate secondary legislation in due course.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. I do not want to say too much about the situation in the London borough of Lambeth, as I understand that it is considering further action. I am aware of the Lichfield report but, as he has acknowledged, it is not clear whether the problem is widespread. I should be happy to meet him if he thinks that there is more evidence of a wider problem to do with the development's proximity to housing, but part of the balance that I have to strike depends on determining how big the problem is. To coin a phrase, we do not need a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that generous offer. It will certainly please my constituents, and I shall certainly avail myself of it, but in her initial statement she referred to the possible use of article 4 directions by local planning authorities to resist undesirable developments of the sort that I have described. She will know that that is not possible under part 11 of the GPDO. In the end, the Sternhold avenue development that has caused so much distress to my constituents was in fact carried out under part 11, and not part 17—the subject of new clause 38.
Like all the permitted development powers, part 11 of the GPDO confers pretty sweeping powers on railway undertakings—for example, it excludes any requirement for an environmental impact assessment. However, there is a requirement for prior approval, albeit limited to grounds of injury to amenity or better siting being possible. In dealing with that part of the GPDO, chapter 15 paragraph 15 of the Lichfield report notes: "Investigation of case studies where part 11 rights have been used failed to find any examples of adverse impacts arising which could not be controlled by local planning authorities".
It is therefore perfectly clear that local authorities have been able to prevent unreasonable developments. I very much regret that, back in 2002 and later, Lambeth council—at that period under a Liberal Democrat administration—did not use those grounds at least to put the proposals under vigorous scrutiny. At least local residents would then have become aware of the threat at an early stage. It was a missed opportunity, just as the opportunity was missed to take the enforcement action against Southern railway for which those same Lib Dem councillors are now campaigning. With respect to the hon. Member for North Cornwall, new clause 38 seems rather like a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The right hon. Gentleman has highlighted the fact that he was the Minister at the time when the application went through. He has also highlighted the role of Liberal Democrat councillors, but did he consider at the time that the GPDO needed amending? Could he have intervened to do so, not as the constituency MP but as the Minister, on behalf of all local areas that could have experienced a similar situation?
That is a very reasonable intervention. To be entirely accurate, the development somewhat post-dated my tenure as the nation's Planning Minister. As my remarks have indicated, I did consider carefully the record and history of the GPDO, which we are debating. My feeling was that we were waiting for the council to report on whether the development was permitted, but that at some stage I would want to make a recommendation about the distance factor. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to do that.
New clause 38 is about the development of plant or machinery by railway undertakers, and I wish to say a word about the role and responsibilities of precisely the undertakers in the case that I have mentioned—Southern railway and Network Rail. It is all very well for railway undertakers to argue "caveat emptor" when people choose to live next to the railway, but Southern railway and Network Rail deliberately used part 11 of the order, which minimised the opportunities for local consultation and representation. There was no requirement of prior notice to local residents and only the most cursory notification of the commencement of works. The first that most residents knew of what was in store was a matter of weeks before building work began.
I want railway operators to think more about the impact of their activities, which have been the subject of this brief exchange. I cannot conceive of the fact that rail managers, engineers or architects would want to live next door to such a monstrous intrusion into people's lives. Yes, the GPDO gives enormous leeway to the railway undertaker, but as usual—I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will understand this point—freedom has to be matched with responsibility. In the case that I have mentioned, I do not believe that it was.
Southern railway and Network Rail behaved abominably, but they have the chance to redeem their good name and reputation. The quality of life of my constituents would be greatly improved if the canopy nearest their homes were to be removed. I therefore hope that Southern railway and Network Rail will enter into negotiations with officers and members of Lambeth council as a matter of urgency to remove the canopy nearest the residential properties in Sternhold avenue in my constituency.
It is a pleasure to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having had an opportunity to listen to the points raised in the debate. I hope that Keith Hill will forgive me if I do not follow him in covering the detail of his constituency interest. I am conscious that we are exceedingly short of time and that a number of Members wish to contribute, so I shall be as brief as I can.
I start by thanking the Minister for taking on board a number of the points that were made in Committee and in subsequent lobbying. I am glad, too, that my right hon. Friend Mr. Curry has persuaded the Minister that things can be done about permitted development rights for the agriculture industry. I suspect that her colleagues in the Lords may well see the issue covered by new clause 2 re-emerging there, so that we can get further clarification.
I say to Dan Rogerson, with whom I shared many happy hours in Committee, that his new clause 4 on mobile phone masts comes close to a position on which we fought the last election. We believe that mobile phone masts should be brought into the mainstream planning system. That is part of the reason we have supported single consent regimes throughout the passage of the Bill. It was also why I tabled amendments to try to bring all the remaining bits of the electricity, pipelines and gas Acts under one planning regime in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I will focus on the amendments that my hon. Friends and I have tabled, starting with amendment No. 300 and the consequential amendments that would be necessary to allow their lordships to consider a logical Bill. The Minister made a fair fist of explaining why the proposals were incorporated into the Bill late in the Committee stage. However, we do not like in any way, shape or form the policy of the remote regional assemblies passing their responsibility for planning to regional development agencies in due course. The Housing and Regeneration Bill, which is nearly an Act, hands over responsibility for housing to the RDAs, and we object to that, too. We do not think that the proposals in this Bill are appropriate because they begin the handover. The ethos of the Bill is one of the Government taking away accountability from the planning system as far as they possibly can. Removing accountability from even the remote regional assemblies by handing responsibility to unelected and unaccountable regional development agencies is entirely wrong.
It occurs to me that I should have declared an interest. As I have said many times, my husband is the deputy chairman of the South East England Development Agency. However, he is there as an elected member. That does not mean that I resile from our position that RDAs should not have responsibility for housing and planning. They are entirely the wrong bodies for those functions. Housing and planning affect our constituents directly and they are already disaffected by the planning system —[ Interruption. ] I welcome hearing a contribution from the Minister for Local Government, whom we have missed. He has been overruled by his lady seniors. Would he like to repeat that comment? I thought that I heard a sotto voce intervention that applied to my husband, but if he does not wish to repeat it, I shall await it on a different occasion. It is lovely to see him back and I hope that he will be able to make a contribution at some point, given that he has worked so hard on the Bill.
A regional development agency is not the place in which housing and planning powers should be placed, given that they affect our constituents directly. RDAs are unelected and unaccountable. The regional Ministers are next to invisible. As Julia Goldsworthy pointed out, RDAs are not expert and do not have the staff. I recognise that they could hire staff, but that would entirely change their ethos. Their memberships have no expertise in housing and planning, but are focused entirely on economic regeneration. It would be completely inappropriate to hand any planning powers to such a body, so we are opposed to the Government's proposals in principle. The organisations that should have the powers are local authorities, which is why we have tabled amendments to that effect.
In amendment No. 290, which relates to local member review bodies, we are very generously trying to help the Government out of a hole of their own making. We believe that it is appropriate for local authorities with planning responsibilities to be able to review the decisions of their planning ministers on issues that are devolved to officers. Anyone with experience on a planning committee in a local authority will know that they are more than capable of sending officers back to review a decision, and to challenge it if they believe that that would be in the interests of their constituents.
I have here a letter from the Minister for Housing, who has come to the House today to talk about the Bill for the first time. The letter is addressed to representatives of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Town Planning Institute, and it says that the planning decisions made by the local member review bodies would involve only
"the most straightforward applications, such as small householder developments, changes of use, advertisements and shop fronts".
My copy of the letter is not quite clear, but I think that it was sent in April.
The Minister said that she had had further discussions with the various organisations to try to persuade them of the rightness of this proposal. However, a briefing that I have received from the Royal Town Planning Institute, dated
"Proposals for Local Member Review Bodies to hear planning appeals need to be scrapped. These plans will sweep away the right of residents to appeal to an independent and impartial body".
Clearly, the Minister's persuasive powers have not worked, or at least they had not worked on
However, because we believe that it is for local members to make these decisions, we have come up with amendment No. 290, in order to get the Government out of this hole that they have dug for themselves. It proposes that councillors from surrounding local authorities could be invited to sit on the review bodies. As with any of our amendments that the Government are prepared to accept, I am more than happy to offer to amend this one to ensure that it is appropriate. The Minister thought that its wording meant that potentially every member of the review body could come from outside the local authority in question. If she wishes us to amend our amendment, I will be happy to offer to do so. None the less, I would be grateful if consideration could be given to the proposal, because it would deal with the concern that has been expressed by the various bodies involved.
Working on the basis that we would like to see the changes that I have outlined, I want to ensure that other Members have an opportunity to express their views. We will consider whether to press our amendments to a vote in due course.
I rise to speak to amendment No. 2, which stands in my name. Its contents are not a million miles away from the proposals put forward by Dan Rogerson in Committee, and I should state from the outset that I do not intend to seek the leave of the House to press it to a vote, because I have heard what my right hon. Friend the Minister has said. I shall be interested to see what the proposed community empowerment, housing and economic regeneration Bill will do to enhance the opportunity of communities to get their point of view across in relation to aspects of the planning process. It might be one of the laws of politics that Oppositions like third party rights of appeal, and that Governments certainly do not, but I still think that there is merit in making the case that the planning process is not accessible, and certainly does not give a voice, to all communities.
Two obvious examples are pertinent to my constituency. First, when councillors on a local authority with planning powers support a particular application but people in the area concerned, which may include the parish or town council, are against it, the people have no voice once the decision has been taken. As has been said, the developer has two bites of the cherry in pursuing an application. Indeed, they may have many more bites, because they can keep resubmitting an application until they get consent, whereas those who oppose such an application have one chance—they have no chance if their councillors choose not to listen to their point of view. Secondly, sometimes people live very close to a particular application that is in a different local authority area. It is not unknown for a local authority as a whole to be against an application, but if the people in the community happen to be on the wrong side of the border, it means that there is no opportunity to make their voices heard. Those are two straightforward examples where a third party right of appeal would be of some benefit.
I know that people will always say that such an approach would not be practical and would be difficult to introduce. However, Australia and the Republic of Ireland, to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall referred in Committee, use such an approach, so there is good practice out there. We have a problem in this country when it comes to allowing the people to have a voice, even though they may choose to use their voice in a respectable way to exercise their democratic opinion.
I look forward to hearing what the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr. Dhanda, has to say. The issue will not go away, because some of us will not let it go away, but this is not the appropriate moment to pursue it. I hope that the Lords will consider the issue and that the next Bill provides proper democratic accountability and an opportunity for people to make their voices heard.
New clauses 3 and 4 did not arrive out of thin air for this debate. They are substantially the same provisions as those included in private Members' Bills promoted by Mr. Spring in 2004, by me in 2005 and by Mr. Curry in 2006. Those three Bills were all talked out in one way or another, and we are close to that today, so I hope that you will agree to test the opinion of the House on those new clauses at the appropriate moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, because the House should have an opportunity to say whether the system should be reformed. Those three Bills were supported by members of not only the three biggest parties but fourth parties, too.
We all have cases involving mobile phone masts in our in-trays. When the House previously considered the matter, the now Minister for Borders and Immigration was saying in his literature that Labour would
"do everything we can to ensure that there are no more phone masts near schools and hospitals".
I am not sure whether that is still his view.
I want to make it clear to the Minister that the dissatisfaction is based not on party, but on hon. Members' understanding of the concerns of their communities. The problem is that telecommunications masts were exempted from planning control in 1984. The huge elephant in the room is that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer received some £30 billion for licence fees. That means that it is difficult for the Government to agree to tighten things up, because some of those people might want their money back.
There is a problem. I understand the broader national policy context. However, it cannot be right that if I wanted to erect a 15 m high conservatory I would have to apply for planning permission—I would, of course, be refused—but if I wanted to erect a 15 m high mobile phone mast, I would not need planning permission and could not be refused.
The difference is that although a 15 m high conservatory may be aesthetically displeasing, it does not transmit radio waves. Does my hon. Friend agree that as long as the science is still equivocal, local people have the right to expect a greater say in these matters? He may be interested in the fact that Alan Blood, one of my constituents, has written a play about the issue of radio transmission masts, which may not always be welcome in the local community.
My hon. Friend is reflecting a fear that many of our constituents have. I do not want to base the whole of my argument on health considerations. Let us be clear: we will get more radiation from our mobile phones than from any mast, and 60 million of us have mobile phones—so we are in a bit of trouble.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the radiation from a mobile phone is much greater than that from a mast. On occasions, the lack of a mast can mean that there is an even greater signal in the earpiece as the phone searches for a mast to which to connect. Therefore, counter-intuitively, sometimes it would be better for there to be more masts or for masts to be closer to schools than to have increased signals as a result of that searching. Our consideration of constituents' fears has to be evidence-based.
That brings me neatly on to the argument put forward by Sir William Stewart in his report. He mentioned the precautionary principle and recommended that children under the age of six should not have access to mobile phones for the precise reason that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. That is why my proposals in new clauses 3 and 4 refer to the need to validate what radiation is coming from masts that are close to schools, health facilities and nurseries.
There are straightforward solutions, and—this point has also been made in previous debates—this is not an attempt to shut down the mobile phone industry. The industry has 60 million users and is a very important part of our national infrastructure. However, petrol stations and supermarkets are also such a part, and they go through a planning process; it is flawed in some ways, but they nevertheless go through it. If one looks north of Hadrian's wall, one sees that the Scots have amended their planning rules so that mobile phone masts are subject to those controls. As far as I am aware, the mobile phone industry and mobile phone users in Scotland have not lost out as a result.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the solution may be to encourage mobile phone companies to go on to roaming so that there could be more mast sharing? Hopefully, that would reduce the need for so many masts.
I am beginning to wonder whether I circulated my speech notes before the debate, because the hon. Gentleman has certainly got close to what I was going to say. One of the things that the Minister may say, if she has any time, is that mobile phone companies are very responsible and that they have 10 commitments. They are 10 commitments, but they are certainly not 10 commandments; even if they were, commandments tend to be broken quite often. Jim Dowd introduced a Bill, as a Labour Member, to try to make those commitments into commandments, but he did not succeed. The phone companies have an exceptionally strong record on arrogance and oppression.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if mobile phone masts were subject to the planning regime, the companies would be far more likely to co-operate and we would be likely to have fewer masts—and in sensible locations, without competition for separate locations?
I would like to think so; it is certainly true that in every realm of life, including what goes on in this building, if people have the power to do something, they go and do it—just because. That is what the phone companies sometimes do in local communities.
My case is not an attack on individual companies or on the industry; it is a straightforward case. The mobile phone industry no longer needs the start-up protection that it was given in 1984. It has 60 million customers, for goodness' sake, and 40,000 transmission stations—base stations, as they are called. We now need to reflect on the fact that our local communities need the assurance that local planning authorities and their local representatives have an effective say in how the mobile phone industry impacts on the local environment. It is surely a matter of public policy that at least a nod should be given towards the recommendations of Sir William Stewart's inquiry and the precautionary principle. The new clauses would require additional statutory assurances that where masts are close to sensitive locations they must have that validation. It would not be a ban or a moratorium but a formal process of validation of radiation levels in those places, somewhat similar to an MOT test for a car. At present, no car can go on the road unless it has type approval, but we do not see that as good enough for individual cars, which need to have MOTs.
I fully support what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he aware of last weekend's reports in The Sunday Times of a link between the huge number of suicides in the Bridgend area and telephone masts—reports that proved to be rather interesting and frightening reading?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, but I would prefer not to get engaged in the point that he makes.
New clauses 3 and 4 would allow the House to bring the mobile phone industry back under public scrutiny. There can hardly be a Member in the House for whom this has not been a significant concern in their constituencies since they were elected, however long ago that was. Support for the new clauses would be a signal that we are serious about protecting and representing our local communities. They have all-party support—I was delighted to hear what Mrs. Lait said on behalf of the Conservatives—and I hope that there will be an opportunity to test the view of the House later.
I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate. Time is marching on quickly, so I just want to make one or two brief points on this large group of amendments with which the Minister dealt in great detail, which was extremely helpful to the House.
I support the new clauses tabled by Andrew Stunell, who made a cogent case, although I am not sure that he quite understood my comments. I think that it is now technologically possible, via roaming, which happens much more extensively on the continent than it does here, for more mobile phone companies to share masts, which would mean that fewer would be required. However, that does not obviate his point that we still need to bring them within the planning system and they need to have a health check before they are erected.
I support the argument put by my hon. Friend Mrs. Lait, because I have argued strongly that planning powers should not be given to the regional assemblies. To give those powers to the regional development agencies is an even worse proposal, because they are less democratic than the regional assemblies. The regional assemblies have indirectly elected members, but regional development agencies have no democratic accountability whatsoever. Much of my constituency, which is in the south-west region, is nearer to the Scottish border than it is to Penzance, yet the regional development agency insists on having its offices in Exeter, which is one of the furthest points away from it. The idea that it should control housing numbers in my constituency is completely unacceptable to my constituents.
As I said to Keith Hill, I have a sense of déjà vu about several of the issues that have been discussed today. He will recall that repeat planning applications came up in our previous debates in 2004, and I welcome those parts of the Bill, and the amendments, that deal with repeat and concurrent planning applications. I have taken part in previous debates on permitted development rights, and I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Streatham, who was right to say that the development in his constituency was carried out under paragraph 17, not paragraph 11, of the general development procedure order, where article 4 would have applied. The Secretary of State talked about using article 4 directives, but as she will know, as she has become such an expert in planning, local authorities are wary of issuing such directives because they have to pay compensation if they do so and permission is passed. They are wary of using that mechanism, and the right hon. Member for Streatham will remember that we had discussions about the difficulties of using such directives in the case of Gypsies.
I would like to talk briefly about local member review bodies, because there is a serious question about their membership. If they are to work properly—and they could be a good idea—they must seen to be properly objective by our constituents. If people's rights to appeal are taken away in lieu of those local member review bodies, the composition of those bodies should reflect a fair membership that is truly objective, professional and able to act instead of the Planning Inspectorate.
Finally, I would like to say something about permitted development rights and the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr. Curry. It is absolutely right that the Minister has agreed to meet members of the National Farmers Union—I declare an interest as a farmer and a chartered surveyor. If farmers' permitted development rights for erecting smaller agricultural buildings are taken away, that will be a cause of concern. Larger agricultural buildings and buildings near public rights of way have to have planning permission under the existing regime so it is only rights relating to small buildings in very rural locations that will be affected by the provisions. I am grateful to the Minister's agreement to meet my right hon. Friend, and I hope that productive discussions will stem from that.
There are a host of other issues that I could discuss, but time is moving on. I regret that we do not have more time to discuss them, and I regret the fact that we will not get to the clauses on the community infrastructure levy. That is a huge discredit to the Government, because we ought to be discussing that very important part of the Bill today.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.