Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill

– in the House of Lords at 2:24 pm on 22nd January 2004.

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House again in Committee on Clause 5.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 2:39 pm, 22nd January 2004

moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 3, line 33, at end insert—

"( ) the integration of land use planning with sustainable resource management and transport;"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 55 covers much of the ground debated on Tuesday, which was perhaps not the happiest of debates. However, I raise the subject again in the context of the revision of the regional spatial strategy. I wondered whether to withdraw the amendment, but since I have included a reference to "sustainable resource management", I thought it worth leaving on the Marshalled List. While I understand that the Minister will not want to repeat all he said about transport integration issues and so forth, he may have something to say about resources and resource management. I am sorry that it has taken me over a minute to say those few words. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

This amendment would add to the list of matters to which the regional planning body must have regard in preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to include the integration of land use planning with sustainable resource management and transport.

It is axiomatic that we all agree with the sentiment here, but I do not agree that either we need or should add to the list of matters to which the regional planning body must have regard in this way. The need for integration of land use and transport planning and consideration of sustainable resource management are set out in national policies and guidance which the Secretary of State has issued. Therefore, regional planning bodies are already required to have regard to these considerations under Clause 5(3)(a).

Under Clause 5(4), a regional planning body is required to carry out a sustainability appraisal in preparing a draft revision to a regional spatial strategy. A key consideration in such an appraisal is the prudent use of natural resources. Detailed advice on how this should be assessed is set out in the Good Practice Guide on Sustainability Appraisal of Regional Planning Guidance published in October 2000 by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Policy and guidance on how to achieve better integration between regional land use and transport planning through the regional transport strategy, which will be part and parcel of the regional spatial strategy, is set out in draft PPS11. I would refer the noble Baroness in particular to Annex B. Associated research has been commissioned to look at the processes by which transport and land use planning policies have been and are being developed at the regional and sub-regional level, to provide guidance on options for achieving closer integration.

While I applaud the spirit of the amendment, it is our firm belief that it is unnecessary and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I thank the noble Lord for that response. I shall not labour our concerns about this issue now, although I am sure that we will return to them. Clause 5(3) seems to amount to a statement along the lines of, "I am the Secretary of State, so trust me. What I say on national policies and in my advice will cover issues on integration with other areas of concern, including regional policies. I am so good at the job of being Secretary of State that I shall ensure that they are all covered in my 'advice contained in guidance'".

Without adding a whole new chapter to the Bill, some matters are important enough to be spelt out and given their proper status. However, I am sure that we shall return to these matters, both in the context of this clause and earlier provisions. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 3, line 33, at end insert—

"( ) the need to take account of access for those with a disability;"

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

Amendment No. 56 aims to ensure that, when preparing a draft revision to the regional spatial strategy, regional planning bodies take into account the access needs of people with disabilities. It is important to put this provision on the face of the Bill rather than to leave access for the disabled as a matter to be dealt with in guidance. Only a clear statutory duty will ensure a consistent and robust approach to disability access and inclusive design.

Briefing notes from the Disability Rights Commission cite several examples where the courts have contradicted government planning guidance. This should seriously concern the Government. In order to take forward properly their agenda for equality of opportunity for all, the Government must demonstrate their commitment to access for the disabled. This Bill represents a golden opportunity to enshrine in planning law a clear mechanism through which regional government can play its part in delivering inclusive environments.

At Second Reading the Minister that he would give full consideration to the needs of those with disabilities throughout the planning system. If he is not minded to support this amendment, I hope that he will be able to explain how the needs of disabled people will be taken into account if there is no statutory duty on the regional planning bodies. While I support the Government's provisions to increase support for planning aid, there is simply not enough on the face of the Bill to demonstrate to disabled groups that their needs are genuinely being considered from the outset of the decision-making process in regional planning. Further, there is not enough to inspire them more generally to believe that the planning system will become fairer and more inclusive as a result of this legislation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour 2:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

I support Amendment No. 56 and wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 57, 93, 130 and 131 grouped with it. These amendments are supported by the Disability Rights Commission, RADAR, RNIB, the Town and Country Planning Association, Habinteg Housing Association and the JMU Access Partnership.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 57 and 130 is to ensure that, in revising regional spatial strategies, regional planning bodies outside London and the National Assembly for Wales have a positive duty to have regard to promoting inclusive and accessible environments for disabled people and other excluded groups.

Physical exclusion from the built environment is one of the greatest barriers disabled people face when gaining access to employment, housing, education, healthcare, leisure and other services. The only way to tackle this and build inclusive communities is to plan for them.

The Government have stated time and again that a key policy goal is to ensure that the needs of disabled people are properly considered as an integral part of the planning process. This is no less important at the regional level than it is at the local level. Now is the time to give legislative effect to those intentions, as recommended by the Disability Rights Commission in its first legislative review last year.

Regional spatial strategies are of great importance to disabled people since they will determine whether we have easy access to well-located, inclusively designed health, educational, employment, shopping and leisure facilities with integrated, accessible transport links. They can also make provision for increasing the supply of accessible housing and the availability of "shopmobility" schemes. The draft London Plan and Supplementary Planning Guidance on access and inclusion is an excellent example of such a purposeful, positive approach.

It is not clear to me what guarantees there are that the new system will prioritise these kinds of objectives since the Bill makes no mention of them. Too often, planning authorities, planning inspectors and the Government Offices for the Regions make the wrong assumptions that access for disabled people is a matter for building regulations—not for land use planning and spatial development strategies—which is precisely where attention is needed at an early stage to deliver inclusion in practice. Correcting that will, I believe, require more than government guidance.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 93 and 131 is to ensure that local development plan documents and development plans in Wales include appropriate policies on inclusive access for disabled people and other excluded groups. These local documents and plans will have a major impact on development control decisions and it is therefore essential that they adequately cover disability issues.

The good practice guidance published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister urges local authorities to,

"include appropriate inclusive access plan policies at all levels of the development plan supported by a specific strategic policy".

It also highlights the importance of having such policies in place to avoid situations where planning permission is granted for buildings that do not achieve inclusive design:

"Many development plans contain few or no requirements relating to inclusive design. As a result, both planning officers and applicants tend to overlook the need to achieve inclusive environments. In some instances where development plans have not included a requirement for inclusive design, applicants have claimed that access is not a material consideration, and have successfully appealed against a local authority's demands".

At Second Reading, the Minister stated,

"accession and inclusion must be addressed in the plan".—[Official Report, 6/1/04; col. 162.]

But I understand that at present there is no basis for this in statute. If we recognise access to the built environment and services without discrimination as a basic civil and human right, the proposal to include inclusive access policies in development plans cannot simply remain a good practice recommendation. Nor will enhanced planning policy guidance do. It needs to be the law. We need a key overarching policy to require all future development to meet the highest standards of accessibility and inclusion for disabled people and other excluded groups.

This should then be augmented by specific policies on increasing the proportion of new homes built to "lifetime homes" standards and increasing the proportion designed to be accessible to wheelchair users, prioritising the needs of disabled and older people in transport policies, highway improvement schemes, traffic management schemes and improvements to the pedestrian environment.

If we do not make explicit, positive provision in the Bill in support of inclusive, accessible environments we will have missed a huge opportunity and disabled people will simply not believe that the brave new planning system has anything to offer them. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My noble friend Lord Addington and I have added our names to Amendment No. 93. We support all that has been said.

At Second Reading I said that I should like to see these issues addressed as part of the question of what is "sustainability". We do not act in a sustainable way unless we ensure "access" in the widest sense of the word, not only for those who are disabled—the terms are quite difficult—but also for the elderly who are unable as well as disabled. It is a very wide issue.

The noble Baroness referred to the draft London plan and the way in which it addresses such issues. I acknowledge that a great deal of it is contained in supplementary planning guidance—or draft guidance, as I suppose it still is—but it was important that the draft London plan took on these issues. I am happy to admit that the current Mayor is not all bad; it is a good piece of work.

As the noble Baroness said, we are referring not only to buildings but to access in its widest sense and to developments in areas such as integration with transport and so on. I hope that the Minister will not only help to advance the debate on this issue and give assurances on how guidance and other subsidiary documents will deal with it, but that he will help to advance the whole culture of access and stress the importance of addressing these problems as headline issues, not as subsidiary ones.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

Perhaps I may support noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments with some comments on the difficulties of achieving better accessibility to housing other than via the planning system. In company with organisations such as RADAR and the Habinteg Housing Association, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, of which I am the chief executive, pressed for some years for Part M of the building regulations to be amended. We were very pleased with the changes brought in by the Government in 1999, thanks to the then Minister for construction, Nick Raynsford.

As a result, all new house building must now comply with a set of accessible standards—level thresholds for the front door, wider doorways and corridors, a downstairs WC and so on—to comply with these building regulations. The arrangements do not go as far as the "lifetime homes" standards adopted by a number of housing associations and endorsed by the Greater London Authority, the Welsh Assembly and, indeed, in Northern Ireland, but the revised Part M of the building regulations remains a breakthrough none the less.

However, research published by my foundation last year shows that some house builders have not been complying with these regulations and that sometimes building control inspectors, under pressure from the builders, have given approval to homes which do not comply. So the system is not working brilliantly even though it remains a vast improvement over the previous position when very little new housing was suitable for people with any kinds of disabilities.

In answer to a question that I asked in the Chamber, the Minister explained that a review will be undertaken to establish what can be done to ensure compliance with these building regulations and to consider whether standards might now be extended toward the full "lifetime homes" provisions with which a number of us have become familiar. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that important undertaking.

We have learnt from experience of the use of Part M building regulations that there are serious difficulties in trying to impose accessible standards on house builders—and, indeed, on those constructing other than residential buildings—through the inspectors. They look at nearly completed buildings and it is difficult at that stage to enforce proper accessibility. Changing the building late in the day can be costly for the builders. It is much better to ensure that everyone gets their heads around the question of accessibility at a much earlier stage—that is, when the development comes in for planning permission.

This experience leads me strongly to support the amendments to the Bill, which should lead to scrutiny at the planning stage through the opportunity for planners to look at an access statement showing how good accessibility will be achieved.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I may draw the Committee's attention to an anomaly in the consultation paper on the new planning policy guidance note 11 which contains a reference to accessibility in relation to the regional transport strategy. Consultees are invited to express an opinion on, among other matters, whether the main aims of the regional transport strategy set out in Annex B are right and, if not, what changes or additions should be made.

So there is an opportunity in the consultation process to comment on the question of accessibility with regard to the regional transport strategy—which of course forms part of the RSS—but there is not an invitation to consultees to comment on accessibility with regard to any of the other issues dealt with in the RSS.

I feel that this is an omission and that the consultation process is flawed in that no one has been invited to express an opinion on the matters raised by the amendments except in relation to the regional transport strategy.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development) 3:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

I realise that this is not the only time we shall debate this issue. I say that because of certain things I shall be unable to go into. I accept that it is of fundamental importance and I am fully aware that we shall discuss the issues surrounding the provision for access statements at the appropriate place in the Bill. I shall confine my response at this point to today's debate, the thrust of the amendments and their relationship to the planning process. I hope that I shall be able to give some reassurances.

The Government want the new system to ensure that local authorities promote an inclusive environment and give full consideration to the needs of those with disabilities throughout the planning system. We have to build that in from scratch so that every part of the planning system covers the needs of disabled people. Singling them out for special attention by planning authorities would create a long tick list. The system has to be able to take account of their needs and those of other groups as an integral part of the development process, not as an addition to it. We are seeking to ensure that that happens by what we are attempting to do in, and outside, the Bill. We certainly want to put sustainable development at the heart of the new planning system and to ensure proper, effective and wide consultation before anything is built.

It is well known that Clause 38 places a statutory requirement on those preparing regional spatial strategies and local development documents in England, and the Wales spatial plan and local development plans, to undertake these functions with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. Clause 38(3) makes clear that in fulfilling this duty the regional planning body and the local planning authorities must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. That guidance will explain what we mean by sustainable development in that context. That guidance will be in Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1) for England, and for Wales, it is in Planning Policy Wales.

For England, planning policy statements are important because local planning authorities must take their content into account in preparing their development plans and in determining planning applications, that is to say, before anything is built. This guidance may be material to decisions on individual planning applications and appeals.

Although planning policy guidance notes are not law, as I have already said in previous debates, it is a well established administrative law principle that a local authority should, when making its decisions, have regard to any material guidance in them. A decision which ignored an important material consideration might be open to challenge in the courts.

The approach to the planning framework has always been to put the outline in legislation while many of the most important issues are dealt with in planning policy guidance and planning policy statements or other guidance and subsidiary regulations.

For example, issues relating to renewable energy, planning out crime, design, brownfield rather than greenfield sites, and retail development, which is fundamental to where it is and access to it, are set out in guidance rather than in legislation. I do not believe that anyone would argue, and certainly not the people who would like to fill the green fields with supermarkets, that the PP6 does not carry substantial weight in administrative law. Greenfield policy itself is in Planning Policy Guidance 2, and all these issues have to be taken into account in the planning process.

The Government are committed to developing strong, vibrant and sustainable communities in urban and rural areas. Regeneration of the built environment alone cannot deal with some of the issues relating to poverty, inequality and social exclusion. These will be addressed through the better integration of all the strategies and programmes, partnership working and community involvement. This integration is at the heart of spatial planning.

The forthcoming draft of PPS1 will make clear that planning policies should promote sustainable development that builds socially inclusive communities. Policies should ensure that the impact of development on the social fabric of communities is taken into account. The planning policy should address accessibility for all to jobs, healthcare, education, shops, leisure and community facilities.

Planning policy should also take into account the needs of disabled people, black and minority ethnic groups and other disadvantaged groups. Planning Policy Statement 1 will make it crystal clear that development plans should contain clear and comprehensive access policies. It will make clear that such policies should consider people's diverse needs and aim to break down the unnecessary barriers and exclusions in a manner which benefits the entire community.

Our proposals for community involvement are also important. Local authorities must seek to involve the whole community in the preparation and review of all local development documents and significant control decisions.

Planning Policy Guidance 11 and 12 also make clear the importance of access to documents and processes. The community cannot be fully involved if they cannot fully participate. This includes not only the accessibility of material in terms of clarity, but also in terms of different formats and, in the case of examinations in public, in terms of access both by public transport and the venue itself.

Disabled people and the wider community will have an early opportunity to influence the content of regional spatial strategies and local development documents and therefore the development plan. Not only must the plans address the issue of sustainable development, the community can actually seek to ensure that this happens in reality and that the system builds in some future safeguards to ensure that it will happen.

Local planning authorities must comply with the statement of community involvement when preparing the local development documents. We are legislating for a new system. Unlike the present one, the purpose of the examination of such documents will be to consider the soundness of the plan, which includes whether local planning authorities have complied with their statement of community involvement. If it does not, the inspector can recommend that it be withdrawn.

In the case of the regional spatial strategy, the Secretary of State may withdraw a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy and can revoke it in whole or in part if he believes that it is necessary to do so.

For Wales, Planning Policy Wales 2002 provides policy guidance on sustainable development and seeks to ensure accessibility for all in policy-making and planning decisions. The supporting Technical Advice Note on Design 2002 promotes good practice in inclusive design.

As in England, current development plan guidance makes clear the importance of access to documents and processes. The proposed local development plan system within the national planning policy framework for Wales will be wholly consistent with the Government's aims which I stated earlier.

Let us be clear: we want the new system to ensure that local authorities promote an inclusive environment and give full consideration to the needs of all people throughout the whole of the planning system. Everyone has to be able to share in the benefits which development can bring. Nobody should be treated unfairly. To that extent we want the new planning system to be inclusive. We remain concerned to ensure that the system fully reflects the needs of disabled people.

As I have said, my officials are continuing to work with the Disability Rights Commission and others. People may comment on anything they want in responding to the draft PPS 11. There is no barrier to the level of response. It is not a question of what is included, but what may have been excluded.

The draft regulations require that the regional planning board should consult those general consultation bodies it considers appropriate in preparing its draft regional spatial strategy. That includes, under Regulation 2, bodies that represent the interests of disabled persons. I must tell colleagues on all sides of the House who have spoken that there is no ambiguity about the matter. However, I cannot give chapter and verse at the moment because a lot of material ancillary to this Bill is in draft form. Furthermore, we will debate other wider issues in more depth than we can today when we reach Clause 38. I realise that this is a key part of the Bill but these issues will be explored—I want to explore them—in greater depth at that time.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

The point that I was seeking to make was not that people could not comment if they wished to on any aspect of the RSS, but that they were specifically invited to comment on the RTS and, in particular, on its proposals for the improvement of accessibility. The replies received from the consultation may well be skewed because people will look at the list of questions asked in the document and respond in terms of accessibility to the RTS question. They might think that, because there is no parallel question on the RSS as a whole, the Government are not seeking their views on that matter.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I would put things the other way round. Given that people were invited to comment specifically on the transport strategy, that would invite people to offer their comments on the rest of the document. As the noble Lord said, they have been invited to comment on one aspect, therefore, they would take the opportunity to comment on all the other aspects regarding accessibility and people with disabilities. There has been no attempt to rule that out, and I make a positive invitation. The consultation is meant to be positive, not dismissive, just because that specific issue is not raised.

It is true that transport is raised specifically and I realise that there is a list of questions as a guide, but as the matter is raised in one part of the document, people have every legitimate right—and I invite them to do so—to comment on the rest of the document even though there is no specific mention. The rest of the document makes it implicit that we want people's comments. I cannot be more specific.

I certainly take note of what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Avebury, who have all given me a foretaste of the issues to which the Government must respond. We will have to define what we mean by sustainability in Clause 38 and other clauses. There are two other stages after Committee in which noble Lords can offer up amendments. That is the reality. This is a preliminary run around the course following Second Reading in which points were made robustly.

We will come to other parts of the Bill that relate to disability. Believe you me, there is no attempt whatever to marginalise the issue, make it an add-on or regard it as an afterthought. The whole thrust of the way we intend to approach this issue is that nothing gets built unless these issues have been considered. Planning permission is not given unless the issues have been considered, because they will be built into the development of the regional spatial strategy. The documents and plans will have to follow that guidance or come to a full stop—people would be able to bring plans to a halt.

We want to be wholly positive about this matter. I hope that I have given some reassurance about the way we intend to go forward. Quite clearly however, I will need to give further reassurances and provide further details on different aspects of the same issue when we come to later clauses of the Bill. It would be quite wrong for me to deviate today, but I wished to respond to comments about these initial amendments.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 3:15 pm, 22nd January 2004

I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive reply. Today is probably not the time to debate this issue further. We will read carefully what he said. However, as he mentioned, there will be other opportunities to debate this matter during the course of the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 3, line 36, after "sustainability" insert "and contribution to economic regeneration"

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

We have mentioned several times the word " sustainability" during the course of the Bill and I think that we will mention it a lot more. The amendment is to tempt the Minister to define "sustainability" in some way. Economic regeneration is at the forefront of the planning system. PPG 4 states in paragraph 1 that:

"One of the Government's key aims is to encourage continued economic development in a way which is compatible with its stated environmental objectives. Economic growth and a high quality environment have to be pursued together".

It follows that a statutory obligation to consider sustainability should be twinned with an obligation to consider economic regeneration. As I said, I am trying to tempt the Minister to provide a definition of sustainability, which I am sure will occur several times during the passage of this Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

As the noble Lord said, Amendment No. 38 would require the regional planning body, when preparing a draft revision of its regional spatial strategy, to undertake an appraisal of the proposals for the "contribution to economic regeneration". I can only agree. I could sit down, but I would not have given a proper response. Nobody would argue against economic regeneration. It is a key element of the Government's plan to deliver sustainable communities. The amendment is unnecessary, however, and I hope that I can explain why.

The recently published draft of Planning Policy Statement 11, to which we have referred several times, sets out the Government's policies and guidance for regional planning, draws attention to the importance of the regional spatial strategy promoting sustainable economic development. Paragraph 1.3 of the document makes clear that a RSS should provide a broad development strategy for a region, and explicitly states that this should identify priorities for economic development.

As I have made clear in relation to earlier amendments, Planning Policy Statement 11 also makes it clear that those bodies responsible for drawing up the regional spatial strategy, the regional economic strategy, the regional housing strategy and so on, should work together to develop a shared understanding of issues, objectives and opportunities, so that the RSS will clearly take account of economic development issues, including economic regeneration.

The Government have four broad objectives for sustainable development, as I am sure I have already said. They will be set out in the forthcoming consultation draft of PPS1. They are: economic development; social inclusion; protection of the environment; and the prudent use of resources. That is not a menu. We cannot have points one and four or two and three. The policies optimise the delivery across all of the objectives. It is not a question of picking and choosing. I am sure that, later on in the Bill, I will be asked to tease out my definitions of "sustainable development", which will be a hot topic. I know that the amendment is well intentioned—I am not arguing about that—but it is unnecessary, bearing in mind what I have said. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not pursue it today.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I thank the Minister for his response. As he said, there will be other opportunities to debate the issue. I suspect that at a later stage of the Bill we shall want a clearer reference to sustainability on the face of the Bill However, I hear his remarks today and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 3, line 40, leave out "the subject matter of" and insert "subjects which (without limitation) must be addressed by"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Clause 5(5) states:

"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to . . . the subject matter of a draft revision", of the regional spatial strategy—I share the Minister's dislike of acronyms—and provides that the regulations can make provision as to subjects which, without limitation, must be addressed by the revision. It would be inappropriate for the regional planning body designated by the Secretary of State not to be able to determine the scope of the revision. We see the matter as being far too prescriptive. As a sop, and for the purposes of the amendment, I am prepared to acknowledge that the Secretary of State can properly have a say as to the subject matter but not to the exclusion of the regional planning body.

If the regional planning body is to revise the regional spatial strategy when it appears to the regional planning body that it is necessary or expedient to do so—I refer to Clause 5(1)(a)—it is a little odd if, having come to that decision, it may be unable through the limitation to address in the revision the matters which led to the decision to revise them. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

As currently drafted, Clause 5 allows the Secretary of State, if he requires through regulations the regional spatial strategy to be revised at a particular time, also to make regulations setting out the subject matter of that revision. The amendment would alter this to change the Secretary of State's ability to set the subject matter of a revision to an ability to set a list of subjects for the revision that was not exclusive.

I appreciate the suspicion about Clause 5. I shall give the longer answer because it is important. I hope that it will knock this issue on the head because of the stark drafting of the Bill. Perhaps I may explain why the powers for the Secretary of State to require a regional planning board to prepare a draft revision at a particular time and prescribe the subject matter of that revision are needed.

First, these provisions are a safeguard. We do not expect that the Secretary of State will need to prescribe when an regional spatial strategy revision should take place or that, should he need to do so, he would wish to restrict the subject matter of that revision against the wishes of the regional planning body. We do not expect the Secretary of State to decide the content and timing of regional spatial strategy revisions. They will develop from the regional planning body's own analysis of what needs to be revised and their discussions with the government office about the timetabling.

It is true that there may be occasions where, for example, it would be necessary to revise the regional transport strategy—an integral part of the regional spatial strategy—to a particular timetable in order that this could inform the revision of local transport plans to their own fixed cycle. That is why Clause 5(1)(b) and 5(5)(a) are in the Bill. But even in this instance we would expect the revision to be agreed through negotiations between the regional planning body and the government office. The Secretary of State's powers would be exercised only in the exceptional circumstances of no negotiated agreement being reached.

Even if the Secretary of State were to prescribe the subject matter of a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy, this does not mean he would prescribe the content of that revision. The Secretary of State might determine that the revision should cover transport but he could not and would not determine what the regional objectives and priorities for transport investment and management should be. How could he do so from Whitehall? It is self-evident. The purpose of the process is as a safeguard. The policies in the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy are for the regional planning body to determine in consultation with stakeholders.

Finally, if the intention is that the regional planning body should be able to look at other subjects as well as any prescribed by the Secretary of State, the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 5(1)(a) reads:

"The RPB must prepare a draft revision of the RSS . . . when it appears to it necessary or expedient to do so".

It can have what it wants if it thinks it expedient to do so. The amendment is unnecessary because that allows the regional planning body to add other subjects beyond those prescribed by the Secretary of State to any revision undertaken. That form of words is there as a safeguard.

I hope that that longer explanation, bearing in mind the tremendous progress we are making, satisfies the noble Baroness and may avoid a return to the issue at the next stage of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I shall not bring everything back. Indeed, I may help with progress because I think that the Minister was probably prepared to give the same answer to my next amendment on content of the draft revision. They are on the same point.

I am not wholly convinced. The Minister prayed in aid Clause 5(5)(a). I prayed it in aid of my argument. It clearly needs further thought. I shall read what he said and seek to relate Clause 5(5) not only to Clause 5(1)(a) but also to Clause 5(3) which must also be pertinent to issues of scope and content. I think that I thank the Minister for the explanation.

In case any noble Lord had wished to speak on Amendment No. 61, I indicate that I shall not move it. As no one leaps to speak, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 60.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [RSS: Secretary of State's functions]:

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Labour

I am informed that Amendments Nos. 62 and 63 have been incorrectly marshalled. Therefore, I have to call Amendment No. 63 before Amendment No. 62.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 4, line 14, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

"(3) Before publishing the revision of the RSS, the Secretary of State shall cause an examination in public to be held of such matters affecting the consideration of the proposals as he considers ought to be examined, unless the draft revision is minor and inconsequential."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

The Bill gives the Secretary of State discretion as to whether to hold an examination in public into revisions of a regional spatial strategy. The discretion is put in fairly general terms. He could decline to hold an examination in public in a wide variety of circumstances. This examination is an important part of the process. It enables local authorities and interested groups to argue the merits of a draft RSS before an independent person and to seek recommendation that changes be made. It should be only in respect of minor uncontentious changes—effectively tidying up—that an examination might be unnecessary. This seems, in practice, to be the Secretary of State's view. The consultation draft policy statement 11 says at paragraph 2.30:

"There is a strong presumption that an examination in public will be held and it is only in the exceptional circumstances of a minor revision, and subject to the criteria set out in Clause 6(4) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that the Secretary of State might decide that the examination is unnecessary".

Our amendment better reflects the Secretary of State's intention, if that is the intention, than the present Clause 6(3) and (4). The Bill could be used to deny examinations in public on significant or contentious issues. Our amendment writes into the statute the important public protection that examinations will be held except for minor revisions. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

I imagine it is expected that Amendments Nos. 62, 64, 65, 66 and 71 will remain grouped with Amendment No. 63. The last four amendments are ours and are consequential on our Amendment No. 62. They raise very much the same point as the noble Lord has just addressed. The Secretary of State is able to determine not just whether what the revised regional spatial strategy says is okay, but also what weight is to be put on representations. Our amendment would transfer the decision on this to the inspector. I do not know whether the Government are concerned about the expense and time of an examination, but it is not necessary for an examination in public to be very long and expensive. It could be quite short and limited. It depends on the circumstances, no doubt. However, if the regional spatial strategy is to be as important as we are all agreed that it is, it is not appropriate to curtail the procedure in any way.

I am anxious about Clause 6(4)(c), which requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the level of interest shown in the draft before deciding whether there is to be an examination in public. As a matter of practicality, I can see that. However, all of this gives him or her a great deal of discretion where it would perhaps be better to have these matters out on the table.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I shall take the group of amendments together, although I appreciate the technical hitch we had. I say at the outset that our policies are absolutely clear. There is a strong presumption that an examination in public will be held. It is only in the most exceptional circumstances of a minor revision and subject to the criteria set out in Clause 6(4) that the Secretary of State may decide that an examination is unnecessary. In some ways, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since examinations in public were introduced, the Secretary of State has never decided that a public examination is not warranted. Our track record is 100 per cent. Since the procedure was introduced there has been no example where, for whatever reason, it has been said that we would not hold an examination in public.

Nevertheless, the amendments deserve a response because I am not in a position to accept them. Not all draft revisions to regional spatial strategies will warrant an examination and it would not make sense for one to be held in all cases. Clause 6(4) sets out the criteria to which the Secretary of State must have regard when deciding what these cases are. Obviously, one of the criteria—the third—is treated with great suspicion by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, these four criteria are the extent of the revision proposed by the draft: the extent and nature of the consultation on the draft before it is published, the level of interest shown in the draft—here I have warning bells from the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act about measuring levels of interest. I am making the speech that the noble Baroness could have made, but did not, because of the suspicion of the words. I understand that and, of course, I refer to the catch-all phrase, "other such matters as the Secretary of State may think appropriate".

Our presumption is that examinations will be held in public. The criteria are sensible and appropriate as a basis for making the decision because nothing would be gained by holding examinations into minor changes that generated no interest in the consultation process, or where any responses to consultation did not raise any important issues and, what is more, where they could be taken on board without the need for a further consultation.

Amendment No. 63 recognises this situation by allowing for there not to be an examination where changes were minor and inconsequential. I argue strongly that the other criteria are also appropriate. Amendment No. 66 seems to assume that there is a risk that, because the reference to examination is not qualified by the phrase "in public", such an examination could be held in private. I assure noble Lords that there is absolutely no risk. It is quite clear in the way the rest of the clause is drafted that the examination is in public. Indeed, the title of the next clause, Clause 7, is "RSS: Examination in public". The examination could not be held behind close doors. We are always prepared to look at our drafting again to avoid any doubt whatever. If anyone thinks that we are trying to pull a fast one, we are certainly not. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The examinations will be in public.

Amendment No. 71 seems to say that, even if there is no examination, the Secretary of State has to consider a report from a person appointed to hold an examination. The intent is presumably that there should be an independent report into the regional spatial strategy, even if there has not been an examination. As I have already said, it is only in the most exceptional circumstances that there would not be an examination in public. There is no need for that safeguard to be put in the Bill. I hope that I have satisfied noble Lords.

I appreciate that the wording of Clause 6(4)(c) probably sends shivers down the spine and I am more than happy, in relation to all parts of the Bill, to look at any form of wording that could be more precise and which could to lessen suspicion to any degree. We are always happy to have a look at that. That is not in my brief. One has to do things in response to what is said. That makes more work, but I am as interested as anyone else in getting this right. At the end of the day, I do not want to be hauled over the coals for a bit of slipshod legislation, or for a provision that could be misused. We have had debates in the past on other legislation, which has now been enacted, where we were desperately trying to define what was meant by "levels of interest". I had considerable difficulty, as did the House, with that but we came to a solution in the end. I am more than happy to have Clause 6(4)(c) looked at, just to make sure that it is as precise as possible and that it meets the purpose for which it is intended in this part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I thank the Minister for those comments, I think they were very helpful. Obviously, the concerns I expressed are real and are felt not just on these Benches but among outside interests who have approached us on it. I thank the Minister. We shall certainly look at the words to see whether we can come up with a further improvement. Perhaps the Government will too, before the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 62 and 64 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [RSS: examination in public]:

[Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 4, line 26, after "person" insert "or persons"

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

This is simply a technical amendment on which I need not detain the Committee for long. As I am sure Members of the Committee are aware, in practice, at any big planning inquiry the Secretary of State has the discretion to appoint more than one person to aid him with the inquiry. Indeed, under Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act, that provision exists in relation to structure plans. If it is in place for structure plans, I can see no reason why the Government should wish to remove it for regional spatial strategies. This amendment is simply directed towards enabling the Secretary of State to ensure that inquiries are held as efficiently as possible. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

I think that this is an easy amendment to deal with. If I heard the noble Lord right, he is seeking clarification on terminology. The amendment is unnecessary. As I understand it, it is a point of standard legal interpretation that the term "person" encompasses both "person" singular and "persons" plural. So the word means not only what it says but something else as well. I hope the noble Lord will be happy with that and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

As that will be reported in Hansard and the Minister has made it clear that "person" means both person and persons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 4, line 28, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

"(3) The following may take part in an examination in public—

(a) the RPB;

(b) the authorities falling within section 4(2); and

(c) in any case, any person invited to do so by the person holding the examination or by the Secretary of State."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I find this part of the clause in its present form most worrying. As currently drafted, Clause 7 means that no one has a right to be heard at an examination in public. We do not dispute that basic provision; indeed we recognise why the Government may wish to have it in place. However, we believe that it would be helpful to add to the Bill a provision that the regional planning body, the sub-regional authorities as they are defined in Clause 4 of the Bill and any other person invited by the Secretary of State should be allowed to give evidence.

This amendment would bring the Bill's provisions into line with the current arrangements for the county structure plans under Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act. In that Act, the examination in public of a county structure plan includes a wide range of interested parties taking part. Given the scope and impact of the regional spatial strategy versus, say, a county structure plan, I should have thought that there is surely a need for more public scrutiny, not less.

Let us not forget that in many instances the regional spatial strategy might have been formulated by a body with very little democratic accountability. We simply do not yet know who or what will be recognised by the Secretary of State as a regional planning body in any particular region. Surely it is right that strategic authorities whose functions will be directly affected by the regional spatial strategy should have the opportunity on behalf of their communities to put forward their arguments.

I turn to Amendment No. 70. We have heard time and again from Ministers that one of the Bill's key objectives is to speed up the planning process. Sometimes that seems to be the Bill's only objective. However, leaving that to one side, the aim of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to publish the inspector's report within two weeks of its receipt. At the moment, as I understand the Bill, there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to publish the report at all. I am not a lawyer; so unless subsection (7) means that the report has to be published, my understanding is that it does not.

That seems incredible. How can something purport to be a transparent process without the publication of an independent inspector's report? Under current legislation pertaining to development plans, there is a requirement that the inspector's report should be published. Why should not the same measure of transparency be applied to inspectors' reports in this case? Furthermore, in a Bill whose purpose is to speed up planning process, I can see no justification for the Secretary of State sitting on such reports. Publication within two weeks of receipt seems a perfectly acceptable time scale and also one that might help the overall objective of speeding up the process.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is in favour of open government. With that principle in mind, I look forward to his support on the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

Our Amendment No. 69 is in this group. It seeks to substitute for the provision that no one has a right to be heard at an examination in public a provision giving the inspector the discretion to determine who will appear in person before him. Some hold the view that everyone who makes an objection should have a right to be heard. I do not subscribe to that view. I think that the examination should operate perfectly well if the inspector applies similar energy to that which I have seen applied to the London plan where the inspector can determine the issues and then identify objectors who not only articulate those issues but enter into a debate on them as part of the examination. However, I think that it should be made clear that the inspector has that right.

The Law Society is concerned that there may even be a possibility of a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act if an individual does not have the opportunity for a fair hearing of his or her objections. Perhaps it is right to raise that point now. To my mind, the important point is for the objections to be taken into account and for the process to pick up the issues. Perhaps that is more important than how the point is made. We need to explore these important issues.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her amendment. However, I wonder whether it is strong enough. It seems strange to have something called an examination in public where the public are not allowed to participate. I wonder whether the Minister can explain why no person should have a right to be heard at an examination in public.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

Perhaps I may add my tuppenny-worth on this issue. Anyone who has been involved in the planning process and seen the problems with structure plans will be familiar with the problem of the democratic deficit and know the problems caused by these examinations. They can take a considerable amount of time and tend to be conducted between professionals. It is extremely difficult for the public to have any input to them at all. I therefore strongly support my noble friend in his proposal to remove the prohibition that no one has a right to appear. The prohibition seems exceptionally negative. Of course I understand the other point that has been made. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, one simply cannot conduct a regional spatial strategy examination in public—or a revision, or whatever it may be—on the basis that anyone in that huge area who has an objection also has the right to appear.

After I became an ordinary Back-Bencher I was refused permission to appear at an examination in public for the Somerset structure plan. I thought that that was so outrageous that I put a certain amount of pressure on one or two of the Minister's colleagues. In the end wiser counsels prevailed and I did appear at the examination in public. I thought that some of the issues were relevant to my constituency, which was one of the five Somerset constituencies and should have been considered.

The structure of an examination in public involves a number of public bodies. In the case of the county council, it involves the county council planning officers and the neighbouring counties, to ensure that the county in question—in my case it was Somerset and to do with housing provision which would have loaded more on to Devon or Wiltshire—is not trying to get away with something. It also involves agencies such as English Nature and the various statutory agencies that might be involved. If one is lucky it will also include the CPRE. That is about it, except for an occasional watching brief by bodies such as the RSPB. How does one get past that to achieve democratic involvement? My timid attempt to voice the voice of the people was greeted with absolute horror by the Department of the Environment, which said that under no circumstances could I possibly appear, otherwise MPs all over the place would try to make their views known. It was regarded as simply outrageous.

I make that point because there is a real problem. It is almost impossible for the public to plug into the process. The length and complexity of the procedures work against that. People find themselves asked questions such as: "Are you referring to document 7(1)(b)? Were you here three weeks ago when we discussed this issue and why are you raising it now?". Such demands are made on some poor, hard-pressed person who turns up and tries to make a perfectly valid planning point.

If it is difficult at a county level it is even worse at a regional level. I hope that the Minister will recognise the importance of securing flexibility. There is an opportunity for the Secretary of State to show some imagination, so that if people wish to be represented they have an opportunity to be heard. I hope that the officials—God bless them—do not say to the Secretary of State that Clause 3 protects him and that no one has the right to appear.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

One of the contributors at the examination in public of the draft London plan was an organisation called the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies—an umbrella organisation for many amenity and residents' associations across London. It did a sterling job, but there was such a lot of work for one organisation representing so many local organisations. The strain on a particular individual was apparent—in saying that I do not mean to suggest that they did not do their job well. I was full of admiration for how somebody without technical support was able to take part in that long process.

The involvement of that organisation provided a vivid example of the balances that need to be struck. The organisation put in a lot of evidence on behalf of its members. There should perhaps have been more latitude. The decisions on the London plan were in part driven by the size of the chamber and how many people could be accommodated. One wonders whether it could have been organised differently and made a bit easier for people to cope with.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

If I had been in the position of the noble Lord, Lord King, and I had been deprived of the opportunity of making some comments or representations to an examination in public into a draft regional spatial strategy I, too, would have got rather uppity. I understand and appreciate where noble Lords are coming from on this issue. However, we have to understand what we are looking at. We are not looking at a planning appeal or an adversarial forum. The process is like a round-table discussion about revision.

The amendment is prescriptive in that it establishes that the authorities falling within section 4(2) and a number of other bodies should have hearing rights at the examination in public. It goes on to refer to "any other relevant body" or some such phrase. Currently, it is up to the panel—those conducting the examination—to decide who is invited and who it is considered relevant to invite. That will be subject to any representation and there is a duty for the panel to act reasonably in those circumstances.

Clearly, in the situation referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King—his personal request to make representations as a constituency MP—it was considered right and proper that he should have the opportunity to do that. That seems to me to be entirely appropriate.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

It was not considered right and proper. I was refused permission twice and it was only subsequently that it was thought right and proper that I should be admitted.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

I appreciate the noble Lord's clarification. I respect that, but the noble Lord was in a position to make such representations and we should perhaps be getting to the root of that rather than being overly prescriptive. The current Town and Country Planning Act has flexibility. As it is, it appears that there is a presumption that there should be no right to appear, whereas in fact and in practice there is scope for representation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said. Amenity organisations have the opportunity, when invited, to make representations and they do a very effective job. No doubt they are assisted in that through the grant that the Government make available to organisations such as Planning Aid so that those representations can be made.

It is worth reminding the House that we are putting in place extensive arrangements for county councils and other authorities to advise, influence and have their say on the contents of the draft regional spatial strategy revisions. We have had an extensive debate on that issue. The main purpose of an examination in public of a draft revision is to discuss and to test in public before the panel selected matters arising from the draft revision. It also provides the main basis for the Secretary of State to decide whether he needs to make any changes to the draft before publishing it as a revision to the regional spatial strategy.

In common with the arrangements for current non-statutory regional planning guidance and structure plans, an examination in public into draft revisions to the regional spatial strategy will not be an examination of all the submitted proposals nor will it be a hearing. That is the difference in so far as the oral representations mentioned by some noble Lords are concerned.

That approach is appropriate because the purpose of the regional spatial strategy is to provide a broad development strategy for the region rather than identify specific sites for development. It does not consist of a range of site-specific arguments. That is why we do not think it necessary for there to be a right to be heard at the examination either for particular bodies or authorities as proposed in Amendment No. 68 or generally. The Bill should be clear on that point.

Photo of Lord Cobbold Lord Cobbold Crossbench

Is not the fact that that is called an examination in public a problem of nomenclature? Would it not be better if it were called an independent review or something anodyne like that?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

That is an interesting point in the context of the debate. Is it a review or an examination in public? I have not had the benefit of making representations to an examination in public, but I understand that what happens is that it identifies the main issues. In that case, I am not sure that it could be described as a review. "Review" suggests something broader in scope. What an examination seeks to do is to identify the main issues in the revision process.

It is now and will continue to be for the person appointed by the Secretary of State to select the participants at the examination in public. That is made clear in draft PPS11. The Government do not think that it is necessary to specify that on the face of the Bill. Everyone will have the right to have their representations heard on the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, but the chair and other members of the panel should properly be able to determine who should be able to speak to it. We have been given an example of an overly restrictive approach. Generally, the current arrangements in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 appear to have worked well and we see no necessity to amend that piece of legislation as suggested.

Amendment No. 70 would require the Secretary of State to publish the report of the examination in public within two weeks of receipt of that report. We are concerned here with a detailed procedural issue, which is more appropriately contained in regulations. The publication of the report is to be covered in the regulations which will amplify Part 1 of the Bill. In the draft regulations that we published for consultation, there is a requirement that a copy of the report must be available at the time that the Secretary of State's proposed changes are published. That does not prevent earlier publication but has been read to mean that, which was not intended.

Amendment No. 70 provides me with the opportunity to clarify our policy on the issue. I want to make it quite clear that it is our intention to publish the panel report into the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy as soon as possible. I would indeed expect that to be done within two weeks. I shall repeat that: in most normal circumstances, we would expect that to be done in the two-week period, as I think is the purpose and intent of the amendment. I am happy to put that on record so that it is plainly understood. I hope Members of the Committee who have contributed to the discussion will appreciate that the logistics of printing what might be a long report and sending it out, in addition to putting a copy on the office's website, may mean that we cannot guarantee in absolutely every set of circumstances that that will happen.

I can assure the Committee, however, that the regulations will be amended to make it clear that the panel report will be published in hard-copy form and made available on the office website as soon as possible after receipt.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 4:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

I thank the Minister for that. I seek clarification. Did he say that every report would be published within two weeks? Part of my amendment is a misunderstanding and suggests that the Secretary of State could withhold some reports.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

I thought that I said that, but let me say it in terms. We would expect every report to be published and, as a general rubric, that will be within two weeks.

Having heard what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I thank the Minister for his comments on the first part of what we have proposed, as they were quite helpful. I was a little concerned that he thinks that some of the hearings might be cosy round-table chats. If we were revising the eastern regional spatial strategy at the moment, talking about airports and 500,000 houses, the hearings would be not cosy round-table chats but rather difficult discussions. We will reflect on the answers that he has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [RSS: further procedure]:

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 5, line 11, at end insert—

"(3A) If after proceeding under subsection (2) the Secretary of State proposes not to accept any recommendations of the person appointed to hold the examination, he must publish—

(a) a list of the recommendations not accepted; and

(b) his reasons for not accepting the recommendations."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

As previous amendments have demonstrated, we believe that the reports of an inspector appointed by the Government to carry out examinations in public should be published, and we have just been assured by the Minister that they will be. Currently under the Bill that would not be the case, but it is to be clarified in regulations later. Any recommendations made by the inspector that the Secretary of State does not intend to accept should also be published. Furthermore, the Secretary of State must be obliged to give reasons for his rejection of an inspector's recommendations.

There are a number of reasons why we believe that the amendment should be agreed to. First, there is a point about transparency. Under the arrangements currently proposed in the Bill, there will be a lack of clarity about the outcome of the examination in public. No one will know the conclusion reached by the examination or the reasons for reaching those conclusions. It will be up to the Secretary of State to disclose as much information as he thinks fit in providing reasons for revision that he makes to a draft RSS.

In some circumstances, representations will be made in the course of an examination in public to have a draft RSS altered. The Secretary of State might determine, from the report of the examination, not to alter the RSS. The provisions in the Bill do not require him to provide any reasons for his decision under those circumstances. In fact, even if he goes against an explicit recommendation of an inspector, that need never be put into the public domain.

Secondly, there is a point about utility. If a planning matter such as a spatial strategy were under public examination, it would seem helpful to know what conclusions had been reached by that examination and whether they found favour with the Secretary of State.

There might be very good reasons why the Secretary of State had rejected a recommendation of the inspector. It would surely be helpful to know those reasons. That would undoubtedly help everyone involved in the process of understanding the parameters in which they operate. Under current planning arrangements, local authorities are obliged to give reasons for rejecting an inspector's recommendations. I cannot see why the same duty should not be applied to the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 73 shows that we are not solely concerned with restricting the powers of the Secretary of State. That amendment actually broadens his powers, enabling him to hold a second examination in public if, in his opinion, the changes to the originally proposed draft are so significant as to merit a second examination. We believe that it is right that there be scope for a second examination if the Secretary of State believes that to be necessary.

Of course, in a Bill that is to a large extent concerned with speeding up the planning process, the Government may not be inclined to accept the amendment. That is why we have left it to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether to go down that line. I hope that that meets any concerns that the Government have on the matter, and that Members of the Committee will support the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I hope that I can satisfy the noble Lord, as I do not think that there is much between us on the matter. It might help if I explain what will happen with the report of the person holding the examination and any changes that the Secretary of State proposes to make to the draft revision of a regional spatial strategy prepared by the regional planning board.

People and bodies that make representations on the regional planning board's draft revision are likely to propose a wide variety of changes. The examination will consider the most important issues raised. Clause 8(2) requires the Secretary of State to consider not only the report of the person appointed but also those representations that that person has not considered. In practice, the Secretary of State will need to consider all representations in order to be able to reach an informed decision on the recommendations of the panel report. So his proposed changes will be influenced by more than just the recommendations in the report.

The report of the examination will certainly be published. Draft regulations under Part 1—draft Regulation 13—require the Secretary of State and the regional planning body to make available the report of the panel at the same time as the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision are published. We would expect publication of the proposed changes to be two to three months after the end of the examination. I have already undertaken that we will change our approach in regulations so that the report itself will be published as soon as possible.

Clause 8(3) requires the Secretary of State to publish his proposed changes and reasons. Under the proposed regulations, the Secretary of State and the regional planning body are required to publish an explanation of the changes made. Draft planning policy statement 11—I draw the Committee's attention to annexe C, paragraph 51—makes it clear that the Secretary of State should also explain decisions not to make any substantive changes recommended by the panel. The regulations do not include a requirement to publish an explanation for every change proposed by the panel that has not been made, simply because that would be impractical. It would be unduly time-consuming for the Secretary of State to justify every small grammatical change that he decided not to follow.

The Secretary of State will also send his proposed changes and reasons to statutory consultees and others who made representations on the regional planning body's draft revision. The regulations also provide for comments to be made on the Secretary of State's proposed changes. Following the consultation on the proposed changes, the Secretary of State will issue the final revision of the regional spatial strategy.

The approach that we have adopted throughout Parts 1 and 2 is that for the more significant, substantive powers of the Secretary of State it is right to place in the Bill a duty to give reasons. So, for example, when the Secretary of State proposes any changes to a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, he must, under Clause 8(3), give his reasons. That is important because the final published version will form part of the development plan.

In our view, given the significant, substantive nature of those powers, it is appropriate for the giving of reasons to be required in the Bill. We think that a requirement in the Bill for changes that are not to be made is a step too far. As a matter of policy, the Government give reasons for decisions, and that policy will apply here. In addition, if anyone is aggrieved by the policies in a regional spatial strategy revision, or the reasons given with respect to that revision, he can challenge the validity of the revision under Clause 109.

The Bill, regulations and draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning provide robust and transparent arrangements for the process. We do not agree that the Bill should require the Secretary of State to publish, with reasons, changes that he determines should not be made. It should already be clear why Amendment No. 72 is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment No. 73 would provide a further examination in public to consider representations about the Secretary of State's proposed changes. Most of the changes that the Secretary of State will propose will flow from the appointed person's report. The presumption is that the Secretary of State will amend the draft regional spatial strategy revision in accordance with that report, unless there are good reasons for doing otherwise. Other, more minor changes may arise from representations not considered in the report. If the changes arise from the report, the issue will already have been considered at the examination.

Therefore, representations on proposed changes will normally be in relation to matters already considered at the examination and, therefore, will not need a further examination. Or, if they arise in relation to the other, more minor changes, the representations themselves are likely to be of a more minor nature not warranting an examination.

A further examination into the same proposed changes may not be the most sensible way to proceed in the unlikely event that a major new issue arises after the Secretary of State's proposed changes have been published. An example might be the emergence of a radically different regional economic strategy produced by the regional development agency. If that happens, the Secretary of State will need to consider whether a further round of consultation can accommodate that or whether the change is so fundamental that a new draft revision needs to be produced by the regional planning body. If it is the latter, Clause 8(7) provides for the Secretary of State to withdraw the draft revision. The regional planning body would be able to consider its proposals in the light of the new information and prepare a new draft revision, which could then undergo the examination process afresh.

If the intention behind the amendment is to clarify that the Secretary of State could hold a further examination in public, that is not how we envisage the process working—I hope that I have explained that. Amendment No. 73 is unnecessary. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments.

I wish to make it abundantly clear that the presumption is that we will give reasons. We are conscious of the need to avoid the appearance that decisions by the Secretary of State have been made on a whim or hunch because no reasons have been given. It is axiomatic that we must give reasons at virtually every step. I cannot envisage circumstances, other than the minor grammatical issues that I raised, where the Secretary of State would not, and should not, give reasons for his decisions.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive reply. We will have to look at it in detail. It answers quite a few of the points contained in my amendments. We may still wish to see some of our amendments made to the Bill, but I shall study the Minister's replies.

The idea of giving the Secretary of State power to hold a second examination without going through the RSS process was suggested to us as desirable by outside legal representatives in the planning sector. In that regard, we are trying to help the Secretary of State, bearing in mind that we may have a Conservative Secretary of State, who may have to implement some of the Bill. I will reconsider the matter and read in Hansard what the Minister has said. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 4:15 pm, 22nd January 2004

moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 5, line 16, leave out subsection (7).

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

The amendment looks like a minor change to the Bill; in fact, it encapsulates some of the reasons why so many of us are so opposed to the legislation. In a nutshell, the issue is: who owns the regional spatial strategy? Clause 1 makes it clear that the policy in the strategy is the Secretary of State's. The provision implies that the document itself is the Secretary of State's; that cannot be the case. Regional spatial strategies are developed and prepared by regional planning bodies. The strategy is owned by them, not the Secretary of State. How can the Secretary of State withdraw a document that is not his to withdraw? The whole tone of the clause, and subsection (7) in particular, is of central control. With all its talk of the importance of regional government, it is strange that central government continues to operate in such a highly centralised manner. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

When I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List, I put a very large tick against it. That is an indication of my wholehearted support for the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I would say that those views arise from the same misapprehension about the drafting of the Bill. The amendment is very unhelpful, for reasons that I shall explain. There seems to be a natural born suspicion about my Secretary of State that is wholly unjustified. The amendment would remove the Secretary of State's power to withdraw a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy at any time before he publishes the final version. I must make it absolutely clear that Clause 8(7) is not about enabling the Secretary of State to toss aside a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy on a whim. It cannot happen. I know it is written that people may have that natural suspicion, but it would not be allowed to happen. The purpose of Clause 8(7) is to prevent the revision process grinding on when circumstances have changed so fundamentally that it needs to go back several stages.

For exactly the same reasons, Clause 5(7) gives similar powers to allow the regional planning body to withdraw a draft revision at any stage before it submits it to the Secretary of State. A draft revision of the regional spatial strategy may be prepared, representations made, an examination in public held on the basis of certain assumptions and then before the final strategy is published, important changes may occur. Examples of such changes include a significant change to a regional economic strategy or the publication of a major new policy on waste. Rather than trying to pick those up in future revisions or making later alterations through the proposed changes process, the most sensible approach may be to rethink the existing draft revision, give the public another chance to make representations and subject the revised draft to another examination in public. That seems wholly reasonable. When one reads subsection (7) in line with all the other "nasty" provisions to which noble Lords have drawn attention, it looks as though the Secretary of State could operate on a whim. Government is not like that in my experience. I know that I am young compared to some. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, was in government for many years—I have not clocked up seven years yet. Government cannot operate on a whim. You might want to drive some policy through on your own hunches, experiences and qualifications. That is a different issue. Operating on a whim, or a hunch, without reasonable cause does not happen. The machine is there to stop it happening. At the end of the day, there is always recourse to judicial review, if it looks as though the Secretary of State is acting unreasonably, has not given reasons, gone behind closed doors, it simply cannot happen.

In the circumstances that I have given as to how or why this clause might operate, I challenge any noble Lord to say that the examples that I have given would not justify calling a halt to the process, going back a few stages, and re-examining it. That would be the sensible thing to do. Any government would be strongly advised to do that, and I am sure that any government would accept such advice. It would be sensible to take that advice, rather than tinkering around with late alterations without giving the public another chance to have a consultation and another examination in public. That is why it is there, and that is why the amendment is extremely unhelpful.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

The Minister has made a splendid argument for the integration that we have been discussing on other amendments. I cannot resist asking him whether he can think of the person who he would least like to be Secretary of State, either in his experience in opposition, or some time in the future, and would he still give the same answer?

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

The Minister referred back to Clause 5(7), where the RPB is given power to withdraw a draft provision before it sends off this document to the Secretary of State. Is it the intention that up until the point when the RPB has submitted the document to the Secretary of State, the power should exclusively rest in the hands of the RPB, and that the Secretary of State's powers in Clause 8(7) should be exercisable only after the document has been presented to him? In other words, could he not intervene at an earlier stage, when the RPB still has the opportunity of withdrawing the document?

In the example that he has given, where there is a substantial change in the strategy for dealing with waste, one can understand that that would require looking again at the provisions in the RSS that apply to waste. Is it necessary for the whole document to be withdrawn? Why could the Bill not be drafted in such a form as to allow the publication of the document as a whole, even if one section of it, which deals with an issue that has changed radically—as the noble Lord explained—has been referred back. If we are to go round the course again, it should be confined to the one issue that has caused the Secretary of State to be minded to withdraw the document.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I am really surprised by that question from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. If his position is that there would be an opportunity to revisit—let us say for waste—the whole regional spatial strategy, but he does not want that to happen, I am surprised. I do not know if it is as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, envisages, although the way my notes are, and the way I read the Bill, the draft strategy would be withdrawn. It could be that the examination in public would be made subject to one part of the policy; that is, the reason why it had been withdrawn.

Clause 8(7) is there to stop the process grinding on in circumstances that have changed fundamentally. In some ways, if there has been a fundamental change in the national policy, the regional planning body would probably be the first to say, "Hang on a minute, we have not done this yet; it makes sense, we have just done this". If for some reason it chooses not to do that, and it is of such importance, then Clause 8(7) is a back up. It could be done only in those circumstances. I would assume that it would be put back to examination in public to deal with the reasons why it had been withdrawn.

It would be unwise of a campaigning person or organisation to curtail themselves, when they can have a second go at it. I am not offering hostages to fortune, but I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would want to curtail it. Why would he want to curtail the opportunity to have a second chance to look at something that might be thought contentious? Obviously, if someone agrees with the strategy and does not want other people to have the opportunity, the boot is on the other foot. That is the difficulty.

The kinds of reasons for which the provision would be used are as I have given. It would be used to stop the process grinding on when a change had occurred that was so fundamental that we should stop, have a look at it again and maybe go back one or two more stages, rather than trying to stick in a late addition or wait for the next revision, which might not, in the circumstances, be appropriate, as it could be some time away.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

I was not trying to limit the opportunities that interested parties had for representation. I was postulating a situation in which everybody in the region had agreed on everything that went into the RSS, with the one exception that the noble Lord gave as an example—a totally new national strategy for waste that made what was in the existing RSS inappropriate and needful of change. Why should there be a postponement of the publication of the RSS, which, in all other respects, is acceptable to everybody in the region?

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I thank the Minister for that exchange of views and those answers. I was intrigued and pleased to hear him admit that there are nasty bits in the Bill. Those were his very words in the debate on the amendments.

We hear the Minister's answer. Much of it was what we wanted to hear. Still, we would like to see some of it in the Bill. I hope that the Government can still reconsider some of the centralising themes in the Bill. One can accept the answers that they give, so, perhaps, the Bill ought not to appear to be such a centralising Bill.

We will read carefully in Hansard what has been said and decide whether we want to take the issues further at the next stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Secretary of State: additional powers]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 5, line 39, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

The amendment would clarify the role of regional planning guidance after the commencement of the provisions in Part 1. Although, as previous amendments have shown, we oppose the process, we can follow the logic of the provision in Clause 1 with regard to the adoption of parts of the regional planning guidance as the regional planning strategy.

We are not clear about the process that is described. Am I right in thinking that, if some piece of process with regard to regional planning guidance has been gone through and that piece of process corresponds to something that needs to be done with regard to a regional spatial strategy, the Secretary of State can, by order, provide for that part of the regional planning guidance to have effect as a revision of the regional spatial strategy? Is that what the provisions mean? If it is, we are concerned on two counts.

First, what is the status of the regional planning guidance, once the regional spatial strategy is in place? The provisions relate to the revision of the regional spatial strategy. That means that they come into effect only once a regional spatial strategy exists. One would have thought that, once the regional spatial strategy existed, the regional planning guidance would cease to have any standing, unless the Government plan on updating regional planning guidance, even after we have regional spatial strategies. That would be an unwise and backward-looking step.

Secondly, why should going down this route make it safe for the Secretary of State to bypass the procedures in place for regional planning bodies, including examinations in public? If that is the effect of these provisions, we are very uncomfortable about agreeing to them. I shall be grateful for clarification on those points. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 4:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

Amendment No. 75 would delete the provisions from Clause 9 that allow the Secretary of State to make an order providing for any step towards the preparation of a draft revision of regional planning guidance to take effect as a step towards the preparation of a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy where he believes that the two steps correspond.

It is our contention that those provisions are essential if we are to have a smooth transition from the old arrangements to the new ones under the Bill. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord why that is. In every region outside London work is going on to revise all or part of the regional planning guidance. In some regions, such as the south-west, that work is at an early stage. In others, the revision is nearly complete. In the West Midlands, for example, the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision of the regional planning guidance have been published. The final document is due to be published this summer.

The amendment would mean that where a final regional planning guidance had not been published prior to Royal Assent, the whole revision process would need to begin from scratch. So, in the case of the West Midlands, there would need to be another process of consulting stakeholders as the draft revision was developed, another draft revision document, another consultation on the draft revision, another examination in public, another report from the independent panel, another proposed changes publication and another consultation on top: all on the same issues. We do not believe that that is a sensible use of time.

Perhaps the noble Lord is concerned that any revision of the regional planning guidance under the old arrangements will have failed sufficiently to involve the community or, perhaps, to have undergone sufficiently rigorous testing. On the latter point, I reassure the noble Lord that the procedures of the revision of a regional planning guidance, although on a non-statutory basis, are very similar to those that we are proposing for regional spatial strategy revisions under the Bill.

Strengthening community involvement, particularly at the front end of the plan-making process is one of our key aims. Perhaps the noble Lord should not conclude from that that communities have been excluded up to this point. That would be quite wrong. There are good examples of involvement prior to the publication of the draft revision of regional planning guidance and consulting on the draft has become standard practice, as I am sure that the noble Lord would agree. We need to do more, but for communities to find that their earlier involvement had been wasted and that they had to go through the whole procedure again—I think that the noble Lord would agree—probably would be a very undesirable outcome for them, and perhaps they would disengage, which would be very unfortunate.

In short, these are sensible, pragmatic provisions that will mean that good work will not go to waste. To prevent the conversion of stages undertaken in the regional planning guidance revision process to stages in the regional spatial strategy process would mean a delay in getting up to date regional spatial strategies in place. Our contention is that that would help no one. Having heard that explanation, and having understood our intent and the reasons for it, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

If I understood the Minister right, he is saying that these provisions in subsections (7) and (8) apply only at the stage when the Act comes into force. There are steps that already have been taken in connection with the preparation of the RPG which would continue until the process has been completed and the RSS for that region is published. But thereafter the process is taken over by the earlier clauses that deal with revisions of the RSS. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has in the back of his mind that somehow these provisions continue in operation after the first revision of the RSS. Of course, it would be entirely inappropriate that the two issues should continue in parallel.

My suggestion is that after the initial words, "Subsection (8) applies if", the words,

"at the time that this Act comes into force", be inserted. That would make it clear that these two provisions are not for permanent application but for only the transitional situation that occurs immediately after the Act comes into force.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

The noble Lord is right that the arrangements are transitional. I argued that point earlier. I shall reflect on the words he suggests—I am not going to say "yea" or "nay" now—but I think that we have the situation covered without them.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

That last exchange was very sensible. The Minister had explained the arrangements as transitional to my hearing. If the Government could reconsider the way in which they present them there might be a way forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Regulations]:

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 77:

Page 6, line 8, leave out "by regulations make provision" and insert "give guidance"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 78. The amendments suggest that the provisions that are to go into regulations under Clause 10 should instead be the subject of guidance; a less prescriptive and heavy-handed approach. For example, Clause 10(2)(j) refers to,

"monitoring the exercise by RPBs of their functions".

Is it really necessary to have regulations about monitoring what the Secretary of State's own designees are going to do? That seems as over the top as many of the other prescriptive provisions that we have discussed. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, prefers guidance to regulations. She will no doubt be aware that we have recently finished a consultation on the draft planning policy statement 11, which provides guidance on all aspects of the new regional planning process. It will be published in its final form once we have taken into consideration all the consultation responses and the Bill has received Royal Assent. It will be out well before commencement of the parts of the future Act, so that everyone involved in regional planning will have a first point of reference for what they should do and when.

But there is a place for regulations. There are matters that are too detailed to clutter up the Bill or which may change over time, but for which we need statutory provision to make absolutely sure that they are adhered to. The approach we have taken here, as the noble Baroness is aware, has a long history. The draft regulations, like policy planning statement 11, have been out for public consultation for three months. We are not doing anything by stealth. I will remind the Committee of the issues covered by the regulations: who the regional planning body must consult before the submission of the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to the Secretary of State; and, once it has been published, who the Secretary of State must consult on his proposed changes; the documents that the regional planning board must submit to the Secretary of State along with the draft revision; the period for making representations on the draft revision and the proposed changes; the publicity requirements for the various stages of the revision process; the requirements for making documents available; the criteria for the recognition of a body as a regional planning body; the minimum requirements for the content of an annual monitoring report and a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy; and further matters to which the regional planning board must have regard when preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy.

The list is not exhaustive and I know that it does not cover subsection (2)(j) which has upset the noble Baroness—

"monitoring the exercise by RPBs of their functions under this Part— and which is equally important. However, we think that regulations and not guidance are the right place for these provisions. They are not suitable to put on the face of the Bill, but there are certain matters on which we need the guarantee of performance that a statutory requirement brings. There would be no equivocation: Parliament has approved this and Parliament requires it to happen. I do not apologise for that because we have a range of weapons in the armoury ranging from the Bill to regulations and guidance. So far a substantive case has not been made for shifting a provision from one area to another.

There is a role for regulations and a role for guidance. It is our view that the subject matter set out in Clause 10 is more suitable for regulations made under Parliament's statutory processes than it would be for guidance. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I agree with one point made by the Minister: I certainly do not suggest that there has been any stealthiness here. It did not enter my mind. I believe that we face a big philosophical difference here, but it is one which has been rehearsed fairly thoroughly. We should move on because we are almost at the end of Part 1. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Supplementary]:

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 79:

Page 6, line 33, at end insert "or area of outstanding natural beauty"

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench

I spoke to this amendment earlier and I do not intend to move it now. However, the Government Front Bench may be interested to know that I intend to bring forward for discussion a fresh amendment on this subject to meet some of the evident misunderstandings the noble Lord has about my intentions.

[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 6, line 39, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I am reaching the end of my group of amendments, so I shall be able to have a rest.

This is a technical amendment and I shall not detain the Committee for long. The first reason why I tabled the amendment is because I understand that it is unusual to define the Secretary of State in this way in legislation. Secondly, why is no mention made of the regions in the definition of the Secretary of State?

Clause 11(4) defines the Secretary of State as:

"The Secretary of State is the Secretary of State for the time being having general responsibility for policy in relation to the development and use of land".

The present Secretary of State also happens to have responsibility for the regions, but what if that situation were to change? It is far from obvious that the relevant Secretary of State should be the one who is in charge of the general policy on planning rather than the one responsible for the regions.

Part 1 of this Bill deals solely with regional spatial strategies; that is, it deals with land use planning, housing and infrastructure for particular regions. It does not deal with general planning policy. Those provisions come later in the Bill, on compulsory purchase, major infrastructure projects or simplified planning zones. Surely there is a good argument for putting regional spatial strategies firmly in the orbit of whichever Secretary of State happens to be in charge of the regions.

Can the Minister tell us why the Government have chosen not to do that? Is the explanation simply that under the current circumstances it would make no difference and so we need not worry about it? Given that, why are not the regions added to the existing definition of responsibilities for the Secretary of State? Should we ever enter the brave new world of elected regional assemblies, we shall see considerable turf wars in Whitehall over who should lead on what. Is this an example of the planners in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister putting down a marker to say that planning shall remain with them whatever governance arrangements are on the ground? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 4:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

I sometimes think that the noble Lord opposite is a conspiracy theorist. He is looking around all the time to see exactly what is going on over his shoulder. I am sure that I am being uncharitable in making that observation.

Let me put the noble Lord's mind at ease. The amendment would reverse an amendment made in another place. When I have given my explanation I am confident that the noble Lord will find his way clear to withdrawing his amendment.

Clause 1(2) requires the regional spatial strategy to set out the Secretary of State's policies, however expressed, in relation to the development and use of land in the region. Clause 11(4) ensures that Clause 1(2) cannot be interpreted as requiring policies prepared by any other Secretary of State to be included in the regional spatial strategy if those policies relate to the development and use of land in the region.

It has always been the intention that the regional spatial strategy should set out the policies of the Secretary of State with general policy responsibility for planning and not, for example, the policies of the Secretaries of State for Health, Education, Social Security and so on that relate to but are not primarily about land use. Clause 11(4) ensures that there is no confusion.

If the regional spatial strategy had to contain all the policies of Secretaries of State in all departments that related to the development and use of land in the region, preparing it would become something of an impossibility. Without Clause 11(4) there could also be confusion about what was the regional spatial strategy and whether or not policies with a spatial impact issued by other Secretaries of State constituted part of it.

But Clause 11(4) does not in any way prevent the regional spatial strategy setting out policies that look beyond the development of land in a narrow sense or impact on much wider areas of policy. Indeed, making the regional spatial strategy into a truly spatial document that integrates policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function is central to our objectives.

I hope that having heard that explanation the noble Lord is happier and does not now see the conspiracy that I was beginning to believe he was conjuring up.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I am a little happier. I am not sure that the noble Lord's response will lead to joined-up government. I shall read his answer in Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 81:

After Clause 11, insert the following new clause—

"LOCAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN

(1) The local planning authority must prepare and maintain a plan to be known as their local development plan ("the plan") which will contain a number of local development documents ("the documents"), each of which will cover a different subject matter as specified in the plan.

(2) The plan must specify—

(a) the documents;

(b) the subject matter and geographical area to which each of the documents is to relate;

(c) which documents (if any) are to be prepared jointly with one or more other local planning authorities which will be treated the same as if one single authority had prepared it;

(d) any matter or area in respect of which the authority have agreed (or propose to agree) to the constitution of a joint committee under section 28;

(e) such other matters as are prescribed.

(3) When preparing the plan or the documents under subsections (1) and (2) above, the local planning authority must have regard to—

(a) national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State;

(b) the RSS for the region in which the area of the authority is situated if the area is outside Greater London;

(c) the spatial development strategy if the authority are a London borough or if any part of the authority's area adjoins Greater London;

(d) the RSS for any region which adjoins the area of the authority;

(e) the Wales Spatial Plan if any part of the authority's area adjoins Wales;

(f) the plan of any adjoining local planning authority together with any of its documents which may be relevant;

(g) the community strategy prepared by the authority;

(h) the community strategy for any other authority whose area comprises any part of the area of the local planning authority;

(i) any other local development document which has been adopted by the authority;

(j) the resources likely to be available for implementing the proposals in the documents.

(4) The documents must include, inter alia—

(a) a statement of those matters in which the county council has a role;

(b) a document for each of the larger settlements as detailed in the plan;

(c) a document for any other settlement which may be designated in the plan;

(d) a document detailing the matters relating to the authority's policies on planning contributions and the provision of social housing;

(e) a document containing policies for areas where there are specific planning designations, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty and National Parks;

(f) a document detailing how land use, sustainability and economic regeneration are to be managed;

(g) such other matters as the Secretary of State may prescribe.

(5) The local planning authority must—

(a) prepare the plan and the documents in accordance with such other requirements as are prescribed;

(b) submit the plan and the documents to the Secretary of State at such time as is prescribed or as the Secretary of State (in a particular case) directs;

(c) at that time send a copy of the plan and the documents to the RPB or (if the authority are a London borough) to the Mayor of London;

(d) prepare, publish and have regard to a statement of community involvement when preparing the plan and the documents as negotiated by section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (strategies for promoting well-being).

(6) The local planning authority may withdraw the plan or the documents at any time before submission to the Secretary of State in accordance with subsection (5)(b).

(7) The Secretary of State may direct the local planning authority to make such amendments to the plan or the documents as he thinks appropriate.

(8) A direction under subsection (7) above must contain the Secretary of State's reasons for giving it.

(9) The Secretary of State may make regulations as to the following matters—

(a) publicity about the plan and the documents;

(b) making the plan and the documents available for inspection by the public;

(c) requirements and timetable to be met for the purpose of bringing the plan and the documents into effect, which may not exceed six months.

(10) The local planning authority must revise their plan and documents—

(a) at such time as they consider appropriate, which may not be later than five years from the date the plan came into effect;

(b) when directed to do so by the Secretary of State.

(11) Subsections (2) to (10) above apply to the revision of a plan or documents as they apply to the preparation of the plan or the documents.

(12) The local planning authority must submit their plan and documents in their entirety to the Secretary of State for independent examination at the times and in the manner laid down in subsections (5) and (10).

(13) But the authority must not submit such a plan or document unless—

(a) they have complied with any relevant requirements contained in regulations under this Part, and

(b) they are satisfied that they are ready for independent examination.

(14) The authority must also send to the Secretary of State (in addition to the plan) such other documents (or copies of documents) and such information as is prescribed.

(15) The examination must be carried out by a person appointed by the Secretary of State to be known as "the Independent Inspector".

(16) The purpose of an independent examination is to determine in respect of the plan and documents—

(a) whether they satisfy the requirements in this section;

(b) whether they are sound in all material aspects;

(c) whether all or part of the plan and the documents need to be subject of the examination.

(17) Any person who makes representations seeking to change a plan or documents must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to submit a summary of his representations in writing to the Independent Inspector.

(18) The Independent Inspector must within three months unless otherwise directed by the Secretary of State—

(a) make recommendations;

(b) give reasons for the recommendations.

(19) The local planning authority must within one month publish the recommendations made under subsection (18) which must be either confirmed by the Secretary of State or modified and published with reasons within the prescribed period under subsection (9)(c).

(20) The local planning authority must comply with directions given by the Secretary of State under subsections (2), (4), (6), (7), (9), (10), (12), (14), (18) and (19)."

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

Amendment No. 81 is grouped with a number of associated amendments which would make the Bill much shorter if the Minister was inclined to accept them. They would delete Clauses 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 25.

The local plan-making provisions within the Bill are far too complicated. My new clause seeks to remedy this by simplifying the whole process and returning it to something more equivalent to the former unitary development plan, bringing all the documents together under one set of covers but reducing the time-scale that the unitary development plan used to occupy.

The Government have said over and over again that they wish to produce a simpler, fairer and more transparent planning system, but how they marry-up that with the realities of their proposals for local planning is beyond me. The array of local development schemes, local development documents, local development frameworks, local development plan documents, local proposal maps and local action plans are a long way from producing the simplified planning system the Government seek—especially given that each of these provisions will be subject to revision, community involvement by way of a statement of community involvement, appeals and an independent inspection.

The new clause proposes that the local plan should be made up of a number of local documents. The particular topics of these documents are highlighted in subsection(4) and appear spattered throughout other clauses.

Members of the Committee will note that the amendment recognises a statutory role for county councils, which we have discussed already today. We believe that the counties, with their wealth of knowledge in planning matters, should not be completely excluded from this process.

In the Bill the Secretary of State can, as he sees fit, direct the local planning authority to amend its local development plan. The Minister will be pleased to note that the new clause does not remove that power. However, under subsection (8) of the new clause the Secretary of State must give his reasons for doing so. Surprisingly, that provision is not contained within the Bill.

In view of the fact that by the time the Secretary of State receives the plan it has gone through the various local authority systems, there has been input through community involvement, and consultation by the regional planning body, surely it is reasonable and fair that at the end of all that he explains his decision to the local authority.

The new clause also provides for strict times in which various events should take place. The clause will reserve power for the Secretary of State to do that by regulation. These are arbitrary and can be revised at any time. One of the problems with the current planning system is that nobody forces local authorities to draw up their plans or revise them within a time-scale. If a more complicated system were brought in, I fear that the local plans might not be revised as often as was sensible. Under the new clause the local plan and its documents must be reviewed or revised within a five-year period.

This timetable should then provide that when the plan has gone to the Secretary of State for independent inspection, the inspector has three months in which to carry out his work. Unless he has a strict timetable, things will drift and not get done. We have had plenty of experience of that with reports from inspectors.

There must be a proper impetus for the inspector to provide his report within three months unless the Secretary of State has very strong reasons for saying that he may do otherwise. The local authority must then publish its response within one month. That would reduce the time-scale for all the plans very considerably. There is no reason why these time-scales should not be met. When the Secretary of State confirms the plan or modifies it, there is no reason why that should not be brought in within six months.

Subsection (6) allows the local planning authority to withdraw its documents at any time up to submission to the Secretary of State. However, the Bill allows all those documents to be withdrawn at any time up to their adoption. Therefore, under the Government's proposals, the documents can be put through independent inspection, consultation with neighbouring authorities and regional planning bodies and then days prior to the adoption they may be withdrawn. Surely, that is a dreadful waste of time and money.

This new clause represents a simpler approach to local plan-making. It considers the process as a whole and allows local planning authorities, businesses and individuals much clearer understanding about the system and how it works, and makes them much more likely to become involved in the process. Local plan-making would become far more complex with the provisions contained in the Bill and I fear that the system will drown under its complexity. If that were to happen then the Bill will have failed to achieve the Government's stated aim of promoting speed, transparency, community involvement and an easy-to-use system. The effect will be that economic growth and all the other desirable outcomes of this Bill will suffer. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I should like to say a few words about the presentation of the Government's new proposals. I am prepared to accept that they could make life simpler. However, as presented, they make life much more difficult. Outside this Chamber, I have used the example to the Minister of the difficulty in local planning authorities. In many cases, planning officers do not know that planning permissions can be for a length other than five years. If they labour under such misapprehension about a system that has been in force for some time, the difficulty that they—let alone the public—will have in getting to grips with this new system cannot be underestimated.

I use this opportunity to make a plea on the record that I have made to the Minister outside the Chamber. Work should go on to ensure that the explanation for every regulation, guide or code of practice is as straightforward as possible. As many of the documents as possible should be written by people who do not know or understand the technicalities of the process. They would then be forced to address them and explain them in straightforward language.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development) 5:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

I have just taken some advice and I feel a little cheated. For what is, let us face it, a substantial amendment that covers three or four pages of the Marshalled List, I have the most gigantic speaking note that one could imagine. My noble friend says, "Not any more you haven't". Bearing in mind that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, sat down after six minutes, I said to my noble friend, "Let's see if I can stop at a certain point in these notes to make the position clear". I have just been given approval to do that.

I was looking forward to this because Part 2 is a very important part of the Bill—there is a lot of good stuff to put on the record from the Government and it is all in plain English. I shall try to read it in plain English after what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said. On a more serious response to her latter point, I would say, "Absolutely. Yes". I cannot claim that all our documents will be subject to the Crystal Mark, but we do try to achieve that. We do our best to get them written in that way. Sometimes, legal terms have to be used, but as far as the leaflets and booklets explaining the planning process to the public are concerned, they will be written in plain English. I cannot say that for the guidance notes because they are necessarily written for inspectors and other professionals. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right because, if the public cannot understand a policy that we introduce, they will not benefit from it and it is an absolute waste of time. That is what puts people off the process.

The amendment is a fairly radical proposal to gut Clause 2 of the Bill and replace it with another way of doing things. I shall try to explain why our proposal is a clear way of proceeding. Amendment No. 81 would insert a new clause to replace a substantial number of the provisions in Part 2. I am not complaining about the number of subsections because the amendment has obviously been put together as one clause. However, it substitutes a lengthy clause setting out how local planning authorities should prepare a "local development plan" containing a number of "local development documents".

The noble Baroness starts from the viewpoint that the system that we are putting in place is over complicated, which is what I have been told before. I reject that. It can be perceived to be over complicated, but it is not. The noble Baroness believes that attempting to cover local planning arrangements in a single clause will make the system better and easier to understand. She clearly believes that the arrangement in these amendments will lead to a better local planning system or she would not have made her speech. I understand that some of her colleagues made similar speeches in another place. I hope that I can persuade Members of the Committee to disagree.

Our new arrangements, while precise, are not too complicated. We genuinely believe that they will deliver simpler, clearer local planning which is faster. However, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, that is not the be all and end all. I have already repeated the words "faster and fairer". If it is faster but not fairer that is not on. We need planning which is more flexible and with which the community can become more easily involved.

Describing the component parts of the system in sufficient detail means that people can be certain about how it operates. Each element of the new system is there for a reason—to address the problems, and to contribute to the goals of our planning reforms. The amendments not only fail to address some of the problems; they would create some entirely new ones.

As regards the proposed system, we have set out a clear system for local planning which contains straightforward elements, linked in a clear way. We start from the proposition that all local development documents should be prepared with full community involvement, and that they should be programme managed in a transparent and open way. The initial documents that will form part of the development plan are called "development plan documents". People may perceive complications with regard to the terminology used to describe the ingredients and building blocks of various parts of the development plan. Those which are supplementary to the development plan, other local development documents, are called "supplementary planning documents". In our draft regulations we have called them "development plan documents" and "supplementary planning documents".

Development plan documents are those that need independent examination before they are adopted by the local planning authority. In order to allow flexibility in the new system and to meet the need for clear policies, development plan documents may take different forms. Regulations may prescribe which local development documents are the development plan documents so that there is clarity and precision about which document falls into which category.

Each authority is required to have a core strategy covering 10 or more years. There will be a proposals map showing which land is to be developed or conserved. Authorities may choose to have one or more area action plans showing in more detail what will happen in areas where there will be a lot of change or which are to be kept as they are. All these development plan documents will form the development plan along with the regional spatial strategy for the area which they are required to follow.

Planning authorities will be able to set out more details on their main policies or their policies on, let us say, accessibility or design. These elements will be known as supplementary planning documents. That is the second category to which I referred. Each planning authority will also have a statement of community involvement explaining how local people and other interested parties will be able to influence and express their views on plans for their area. And, to make sure that these elements are put in place within a reasonable time, each authority will prepare and stick to a project plan setting out what documents it will prepare and a timetable for their preparation. This will be known as the local development scheme. People will be able to follow the process of the scheme and the timetable.

We have some serious problems with the present system. That is why we seek a solution. We believe that our proposals ensure that local planning in future will not suffer from the serious problems that it has under the current system. No longer will plans take far too long to put into place. No longer will it be extremely difficult and time-consuming to update them. Having plans updated is one of the serious issues.

Plans will be required to set out a clear strategy for the area's future development, not merely a list of hundreds of policies which make it hard for anyone to see what development might happen where. No longer will preparing or altering a plan be such a mammoth endeavour that the residents and businesses find it too hard—or, as they see it, deliberately off-putting—to become involved and stay involved in the process. The noble Lord, Lord King, referred to that point.

These are new arrangements. As with all changes, it will take time for people to become familiar with them. I accept that people might say the changes are complicated, but they are new. I do not think most people find reading a Bill the best way to grasp a new system. When I became a Member of the other place, I had that romantic notion. My first Committee considered the abolition of the infamous Industrial Relations Act. We thought it was a one-clause Bill to abolish it; not on your life. It had one clause: "The Industrial Relations Act is hereby abolished". It then had dozens of new clauses. What for? To protect the unfair dismissal legislation that was the one good bit of the Industrial Relations Act, which we had abolished with our one clause. I thought, "Oh, is this the way it is done?". It was not clear and straightforward. We were told that a one-clause Bill would get rid of that Act, but it did not quite work out that way. So reading the Bill is, I suggest, not what people do to find out how best the system is going to operate and to get a grasp of what will happen.

Last autumn, we published consultation drafts of the key documents on local planning. These are the Part 2 regulations, transitional regulations, planning policy statement 12, local development frameworks and the policy statement on the new system. We published a guide to procedures and codes of practice; that is, a guide to help stakeholders and the ordinary person become involved in the new procedures. There was also a guide to creating local development frameworks, a "how to do it" guide for local authorities and others involved in preparing the new local development documents.

The comments were requested by 16 January, for which I apologise. Obviously I apologise because the Bill had already entered your Lordships' House and had had a Second Reading. A number of consultees said that they will be a few days late. We are happy to wait a few days for these, as we want to take all the comments into account. By the way, that is my experience over the past few years. When a consultation closes down, the great bulk of comments always comes in at the last minute. Generally speaking, even responses that come in after the deadline—in my experience, this is so in more than one department—have always been taken into consideration, up to the point where one is making one's final decision. We are happy to wait a few more days for these comments, as we want to take them into account.

We will amend the drafts as appropriate, and publish them in an accessible style to assist all those working in, and involved with, local planning. Copies will also be on our website and will be available through the planning portal. The planners will know all about that, so I shall not explain it for the non-planners. We aim to have these out as soon as possible, to give everyone a chance to gear up for the new system.

We are also preparing guidance on sustainability appraisal and strategic environmental assessment and guidance on monitoring and indicators. The Planning Officers Society, with support from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, is preparing guidance for local planning authorities on what spatial planning policies could look like. All this new guidance will be published in draft in the next few months.

It is clear that these reforms are a bigger step-change than many in local authorities and elsewhere realised. It is a question not of putting new labels on existing plans—far from it—but of preparing new-style documents. It involves making decisions early, front-loading the system, and involving the community properly. Therefore, it is not surprising that some people have initially said that they find the new arrangements confusing. However, once authorities embark on them, they will become much easier to manage, as not everything has to be done at once. When one has the burdens of life, whatever they may be, if one can sit down and say, "Well I do not have to do it all at once", then one can make a plan to work it through. The strategic approach can set the context for the detailed, and there will be no incentive for anyone to defer decisions to the end of the process, which causes unwelcome surprises and has led to lengthy inquiries and delays before plans are adopted.

We will continue to work with the government offices, local authorities and stakeholders to prepare everyone for the commencement of the new system. We have already held training sessions with all Government Offices on the basics of the new system, and have held seminars for local authorities and others in every region to fill in the details of the new system, answer queries and encourage a full response to the consultation to which I referred.

Larger conferences have been held to roll out the key messages on planning reform at four regional venues in co-operation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association and the British Urban Regeneration Association. Ministers or officials have spoken at a number of conferences.

As soon as the provisions have reached the statute book, our officials will work with Government Offices to provide training to authorities to help them make rapid progress in starting on the preparation of their local development frameworks. As the year unfolds, the culture change agenda will focus on supply-side issues, promoting the training of planners and the users of the planning system.

I should add that, during that period, loads more money will be rolling out from central Government to local government by way of the planning delivery grant. As I have repeatedly said, this Bill is not the be all and end all. In the previous spending review we secured £350 million in extra new money resources for a host of ways of improving the planning system and raising the esteem of planners, for training, and for providing a faster response rate to planning applications. So we are not leaving it simply to legislative changes. More resources are going into planning. That £350 million has not been robbed from elsewhere but is brand new money. We will aim to ensure planners have the attitudes, skills and resources they need to practise spatial planning effectively.

That is as brief an overview as I can give. There is a chronology to it. We have titles for different sets of documents, some of which are probably subject to inquiry; I have delineated the ones that are not. Although the Bill looks incredibly confusing and complicated, outside the House, as I have just explained, we are operating on a wide front, with seminars and consultation, in order to gear up the industry for the changes, to ensure that the documents we produce are in a readable form for the public, and to ensure that consultation is at the heart of the process.

I genuinely think that that is a fair summary. The new system is clear and need not be overcomplicated. Some aspects of the system and some of the terminology are new, but I am absolutely certain that time will cure that. As soon as the public—the important people, our fellow citizens—and developers wanting to develop and those who wish to stop or adjust development plans become more involved and experienced with the new system, they will see the benefits of that system. They will say, "It was not anywhere near as complicated as we thought it would be. Thank you for giving us such a clear, precise and fairer system".

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I now know why the Government are interested in providing top-up fees for university students. There will have to be a university course on how to deal with the plethora—

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I am sure that there are plenty of those. Those have already started. People will have to be encouraged to go on them.

Whatever this system is, it is not going to be simple. While my amendment seeks to simplify all the clauses and to some extent to simplify the explanation of what these new local development plans are going to be and how they are going to be formed, I am bound to say that the Minister's explanation has left me almost more confused than I was before I started. I do not think that this is going to be simple, and I do not think that the community is going to find this simple. Community involvement is probably one of the most important aspects in the development of local plans. However, only a finite number of local residents or organisations will ever become involved. With all this structure, I think that we are going to drive them into the ground.

Many things remain unclear. One of the things that I tried to do with this amendment, which, as the Minister said, was discussed in the other place, was to set a defined timetable. As I understand it, the project, plan or scheme will have a time-scale but each local authority will be able to work to its own time-scale and that will not be affected by any strictures as to how long the process should take, when it should be reviewed, when it should go to inquiry or appeal or how long the inspector will have to deal with the matter. A great number of plans will need to go to the inspectors. Public inquiries will have to be held, and the danger is that this will stretch on for nearly as long as the other schemes, which we all admit have been time-consuming and complicated.

We will probably need to return to this matter in different ways.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 22nd January 2004

The Minister mentioned training sessions and seminars that are being held up and down the country, of which I think your Lordships had no knowledge. He also mentioned the planning portal through which, according to him, it is possible to access all the documents that he mentioned, with an explanation of their meaning. Having looked at the website for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I can tell him that it is not quite as easy to navigate as that. However, it would be helpful if the notes and "Powerpoint" presentations used in the training sessions and the seminars that he mentioned could be made available to the public, if necessary through the ODPM website.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

Some time ago, I asked the Minister how the expenditure had been authorised for all the training that was taking place in connection with a Bill that was not yet law. Clearly, there has been rather more than the small amount of training that the Minister described in his reply to me as having taken place. There have been vast amounts of expenditure on this Bill already, before it has received parliamentary scrutiny. I question whether that is authorised expenditure.

There will also have to be training on the guidance notes, because of the amount of procedure and the amount of guidance that will have to be given on it. If the documents that we have seen in connection with PPS11 are anything to go by, everybody is going to be buried under wodges of paper. This system is not simple in any terms. The fact that it is going to require an enormous amount of training demonstrates that, as does the fact that it will require so many guidance documents.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

If anybody is making any allegations that we have been improperly spending money, they had better make them clear so that I can go away and get them checked. This Bill had a Second Reading in the other place more than 12 months ago, before being recommitted—the first Bill ever to be carried over according to the process that both Houses agreed to. Training sessions have been held in government offices for civil servants in order to explain how the process that they will have to operate will change, once Parliament has agreed it. As I outlined in my speech, it was decided that in some cases such matters would be dealt with once the Bill had received Royal Assent. I can assure Members of the Committee that there has been no expenditure on the Bill outwith that properly spent, otherwise the accounting officer would not have allowed it.

If we had not acted in such a way, I know what would happen—I would be subjected to criticism that we had not planned to implement properly. However, we have been operating a process and the Bill has received a Second Reading. Once a Bill has received a Second Reading, following a Green Paper consultation, certain levels of expenditure are allowed for training and implementation. That is the normal process of bringing legislation to the statute book.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I asked the Minister a question and I have the reply, for which I thank him. I shall almost certainly return to the whole question of local development documents at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Survey of area]:

Photo of Lord Rogers of Riverside Lord Rogers of Riverside Labour

moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 7, line 10, at end insert—

"( ) the achievement of sustainable development;"

Photo of Lord Rogers of Riverside Lord Rogers of Riverside Labour

In moving the amendment, I would also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 83, 113, 114, 116 and 117B. I declare an interest as chair of Richard Rogers Architects.

As I said at Second Reading, the Bill, although long on structure, is short on aspiration. Our planning system lacks a sense of purpose and has therefore failed us in many ways. The Bill represents an ideal opportunity to create a new system based on two linked principles; namely, sustainability and design quality. The amendments seek to achieve precisely that. I welcome the Minister's comments on Tuesday, when he said that the Government were interested only in sustainable development and wanted to redevelop the cities to make them living bodies. That is absolutely right, and I welcome the Government's decision to include a duty to have regard to sustainable development in Clause 38.

At Second Reading, my noble friend described the debate within his department about whether the clause should be included. I urge him to stick with it. Sustainability should be at the heart of our planning system.

Definition is difficult, and various amendments have attempted to put some flesh on the bones of Clause 38. There is the classic Brundtland definition of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. My definition would include developing compact live-work cities that are well connected and designed, together with measures to combat social exclusion. Sustainable development should be about the minimising of resources, reducing waste and cutting both energy and material inputs through stronger building regulations. People should be encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport wherever possible.

Sustainability must be about considering all brownfield possibilities before encroaching on the countryside. We should contain future developments within existing settlements wherever possible. We should rebuild the empty quarters of our cities to bring vitality and security before expanding into the countryside. To give a large-scale example, the proposed greenfield expansion around Milton Keynes threatens the vitality of Birmingham some 45 minutes away, where there is a great deal of usable brownfield land. On a smaller scale, peripheral expansion threatens many town centres. We must not miss the opportunities to strengthen the empty quarters of our cities. Fiscal measures can make brownfield development much more attractive to developers. At Second Reading, I mentioned harmonising VAT on all construction, and measures to either subsidise brownfield or tax greenfield development.

I have come to accept that a definition in the Bill may not be possible or desirable. Primary legislation may be too inflexible to lock in what the Minister said was a developing concept. Instead of attempting a definition here, I urge the Government to consult widely and quickly, to bring forward clear and robust guidance on how planners should undertake their duty.

I turn to Amendment No. 113, which accompanies and mirrors Clause 38. Like all the amendments to which I shall speak, it is strongly supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Its purpose is to put design quality at the heart of the planning process, along with sustainability.

As I said on Second Reading, design is about giving order and beauty to space, while taking into account social and environmental imperatives. It is about buildings and the spaces between them—the public space that brings vitality to our towns and neighbourhoods. Without it, there can be no urban renaissance. We need only consider the Georgian terrace on a tree-lined avenue to see how design adds value in terms of both economic and environmental sustainability. Design is the crux of what planning should be about, yet design is not mentioned once in the Bill.

Amendment No. 113 aims to create a step change in the consideration of design in the planning process by giving planners a duty to exercise their functions with a view to contributing to the achievement of high-quality design in the built environment. I hope that we can raise standards in many planning authorities, where lack of design awareness and skills is woefully apparent. Planners need proper support in the form of good guidance and resources. Although the Government may say that planners already have power to reject poor planning applications on design grounds, many remain too timid to do so.

A clear, statutory duty to consider high-quality design ought to give them greater confidence to raise the quality of the built environment. As with Clause 38, no attempt has been made to define high-quality design in the built environment. Writing that into the Bill would be too inflexible, but I urge the Government to prescribe good, robust guidance outlining how design quality can best be achieved. That could be done in forthcoming planning policy statement 1 or by a dedicated statement on planning and design, while the Government could commission guidance to planning authorities from their Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE has quickly established a fantastic reputation for encouraging and enabling good design, especially in the public sector.

However, I register one note of concern. When my noble friend trailed the forthcoming PPS1 on Second Reading, he said that it would set out four objectives: sustainable development and economic development; social inclusion; protection of the environment; and prudent use of resources. But where is design? It was included in PPG1, which PPS1 will replace. I should be grateful for my noble friend's reassurance that that is not a deliberate omission.

Amendment No. 114 is intended to tackle widespread abuse of the planning system. The existing outline planning permission system entirely fails to take design into account. It is merely about zoning. It is a rough-shod foot in the door that can be very difficult to shift. Developers can use it to red line areas and establish values, while at the same time stripping planning authorities of their ability to scrutinise the quality of developments.

That is hardly consistent with the fairer, more transparent planning system that Ministers rightly hope to establish. For local communities, outline planning permission can be used to impose a development that, when built, bears little resemblance to outline planning. Such abuse is common, and it is unsurprising when local people become conditioned to treating planning applications with suspicion. In such a climate, it is no surprise when the cry goes up, "Not in my back yard!"

Ministers have suggested that outline planning permission will remain in place. The amendment would require applications for outline planning permission to be accompanied by a statement of design principles. That would fix the urban design framework through details such as massing, layout, density, height, mix of uses, landscape and public space. It would give planners and local communities an idea of what they can expect. It would help inform local debate and take much of the venom out of many applications.

Secondary legislation or government guidance could fix the detailed requirements of design statements. I should add that they are not a new idea; a number of architects already produce them as a matter of course. The amendment simply seeks to enrich best practice to create a fairer, more transparent system.

Amendment No. 114 builds upon Amendment No. 116. Where outline permission is granted and is current, it requires that a full planning application be accompanied by a statement of design principles. Planners could therefore compare that statement with the one submitted at outline stage. That would enable differences to become transparent and would discourage developers from watering down aspects of their proposal.

Amendment No. 117B goes further: it would raise the degree of consideration to be given to any approved design or drawing submitted at the outline stage. Trophy architecture, as it is called, where cynical developers use a big architectural name to secure outline permission before going ahead with an inferior scheme later, gives to architecture and planning alike a bad name.

The amendments are intended to be entirely constructive. They seek to deliver purpose, design and sustainability, and to enhance transparency and fairness. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, has said most of what I wanted to say, and he did so very well. In any case, most of my interest today is in listening to the Minister—I suspect that the reason that so many people have come here today is the sheer pleasure of listening to him.

I find design enormously important in my enjoyment and appreciation of the built environment, which, in one way or another, is where I spend most of my life. Architects, when they do well, can create extraordinary experiences and make places very pleasant to live in. Many bits of London bear testament to that, as do others to the opposite. Design is an important consideration, particularly when trying to rebuild and revive cities. Cities do not work easily in unplanned mode; there is too much to get right to develop in an unplanned way. Design is immensely important to the enjoyment, safety and quality of life of people living in cities. It should be a central consideration of everyone involved in planning.

Some of the other amendments in this group relate to honesty. People care about having an input to the planning system and knowing that the plans that they are looking at represent what will be there at the end of the day, or that any differences will be explained to them. It seems profoundly unsatisfactory to have a system that allows outline planning permission to be given to something that looks nice, easy and liveable with but that somehow drips away before final planning permission is granted, without anyone having had a chance to look at it. The amendments in this group are aimed at producing a one-way system. Doubtless, we will discuss outline planning permission generally later in the Bill. So much must now be done under the environmental regulations to acquire outline planning permission, so it is not asking a lot of developers to add in what the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, said was already good practice.

The statements of design principle are short and easy for members of the public to understand. They give an ordinary member of the public a feel for what a development will be like. I have not seen many of them, but I find them immensely helpful. I imagine that they are just the thing that people would want to see to give them comfort before they say, "Yes, we can live with this". If people do that, they must be sure that those documents will be properly regarded by the planning authorities and can be relied on to get into the final scheme more or less in the form that they appear in outline.

I am very happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, in his amendment and to propose mine in this group. As I said, for the most part, I am interested in listening to the Minister. I do not put any particular weight behind the drafting or positioning of any of my amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Labour

I support Amendments Nos. 113, 114, 116, 117B, in the names of my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I declare an interest as the chairman of the RIBA Trust.

These are constructive amendments. Striving to achieve high-quality design should be central to a civilised planning system. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about the importance of design in the built environment. Most of us spend a great deal of our time in the built environment, and it affects us all. I am sure that the Minister will also agree with that.

Until last year, I was the Minister of State responsible for architecture at the DCMS. I was the sponsoring Minister for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Since it was set up, CABE has worked hard, and with some success, to champion architecture and high-quality design in the built environment. Its existing remit has limited its role in championing better design largely to the public sector, where it has worked with a number of departments and agencies on a wide range of schemes from schools and hospitals through to the design of court buildings. Nevertheless, a design review function has also enabled it to make valuable contributions to planning decisions on a number of large-scale private developments.

I welcome the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside that CABE could be commissioned by the Government to develop guidance on what a statutory role to contribute to the achievement of good design in the built environment should mean. They have already issued useful guidance to the public sector through the Government's "Better Public Buildings" programme and through publications such as Better Civic Buildings and Spaces.

CABE understands that high-quality design is about much more than just individual buildings. As my noble friend said, it is as much about the spaces between the buildings as the buildings themselves. Careful planning requires a holistic and a well-considered approach. I am pretty convinced that CABE can provide valuable help to those planning authorities that perhaps lack some of the necessary expertise and need good guidance.

There is no doubt that developing a better consideration of design issues during the planning process can lead to better decisions, not just on design outcomes, but also on transparency and on community involvement. My noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside made a persuasive case about how an absence of design considerations has led to some serious abuse of the system. Design considerations must be central to the reform system. I hope that the Government are able to support these sensible and reasonable amendments.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

I support what has been said. The design of the built environment is particularly important. I heartily agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he said how important it was to him to be in a good, attractive environment. That is certainly true for me, although I am aware that some people do not notice their environment at all. That always comes as a great shock to me.

I thought, as he said that, of my walk every morning from Pimlico to the House. I go through the Millbank estate, which some noble Lords will know. It was built in 1901 by London County Council, and it is a really attractive development. I would be happy to live in it. I then pass what holds prison departments of the Home Office—huge granite blocks that look like prisons. I think, "oh, help!". They are about to improve what was the Westminster Hospital, and then I go through Smith Square and Lord North Street, and I am returned to better spirits by the time I get to the House.

I particularly support the references to sustainability, which we will discuss later. I am concerned that we try, by whatever means we can, to ensure that homes are more energy efficient, that they use natural resources such as water in a better way, and that building methods are changed so that we do not have as much waste and materials are used rather better. There may be opportunities to discuss that later.

I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister talk about guidance and the importance of sustainability in that guidance. I was also pleased when he said that there would not be new labels on existing plans. That is important in the context of the debate.

I remember many times in my local government days when I wished heartily that we could have thrown out some of the housing developments that were coming through. We used what we could in the planning system. In a bigger authority with a good planning department, it is possible to draw up area development briefs and push through better design. In some cases, it can be done, but it is extremely time-consuming. At the end of the day, one can lose it. If the builders do not build according to the plan, there is little comeback.

When I moved from the city of Southampton to live in a conservation area in Christchurch, I was struck by how particular they could be about everything that happened. I was putting new windows in the front of my house, and I wanted to make them more energy-efficient. Because it was a conservation area and I had to keep the same-sized panes in the windows, I could not have double windows. There is a huge contrast in the way in which we deal with this, and I hope that the Bill will enable us to remedy such matters.

With regard to Amendment No. 114, as I have indicated, I certainly support a process that would enable distinctions to be made between different statements of design principle in the planning process. Amendment No. 116 deals with outline planning permission. Proposed new subsection (1B) refers to regulations made under the Act. As I have said, I hope that, in those regulations, we can look particularly at energy efficiency, use of materials and other matters.

As has been said, outline planning permission can, for local communities, be used to impose developments that, when they are built, bear little resemblance to what was put down at the outline stage. That abuse has been quite common, and it is not surprising that people have become conditioned to being suspicious about planning applications.

I hope that we can have some assurances from the Minister. A good case has been put from all parts of the Committee. I have heard the Minister and other Ministers talk about the importance of design and how we want to improve it, particularly with regard to the Gateway. I hope that we will see a difference and that the Bill will mean that we get better design in our built environment.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

I want briefly to put in my three halfpence in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, on the basis of some local experience.

I live on the edge of an old textiles village in the Pennines called Trawden. Thirty or 40 years ago, it was full of people who had been weavers all their lives. It has now been taken over by teachers, social workers and all sorts of people, who have done the place up. It is an extremely attractive village. It is not a normal village. It is higgledy-piggledy along all the lanes coming into the village, and, as a result, on an aerial photograph or a map it looks like a spider. Obviously, the developers wanted to fill in the gaps between the spider's legs.

It is a land usage issue. Over a long period of time, residents, councillors and the council have fought a great many battles, attended many appeals, and have won. They have prevented that kind of infill taking place and have maintained the basic character of the place. By and large, they have insisted that development is on brownfield land in the village, which consists of old mills that have closed down and become derelict, and have become sites for redevelopment with housing. That is the background.

That raises the question of what type of housing should be put on these old mill sites. That is where the position becomes much more difficult to control. It is much more difficult to encourage new development that is in keeping with the old village. The village is made up of all kinds of things. There are old farmhouses, some of which are hundreds of years old; there are old weavers cottages; and there are rows of terraced houses that were built in Victorian times for the more modern mills. It is a higgledy-piggledy kind of place. So it cannot be said that one kind of development on a site is ideal for everything.

That is where the issue of drawing up statements of design principles becomes difficult. Good design is required for each site, which might need to be different for each site. With respect, if the Minister listens he might learn something. Planning and development control authorities need the ability to insist on good design on a site-by-site basis. That would be very difficult to write into local development plans, and it would be very difficult for the Minister to write into his new system. But, as a general principle, those are the powers that are needed.

In the most attractive and higgledy-piggledy part of the village where I live, a mill became vacant, became derelict and was pulled down. The development company that bought the land was very interested in producing a high-design scheme that fitted into the village. It came up with something quite different from the rows of bog-standard terraced or semi-detached houses that people were used to. It was a brilliantly designed scheme that would have been wonderful if it had come about. It caused a great deal of local controversy. The local council did everything right. It talked to the developers and the parish council, and called a public meeting. At the time, I was chair of the council's area committee that had development control powers. We had a public meeting that I chaired. There was a large turn out, including the developers and villagers.

It was generally agreed that it was an exciting scheme and should go ahead. It obtained planning permission. We refused to give outline planning permission. We said, "This is an important site. We are going to give permission for the full scheme as we want it". The developers agreed with that, and planning permission was given. Then, nothing happened. A few years later, the development company that had bought the site—for about two dozen houses—sold the land to another company that, on the basis of the existing planning permission which, of course, included outline planning permission for housing, put in a new scheme for bog-standard semi-detached houses. That is what we have got.

It was an absolute tragedy at a very local level. The advice that the council received was that the development could not be reasonably resisted because there was nothing wrong with the proposed development. The houses were adequate and fitted all the building regulations. The council has overall planning design guidelines that were brought in 25 to 30 years ago. Local development has to be built in natural stone, composition, imitation, reconstituted or whatever stone looks like natural stone from the area. Roofing materials must be the appropriate colour. Windows must have a vertical alignment and not a horizontal alignment to fit in with a typical Pennine textile town or village. All that overall planning design is there. But that does not stop people building bog-standard terraced and semi-detached houses.

Local authorities in such areas need the ability to consider applications on a site-by-site basis and to say to developers, "We will not give you planning permission unless there is design of a high quality". At the moment the system does not really allow them to do so. If they try to insist on it, it will go to appeal and they will lose.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I have changed the way in which I respond to the debate. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, because in fact I was listening to every word he said.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

I apologise unreservedly to the Minister.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I do not know any of the details, but from his explanation, if the design of the houses was a material consideration for the councillor in giving outline planning permission in the context of the location, he should have been able to carry it over to the different owners. That is allowed for even under the existing planning policy guidance 1, to which my noble friend Lord Bassam referred. Paragraph 17 begins:

"Local planning authorities should reject poor designs".

They can make the design material to the planning application given the sensitivity of the location.

My noble friend and I have been having a mini-debate during the past half hour while listening to Members on all sides of the Committee. We have re-read our notes to see which of the amendments we should accept on the Government's behalf, because it is the only way to get the ball rolling. None of them cost anything. My noble friend says that the worst thing that could happen is that we would make the front page of the Guardian, because it would be interested. I will send signals in due course, because the points made by all Members who have spoken are crucial. The ODPM agrees with the importance of all the points made.

There will be all the reasons in the world why the word "design" does not appear in the Bill, but to be honest I cannot think of one. I have no doubt that in due course in many of the later stages where the Bill can be amended, I will be provided with such information to claim why it should not happen, but at the moment I cannot think of anything.

I will say a little about the way some of the amendments would affect the Bill. I will try to answer some of the points about the work of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to which my noble friends referred.

Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 would add to the matters that the local planning authority has to keep under review as part of its survey function. It is important that policies and proposals should be founded on a thorough understanding of the needs of the area, as identified by the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. That requires local planning authorities to prepare and maintain an up-to-date evidence base on all aspects of the social, economic and environmental characteristics of their area. It is important to review or survey gathered information to ensure the preparation of sensible and robust policies and proposals and to achieve sound planning for the area.

Clause 12(1) requires local authorities to do that. Clause 12(2) sets out matters that the local planning authority must consider in carrying out its survey function and also provides the Secretary of State with the power to prescribe additional matters. The provisions mirror those in existing legislation.

The local planning authority must keep under review the principal physical, economic, social and environmental characteristics of an authority's area. That is a wide-ranging provision and it would cover the four strands of sustainable development: economic development; social inclusion; protection of the environment; and prudent use of resources. I could make a case for that definition being wide enough to cover design of buildings and the quality of the built environment, but I am not making that case now. My notes say that the definition is broad enough to cover the quality of the built environment and I could make the case quite easily. In doing so I could quote many examples from what I have seen for myself over recent years around the country. But I shall certainly not rest my case for saying that the word "design" should not be in the Bill on that.

It is important to note that we have expanded on the legal requirements in our draft guidance on Creating Local Development Frameworks, which includes a checklist of the suggested components of the survey.

Amendment No. 113 proposes a new clause to follow Clause 38, which has been constantly referred to in our debate. It hangs over the Bill and no doubt we shall have substantial debates on it when we reach that point. We agree absolutely and without any qualification on the importance of design issues. The Government are committed to high quality design. For some time our planning policies have made it clear that when submitting planning proposals applicants should be able to demonstrate how they have taken account of the need for good design.

In some ways we are in the hands of planning authorities, some of which by definition are tiny. Certain small councils worry about taking on big developers because of a design issue. They may be getting duff information and bad advice from their lawyers and planners because their culture has not changed. They are still living in the 1940s and 1950s when we put up some real junk. Part of this Bill and what I have said about the planning delivery grant are designed to change the culture of planning both for councillors and officers. Good design is key to the provision of inclusive and sustainable communities and it underpins much of what is set out in the sustainable communities plan.

We recognise that in the forthcoming draft of Planning Policy Statement 1, which will be an update. At the moment we are still working on Planning Policy Guidance 1, which was issued in February 1997. We claim no credit but we are quite happy with it, as we are with PPG6 on retail development, which will ensure that we rebuild within our cities. The contribution made by John Gummer to reversing the previous government's policy by issuing that guidance was crucial. However, as I have pointed out before, only over the past two years has it begun to bite because of all the backed-up planning permissions. We are determined to operate that policy ruthlessly. We are in fundamental agreement with it because, as my noble friend Lord Rogers said, it will protect viability in the planning of our cities, which are the only areas where we can ensure sustainable development. We are determined to curtail out-of-town peripheral developments and PPG6 helps us to achieve that.

If we deliver poor design, we know that we will not deliver sustainable development. We know that because of all the stuff that is knocked down very quickly. We are committed to ensuring that the planning system contributes to achieving sustainable development, so there is nothing to be gained in introducing a separate clause on design quality. On the other hand, the case has been made sometimes to include a declaration for the avoidance of doubt—words to give courage to and reinforce the backbone of councillors on local planning authorities. On occasion they may want to say: "Look, that is poor quality design. We insist that design is a material element in this planning application". If councillors have to argue the economics of a plan, we need to give them a little confidence and backbone. Therefore there probably is a case for saying that the word "design" should appear in Clause 38.

The framework we have adopted for general guidance is the best way forward. I do not argue that because it is not possible to put everything on to the face of the Bill. Sometimes it is necessary to send out a signal and if it does not cost anything, then it is a good signal to send.

Amendment No. 114 proposes a new paragraph (2A), requiring that where outline planning permission remains in force,

"any subsequent application for planning permission must include a statement of design principles".

Paragraph (2B) would require the contents of the statement to be prescribed by regulations. We do not think it necessary to include such provisions in primary legislation. For some time government planning policy has made it clear that, when submitting planning proposals, applicants should be able to demonstrate how they have taken account of the need for good design. As I have said, the need to prepare a design statement is already set out in paragraphs 13 to 20 of Planning Policy Guidance 1.

It is true that further requirements in design could be covered by a revised policy or good practice guidance in secondary legislation. This might include possible amendments to the general development procedure order such as changing the definition of "reserved matters" in relation to an outline planning permission or a requirement that a design statement accompanies an application for outline planning permission.

Subsection (2A) would require that in determining any application for planning permission regard shall be had to any earlier statement of design principles submitted for the outline planning permission. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary because, if a further application is submitted for the same site, the planning history of the land—including any previous permission and any earlier statement of design principles—is likely to be relevant. If it is relevant, the local planning authority must have regard to it. As I have said, this might come down to the sometimes duff advice received from lawyers and others.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

I thank the Minister for giving way. The last part of the amendment deals precisely with the point made by my noble friend Lord Greaves about the issue in his area. A problem that you get in local government is that you not only have to listen to lawyers, you are also told that you cannot afford to take a matter to appeal. That is the problem. We need to be clear about this issue in order that local councils can deal with it. More often than not, the costs fall upon councils. I have argued against it in my own time and won the argument, but it is quite difficult and you have to be bold.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

In planning, one also gets told that a design is subjective. It is therefore quite difficult to build the issue of design into outline planning permissions. If the Minister is going to take this issue into account, he should look to see where the subjectivity test comes from and how to get over it. After all, what you like I might not like; what I like you might not like; and what one neighbour likes another might not. That has always been one of the tests one has had to deal with in planning matters.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I accept that. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that if she checks Hansard she will see that I made the point about the fear of going to appeal in my first few opening paragraphs. I said that small local authorities without resources would be put off doing so. That fitted in with my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.

Similar arguments apply to Amendment No. 116, which would require that an application for outline planning permission must include in the statement of design principles the contents prescribed by regulations. To a large extent the amendment is unnecessary for the same reasons that apply to the previous amendment. However, I made the point at Second Reading that we recognise the concern about ensuring good quality design at the outline planning permission stage.

On 15 December 2003, in a Written Statement, the Minister for Housing and Planning, Keith Hill, stated that if outline planning permission were to be retained one of the considerations would be the need for more information on key design principles. We believe that these concerns can be met by other means.

Amendment No. 117B requires special regard to be paid to the design aspects of other planning permissions in determining new applications. As I have said—I have made this point a couple of times but it is worth reinforcing—the amendment is unnecessary because if the design aspects of the previous planning permission are relevant to the development proposed in the new application, they are a material consideration to which regard must be paid in any event. If they are not relevant, no account should be taken of them.

On the other hand, in some ways that is a contradiction in terms. If we are saying to local authorities that under the existing policy they should reject poor design, how can it possibly be the case that they could ever grant a permission where design was never a factor? It is a contradiction in terms. Paragraph 15 of the existing policy states that good design should be the aim of all those involved in the development process and should be encouraged everywhere. There is no qualification about that. There is enough here for robust local authorities, with concerned councillors, to be able to make a substantial case to the developers. But many authorities are not as large or well-resourced as others and therefore they may not have sufficient confidence.

This point has been made and it is worth reinforcing. Good design delivers value for money and poor design actually costs more in the end. Therefore, it is not an issue of expenditure whether for the public or the private sector. Design costs comprise a very small percentage of construction costs and in some ways they are infinitesimal. They are certainly less than 1 per cent. If the work is done properly, it is repaid many times over in the lifetime of the building. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Better designed buildings last longer in any event. There are many examples near where we are.

I may be working towards accepting an amendment. To promote better design, the Government are working very closely with a range of partners including CABE, English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation and house builders to drive up standards and increase the range and quality of the advice and assistance when working with people in this field.

We are working with CABE in particular to put greater emphasis on using master planning and developing specific guidance for sites. That is very important because as regards what we are planning with the communities plan, with the four growth areas and the nine market renewal pathfinders, we are saying to people that in managing those processes and the delivery vehicles for driving them forward, we would like CABE's stamp of approval on what is being done. We have made that abundantly clear.

We have also set up the Better Public Buildings initiative. We have delivered new schemes such as the Millennium Communities to provide good examples of successful, innovative and good quality design. We have announced three beacon councils under the theme of Quality in the Built Environment. We are sponsoring a number of housing design awards. We have asked Sir John Egan to undertake a review of the skills needed to deliver sustainable communities and he will report in the spring.

As regards specific measures, the ODPM has vastly increased the resources for the Commission of Architecture and the Built Environment over the next three years to ensure that good design becomes a priority in the sustainable communities programme. It is about £17 million, which is way above the normal expenditure.

We have made a commitment to the Better Public Buildings initiative. There is a ministerial design champion responsible for projects. He will probably not be there when the projects materialise because of the way in which Ministers are moved about. There is an attempt and a process to go through before one signs off buildings. We have encouraged the sponsorship of design awards in making good use of modern methods of construction to achieve higher quality in standards and reliability.

We want to remove barriers to good design. I shall return to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of the Bill, and insist on the strong suggestion from all sides of the Committee that the word "design" appears in the Bill. That is fundamental. It is important to change the guidance. It is also important to give courage to local councillors and officials who want to encourage good design, but there are other pressures on them to make a quick fix or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, put it, "We cannot do that because we cannot afford to appeal".

The result of that kind of approach is some real eyesores around the country erected by some household names, which I shall not list because we all know who they are. It is true that some of them are mending their ways. The powerful case made initially by my noble friend Lord Rogers is unanswerable so I shall not try to do so. By some means I shall get the word "design" included in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Rogers of Riverside Lord Rogers of Riverside Labour

I was delighted to hear all the things that the Minister said. In fact, I find very little with which to argue. I was also pleased to hear the general support of the Committee. It is imperative that we continue with the policy specifically mentioned by the Minister of John Gummer's concept of no out-of-town retail. It is consistent with the concept of using brownfield first. We have to be extremely serious about this matter. There is a tendency, especially in the north, to use greenfield land because it is easier.

Good design is critical, but I am not sure that I accept that it is subjective, because all art is subjective. We could argue about the quality of Georgian terraces or Bach, but there is a general sense in which we agree. We could be talking about a Cornish village. I am not suggesting that there should be high, middle or low art, but there is a general feeling about what is good design—a beautiful farm as well as a great palace such as this one. We can find a measure of agreement and I would like to see that included as much as possible within the Bill and in added verbal support to the outline planning.

To make things simple, our aim must be not to have to go to lawyers for advice. Things should be so simple that we can understand what the outline planning permission is. Again, I do not think that there is any disagreement between us. I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy listening to the Minister. I am pleased to see in what good voice he is. It is unusual to have such a Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 83A:

Page 7, line 12, after "population" insert "and projected population"

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84A and 84B, which are grouped with Amendment No. 84. I rather wish that we could have stopped while we were ahead.

Amendment No. 83A is another proposed amendment to Clause 12—the survey clause. Subsection (2) sets out some of the matters to be kept under review. One of those is,

"the size, composition and distribution of the population of the area".

In the first amendment, I suggest that that should be extended to include projected population. The Minister may tell me that it does, but I would like to be clear about that.

It is simply not possible to plan without looking ahead. The last census was contentious. Nevertheless, the draft London Plan—I appreciate that we have got into the part on local development—is based on population projections. As is well known, we expect London to increase its population by something equivalent to a city the size of Leeds over the period of the plan. That will also affect the boroughs and the relationship of the area with neighbouring areas. Members of the London Assembly were interested in the relationship with the area in which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, lives because of the population living in Essex and commuting to and from London. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that matter.

The second amendment is to line 14, which states that another matter to be kept under review should be,

"any other considerations which may be expected to affect" the matters set out before it. I wonder whether this should extend to those matters which may be expected to be affected. I may have expressed it too widely but the interrelationship of the issues exercises me. For instance, on education and health infrastructure, health centres, doctors' surgeries, hospitals, schools and educational establishments at different levels are all affected by population.

There must be some consideration as to whether limits on what can be provided could affect, for instance, what housing can be planned. The subject is quite circular. Although I am usually a critic of circularity, perhaps this clause needs to reflect it a little more.

Amendment No. 84B relates to line 20 on page 7. Continuing with matters which can be included in the survey, it refers to,

"any changes which the authority think may occur in relation to any other matter".

I am puzzled by the word "other" matter. What about changes which may occur in relation to matters already listed? I dare say that it is an idiosyncrasy of parliamentary drafting which I have not got my head around. However, I wish to be certain that the clause is as extensive as I should like. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:15 pm, 22nd January 2004

On Amendment No. 84, my main ambition is to persuade the Government that not only does the state of affairs need to be considered but also what people would like to be the state of affairs. With a collection of housing within a local planning authority, people have to survive with what is there. One could say that that came under Clause 12(2)(a). But what is not included is any feeling about people's ambitions. Are people living in houses that they do not like? Would they like to move into different housing in different environments? A local planning authority may be looking at the building of housing for its people 50 or 100 years ahead. It is not a question of the housing people need now but the ambitions they have for the future. Looking ahead, what built environment are we trying to create?

It is a difficult concept. I agree that it does not fall naturally from a collection of statistics, with people ticking boxes. But to know what people wish to have in the future should be immensely important to the planning decisions we are taking, as well as the state of play now.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord says. However, we need to be careful. First, given the housing system we have, for many people it is as much about the type of tenure they have as where they want to live. The issue is much wider than simply dealing with the planning.

Secondly, local authorities need to monitor and review housing need and provision. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, said, we need to consider the best use of brownfield sites and so on. But it is important to distinguish between housing need and demand. In the past, we have got into quite a mess with demand-led housing. I understand that that is not the noble Lord's precise point.

However, we need to be careful. At present, there are immense pressures on the south-east when seeking to deal with the huge demand for housing. But we must ensure that there is a balance and that we provide for need. We all talk about the need for key workers to have housing. We need to get that balance right. Although I have sympathy with what the noble Lord says, that is not what we should be doing in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

On the other hand, the survey is a very important aspect of the Bill. It becomes particularly important in the light of the sustainable communities policies and of the increase in housing, particularly in the south-east, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said. We have had discussions on the sustainable communities plan, but the survey of the area is something which will have to take into account not only that but also the infrastructure that will be required for additional building. It is relevant to the issues of design—as the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, has said—provision, siting, placing, applicability to the local area and attractiveness to the local community. All these amendments are relevant. They may not all do entirely the right thing, but they are very much in the spirit of this part of the Bill and therefore I support them.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

I am conscious, from prior Bills, that when people get up to move amendments to add to lists which the government have put into the Bill, many Ministers—not, of course, the Minister who is in front of us today, for we are full of admiration for his individuality—resist the addition of those items; they prize the quality of the list that they have already prepared and do not want it to be sullied by such additions. I commend my noble friend in particular for the choice of the subject to be added to the list that he has made, not least because of its centrality in the matters which give rise to the Bill in the first instance.

In my next remark I may well be off target, both in the context of my noble friend and in that of the Bill. I sat in on the debate between Chris Holmes of Shelter and Westminster City Council when Mr Holmes, at the behest of the mayor, was preparing his magnum opus on London housing. I could not help but be conscious that Westminster City Council, which is a significant body in the context of that plan, told Mr Holmes that the target figure which he had in mind, and which he had been expressing, was not feasible. Yet it ended up being the figure in the plan when the mayor presented it and, presumably, had some relevance to the RSS. So I commend my noble friend and his amendment warmly and I hope that we shall find that this is one of those occasions when Ministers do not reject an addition to a list.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for ascribing great powers of individuality to me but I know that they are targeted not at me but at my noble friend Lord Rooker. I could not possibly meet or match the spirit of individuality that Lord Rooker is self-evidently expert at showing at the Dispatch Box.

I have a generous view of the amendments and I have some sympathy with the general direction that they are taking. As the Government, we believe that it is important that policies and proposals should be founded on a thorough understanding of the needs of their area. As I look at the amendments, that is essentially what they are seeking to do. Local planning authorities need to prepare and maintain an up-to-date evidence base on all aspects of the social, economic and environmental characteristics of the area. That is self-evident.

In that context, it is important to review, survey and gather information to ensure that the preparation of sensible and robust policies and proposals takes place so that any plans are soundly developed. Clause 12(1) requires local authorities to do this and Clause 12(2) sets out matters that the local planning authority must consider in carrying out its survey function. It also provides the Secretary of State with power to prescribe any additional matters. These provisions mirror those in the existing legislation that the Government inherited. The local planning authority must keep the principal physical, economic, social and environmental characteristics of the area of an authority under review.

Amendment No. 83A attempts to create a new list of matters that the planning authority must keep under review in Clause 12(2). It includes the size, composition and distribution of the population of the area. So the demographic information which is so important to the evidence base for local development documents is covered in Clause 12(2).

Clause 12(3)(a) requires the local authority to keep under review changes to those matters. So changes in population composition and size are also covered. Explicit reference to population projections is unnecessary. Indeed, there is a risk that that could lead to a type of "predict and provide" approach. As one who has occasionally seen that general approach applied to highways, I suggest that it is perhaps not the best model for us to replicate in planning matters. We have to take account of population projections which are terribly important. Population projections are available down to districts, with the latest series produced in 1999. The next one will cover from a 2002 base to 2026 and is expected this autumn. District projections feed into household projections used by regional planning bodies with other evidence in assessing future household requirements.

I was much taken with the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke to his Amendment No. 84. It is very important that the local authorities approach those issues in terms of what people want for their area. I think that that was the term that the noble Lord used. He also linked it with a sense of ambition for an area. Those issues are about the quality of life in an area. From my involvement in the planning process as a unitary authority leader, I know the importance of those issues, which are quite delicate. However, I also understand the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.

Generally, we feel that the issues that the noble Lord raised are well covered in our document, Creating Local Development Framework, which includes a checklist that covers the suggested components of the survey. It specifically mentions housing need, potential supply, housing need assessment, urban capacity studies, land use density issues, the location of underused land and buildings, and availability. Those are the component parts of an ambition and a view and a sense of what people want for their area.

I entirely agree that the local authority should consider its housing and planning strategies together as a matter of course; that makes obvious good sense. Our new planning arrangements will strengthen the links between planning and housing as well as other important strategies and policies. We take the view that planning has a key role to play in contributing towards achieving successful, thriving and inclusive communities. We have just finished consultation on upgrades to planning for housing guidance set out in PPG3 entitled "Supporting the Delivery of New Housing", and "Influencing the Size, Type and Affordability of Housing". Consultation has now closed on that document and we hope to publish a final policy this summer. PPG3 already places great emphasis on links between strategies, and we think that that has been strengthened in the update.

Amendment No. 84A to Clause 12(2)(e) is a general catch-all provision which requires the local authority to ensure that anything else which may be relevant to the matters covered by the survey are kept under review. The quality of the built environment could be covered by this provision if the local authority considered that to be relevant to the characteristics of the area which it has to keep under review. The problem is that this amendment could have unforeseen consequences. It would require the local authority to think of any considerations which may be affected by the matter under review. I am not sure how one could draw a line around that. The fear is that it could lead the local authority to have to take a much wider survey function than is needed for planning and land use development.

Amendment No. 84B removes the word "other" from the last line of Clause 12(3)(a). The clause is phrased to indicate that a change to a matter in Clause 12(2) is itself a matter to be kept under review. The "matter" is therefore a change that occurs to the other matters in Clause 12(2). I hope that noble Lords have followed that this is purely an issue of drafting.

On substantive points and issues we believe that the framework that we have adopted with the general requirement supported by guidance is the best way forward. The debate has been useful in focusing on some of those issues and I am most grateful to the noble Lords who have contributed to it. I hope that what I have said underlines our commitment to ensuring that matters that are relevant and important in terms of planning the built environment in the future will be kept at the forefront of government thinking.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

I agree with the Minister that the best place for these matters is in guidance. However, there is a fundamental difference between need and ambition. Too much of the language being used at the moment is about need. There is no counterbalance in terms of what people want. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, the matter must be balanced with a lot of other considerations. We cannot give people what they want, or we will end up with the sort of situation that exists on the west coast of Ireland, which is littered with little cottages that conform with the romantic Irish ideal. The place is an absolute blight—it looks as though it has got whitefly.

There is a great deal to be said for our planning system and the benefits that it gives to all of us in terms of the structure of our countryside and our towns. None the less, one of our ambitions ought to be to give people better houses over time. We should aim to give them more of what they want and to do what we can to enable them to satisfy their own ambitions rather than just catering to need, which is rather a Stalinist way of looking at things. I hope that, over time, we can get a bit of that into the language of guidance.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My amendments are far more prosaic than those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I think that I followed what the Minister said about Clause 12(3), which feeds into his response to the other amendments. He seems to have said that any other matter is any matter anywhere in the part of the forest that comes within the survey, and the matters listed. So any given matter can be another matter. When I read that provision alongside Clause 12(1), which I was expecting the Minister to quote against me, I find that it allows us to project forwards, because it includes matters that may be expected to affect health. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining all that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 84 to 84B not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Survey of area: county councils]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 7, line 34, leave out from second "development" to end of line 35.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

After all the sweetness and light that have surrounded the past few amendments, we return to some of the more practical matters in the Bill. Currently, under Clause 13(1), county councils are required to keep under review matters which may be expected to affect the development of their area in as far as those matters relate to county matters. There are two reasons why I felt it necessary to table the amendment. First, there is a lack of clarity in respect of the phrase "county matters". I wonder whether, if I were to ask the Minister, he would be able to give me a fully comprehensive list of what is meant by that terminology. It seems to me to be confusing, opaque and irrelevant.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the draft undermines the Government's own drive towards joined-up government. County councils currently have a general duty to seek to promote the economic, environmental and social well-being of their communities. They draw up community strategies that are focused not narrowly on particular functions but which are designed to be outward-looking. County councils are attempting to use their place in the community to exercise leadership for all citizens. The Bill runs smack into those principles—principles that the Government themselves have sought to promote in an earlier local government Bill. Unless a county matter is so broadly interpreted as to be meaningless—in which case it should be removed from the Bill—the provision attempts to narrow the survey function of county councils.

We argue that that does nothing to enhance the ability of county councils to join up services or exercise local leadership. It does nothing to help to support district councils, which might well welcome monitoring support from county councils. That is all part of a county strategy. Once again, the provision threatens to undermine the retention of planning resources in the local government system. It is a dangerous and unnecessary provision, and I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the amendment.

Amendment No. 86 is very brief, but I hope that Members of the Committee will be able to support it. Under the current provisions of the Bill, it is up to the Secretary of State to prescribe who should have access to a county council survey conducted under Clause 13. The amendment would ensure that the relevant regional planning body received the survey results as well as other people prescribed by the Secretary of State.

Good planning requires a good flow of information upwards and downwards throughout the system, across the different tiers involved. Our amendment simply makes it clear that if we are to have regional planning bodies, they should have statutory rights of access to important planning documents affecting their own planning decisions, just as we would like to see a statutory right of access to regional planning documents at other levels of government. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

Clause 13 provides for local authorities with minerals and waste planning responsibilities—that is the county councils in two-tier areas—to keep under review matters which are likely to affect minerals and waste development or the planning of that development, which are referred to as county matters. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that a county matter dealt with by a county council instead of a district council in two-tier authorities relates to minerals and waste development.

Amendment No. 85 removes the reference to county matters, and its effect would be to require the county council to review planning matters and undertake survey work for areas of all district councils within the county boundary. We accept that some small districts would be stretched to undertake full survey work. Obviously, we have discussed the role of the counties, as I am sure we will continue to do until the Bill sails off to become an Act. I reiterate that the counties can play a very important role. Survey work is one aspect where they can contribute.

Clause 13(3) allows for that situation. The Secretary of State can set out in regulations, or can direct a county council, to keep under review non-county matters, the wider matters relating to land-use planning.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

Clearly then the county matters to which the Minister refers are matters related only to planning—the actual planning issues. County councils are responsible for education, social services, libraries, highways and transport, all of which are very important matters as regards the regional spatial strategy. I do not think it is clear in the Bill that county matters are really relevant only to the planning matters, which are waste and minerals. All the other issues are obviously very relevant to the regional spatial strategy.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

That is why I moved from my initial notes to my side-note. I had been sent a definition, and I thought that it was worth putting it on record. In the context of what we are dealing with in Clause 13, a county matter relates only to minerals and waste development. We are not talking about the generality of county council responsibilities and duties. If I complete my notes, we will see whether we need to look at the precision of that, because that is all that we are talking about—we are not talking about the other responsibilities, as the noble Lord said.

As I said, through Clause 13(3), the Bill allows for the situation that I described. The Secretary of State can set out in regulations, or can direct a county council, that the council must keep under review non-county matters—the wider matters relating to land use planning and development referred to in Clause 12(2). Our draft regulations propose that the matters to be kept under review are those set out in Clause 12(2)(a) and (c) to (e), and that the results should be made available to local planning authorities.

Our approach can be adapted to the particular circumstances. The issues that a county would need to keep under review may change over time as the new planning system evolves. Regulations provide for that flexibility. It is inappropriate to specify in the Bill that all counties must review all matters in respect of all the areas of district councils in the county. That would be to treat the situation of every district the same, taking no account of their circumstances or capacity. We do not want to do that.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but, as I said, county councils have a duty under local government legislation to produce a community strategy for the county. Producing a community strategy, which my county is busy doing, involves all the district councils. All the housing, planning and other issues are relevant to the community strategy that the county council must by law prepare. There is therefore conflict; we must understand that.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

Well, it is clear that there is. The noble Lord is leader of a major county council; if he thinks that that is in conflict, we must take a serious look at it. As I said, the clauses refer only to specific responsibilities that are left for county councils' structure plans—namely, waste and minerals.

Amendment No. 86, which is grouped, would mean that county councils must make available results of their work to the regional planning body. Our approach provides an appropriate role for the county councils in regional and sub-regional planning—it does so even more now than when we commenced consideration in Committee.

Clauses 12 and 13, covering the survey function, primarily cover work needed to support the preparation of local development documents. However, we agree that that could be relevant to the preparation of a regional spatial strategy revision. If the regional planning body wanted to see the work—because, for example, it was relevant to a sub-regional element of a revision to the regional spatial strategy—it could ask for it when seeking advice under Clause 4 as amended earlier today by government Amendment No. 37, under which the county council has a duty to provide the advice.

If necessary, the regional planning body could enter arrangements with the county under Clause 4. Furthermore, if necessary, the Secretary of State could prescribe the regional planning body as a recipient of the results of survey work or direct that a county send the results to the regional planning body under the provisions of Clause 13(5) as it stands.

However, having listened to the debate, I am persuaded that, to put the relevance of the county survey function to the regional spatial strategy beyond doubt, we should consider amending draft regulation 5 to add a reference to the regional planning body as well as to the district council, where the regional planning body asks for that information.

That does not fully cover the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about what is covered by the definition. It may be that, simply because of how the Bill is set out—we are discussing Part 2, which covers local development—that definition is constrained in its use to waste and minerals, because it is contained in Part 2, and therefore cannot leak out into the wider responsibilities of county councils. But it is important to avoid confusion, so I shall obviously take advice on what the noble Lord said, so that confusion does not exist by the time the Bill passes from the House.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 6:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

I thank the Minister for that. Clearly, there is some confusion. As the Minister will understand, I spoke to advisers, employees and legal experts in constructing these amendments, and the understanding was that the provision covered all the functions of county councils. However, the noble Lord has said that it covers only matters relating to waste and minerals, so clarification is needed. I thank the Minister for undertaking to provide clarification at a later stage.

As leader of a large local authority, I have been told by my officers that we are legally obliged to produce community strategies. I think that the Government are going weak on community strategies. They were the subject of one of my first debates as a new Peer, four years ago, before the Minister took up his current position. Community strategies were intended to be a very important part of local government, with every district and county obliged to have one. They cost quite a lot to produce. We are halfway through the process; some authorities are further down the field than we are.

The strategy involves many of the aspects that we have discussed during this Bill. I wonder whether the Government will go cool on community strategies, particularly county ones, because they involve so much planning policy and much of what is happening in partnership with the districts in each county. We have not talked about the issue during the passage of the Bill, but it may arise later, as we wish to clarify the position regarding county community strategies. I shall not press the amendment today; I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 86 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Local development scheme]:

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 87:

Page 8, line 15, at end insert—

"(a) the assistance required of any other local authority whose area comprises any part of the area of the local planning authority;"

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

Earlier we moved our major amendment on development plans; now we start on the individual provisions, which is possible because the earlier amendment has not been agreed.

Amendment No. 87 ensures that the local development scheme specifies the assistance that the local planning authority has received from any other local authorities, such as a county council. Combined with Amendment No. 89, which states that a copy of the scheme must be sent to such an authority, the amendment draws both the county councils and other local authorities further into the planning process as outlined in the Bill. Our intention is to ensure that flows of information through the different tiers of local government are maintained. Especially given the government amendments moved today, which secure an enhanced statutory role for county councils, it is vital that they are kept fully informed of all local development schemes as well as other tiers.

Amendment No. 87 would ensure that any assistance provided by county councils and other authorities to local planning authorities is set out clearly and forms a key part of the local development scheme. That would provide greater clarity in the relationship between local planning authorities and county councils or other authorities, and would outline that on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 89 would serve to further improve communication and co-ordination between local planning authorities and county councils or other authorities. It would require the local planning authority to send a copy of the scheme not only to the regional planning body but also to county councils.

On a slightly different issue, Amendment No. 90 restricts any direction that the Secretary of State may give to a local planning authority to amend the local development scheme to a timescale of within eight weeks of receipt of the scheme. As the Bill stands, there is no deadline for when the Secretary of State may take a decision on whether a local development scheme is appropriate, and thus, presumably, leaves the door open for a direction to make an amendment at any time in the scheme's lifetime. The question of timescales was part of the reason that I proposed the large clause contained in my earlier amendment.

The amendment would allow local planning authorities a cut-off point beyond which they could be certain that their local development scheme would not be altered by the Secretary of State. That would provide greater certainty and predictability. It is vital, because local planning authorities will prepare local development documents in accordance with the scheme. If the Secretary of State can intervene later, work will be wasted and preparation of the documents delayed. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

There are a number of amendments in this group. The first, Amendment No. 88A, would provide that the local authority should submit the scheme at such time as is prescribed, but not less than two years after commencement of this part of the Act. I raised this because I have seen somewhere—I cannot recall where—that the local development scheme is to be produced within six months of commencement. I agree that it is desirable that the planning authorities get on with the job, within reason, but theoretically commencement could be the day after enactment. That simply would not allow for any work to be done on public consultation, let alone committees and so on. I do not particularly advocate the time period that this amendment sets out. I am asking for clarity in the Bill, to avoid uncertainty.

Amendment No. 89A seeks to give the Mayor of London the right to make representations on the scheme. The current Mayor raised that point in correspondence with the Minister. Clause 23 states that the Mayor has the right to make representations about the development and document. I am unclear why the Mayor does not have the right to make representations on the scheme. The Secretary of State does.

Amendment No. 89B is a variation on Amendment No. 90 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I would trade the 12 weeks for her eight weeks, but the point is much the same. Amendment No. 90A, which seeks to leave out the subsection on the local planning authority complying with the direction, asks why this is necessary. If the Secretary of State gives direction, it must be complied with. That is axiomatic. It may be that there is, for this purpose, a difference between a direction and a regulation or a prescription. Perhaps the Minister can say. I would not have dreamed of failing to comply with a direction from the Secretary of State, but obviously those who have drafted this Bill think that it might happen.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

The Secretary of State can direct changes to a scheme only once. Only when the local planning authority submits a further scheme would he able to use his powers of direction again. Amendment No. 87 would require the local planning authority to specify in its local development scheme—in addition to the matters listed in Clause 14(2)—the assistance of any other local authority whose area comprises any part of the areas of the local planning authority. In practice, that means county councils.

Amendment No. 88A would restrict the power of the Secretary of State to set a deadline for each local planning authority to submit its scheme to him in regulation or by direction. The deadline would have to be at least two years after commencement of Part 2. Amendment No. 89 would require the local planning authority to send a copy of its local development scheme to any such an authority as well as to the regional planning body or, in the case of London boroughs, the Mayor.

Amendment No. 89A would give the regional planning body, or the Mayor, a power to make representations on the local planning authority's local development scheme. Amendment No. 90 would set an eight-week deadline for the Secretary of State, and, as has been said, Amendment No. 89B would set a 12-week deadline. Amendment No. 90A would remove the requirement for the local planning authority to comply with the direction.

The scheme, as I said, is essentially a project plan. It will set out, for example, what local development documents the local planning authority proposes to prepare and what they will cover—the subject matter and the area; which of those the local planning authority proposes should be development plan documents, which will make clear which are not development plan documents—I refer to the definition of the groups of documents that I gave earlier; whether any of the documents are to be prepared jointly with another local planning authority or county council through a joint committee, as is provided for; and the planned timetable for preparing the documents.

It is important that county councils have an input into local planning, but the question is whether a requirement in primary legislation to specify in the local development scheme assistance for county councils is sensible or helpful. Agreement to form a joint committee under Clause 28—we have not got there yet—will be a major factor, based on a clear agreement and given effect by an order made by the Secretary of State. It is important to include it in the local development scheme.

With regard to assistance, neither district councils nor county councils would benefit from the requirement that Amendment No. 87 would impose. What would happen if it were sensible for the county council to do something more than or different from what was envisaged when the local planning authority was settling its scheme? Amendment No. 87 would be a barrier to county/district co-operation and partnership. I am sure that that is not what is intended.

We will not succeed in speeding up plan making, if the Secretary of State cannot set a sensible, practical deadline for a local planning authority to submit its local development scheme. Restricting it to at least two years after commencement, as Amendment No. 88A would do, would leave local planning authorities and communities in limbo and delay the new planning arrangements. In draft regulations, we propose a six-month deadline. That strikes the right balance between moving the process forward and allowing local planning authorities time.

We do not agree that the Bill should require the local planning authority to send a copy of its local development scheme, at the time that it submits it to the Secretary of State, to county councils as well as the regional planning body or the mayor. It is right for the regional planning body and the mayor to have a copy because of their responsibilities for plan making and assessing general conformity in the two-tier system that we are establishing. We do not agree that the project plan should be delayed, while they make representations, as proposed by Amendment No. 89A. They get a copy of the scheme to help them plan their work. County councils will have an interest and a view, and we believe that district councils will want to discuss their local development schemes with them in draft. Amendment No. 89 would not encourage those discussions, which will need to be at a much earlier stage, not once the scheme is submitted to the Secretary of State. Once the scheme has come into effect, it will be publicly available on the local planning authority's website and for inspection at its offices.

Amendments Nos. 89B and 90 would limit the time that the Secretary of State had to consider the draft local schemes, as I said, to 12 or eight weeks. Amendment No. 90A would mean that the local planning authority did not need to comply with a direction from the Secretary of State.

We need the local development scheme to tackle the serious problems of delay in the current system, under which it can take over five years and as many as 10 years to put a plan in place. People know that that happens. There are enormous delays with getting a plan in place. Some local authorities may propose a set of local development documents that is not adequate or propose an unacceptably slow timetable for preparing it. The Secretary of State's power to direct changes to an authority's local development scheme would be used only as a last resort; it is a long stop. Authorities will need to have discussions on the draft scheme with the relevant government office at an early stage. We expect problems to be resolved without the need to use the last resort of a direction. As with one or two other parts of the Bill, the powers are there only to be used as a last resort, and they are not planned as the first line of action. We do not want to use them.

We want schemes to be up and running quickly, so that authorities can get on with their work. That should normally happen four weeks after the Secretary of State receives a scheme from the local planning authority. We will set out in regulations that the Secretary of State will have four weeks to consider the local planning authority's scheme once it has been submitted. The scheme will come into effect if the Secretary of State tells the local planning authority during this period that he does not intend to direct the local planning authority to make changes; or the local authority does not hear from the Secretary of State during this period; or the Secretary of State directs the local planning authority to make changes to the scheme and the local planning authority complies with it; or the Secretary of State withdraws it. The scheme will get cracking—get going—with no undue delay.

The Secretary of State may give the authority notice that he needs more time to consider the scheme. That may be necessary if the submitted scheme does not contain all the information that he needs in order to make a decision. That would also be quite exceptional. The notice will say how much more time the Secretary of State needs. It would be wrong artificially to time limit how long this could be, but we are not talking about long delays. We want to get cracking.

The safeguard would not work, of course, if the local planning authority did not have to comply with the direction. The provisions in the Bill and the regulations ensure that the vital planning document is robust and sets a timetable in which people can have confidence, while keeping the burdens on authorities and bureaucracy to a minimum. I know that we are getting into the detail of the operation of the documents, but there are a clear set of rules to be followed without undue delay. The Secretary of State does not want to interfere any more than is absolutely necessary, because these decisions are much better made at the local level, and not in Whitehall. I therefore hope that the noble Lords will not pursue the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

I may have missed making my point because I am flagging, and I am sure that the Minister is too. If he missed the point of the last of my amendments, I am not surprised. The amendment does not seek to take away the Secretary of State's power of direction. It was to ask why it is necessary to provide that the local planning authority must comply with the direction. I do not understand the significance of this, when it does not say that one has to comply with the regulation or follow something that is prescribed. I am perfectly happy not to pursue that at this point.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

I speak only from memory. That form of words appears in a great deal of legislation. I suspect that the parliamentary draftsmen and lawyers need that form of words just to lock it down so that there is no doubt. It is not specific just to this particular issue. If there is any doubt about that, I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness between now and next Tuesday just in case the matter can be raised while we are still on this part of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I thank the Minister for his reply to all those amendments. But I do think that he made pretty heavy weather of it. We were asking for it to be placed in the Bill that the local plans had to go back to the county councils and, in particular, to the other bodies involved so that they had copies of them. We were not looking at anything very sinister. I may be called cynical, but sometimes the Secretary of State needs deadlines within which to operate.

The Secretary of State will have to be the Secretary of State plus a great many other people making decisions. If all these plans go to him personally, he will be swamped. I suspect that there will be many people in the department or Government Offices to look at these plans and, if there are directions to be made, to advise the Secretary of State that he has got to make that direction. There is room for time slippage in this. It would do the Secretary of State no harm to have a time limit. If eight weeks is no good, I shall agree to 12 weeks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 88 to 90A not moved.]

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Minerals and waste development scheme]:

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Clause 15 agreed to.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.