Infrastructure Planning Commission

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st April 2009.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham 2:30 pm, 21st April 2009

What her most recent assessment is of the effect on the Planning Inspectorate of the establishment of the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

About 30,000 cases were received by the Planning Inspectorate in 2008-09. Of those, only 34 would have gone to and been considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, had it been in operation, and only 12 of those would have been dealt with by the inspectorate, had they all proceeded to inquiry. That is less than 0.05 per cent. of the cases received by the inspectorate in 2008-09, so we believe that the impact will be minimal.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

Given the likelihood that planning strategies will be in place for infrastructure, does the right hon. Lady really believe that only 12 planning applications will go in front of the IPC and that there will be only a minimal impact on the Planning Inspectorate? Is she really intending that so few planning inspectors should move from the Planning Inspectorate? Does she really believe that nobody will be hired to replace people in the Planning Inspectorate from local authorities? What impact does she expect that to have on housing, and why do not—

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the hon. Lady, who clearly has a number of detailed questions about the work of the Planning Inspectorate, would like to write to me, I would be happy to reply providing more detail in response to the different issues she wishes to raise. We think that about 34 cases would have gone to the IPC. The House needs to recognise and take into account the fact that a completely new—and, we believe, much better—system is being put in place whereby policy statements will be made about the overall issues, and then individual applications will be assessed against those policy statements. That, we believe, will simplify and streamline the process. That is why we believe that it will have a beneficial impact—not the impact that the hon. Lady suggests.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

Is it not in everybody's interests to ensure that planning applications are dealt with as quickly as possible? When the IPC helps to achieve that, will it not have the knock-on effect of speeding up the present Planning Inspectorate?

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. In so far as one can assess these matters, we believe that the average time of about 100 weeks for major applications should come down to about 35 weeks. Assessments have been made of savings of some £300 million a year as a result of a more streamlined system. The emphasis placed on pre-application consultation will, I believe, be beneficial to the constituents of every hon. Member. People will have a clear understanding of what might be being proposed at a stage when it is possible to influence the shape of those proposals.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Infrastructure Planning Commission is set to cost taxpayers £15 million in the first year and £9 million for every year after that. Based on an estimate of 34 cases, that is going to be quite a lot of money per case. Given that even Sir Michael Pitt has admitted that it will be subject to legal challenges, how much taxpayers' money does the Minister estimate will be spent on judicial review cases in the UK and further disputes in the European Court of Justice? I am sure that Members of all parties anticipate belt tightening in tomorrow's Budget, so would not the best way to start be to remove a bit of quango flab, such as the IPC?

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

I am interested to learn that that remains the view of the Conservatives, because the business community has made plain—not least when the Planning Act 2008 was going through the House of Lords—that it totally disagrees with them. As I told my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping a moment ago, the assessment is that, on average, the establishment of the IPC will save around £300 million a year. The hon. Lady may think that of no significance, but I assure her that the business community does not.

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