My Lords, at the start I shall apologise for my voice. I hope that it will last as I have quite a lot of speaking to do today.
As noble Lords will recall from Committee, the amendment would require that the Government put on the face of the Bill a measure to ensure that regional spatial strategies include statements of community involvement. We had a worthwhile discussion on the amendment on the first day in Committee but it was somewhat overshadowed by the vote immediately preceding it.
What was particularly interesting was how much we all agreed. We agreed on the principle of the aim of the amendment to ensure the involvement and consultation of communities in the process of revising regional spatial strategies. We also broadly agreed on the practicalities, although we did not discuss that in much depth. Thus, the only point of difference that remained was the question of how much detail would be on the face of the Bill. That is the particular point that I want to pursue today.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stated that the Government would guarantee community involvement in the RSS process by detailing the requirements of consultation in regulations; that is, secondary legislation. Our attention was also drawn to the draft planning policy statement on regional planning, PPS11, which sets out what a regional consultation should look like.
However, as helpful as the Minister's replies were—we were grateful to receive a detailed list of all the relevant bodies that the regional planning body must consult—the fact is the Minister could not justify the Government's reluctance to put this measure on the face of the Bill. Specifically, he was not able to justify the Government's position on two related questions. Those were and remain, first, why are the Government putting in Clause 18 a statutory requirement for local planning authorities to prepare statements of community involvement and yet are legislating for such a requirement for regional planning bodies only via secondary legislation? Secondly, why do the Government resist such a small number of words which would demonstrate their commitment to democracy at all levels of governance, especially when they have embraced the aim of the amendment?
I regret to say that the Minister's responses to those questions were less illuminating than is customary for him. For that reason I am trying to be as clear as possible in asking those questions again. I do not dispute that most of the details of how to secure community involvement in the RSS process are best left to guidance and regulations. Nor do I dispute that the regional spatial strategy will be quite different from the local development plan and therefore will require different processes in its preparation, including the process of securing community and stakeholder participation. But accepting these two points in no way lets the Government off the hook.
Despite the fact that we have made some strong progress in terms of the Bill's provisions regarding accountability, I believe that we should still be seeking to give the proposed changes much more robust democratic credentials. The proposed system needs to be less top-down and more bottom-up.
This short amendment will go a long way towards achieving that aim. It would help emphasise and guarantee the continued centrality of democratic engagement to the planning system in this country. The message to regional planning bodies would be clear: regional planning may be less local than structure plans or local plans, but as a process it is no less obliged to secure meaningful involvement.
As I previously said, according to research conducted by the Local Government Association, 95 per cent of planning authorities said it would not be easy to secure meaningful community involvement in regional planning. Thus, given the obvious concerns of the community of professional planners about how community involvement will be achieved, it is vital that the Government send the signal that securing community participation is an essential part of the regional planning process.
The amendment is nine words long. Thus, we can hardly be accused of overburdening the Bill with unnecessary detail. I think we all agree that securing meaningful participation will represent a positive aim for the new system to try to achieve. If we value this as highly as I think we do, and as I think we should, a statement of community involvement must be included in the RSS and this must be legislated for on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, our Amendment No. 31 is in this group. We very much support the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. We have chosen, however, to try and express the issue in Clause 6 and at somewhat greater length than has the noble Lord—although I recognise that that is not always a matter for congratulation in this House.
Our amendment proposes that not only must the regional planning body prepare a statement of community involvement, but before it does so it should also consult people whom it thinks have an interest in matters relating to the development and use of land within its region, and it states:
"The statement of community involvement is a statement of the authority's policy as to the involvement in the exercise of the body's functions under", the relevant sections of the Bill. The Minister is likely to tell us—because he will be consistent—that the amendment is unnecessary; that it is covered in regulations; and that we should not put more provisions on the face of the Bill. In Committee, he said that such an amendment would not add value. I accept that it might not add value to the Government's policy and aims, but I believe that it would add value to the legislation.
If the Bill when enacted lasts for as long as have previous major pieces of legislation regarding town and country planning, this Government are unlikely to be the Government for the whole of its tenure.
The draft regulations require the regional planning body to consult such of the "general consultation bodies" as it considers appropriate and, indeed, require a statement on consultation. The "general consultation bodies"—and they are bodies and not individuals—are voluntary bodies, which represent racial, ethnic and national groups in the region, different religious groups, the interests of disabled persons and business interests. I suspect that that is not a catchall. I wondered first about amenity groups, but I daresay they come within voluntary bodies.
What about, for instance, education? The Minister may say that that is not a spatial matter—at any rate not at regional level. But I wonder whether that is actually so, especially when one thinks about higher and tertiary levels and skills training, and, as I have said, the provision relates to bodies and not individuals. There seems to be no place in this thinking for individuals to contribute.
We are keen that the new planning arrangements and their outcome are, to use the jargon, "owned" by the communities, which they should be designed to serve. The communities, of course, are made up of individuals who may express themselves sometimes through bodies but at times as individuals.
The Government may know that they will always require a statement in such an approach, but do not trust the local authorities to provide a statement of community involvement without including it in primary legislation. So, do they trust all future governments?
I know that it is not easy to collect and collate views at regional level, but planning requires a lot of public trust; and the more remote it is the less is the trust. I have referred to the draft regulations, but I think that the annex to the consultation paper is splendid in this regard on community involvement. It states that "community" means,
"all those who have an interest in and a contribution to make . . . individuals as well as local authorities and bodies representing various interest groups. [It means] more than the provision of information and the invitation to respond . . . It should mean the opportunity to participate in shaping the RSS revision".
"The benefits of this include giving the community an element of ownership"—
I did not realise when I previously used the term that it was actually in the consultation document—
"thereby increasing the chances of successful implementation".
The paper says that community involvement,
"should be project managed in the same way as the rest of the RSS revision process, to which it is integral".
It talks about identifying the anticipated resource cost, the responsibilities for managing the process, and so on.
Today we had the announcement of the consultation on the new PPS1—Planning Policy Statement 1. The news release from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister states:
"PPS1 also makes clear community involvement in the planning system is crucial".
I am sure it does. I admit to not yet having read the draft that has been released. It continues:
"Effective community involvement requires processes for informing peoples about policies and proposals in good time; enabling communities to put forward their own ideas and participate in developing proposals and options; consultation on formal proposals; and feedback".
That expresses the issue beautifully, so let us have it in the Bill.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friends will take very seriously the issues being put forward. For me there is an issue of joined-up political thinking. Currently, we are spending a good deal of time in this House considering how we can re-engage a wider proportion of the electorate in the political system—making the voting processes more accessible; and trying to get a higher participation in those processes.
It is difficult to think of many issues that affect more people more significantly than planning issues in terms of the whole character of the area where they live. I believe that what is sometimes referred to as the alienation of the public about the political process is, in fact, a feeling that, in the end, it is not worth trying to do anything because, inevitably, the powers that be will prevail. Considering all that the Government are doing in other spheres, I cannot conceive that they do not believe deeply that it is very important for people to feel empowered and able to be significant in the evolution of policy. To relegate how that is to happen in this context to regulations seems to me to miss an opportunity. To have on the face of the Bill the fact that community engagement and involvement can be an important part of a democratic society would have provided a stronger position.
I accept the Government's commitment in that direction and their intention. I do not accuse them in any way of bad faith. Therefore, if there is a vote on this amendment, I shall not vote against the Government. However, I feel sad that an opportunity to include, in very specific terms, a statement on the face of the Bill that reasserts the importance of the community in this crucial matter is being missed.
My Lords, I fully accept the reason for returning to this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, politely said that in Committee the subject came up just after a vote—the first defeat of the Government this year. I have here all the arguments that I rehearsed in Committee, which clearly did not impact in any way on the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or my noble friend Lord Judd, so I shall not use any of those. I shall turn to the last page of my brief.
It goes without saying that we are absolutely committed to proper community involvement and consultation in regional plan making. We remain to be convinced about adding to the Bill in the way that the amendments propose, but in view of the depth and substance of the debate today, I shall take these amendments away and seriously consider whether we can find a way of meeting the desire. My noble friend said that trust is a key point and that the powers that be always get what they want. I shall take the matter away and return at Third Reading with something that will satisfy the House.
There has to be a test: whether the powers will provide additional safeguards, generate more community involvement, and restore or improve the trust of people. We believe that we have in place means to do that in a secure way—we have been sincere throughout. In view of today's debate and the fact that I have no arguments other than those that I used in Committee, it would be superfluous to use them again because they did not make an impact. I do not think this will cost us a great deal but it could have a major impact. Therefore, we shall take the matter away, give it serious consideration and hope to satisfy the House at Third Reading.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his support. As I said, there appears to be much agreement on this matter, and very few words to add to the Bill, but they would give much reassurance to many people in what is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, a new planning system that one imagines will last a long while. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will return with something quickly as we shall want to consider our strategy for the future. I accept what he has said today, but I hope that we do not have to wait until Third Reading. Perhaps he could let us know the Government's thinking before we get to Third Reading. If he can give me that assurance, I will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am conscious that in the past few days I have flooded noble Lords and colleagues with paperwork, trying to answer the points that they made previously. Part of the motive was to avoid long speeches at Report stage, and part of it was to give information and explanation of issues that were raised in Committee and to give advance warning of what the Government propose to do with amendments as far in advance as possible. Naturally, that applies to what I have just said regarding the community involvement in relation to the two amendments in this group.
My Lords, on this amendment we revisit the Government's justification for the policies that the regional spatial strategy will contain. As before, this amendment would change the nature and content of the regional spatial strategy. The RSS would have regard to the Secretary of State's policies rather than simply setting them out. We believe that the amendment is necessary because if the Government are determined to establish regional planning in the form of regional spatial strategies, they must allow RSSs to be fully owned by regional planning bodies.
As I have said previously, it is not unreasonable to interpret Clause 2 as conceiving a regional spatial strategy as nothing more than a planning document which sets out the Secretary of State's policy agenda for a particular region. The amendment is aimed at freeing up the regional planning bodies via regional spatial strategies from being simply the mouthpiece of Whitehall policy. The amendment addresses the concern expressed by many interested parties that unless there are changes to the way that regional spatial strategies are established in legislation, there will be no space for local accountability as planning policy is implemented on the ground.
Of course, we recognise the importance of the Government's role in giving strategic leadership to the planning system. We do not understand why the RSS must set out the Secretary of State's policies in relation to the development and use of land within a region. Why can it not set out its own policies while having regard to the framework of national policy? Is it not obvious that if one is to set up regional planning bodies, they should be accountable for their own policies rather than for the Secretary of State's policies?
It is vital that we bolster the capacity of regional planning bodies to respond to local conditions. At the moment this legislation simply fails to recognise the enormous differences and variations between and within regions in current land use and development and future needs. As it stands, Clause 2(2) would lead to the accelerated fossilisation of regional spatial strategies because they would constantly have to keep up with the rate at which new demands emanate from Whitehall in order to satisfy the requirement to set out the Secretary of State's policies.
If the Government are serious about devolving power to the regions and about devolution, how can they square that with a policy that makes regional planning bodies, even after the establishment of elected regional assemblies, simply the agents of Whitehall and Westminster? Not only is democratic accountability being sucked out of the system by transferring powers upwards, away from counties, but it also leaks out at the regional level. As I said, regional planning bodies may find themselves accountable for policies that they do not support and over which they can exercise no control.
In the brave new world of devolution and elected regional assemblies, one cannot simply transfer the old accountabilities on to the new regional structure. The regional spatial strategy should not be a vehicle for simply setting out government policy; it should be a strategic vision that meets the planning needs of local communities. Their elected representatives should agree it. Of course regional spatial strategies will still have to have regard, as I said before, to the Government's priorities, which is accepted. The amendment maintains that important dimension.
The amendment ensures that regional spatial strategies are permitted the necessary flexibility to respond to conditions in their areas. It would go a small way towards restoring a better balance between local accountability and central control. By establishing regional planning bodies' ownership of the regional spatial strategy and removing a key mechanism by which the Secretary of State can exert total central control over regional planning, the amendment reasserts the principle of democratic accountability as being fundamental to an effective planning system. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. I looked back to see what the Minister said on this issue in Committee, and I must say that it was a little difficult to relate his remarks—which were to a group of amendments—to this point. I confess that I have struggled with this subsection and whether by altering it we would in any way affect the potential vacuum to which the Minister drew our attention at the last stage, if the regional planning guidance did not morph straight into the regional spatial strategy. I do not think that that is so, but it is significant that the provision is in Clause 2, which is essentially the clause that sets us off down the road of regional spatial strategies and will remain in there. This is the Secretary of State top-down from the top of the Bill.
Our concern is to get the right balance of observance of national policies, so there is an issue of the extent to which they can be debated, given the form that they take. We must get the balance right between national policies and local and regional interests. I include localities and local areas because they must be in conformity with the regional spatial strategy. The interests run all the way up and down society.
This is the Secretary of State top-down from the top of the Bill. We made that point time and time again, probably to the point of tedium, at the last stage. The fact that we will not make it on every amendment this time does not mean to say that the issue has gone away. We support the amendment.
My Lords, I am not sure that I followed what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. There seemed to be an assumption in what he said about devolution that this was the Secretary of State always getting his own way. I will make this absolutely clear—under our present governance arrangements, the Secretary of State has regional planning policies. He is accountable for them both now and under the changed system. However, if there were elected regional assemblies cutting out this function, the Secretary of State would not need any regional spatial policies. The issue of devolution means that you remove completely the Secretary of State's role—it would be for the regional planning body. This assumption that it is the Secretary of State all the while, even with devolution, is simply not true. If there has been a misunderstanding about that, I apologise. I obviously did not explain it clearly in Committee, but that is the reality. This is not an issue of the Secretary of State running riot.
Furthermore, when the regional planning bodies prepare revisions of the regional planning guidance now and of spatial strategies in the future, under the present arrangement—without an elected regional assembly—because they know better than Whitehall, if they wish to depart and divert from national policy and make the case for that in the examination in public, they are free to do so. Obviously, Ministers who then reach a view on the final form of the policies must take into account the case made in the panel report. It would not be possible, even if the examination in public came down in favour of the regional planning board deviating from national planning policy, for the Minister to then say, "No, I have got my own policy". That would be an unreasonable, irrational approach by the Minister, which would be subject to my learned friends in judicial review.
There is an underlying assumption in this amendment and in both the speeches that we have just heard that this is the Secretary of State laying down the rules and laying down the laws, whether or not there is devolution. That is simply not the case.
My Lords, yes, but as I have just said—we are talking about two different sets of circumstances here. If it is the case that there are devolved elected regional assemblies, the Secretary of State will not have any regional planning policies anyway. There will not be anything at the centre for the Secretary of State to have. The way in which the Bill is drafted covers both those sets of circumstances. Whether there are elected regional assemblies is a matter for the people to choose, initially in the three regions that we have all talked about, later this year. The fact is that he would not have a role to play, because he would not need any regional spatial policies in the first place, because they would be in the ownership of an elected regional assembly.
I make that absolutely clear, in case there is any doubt about this at all. We do not think that this is a straitjacket approach, which is the view that has been raised about the negation of democracy. That simply is not the case. The planning bodies still have the freedom to set it out, and I am not looking at a particular part of the Bill, but the Secretary of State cannot act on a whim or a hunch. He must act rationally. If he does not, he is subject to challenge in the courts. He cannot simply dismiss reports or dismiss evidence. I have given an example. If the panel report came out in favour of a departure from the national plan that the regional planning body had made, it would be difficult in those circumstances, unless they were most exceptional, for Minister to override. Their decision would have to be made in the light of the panel report. It is not a question of them simply dismissing this. Therefore, we do not think that this amendment is necessary.
I have a couple of paragraphs that would be worth putting on the record, for the avoidance of any doubt later on, and for those who follow our proceedings. It will only be a short one. I have made the point that the two arguments in the two speeches are based on a false premise. Our fundamental approach is that the regions need planning policies that are specific to the circumstances in each region. The provisions in Clause 2(2)—which is what this amendment seeks to change—specify that regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's spatial strategies. This has been described as a straitjacket and a negation of democracy. It has also been argued that it is inconsistent with the provisions in the Bill that provide for the first regional spatial strategy for each region to be such regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State prescribes. There is another debate about that later on, so I will not go into detail.
We must be clear about the relationship between the Secretary of State's national planning policies and the regional spatial strategies. Clause 6 requires regional planning bodies to have regard to national policies in preparing a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy. That relationship is also true of the regional planning guidance. We want the regional planning bodies to articulate in the regional spatial strategy the spatial vision of what the region will look like at the end of the period of the strategy. That vision will be unique to that region and will not replicate other regions or be a subset of the national picture. The regional planning bodies will have the freedom to set out the policies that will work in their region to turn the vision into reality. The national planning policies are there to provide a framework, not a straitjacket. As I have said, in the case of devolution, where there is an elected regional assembly, if it is playing that role and that is its intention, the Secretary of State would not need any regional spatial strategies anyway. Game, set and match. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As always, he is beguiling in his answers and tries to confuse the issue. He was crafty in his reply.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we do not want to keep repeating throughout Report stage that the Bill is top-down, instead of bottom-up, and that the ODPM seems to be the only planner in the country. I was grateful for the Minister's answer. There were two scenarios: one with an elected regional assembly and one without. The Minister spoke about both, and it was interesting to hear what he said about the situation if there were an elected regional assembly. Going by what he said, he should not mind at all if the words in the Bill were changed from "must set out" to "shall have regard to". He gave an answer that I could have given, so we must test the feeling of the House on the issue.
My Lords, with this amendment we return to the issue of how the regional spatial strategy will fit and interrelate with other strategies in the region. Although our amendment makes reference only to the strategy of the regional development agency, because of the importance we attach to the relationship between spatial planning and economic planning, we are certainly not precluding ourselves from supporting the idea that the regional spatial strategy should provide the spatial framework for other regional strategies.
The draft PPS11 states:
"It is essential that the regional spatial strategy both shapes and is shaped by other regional strategies".
As a bland statement of how regional strategies would relate to one another in an ideal world, this would be clear and uncontroversial. However, given that this is not the case—I think here particularly of the examples put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when we discussed this previously—we are concerned that the Government's policy is based on little more than wishful thinking. To that extent, we are arguing for a more robust approach to this issue by the Government. By extension, we do not believe that regulations would adequately demonstrate the Government's commitment to regional spatial strategies being truly spatial frameworks.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, indicated that I supported the idea of a hierarchy of regional strategies, with the regional spatial strategy being pre-eminent. That was an understandable interpretation of my arguments, but my intention with this amendment is less concerned with establishing hierarchies than it is with bringing a bit of realism to the Government's thinking on this issue.
Let me be clear. This is not about regional planning bodies controlling what regional development agencies can do. It is simply a question of recognising the potential for conflict between the two and ensuring that the regional spatial strategy is exactly that—regional, spatial and strategic—which it will not be if it does not set the spatial framework for the strategies of the regional development agency in its region.
As it stands, the Bill is silent on how all these various regional strategies will relate to each other. That seems to me to be a recipe for confusion. Furthermore, regional strategies are not automatically supportive of and consistent with one another—a point, as I have said, well illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, in Committee.
If we are to have RSSs, it is important that the different regional strategies are integrated and co-ordinated and that provision is made for this in the Bill. If it is left to guidance, the mechanism by which we can deliver joined-up policies at the regional level will remain unclear and will not be subject to proper debate in Parliament.
The drawing-up of planning responsibilities from counties to regional planning bodies in this Bill reinforces the importance of having one overarching spatial framework at the regional level. I do not believe in the utopian vision that all the regional strategies are somehow reflecting and correlating with one another. I think that there will be more conflict than the Government believe there will be, and it is only right that the professionals on the ground know where they stand when it arises. I beg to move.
"It is essential that the regional spatial strategy both shapes and is shaped by other regional strategies".
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said—and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield has referred to this—that we were seeking to put the regional spatial strategy at the top of a hierarchy. That is not so. What we are seeking to do is to set a spatial framework for other strategies which are not in themselves spatial, or not primarily spatial. He said that the regional spatial strategy—going through all this is rather like trying to say "she sells seashells"!—takes forward the regional housing strategy; that the regional transport strategy is part and parcel of the regional spatial strategy; and that, if there is an inconsistency, there will be an opportunity to iron it out. He said,
"The documents are published; they are there for consultation. In a sense, the other regional strategies get pulled into the spatial strategy and that is the overriding driver for it".—[Official Report, 20/1/04; col. 998.]
That, my Lords, makes the case.
My Lords, the argument is a very major but a very simple one. Basically, the whole planning system is intended to see that the country and the countryside are not wrecked. Ultimately, it is the spatial strategy which must take that very long-term view. It is absolutely right that other developments do fit in with it. That is why I strongly support this amendment.
There are plenty of examples of where there have been desirable regional goals which actually would be very harmful in the long-term interests of the country, but I will not take the time of the House listing them. I hope that, by accepting this amendment, we will be enshrining the long-term future of the countryside.
My Lords, could I take up with the Minister a question which I raised by means of a Written Question on
In her reply, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said,
"For planning purposes, the provision of land for burial is currently considered to be a local, rather than regional, land use issue".
She also said that the consultation paper which has now been issued by the Government,
"seeks views on whether the provision of burial grounds should be linked to the local core strategy development plan, outlined in planning policy statement 12: local development frameworks. Such plans should cover a period of at least 10 years".—[Official Report, 12/2/04; col. WA 174.]
The provision of land for burial is already a serious problem in many areas of the country, and may become more so in the future when many of the minority communities in this country want to stick to burial rather than to move towards cremation. Therefore, demographers should be able to predict what is the regional requirement for burial grounds over a period of 15 years, and that should then feed into the local development plan.
That is a case where a regional framework is needed and where the Government's consultation paper on burial law and policy in the 21st century has got it wrong. It is not meshing correctly with the current proposals for legislation in the planning field.
My Lords, I have to admit that I have not come briefed on burial law, but I am pleased to note that there is a consultation paper. Therefore, this is a matter on which Ministers have not made a final decision.
On the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about protecting the countryside, the regional spatial strategy is that under which the plan-led system protects the countryside. Anyone would think that everything had been hunky-dory up to now. I can remember looking at some figures when I was at MAFF: in a six-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a quarter of the hedgerows disappeared. That changed the face of the countryside. People may say that everything has been okay up to now, the countryside has been protected and the Bill is wrecking things, but that is far from being the case.
My Lords, I am simply saying that the idea that everything has been hunky-dory up to now and the countryside has been protected is nonsense, as that one point shows. I deprecate that, anyway. I was talking about the late 1980s and early 1990s, by the way, when the despoliation of the countryside was obviously financed by the previous government, although I do not want to go into that. I am simply making the point that the countryside has not been protected up to now.
I digress because, by and large, as we said in Committee, we are very supportive of the amendment. The principle expressed in it has our strong support. However, as with one or two other areas, at this point, we do not think the Bill is the right place for an imprecisely defined statement. Whether it could be refined, I do not know—I am not making any commitment.
We think it absolutely right that the regional spatial strategy should set the spatial framework for the regional economic strategy, but this is part of a two-way process. The spatial strategy needs to be shaped by the regional economic strategy as well as shaping it. We think that the way in which the amendment is drafted implies a hierarchical relationship, with the regional spatial strategy at the top. We do not think that is the right way forward. Perhaps we are misunderstanding the purpose, but our view is that the way in which the amendment is drafted would create a hierarchical relationship.
The regions need a joined-up approach; the regional spatial strategy and the regional economic strategy both serve a different role and function, but the one helps create the other. The relationship between the regional planning body and the regional development agency should properly be one between equals. That would not be the case if we accepted the narrow wording of the amendment. It can be a relationship in which there are different points of view reflecting the different purposes of the strategies, but that does not mean that they will necessarily contradict one another.
It is essential is that these bodies—and, indeed, the other bodies that have to work together drawing up key regional strategies—work together to develop a shared understanding of the issues, objectives and opportunities in a particular region. It will be different in each region, as we emphasised in draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning. This is already happening: in Yorkshire and the Humber, for example, joint stakeholder consultations events were organised by the regional planning body and the regional development agency during the recent review of both strategies.
From a practical point of view, people on the front line are making a reality of things. We do not think we need such a provision in the Bill, as it would give a hierarchical view. The amendment is simply not needed, certainly not in its current form. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. I shall reflect on his comments about the hedgerows. It is a classic example of what we are concerned about in the Bill. The Secretary of State at the time had so much power that he could remove the hedgerows. If we gave any Secretary of State as much power in this planning legislation, bizarre things might happen in the future. The Minister has given a classic example of why we are trying to change the Bill. He has made our arguments about the Secretary of State for us, and we will remind him of that throughout the remainder of the Bill's proceedings.
I will give an example, my Lords. First, that happened not under this Government but under the previous one. Secondly, there are 30,000 more hectares in the green belt today than we inherited from the previous government in 1997. We need no lessons in that respect—we have a good record.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will accept that the Secretary of State at that time thought he was doing the right thing, but future generations have reflected on that. There should have been more debate about it at the time, which is what we want to ensure in this Bill. We want to make certain that no one can do anything without a good debate, considering the various points of view before arriving at any planning policies.
I do not want to create any hierarchies—that is not the purpose of the amendment. In my own region, the potential development of Stansted airport is a tremendous economic factor in the eastern region, but it must be tied in with the planning and spatial strategies.
The Minister seems to agree that bodies must work together to make the various strategies happen. I hope that he will reflect on this before Third Reading, as we need clarity before finalising the Bill, and that we can have a further debate on it then. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 14, at end insert—
(3B) The sub-regional plans referred to in subsection (3A) shall be prepared by the authorities falling within section 5(1) if their area or any part of their area is in the defined sub-region."
My Lords, we return to a major set of amendments that are concerned with ensuring that counties and other strategic planning authorities have a stronger role to play in the planning process.
Although I welcomed the Government's concessions in Committee on the role of county councils and other authorities, fundamentally I do not believe they have gone far enough. I think I am supported in that belief by many of your Lordships, by most interested outside organisations and by planners.
Amendment No. 9 would put on the face of the Bill a statutory role for strategic planning authorities in the formulation of sub-regional strategies for their area. It is slightly different from Amendment No. 4, and certainly more extensive.
Throughout our deliberations, our approach has been to attempt to make the best of a bad job. We do not believe that the proposals brought before the House in Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill will improve the planning system.
One of the main areas of concern identified in earlier stages of debate, in this House and the other place, has been the wide gap between regional spatial strategies and local development. There is a yawning void created by removing structure plans from the process. It will create a serious problem for effective sub-regional planning and the co-ordination of transport, housing and infrastructure at the sub-regional scale.
The Government have attempted to paper over the crack by proposing that regional spatial strategies should include policies for sub-regions, but it is doubtful whether these will be sufficiently detailed to provide more than broad guidance about development strategy at the sub-regional scale. Furthermore, because they would be produced as an integral part of the regional spatial strategy, there will be a lack of flexibility about when the sub-regional policies can be updated. The fact that there will not be comprehensive coverage will leave some areas without a clear sub-regional strategy to guide development and infrastructure investment. In my own county, we have the Thames Gateway, with clear strategies—we have the developing M11 corridor, with possibly more houses to be built up the A12 than anywhere else. Clearly there will be no sub-regional strategy for these areas, and it is a recipe for chaos.
The draft PPS11, on which the Government have been consulting, stresses that planning issues are not necessarily contained within county boundaries. The point becomes doubly evident at the district scale. There are many examples—I think particularly of some in my own country of Essex, such as Harlow, where the expansion of a largely urban district, with tightly constrained boundaries, can take place only in adjoining districts. These will not necessarily be included within the main sub-regions identified at RSS level. How will authorities plan the development of such areas in a joined-up way without some form of sub-regional planning?
Clauses 28 and 29 provide for adjoining local authorities to produce joint local development documents and for joint committees to be established to assist that process. However, I am sceptical about how many districts will voluntarily join together to produce local development documents on a joint basis. The provisions in this Bill for joint local development documents will not plug the gap in sub-regional planning. Simply put, the proposals do not grasp the full range of sub-regional planning nor the way it is delivered on the ground.
We have already had much debate about the way in which this Bill marginalises county councils from the planning process, despite the fact that they are responsible for the majority of local services in two-tier areas, some of which are crucial to the delivery of sustainable patterns of development—highways and transportation being the most prominent. However, the Government recognised that, and we welcome amending the old Clause 4, which is now Clause 5, to give county councils a statutory role to advise the regional planning body on the preparation of RSS, although we still believe that the Government underestimate the importance of the role of county councils in strategic planning. I am sure that we will return to this issue later today.
I now return to the point of Amendment No. 4. The Government's amendments in Committee did not adequately address the crucial role of county councils in sub-regional planning. The purpose of this amendment is to plug the gap at sub-regional level by providing for the preparation of sub-regional plans, led by the strategic planning authorities as part of the RSS. It should not be interpreted as an attempt to reintroduce structure plans by the back door. That is not the intention. Nor would it undermine the pre-eminence of the regional spatial strategy. The procedure can be flexible and efficient and will not add another tier to the process. It would give a clear and appropriate strategic planning role to county councils and other strategic planning authorities at sub-regional level. Ultimately, from my own experience, I am absolutely positive that the amendment would help the Government's own objectives for sustainable communities—no joke.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 would further strengthen the strategic planning authority role. It is important to reiterate that there will be no intervening fully democratic level of planning in this country between the district level and the Secretary of State unless we have elected regional assemblies all over England. That looks extremely unlikely to happen—I hope that it does not—at least in the short term. We have an enormous structural gap in the planning system between districts and regions. Ministers must recognise that this will not tend to lead to effective planning. Perhaps they think that they will be able to continue to rely on the strategic authorities for sub-regional planning support. That is not the case. Although there is a statutory role for sub-regional planning, the reality is that many authorities will shed staff that they can no longer afford in order to fulfil the Government's requirements. That would be a disaster.
The Minister gave us his assurance that county councils would not lose any money whatsoever, but they are losing their role in writing county structure plans, in sub-regional planning and associated responsibilities. Surely, there will be a gradual downgrading, even if it is not yet envisaged. That would be a disaster, because capacity in the planning system does not currently lie in the regional chambers or Government Offices. The strategic expertise, technical know-how and wealth of experience in strategic planning is based, not surprisingly, at strategic authority level. To disperse and get rid of that pool of expertise—which, as it currently stands, the Bill would surely do—would be a terrible waste of one of the most valuable resources in our planning system, and would hinder the Government in their objectives in delivering sustainable communities.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the success of sub-regional planning will be vital to achieving many of the demanding targets that the Government have set within their overarching sustainable communities policy framework. A statutory sub-regional dimension needs to be written into the Bill's provisions. As I said earlier, we doubt that the provisions for joint committees in Clauses 29 and 30 go far enough in this regard.
The strategic planning function of county councils is a precious resource. We cannot support legislation that treats the bulk of planning expertise in this country as an afterthought to local government reorganisation. The amendments ensure several problems with the legislation are addressed. They will strengthen the effective delivery of sub-regional planning, help preserve some measure of accountability within the proposed new system in the event that Clause 1 is eventually removed from the Bill, and offer more opportunities for public involvement. They will make the system more bottom up and less top down, will mean that counties will be less handicapped in integrating their transport, waste and minerals plans and will ensure that the capacity and expertise of the existing system are not lost. I beg to move.
My Lords, again, we are pleased to be able to support this amendment. We tabled an amendment at the last stage that drew attention to the importance of work at a sub-regional level. Our amendment was perhaps a little less prescriptive than this one and therefore a good deal less forceful. The criticisms of that amendment were that we—the criticisms were voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, but meant to refer to all of us—could not afford to see a proliferation of plans under the guise of sub-regional strategies that are poorly integrated and serve only to create confusion and uncertainty, which I understand. The various amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, meet that criticism, both providing for sub-regional plans to be put into place and providing for how they get there. That is an important part of the programme.
I do not think that it is necessary to weary the House by repeating arguments for the importance of a sub-regional as well as a regional approach. Common sense and noble Lords' experience in their own areas make it immediately clear that a gap or lacuna between the regional and district levels does not work well in practice. We support the amendments.
My Lords, I support the group of amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. In Committee we probed the Government's intention to make the present RPGs into a statutory format as regional spatial strategies. If the RSS is to be mandatory as far as local authorities are concerned, it is essential that the current tiers of local government should contribute to the formulation of sub-regional planning and that this co-operation should be stipulated in the Bill. It is not good enough for the RPB to make arrangements for county councils and other nominated authorities to enable them to discharge the appropriate functions outlined in Clause 5.
Amendment No. 9 changes the balance somewhat and makes the preparation of the RSS more inclusive for county councils and local authorities at the formulation of sub-regional plans. In the same way, it is important for the bodies mentioned in Amendment No. 10 also to have a role to play in the review and monitoring of the implementation of the RSS.
If the regional spatial strategy is to reflect local areas correctly—the Minister has already identified that it is important that the local area is properly considered—it is vital that county councils and the other authorities nominated in Amendment No. 9 are included at an early stage of the preparation of the strategy. Therefore, the making of sub-regional plans is an integral part of the process. They will be a subset of plans for the region, but important for all that. Therefore, I support the amendments.
My Lords, I am a bit surprised by the tone of the speeches on this issue. I believe that I am as well briefed as I can be, but I have seen nothing from the County Councils Network, for example, to say that it was dissatisfied with the major changes that the Government proposed to the Bill at Committee stage, which have now been included. As far as I know, the Local Government Association stands by its statements welcoming wholeheartedly the changes that took place. Nobody has referred to any specific note, letter, submission or representation, and I am not aware of anything from the county councils. I do not know whether this is a private enterprise operation on behalf of the bigwigs from local government who see their role under threat—although as I have repeatedly made clear, it is not under threat—or whether there has been full consultation with the rest of local government. I do not know, as nothing has been said in the three speeches that we have just heard, whether this measure is required and desired by the county councils in addition to the measure that the Government placed in the Bill at Committee stage. I am not at all clear why the amendment has been proposed.
I should also say, before I begin my response, that the Government are not responsible for the grouping of the amendments, and there is no way in which Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 could ever be considered consequential on Amendment No. 4. I am grateful for the wider debate, and all that, but there is no doubt about it: the new clauses in Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 and Amendment No. 4 deal with totally different things.
I shall give the Government's response, but I should be very grateful if in the future we could be told if an issue has arisen from the County Councils Network, as it would obviously help us. Frankly, we would like to know about it, as we have been trying to listen to people. This has been an issue since the Bill was published and since the Green Paper; I fully accept that. It is of key importance, and we believed that in the amendments that are now part of Clause 5 we had gone some considerable way to satisfying people—and had in fact satisfied them—on the issues that have been raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she did not want to put everything on the record. Indeed, we might as well just say, "Let's get to the vote", as it probably does not make a blind bit of difference what I am about to say. However, because I believe that the Government have a good case, I am determined to put the full note on the record, just for those outside this place. I feel a bit aggrieved about this proposal being introduced when there were no complaints following Committee stage.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister would like me to answer that point now. As a member of the County Councils Network, I have been made aware of all the negotiations that went on for several months. As I have said repeatedly, we welcome what the Government have introduced into the Bill, but it was not what the County Councils Network wanted in the beginning—it wanted much more. I am aware of the negotiations that went on, and what the County Councils Network and the LGA started off with was far more than what is proposed in this amendment. The amendment, which I shall explain again later, is totally supported by every county and every strategic planning authority that I know. It is where we wanted the negotiations to end rather than where they have ended. I repeat: we welcome the Government's amendment, but it is not exactly what we wanted.
My Lords, I hope that I have made it clear that I sincerely respect the role of the noble Lord in the county councils, as he is the leader of a major county council. However, he put a caveat on what he said, when he remarked that the amendment was supported by everyone he knew. In due course, I should like to know how far that goes. Is this the final frontier? Is this it, or do those outside want more? They may say to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, "Well, you tried, but you didn't go far enough as far as we're concerned".
As I have said, the Government have not received any representations in this regard, although the negotiations went on not just for months but for the best part of a year and a half. However, I shall plod on with my brief, irrespective of the consequences.
Amendment No. 4 would require the regional spatial strategy to include sub-regional plans for all parts of the region and for these to be prepared by such county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities and national park authorities any part of whose area is covered by the sub-region. Anyone would think that sub-regional strategies did not already take place. The classic example is the south Midlands/Milton Keynes area. That has a sub-regional strategy, covering as it does several district councils, two and a half county councils and touching as it does on the boundaries of three regions. A sub-regional strategy is taking place, so there is no problem in that regard and no problem about it taking place after the Bill becomes an Act. There is not an issue over sub-regional plans.
Regional spatial strategies will contain a new emphasis on sub-regions. As draft planning policy statement 11 makes clear, where sub-regional strategies are being drawn up, we would expect those authorities with strategic planning expertise in the area to take the lead on, or participate in, that work. However, we expect sub-regional strategies, in the sense of parts of the region having a distinct set of policies, to be the exception not the rule. Surely, that is a fair point. The whole point is to have sub-regional strategies where they are actually needed. The south Midlands/Milton Keynes example is a good one, and I have no doubt that others could be given. The Thames Gateway is another obvious example of where there is a sub-regional strategy, as again it covers three regions and two county councils, plus the GLA. Where they are needed, they can take place now and will be able to take place when the Bill is passed, but not all over the country—that is simply not needed.
We do not want to see a proliferation of plans, under the guise of sub-regional strategies. The noble Lord said that he did not want the structure plans back, but that is the underlying theme in proposing the amendment and making the kind of speeches that we have just heard. They imply that county councils want to continue their role, so there should be three levels of plan-making. That is what we are seeking to avoid. A two-tier planning system will be much easier to understand, and the ownership of the plans will be absolutely clear and unambiguous. That is very important. Otherwise, when we are faced with a strategic policy deficit, then sub-regional strategies will be prepared to deal with the specific growth or regeneration needs of an area. The three-tier system, which is what is being proposed in the amendment—let us make no bones about that—constrained as it has been by administrative boundaries, has sometimes failed to tackle sub-regional issues that are now for the first time beginning to be looked at in the revision of regional plans. The three-city area of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby in the east Midlands is just one example.
Amendment No. 9 is a new clause that would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities to advise not only regional planning bodies but also the Secretary of State and local planning authorities about strategic planning matters. The amendment would place a duty on those authorities to formulate sub-regional planning policy and provide for them to work jointly with other authorities or the regional planning body to do so. I hope that I have covered the sub-regional issue under Amendment No. 4. I would only add that we expect local authorities to work together under arrangements with the regional planning body to formulate sub-regional strategies for their area when they are needed. That includes the county councils. There is nothing in the Bill that restricts that happening. It can happen now and it will be able to happen under the Bill when it is passed.
We see no added value in county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities or national park authorities advising the Secretary of State on strategic planning matters as well as the regional planning body. Those authorities will make their voices heard anyway, through the regional spatial strategy revision process, and influence its outcome. It does not make sense for them to advise the Secretary of State independently of this. It would only result in more red tape, more paperwork, more cost and more bureaucracy. That is what is being proposed in the amendments—let us be quite honest and open about that.
The unitary, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities will be local planning authorities under the Bill and would be required to advise themselves under the amendment, while the role of the county councils in advising local planning authorities is already clearly defined in draft planning policy statement 12 and the regulations. There is also the option of the county council becoming a member of a joint committee to take on the role of preparing a local development document.
Amendment No. 10—the other new clause—would require the regional planning body to take advice from county councils, unitary authorities, the metropolitan district councils and the national park authorities on the preparation, review and monitoring of the implementation of the regional spatial strategy in relation to each region. The reappearance of this amendment is very surprising. The fact that it still refers to authorities in Clause 4(2) and not Clause 5(3) indicates that it has probably slipped through the net. It is a leftover from Committee stage. It seeks to fight old battles which the Government have in many ways accepted by our amendments in Committee. The amendment mirrors almost precisely what the amended Clause 5 already provides for. So we simply do not think it is necessary. Noble Lords have decided that the Government's concessions do not go far enough. However, as I said at the beginning, by no stretch of the imagination are Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 directly consequential on Amendment No. 4.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I think that everyone now accepts that we will have reasonable spatial strategies with planning policy being done at regional level. As the leader of Essex County Council, I am very much involved in the issue on a daily basis and, like the Minister, I want the system to work. If we are going to have an eastern regional policy, I want it to work.
I do not like to give examples from my own county. However, as I said in my initial remarks, Essex has both the A12 corridor and heavy congestion in Chelmsford. We are trying to establish a park and ride system in Chelmsford which involves several district councils and the development of the A12. It is not a matter for the regional spatial strategy but will involve several districts and Essex County Council. We are trying to ensure that the Bill provides the capacity to create sub-regional planning policies and the strategies to deliver. The county council has just completed the biggest single PFI road project, on the A130 from Southend to Chelmsford. That is of no interest at all to Norfolk, Peterborough, Suffolk and Cambridge. The new system will have to provide the capacity to deliver such developments.
I am sad that the Minister thinks we are trying to handicap such a capacity. We are trying to improve the situation by enabling the new regional system to deliver such developments. We accept that that is going to happen, and we are trying to make it work. Earlier, I quoted the example of Harlow, which, if it is to expand, will have to expand into other districts. That case might involve a UDC because it concerns the M11 corridor. I could cite other parts of Essex, such as Haven Gateway, from where the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, originates, which is one of the most deprived areas in our county. I have a lot of time for that area. We need a strategy for it, but it is not covered by a government initiative.
If we are going to improve our communities, the new legislation will have to provide the capacity to deliver it. These regions are very big and will not be interested in the matters I have mentioned—projects such as park and ride schemes covering several districts and roads joining one town to another. I am trying to be helpful and to make the system work. I see the whole system failing because a two-tier system—from the top of the region to the district—will not work. There needs to be capacity in the middle to deliver the Government's objectives. I am trying to help them do that in the Thames Gateway, the M11 corridor, and at Stansted airport. I am trying to make the new system work. I think that this provision must be on the face of the Bill. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 1, line 16, at end insert "unless the conflict concerns a matter of fact in which case the fact shall prevail"
My Lords, Amendment No. 5, grouped with Amendment No. 65, relates to the same point with regard to the regional spatial strategy and the local development document. This new point occurred to me on re-reading the Bill after the last stage. In both relevant clauses there is a provision that,
"if to any extent a policy set out in the RSS"— or the local development document—
"conflicts with any other statement or information in the RSS the conflict must be resolved in favour of the policy".
I have no quarrel with the general proposition. However, if the statement—or "information" to use the word in the subsection—is a matter of fact, then the fact should prevail rather than policy if policy is based on an incorrect fact. That is the thrust of Amendments Nos. 5 and 65. If the conflict concerns a matter of fact, the fact shall prevail. I beg to move.
My Lords, having listened to the noble Baroness, I come to the conclusion almost that it is an amendment in search of a problem. I am not sure I understand the aims of the noble Baroness. I should be interested to hear some examples. I cannot see how a policy will conflict with a fact as they are two different beasts.
The relevant provisions—Clauses 2(4) and 17(5)—make clear that statements of policy in the regional spatial strategy or local development documents have precedence over background material. We probably all agree with that as a principle. The reference in the Bill is to avoid wrangling about the precedence of different paragraphs.
The amendments seem to imply that policies will be drawn up in complete contradiction to "facts" contained in the regional spatial strategy or the local development document. I cannot see how that would happen. Policies have to be based on evidence. That is one criterion for soundness. A policy divorced from the facts would not survive the examination.
The draft regulations on local and regional planning both draw a distinction between the policy and the reasoned justification for it. This is intended to make clear the policy matters which would provide the framework for development control decisions; and to make sure that the local development document has some explanation of and justification for the policy.
The draft guidance says that the reasoned justification is kept to the minimum necessary to provide the context. In a situation where there was some issue with a fact, it would be given weight as a material consideration. We cannot, of course, fetter the Secretary of State's discretion by saying that this will always be the case but it seems likely that the fact would outweigh the policy. I suggest that it would be irrational for a policy to prevail if it were based upon a proven inaccuracy and would be open, therefore, to challenge.
For those reasons, I do not think that the amendment works or is necessary. Having heard my remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness will reflect further and agree to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I shall read the Minister's remarks. However, he seems to be saying that the Secretary of State should not be fettered even if he got it wrong. All I seek is to ensure that there is no elephant trap in this part of the Bill. If the Government do not consider the amendment necessary, I shall not pursue the matter. However, I was apparently opaque in my introduction. The "information" which might be in conflict with a policy would be based on fact. It could contain—no one is perfect, not even the people in the ODPM who have written the RPG—something which purports to be true but is not.
In his reply the Minister said that the matter could be sorted out—that is obviously comforting—and that it could be dealt with at an examination in public. However, the long and the short of it is that I am trying to help. I am not trying to undermine what the Government are trying to do here. If they are content that there is no problem, I do not want to push the matter any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the aim of Amendment No. 6 is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to make the existing regional planning guidance, or parts of it, part of the regional spatial strategy and so part of the development plan without going through the procedures outlined in Part 1 of the Bill. The removal of Clause 2(6) is consequential.
We had an extensive discussion about this issue in Committee and since then some or most of us may have seen the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, detailing the way in which RPG will be transmogrified into RSS. However, we believe that if the regional planning body is to become responsible for ensuring the regional spatial strategy is issued, implemented, monitored and eventually revised, it must have considerable input in the preparation of the initial RSS. The Bill before us should reflect that principle.
The issue is more than symbolic. At the heart of it, and as the Bill stands, we have the Government saying that in order to prevent a vacuum in regional planning arising in the transitional period, the Secretary of State will convert so much of the regional planning guidance into the regional spatial strategy. We do not wish to underestimate the importance of that argument. It is important for local plans and communities to have a strategic context within which they operate. However, we do not believe that the Government have sufficiently justified the distinction that is drawn in the Bill between the Secretary of State deciding what will be in the initial regional spatial strategy and the rigorous procedures to be followed by the regional planning body when revising the RSS. We believe that the consultation process for RPG is inadequate.
I should like to move on to the related amendments. The Bill contains a procedure for the preparation of revisions to the regional spatial strategy. Clauses 6 to 12 assume that there is a regional spatial strategy and that the responsibility of a regional planning body is to prepare a draft revision. However, a procedure for adopting a regional spatial strategy is also necessary for two reasons—one is practical, the other is one of principle. The practical reason is that the Bill does not put in place a regional spatial strategy by some other means. Under Clause 2(1) there is to be a regional spatial strategy. However, there is merely a power to make regional planning guidance the regional spatial strategy for a region in Clause 2(5). Even if that power remains, it will not necessarily be exercised. Furthermore, the existing regional planning guidance may be inappropriate as a regional spatial strategy. A regional spatial strategy is, after all, different. The Government intend it to be part of the development plan. They intend more weight to be attached to it and they intend local development plan documents to be in general conformity with it. The draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning says that these documents are intended to be more specific. Therefore, there needs to be a procedure to create a regional spatial strategy from scratch.
The point of principle is that regions should be involved in preparing the regional spatial strategy. There is a clear procedure for revisions: regional planning bodies prepare draft revisions, a sustainability appraisal takes place, an examination in public can and usually would be held, the Secretary of State has to consider the report of the panel and can make changes to the draft revision, giving reasons if he does so.
If the procedures are necessary for revisions, they will be even more necessary for the preparation of a regional spatial strategy. The absence of proper open, democratic and fair procedures for the preparation of regional spatial strategies cannot be justified by administrative convenience.
Amendment No. 19 assumes that Clause 2(5)—allowing the Secretary of State to prescribe that part of existing regional planning guidance is the regional spatial strategy—remains, but caters for the possibility that it is not exercised. Amendment No. 20 would apply if Clause 2(5) were removed from the Bill. Without these amendments there is a lacuna right at the beginning of the Bill, which represents a serious democratic and procedural deficit.
I now turn to Amendment No. 42. This amendment seeks to remove the Secretary of State's power to apply part of regional planning guidance as a revision of the RSS. Surely if regional spatial strategies come into force, regional planning guidance will no longer apply. If that is the case, why does the Bill make provision for such a retrograde power?
Although, as my previous amendments have shown, we oppose the process, we can follow the logic as regards the provisions in Clause 2 with regard to the adoption of parts of regional planning guidance as the regional spatial strategy for a region.
Clause 10(8) allows for the Secretary of State to provide for a completed process of regional planning guidance that corresponds to one that needs to be done for a regional spatial strategy to have effect as a revision of the RSS. It does not make sense that the two processes are occurring in parallel. Either we have regional planning guidance or we have regional spatial strategies. With this subsection and those that I have just dealt with in Clause 2, we have the situation where the Secretary of State decides what is in the first RSS and also what can be a revision to it. That is a top down, nationalised planning system, as we have said before.
What is the status of the regional planning guidance once the regional spatial strategy is in place? Unless the Government are planning on updating regional planning guidance even after we have regional spatial strategies I should have thought that this would be an unwise and backward looking step.
I am also concerned that this provision allows the Secretary of State to bypass the procedures in place that hold regional planning bodies accountable, including examinations in public. That is particularly worrying. We have said a lot already about the democratic deficit, so I shall not detain the House on this point. However, I wanted to register my concern.
Nevertheless, in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, reassured noble Lords that subsections (7) and (8) are meant to apply only during the early transition period when RSSs come into force. Could this not be made clear on the face of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, helpfully suggested? I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment No. 21, which is included in the group of amendments that we are discussing, stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Maddock. As we know, regional planning guidance morphs, or, as the noble Lord said, transmogrifies into the regional spatial strategy. However, I am not sure that that is quite accurate as what changes to start with is the title and not the substance.
I go off at a slight tangent to say that the noble Lord referred to a letter from the Minister. I have copies of two or three letters but I do not think that I have one of that particular letter. I may be missing something in terms of explanation from the Government but I shall check with the Minister's office tomorrow that I have everything that has been sent out.
Under the Bill the duty of the regional planning body is to revise what started life as the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance. Therefore, it seems to me that it will always be at heart the Secretary of State's guidance or strategy. The amendment suggests a way of giving ownership—to use the term again—of the first major piece of work, the regional spatial strategy, to the regional planning body. I have provided that rather than requiring it to undertake a revision, it should replace what it inherits and put in place a regional spatial strategy which, as I say, would be its own. The drafting is a little inelegant. I have words in parenthesis by way of definition simply to avoid a great many amendments that would otherwise be required to other parts of the Bill if I were to be totally consistent. The Minister will gather from that that I do not intend to press the measure today. However, it is a point at least worth putting on the record.
My Lords, I am somewhat surprised to see Amendment No. 6, but it goes to the heart of our purpose. The consequences of this group of amendments would be extremely wasteful. Those people outside the House, working in the field, would be extremely annoyed if the amendments were passed. They are designed to ensure that the first regional spatial strategies are prepared by the regional planning board rather than converted from the regional planning guidance; and to rule out any work on revisions to regional planning guidance being carried forward under the new system. We do not see a case for that change either in principle or practice.
It is worth repeating that every regional planning guidance that is to become a regional spatial strategy has been prepared in draft by the regional planning body. There has been extensive consultation and examination in public on each. When the Secretary of State has proposed to make changes to the regional planning body's draft he has consulted on those changes. That regional planning guidance is eminently qualified to become the first regional spatial strategy. We have made clear that regional planning guidance that has not been through an examination in public will not become a regional spatial strategy—that is RPGs 3 for London, 3a for strategic views in London, 3b and 9b for the River Thames and 9a for the Thames Gateway.
Scrapping those documents that have already been prepared would not benefit our regions or communities. Perhaps that is part of a plot. It would take at least two years to prepare a regional spatial strategy from scratch. During that interval there would be no regional policies. There would be no framework in which planning could take place, with massive uncertainty and the risk of conflict between one area and the next.
I fully accept that the first regional spatial strategies will be of differing ages and we expect them all to be revised over the next few years. A duty to prepare revisions, rather than starting with a blank sheet, will not mean that regional planning bodies have less freedom to come up with policies for their regions. I hope I made that clear in my comments on previous amendments. A revision could be radical, taking in every aspect of the strategy, or it could be more limited—for example to reflect a change in national policy on a specific issue.
As I said in Committee, in every region outside London work is continuing to revise all or part of the RPG. In some regions such as the south-west that work is at an early stage. In others, the revision is nearly complete. For example in the west Midlands, the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision of the RPG have been published. The final document is due to be published in the summer.
Amendment No. 42 would mean that all the time and resources put in by the regional planning bodies, those who had participated in consultation and the examination in public would all have been wasted. That is what would happen if the amendments were accepted. I thought that in Committee—and we are talking about a transitional process—this was accepted as a way forward. It probably took a while for the penny to drop, as I was questioned by colleagues in the House, but I though that that was our plan; namely, to move from one system to another by converting the existing guidance into the regional spatial strategies.
There has been concern that people might not recognise that the mechanism can be used only for the transition—this is the beginning and is a one-off. The point is that the Bill is structured so that, from commencement, the regional planning body and the Secretary of State will have duties relating to the regional spatial strategy. In effect, the Bill abolishes regional planning guidance—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I hope that it answers one of his questions.
It follows that it is the steps in relation to the preparation of regional planning guidance that have been taken before the commencement that could be treated as steps in connection with preparing regional spatial strategy. We fully expect the Secretary of State to use the power to prescribe that most regional planning guidance will become regional spatial strategy. The Bill effects that from commencement of the part which establishes regional spatial strategies. Once the regional planning guidance no longer exists there will be no further opportunity for work to be done on it and, therefore, no opportunity for it to count as a step in the preparation and publication of the revision of the regional spatial strategy.
I sincerely hope that that was a practical and reasonable explanation of the consequences of the amendments and why we would be mortified if they were put into the Bill. Imagine the waste of effort—I would not like to be the Minister or the Shadow Minister who had to go around the country explaining why people had just wasted a couple of years of their time. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, would follow the footsteps of his new party leader who was in the west Midlands the other day—a key area for the next general election. He just wants to tear up everything that they have proposed, just at the end of the process into which they have put all their work and effort. All the people who contributed in public evidence are virtually being told, "Well, nothing you did or said has counted". That would leave the region without any regional strategy for two years, because the process would have to start all over again. That cannot be a practical proposition and I do not believe that noble Lords will push the matter; indeed, the noble Baroness said that she would not do so in any event.
I shall repeat my earlier comments that, while the grouping is not for the Government, Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and Amendment No. 21, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are not consequential on Amendment No. 6. I hope that all the amendments will be withdrawn.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I had not understood that the amendments needed to be consequential to be grouped. As he said, mine was not consequential. Could the Minister clarify his comments? At the beginning of his reply he talked about the work on the regional planning guidance having been done in conjunction with the regional planning bodies. As they do not yet exist, will he confirm that he means the regional chambers, which are now in most cases called regional assemblies? We need to know precisely what he is referring to.
My Lords, no—I hope I am right. As far as I know, the chambers are the regional planning bodies. The conversion was such that the chambers now carry out the function of regional planning bodies. They will have had a role in the work that has been taking place to date. I accept that those who have existed for a long time—a couple of years—may have pre-dated part of that, but the bodies have been involved ever since. As I understand it, the regional chambers or assemblies became the regional planning bodies in April last year.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. We do not wish to create a vacuum. We are concerned about the regional planning guidance being merely transferred into the regional spatial strategy. While there have been examinations in public and much work has been done in some areas—and I accept the point about the west Midlands being further ahead than other areas—we are still concerned that there is not the same rigid scrutiny in developing the first RSS, which will then be revised. That is our point. The Government are changing the regional planning guidance into the regional spatial strategy, which only then can be revised. We would have liked more input, scrutiny and work done on the original RSS.
Noone wishes to create vacuums. However, this is an area that will need continued examination before the passage of the Bill is completed, to make certain that in the first RSSs there is sufficient scrutiny and involvement in their creation. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment today.
My Lords, this amendment would remove the duty on regional planning bodies to prepare an annual report for the Secretary of State on the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. In an earlier reply, the Minister talked about bureaucracy, paper and many other things, and that is the point of this amendment.
We do not believe that the amendment would somehow sabotage the important process of reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. We accept that a regional planning body should be monitoring and that it should, if necessary, be in a position to report on how a regional spatial strategy is being implemented. Subsections (2) and (3) of this clause more than satisfactorily make provision for that.
As the Bill stands, Part 1 applies only where elected regional assemblies are established. I recall that, in the context of another debate, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that in such a scenario the RSS would not set out the Secretary of State's policies but the policies of the region. That has been repeated today. Presumably the same logic applies to any reporting structure. Therefore, RPBs should, in effect, report to their constituents rather than to the Secretary of State.
Leaving that matter aside, our main objection to subsections (4) and (5) is that they would entail an unnecessary and expensive burden on a regional planning body. The annual report will be one more bureaucratic box-ticking exercise and one more distraction from overseeing the implementation of the RSS.
Reporting requirements may seem to be a fairly standard item in new legislation but very often the importance attached to them distorts priorities and undermines their achievement. Limited resources and manpower must be diverted to keep up with the insatiable demands of government.
As I have already mentioned, subsections (2) and (3) more than sufficiently cater for the statutory duties of a regional planning body. Furthermore, the regional planning body should have the autonomy to decide when and how it reports to central government. The Secretary of State has so many reserve powers that I am sure that would not inconvenience him too much. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think I have a good answer to this one. The requirements in the Bill and the regulations do not pose a new burden and therefore everything that we have just heard does not apply. Every regional planning body has submitted an annual monitoring report or statement for 2002–03, either in draft or final form, covering almost the same ground as they would be required to cover in future under the Bill and the draft regulations.
Therefore, the requirements in the Bill and the regulations are not a new burden. We are enshrining good practice—for example, by specifying that the regional planning body must report on problems and possible solutions as well as providing data. The better annual monitoring reports—I do not want to single out any boards—already do that. In addition, we want a common timetable so that timescales can be properly compared. The regions themselves, as well as other people with an interest in this matter, would want that. I repeat: this is not a new burden; we are trying to enshrine good practice in the Bill.
My Lords, I accept what the Minister says, although I should have liked him to deal with the point that I raised concerning the duty being one of informing the constituents of a region rather than the Secretary of State about what the regional planning body was doing. As the Minister said, there is no new burden, but I should still have liked the line of communication to be downwards to the people of a region rather than always being upwards to the Secretary of State. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to moderate the Bill's language. As it stands, this subsection places a duty on regional planning bodies to give advice to other bodies if they believe that will aid the fulfilment of the regional spatial strategy.
In Committee, we touched upon this matter briefly and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that he was happy at all times to look at the language of our legislation. Therefore, we return to this subsection now because the language matters. By definition, the word "must" is prescriptive and we should like the Government to be less prescriptive regarding what the regional planning body does. On the other hand, the word "may" gives the regional planning body choices.
The word "must" seems to put the onus on the regional planning body to second-guess who would want or need advice. That would lead to the planning body constantly having to identify any new organisations to which to give advice. That would add considerably to their workload as there would also have to be some kind of protocol or process to determine what type of advice should be given to what kind of organisation. Should the advice be unsolicited? Do they have any powers of enforcement if the advice is not taken up?
Therefore, we suggest that it would be more desirable to permit regional planning bodies to tender advice. That would enable a far better working relationship between all the parties involved. The word "may" fits much better with the rest of the wording and with the substantive context. As a symbol of trying to inject some discretion and autonomy into the Bill, I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 18, which is grouped with Amendment No. 8. The purpose of Amendment No. 18 is to ensure that all district councils are consulted and informed about the activities of the regional planning body. The provision of housing will be a very important element of the regional spatial strategy. The district authorities are the housing authorities, and the directly elected district councillors will draw up local housing strategies.
Given the importance which I believe we all attach to the provision of more affordable housing—I know that the Government are putting much energy into that—it seems to me absolutely vital that we do not lose this link in the new planning arrangements. I hope that, even if the Minister does not consider this to be the appropriate way in which to put the provision into the Bill, he will accept that it is very important, particularly in relation to housing. This is the one thing which I believe slips through the net in the Government's arrangements here, and I hope that the Minister will understand the point that I am trying to make in my amendment.
My Lords, the Bill and the associated regulations and guidance try to strike a balance between requiring the regional planning body to involve and consult others where that would add value while avoiding the construction of an empty consultation apparatus that benefits no one. Our view is that the two amendments fall either side of that line.
I believe that I can dispose of Amendment No. 8 by saying that we consider the concern about the word currently in the Bill to be unfounded. The regional planning bodies have not said that it will create any difficulties for them. I should have thought that, that being the case, together with the fact that they are operating out there now, it would be better to leave the matter alone.
Amendment No. 18 would require the regional planning body to keep informed and consult all district councils in two-tier areas in its region. We do not consider that to be sensible. It runs the risk of creating additional bureaucracy, which achieves very little beyond what the existing arrangements provide for. Indeed, it is a more onerous requirement than that placed on county councils at present.
Through their membership of the regional planning body, many district council representatives will be taking part in the key decisions that are made as the draft regional spatial strategy emerges. The draft regulations in Part 1 of the Bill already make district councils statutory consultees both before and after the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy is published. Therefore, the regional planning bodies will be able to enter into arrangements with district councils under Clause 5(4) of the Bill to undertake work on their behalf.
The district councils will, through their service delivery responsibilities, be key players in implementing the policies in the regional spatial strategy, particularly, as the noble Baroness said, in relation to housing. The regional planning body will be very wise and will need to maintain a dialogue with district councils if that is to be achieved. That is why we believe that both amendments fall either side of the line that I drew at the beginning and, therefore, I hope that noble Lords will not proceed with them.
moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 2, line 34, at end insert—
"( ) The RPB must publish its response to advice given in accordance with subsection (2) and in the case of any advice which it does not accept in full must not proceed before a period of four months from publication has elapsed during which period the RPB and the authority shall discuss the matter."
My Lords, this amendment builds on the amendment moved by the Government in Committee, which provides a role for county and unitary authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said earlier today that, although those amendments were welcome, they only go so far. They provide for the regional planning body to seek the advice of county and unitary authorities in its region. The term "seek advice" differs from "consult". "Consult" has an element of listening to advice, even if it will be disregarded and discarded. One of the characteristics it should have is feedback to the points that have been made during the consultation. So thinking about how the seeking of advice would work, I want to be absolutely certain that the regional planning body would do something with the advice. My amendment proposes that the RPB publishes its response to that advice and, where it does not accept the advice, it does not go ahead until there has been a period—four months may or may not be the right period—so that the regional planning body and the authority in question can discuss the matter on which the regional planning body does not take the advice of the county or the unitary authority. I hope that that is clear. It is intended to add a very important step to the process, to add flesh to the amendment that the Government proposed and your Lordships accepted in Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support this amendment. We discussed the relevant government amendments in Committee. I shall repeat that they were welcome, but they did not go as far as the LGA would have liked initially. It should, of course, have commented before but the LGA and the County Councils Network forgot the processes that the House of Lords goes through before a Bill is completed. They did not realise that there is a second democratic process and that it would all be debated further. They are aware of that now.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, adds some transparency to the amendment that the Government tabled in Committee. I hope that, in a spirit of taking matters forward, the Government will be able to accept this. It makes some sense with their initial amendment.
My Lords, I understand the thinking and the spirit behind this amendment. However, I have come to the conclusion that it is overly prescriptive. I feel that if the noble Lord and the noble Baroness were looking at this just from a local government point of view, they would probably think that this is not user-friendly but an onerous, unwieldy and bureaucratic burden.
The amendment creates a requirement on the regional planning body to publish its response to all the advice it receives from those bodies with a statutory advice-giving function under Clause 5. If it does not accept any of that advice in full then it must not proceed until after four months have elapsed. During this period the regional planning body and the authority must discuss the matter.
An amendment of this kind has serious practical consequences. In our view, it would drain time and resources and would not add to an effective planning system at regional level. The regional planning body will receive and consider vast volumes of advice from county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities, national park authorities and so on as it prepares draft revisions of the regional spatial strategy, keeps it under review and monitors its implementation.
Not all those pieces of advice will be consistent with each another. What one county council thinks should happen in respect, say, of a hierarchy of town centres for retail development may be at odds with what the neighbouring county council thinks should happen. Two districts with retail centres that are in need of freshening up might enter into a friendly dispute through the regional planning process. I can think of several cases in my experience where exactly that might happen. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, with his vast experience at county council level in Essex would think it very strange if he agreed with his colleagues in Suffolk or Norfolk. The viewpoints may be valid, but they are going to provide conflicting advice. The role of the regional planning body is to weigh up the differing advice it receives and to make a balanced judgment based on all of it.
It cannot be sensible for the regional planning body to publish a response to every single piece of advice that it receives. It would be hugely resource-intensive. Advice will often be better considered in the round rather than on a case-by-case basis. If the regional planning body has to hold up the revision of the regional spatial strategy for four months each time that it does not accept in full a piece of advice that it receives, it could take for ever to get agreement or to get to the stage of an examination in public. I do not think that that is in keeping with the aspiration, which I think that we have all shared during the course of the Bill, of ensuring that plans are up to date.
The regional planning body is in the lead in preparing the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. It must make judgments between competing viewpoints and not try to accommodate every piece of advice that it receives. The regional planning body will be answerable for the content of the draft regional spatial strategy at the examination in public.
When the regional planning body submits the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to the Secretary of State, it must also submit a statement setting out who it has consulted, how it has consulted them, the main issues raised and how these have been addressed in the draft revision. The decisions that the regional planning body has made, based on the advice that it has received, will be open to scrutiny.
The regional planning body cannot simply ignore the advice that it receives. Both the regional planning body receiving the advice and the authorities providing that advice are under an overriding duty to act reasonably. If the regional planning body fails to take proper account of the advice given to it by county councils and other councils—district, parish or town—or national parks and so on, it could ultimately be subject to a legal challenge for failing to act reasonably in the circumstances.
We argue that the accountability and transparency is there. We do not think that this is a helpful additional extra burden. We think that it will slow the process down. The purpose of this legislation, in part, is to ensure that we have a planning system that is transparent, fair, effective and efficient in its operation. We do not think that this amendment guides us in that general direction. I hope that, having heard that and in view of the reasonable way in which we expect the planning body to work, the noble Baroness will happily withdraw her amendment this afternoon.
My Lords, this is one of those occasions when the Minister has really convinced me of the rightness of my argument.
I am not sure that I have managed to get everything down. He said that the amendment is overly prescriptive and a burden; I could have been much more prescriptive. He said that it would be a drain on time and resources; I shall discuss resources later. He said that it would be a drain on time; is four months so much time in the context of work that is setting the strategy for a region, on which the local development documents will be based and which will affect major planning decisions for the region? It seems to me that four months is not a great deal of time and is certainly not in the disaster area, which seemed to be suggested.
The regional planning body will receive a lot of advice from the authorities, which will be inconsistent. Surely that supports and, indeed, makes much stronger the case for responding publicly. There is much less need to explain in a transparent fashion why you are not following advice if the advice is consistent, unless you are ignoring all of it. The role of the regional planning bodies is to weigh up and make a balanced judgment, but they should do so in a public fashion. The Minister said that they cannot ignore the advice.
I appreciate that this is Report stage, so perhaps this needs to be pursued afterwards, but as he spoke it occurred to me to ask how the public and the county and unitary authorities will know how the advice has been considered and weighed against other advice. Will that be by public document, which will go to the regional planning body and is subject to the current local government access to information arrangements? I realise that that is something which perhaps I should know. Given the new freedom of information provisions which will shortly come into force, it may be that the situation will change in any event. All of this needs to be public. It is a matter of public interest.
The regional planning body will be answerable at the examination in public. It seems to me that what I suggest would help rather than hinder the EIP. I thought that the Minister was going to say that the regional planning body would be answerable to the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness may be missing the point I made. The regional planning body has to submit its statement to the Secretary of State. It will be clear from that with whom it has consulted and how it has consulted, and the documents will be open to scrutiny. I do not see that that will be a closed process. I am not sure what it is that the noble Baroness seeks that is not already there.
My Lords, it may be open to scrutiny and examination when it is too late to do anything about it, although that did not seem to be the thrust of what the Minister said when he referred to the examination in public.
Finally, the Minister is concerned that if there were tiny differences, every piece of advice would need to be set out in full. It is quite normal and usually adequate, provided that the job is done fairly thoroughly and conscientiously, for reports in response to consultations to state, "On such and such an issue there have been concerns about the following, which fall into the following categories" and to set out the competing arguments. I do not think that what I suggest goes quite as far as the Minister's response seemed to assume.
This is an important point and clearly there is a difference between us. For that reason, and because of the access to information point which occurred to me as we were debating this, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but it is something to which we may want to return.
My Lords, I apologise for the fact that this amendment was tabled late. It was composed early but got lost in the system.
The amendment takes us back to a point which I raised in Committee, which is to be certain that in giving advice under the Government's new provisions in Clause 5 the authority has the power to do so. The Minister stated:
"On the vires, my advice from a legal assessment is that it would be perfectly all right and there should not be any problems".—[Official Report, 22/1/04; col. 1155.]
I have only just noticed that attached to the notes I had on the last occasion are some unfamiliar pages with a sticker attached stating, "Brief, Lord Rooker". I do not think they cover this point. I doubt that there is anything there that did not appear in Hansard.
I am pushing the point in the hope that we can get a rather fuller response than, "It's okay, don't bother". The counties and unitaries are required to give the regional planning body advice as to the exercise of the regional planning body's function to the extent that the exercise of its function is capable of affecting the exercise by the authority, county or unitary, of any function that it has; in other words, the exercise of the authority's function.
I asked in Committee what were the functions in question and whether, indeed, they could be spelt out in a fuller way so that there is no doubt that the counties and unitaries have the power to give advice, which is distinct from the duty under the Bill. I apologise for being rather technical on this point but I said before that we are concerned that there should not be elephant traps here. It would be very helpful to have something fuller than the single sentence that we heard last time round. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I shall try to give a fuller explanation and perhaps that will comfort her more.
The amendment would provide a power for county councils to give advice on matters not caught by Clause 5(2) but which relate to the county council's area. The noble Baroness said in Committee that she was concerned about the reference to the functions of county councils in Clause 5(2) or the functions of other authorities in Clause 5(3), and that the worry was that some might see this provision as restricting the advice the authorities could give.
I shall try again to reassure her. The trigger for the county council or any other authority to have to give advice is that one of its functions is directly or indirectly affected. I think that that is a fairly wide definition. Off the top of my head I cannot think of an example where the authority would have no duty to give advice on a matter that affected its area.
It is important that we refer to the functions of the authority not its area because the latter would be too restrictive. The exercise of an authority's functions may be affected by proposals in an emerging regional spatial strategy relating to areas beyond the authority boundary. For example, the provision of new housing on one side of the boundary would in all likelihood have implications for schools and transport on the other. We do not want the asking for and the giving of advice to be restricted by narrow geographical provisions in those sorts of circumstances. So, if that example gives a flavour of how we see this issue, I hope that it is helpful.
Clause 5(2) is a broad provision. Having explained how we see it working, I hope that the noble Baroness will see that there is no need for Amendment No. 11A. We are trying to be helpful; we see the point she makes; and we think that our definition is broad enough to capture the issues and concerns to which she alluded.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I shall read what he said. In case there is any dispute in the future, it is obviously important to have the matter on the record. I have to say that a provision with even more chapter and verse than this would have been welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 12 standing in my name. I feel that I owe the House an apology for the rather tortuous course I have pursued on this matter and should give an explanation on what I have been trying to do.
As I may have to make some rather severe remarks towards the end of my intervention, I should perhaps explain where I come from in the form of a declaration of interests. I live in the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB. On retiring from public service in 1987, I had the good fortune to be made a member of the regional committee of the National Trust for East Anglia, where I spent nine fascinating years. I am now a vice-president of the Council for National Parks. My main activity, and that of my wife, is to be the Suffolk branch of the CPRE, of which she is a vice-president and the planning member for the county. I operate in a very auxiliary role in that connection.
When I tabled an amendment in Committee, I was principally concerned with the difficulty of getting the conservation boards in the AONBs to act in a coherent way. When these boards were first set up under the CROW Act, it was difficult for the county councils to find the time and money for the meetings and the places to hold them. If that was difficult for us, it was much more difficult for other AONBs where the number of local authorities represented on their conservation boards was numerous. I recently counted these. I found that in three areas of outstanding natural beauty there were no fewer than 12 local authorities. As a matter of interest, they were the Kentish towns, the High Weald and the Cotswolds. That was the purpose of my amendment. I have since discovered that things are working much better.
However, my amendment was not well expressed; my speech was clearly not well understood; and I noticed when the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, rose to reply, that the text from which he was reading assumed I was aiming at something much wider; namely, for the magnification of the local planning authority's role in this new planning system. That was not my intention.
So I drafted a different amendment, which I thought I had tabled by fax to the Public Bill Office on Saturday. It restated the principles on which the legal status of protected landscapes operate; that is, in a national park, the national park authority is responsible and in the AONBs it is the conservation board's duty to advise the new regional authorities being set up how that should operate.
By some strange method in the transmission a gremlin got into my fax. The result is the amendment on the Marshalled List, which is not particularly relevant to my purpose. My aim is that the protected status of these areas of special landscape interest should be preserved. There have been some rather disquieting developments, to which I shall refer.
I begin with a general word of caution. The Bill will make far-reaching changes to the planning system, extending into the distant future. The novelty is the new regional planning authority and the huge responsibilities that it will have. Sometimes, the authority may be inclined to give priority to other aspects of policy, such as employment or the growth of tourism, and the protection of landscape may seem of lesser importance.
We have recently had an experience in west Wales which has heightened my concerns. It was intended to build a large tourism centre extending from rural Pembrokeshire into the Pembrokeshire National Park. The matter came before the National Park Authority for it to reach a decision. It decided that it could not approve this permission. It had hoped its decision was final, but this turns out to be a matter of devolved responsibility in Wales. So it was taken to Cardiff and Cardiff voted it through. I am concerned that this problem might be replicated elsewhere.
My concerns are heightened on reading an official press release from Defra issued in the name of Mr Alun Michael, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The headline is, "'Conservation Is Not Enough'—Minister Sets Out Living Community's Challenge For National Parks". It gives a full text of what the Minister said, including that,
"conservation of itself is not enough; we want a living countryside", and so on.
It occurred to me that it would be right to look up the text of the existing legislation both for the national parks and for the AONBs. I shall confine myself to the national park test, which is to be found in the Environment Act 1995. Section 62(1) states:
"In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in a National Park, any relevant authority shall have regard to the purposes specified in . . . this Act and, if it appears"— this is important—
"that there is a conflict between those purposes, shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area comprised in the National Park".
The next paragraph reads:
"For the purposes of this section . . . 'authority' means—
(a) any Minister of the Crown, (b) any public body, (c) any statutory undertaker, or (d) any person holding public office". So, it would seem that the Minister, Mr Michael, has transgressed as regards the terms of the Act in our statute book.
I suggest to your Lordships that there is a fundamental problem; namely, how should these specially protected landscapes function in this new scheme? If the Government wish to change the protection that they now enjoy, the sensible thing would be for them to introduce an amendment to the Act which I have just quoted rather than to issue policy planning guidance that appears to transgress it at the edges.
I regret having to make that criticism of the Government because both noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Bassam, have been extremely kind and helpful to me. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, wrote a very nice letter on the remarks I made at the last stage. However, I feel that the issue is of some seriousness and that we should address it head-on. I do not intend to call a Division today as I think that further reflection is required and other noble Lords might be interested in taking part in the debate. But this is a significant matter which we should not overlook.
Of course, as a former civil servant, it would be possible for me to go so far as to advise the noble Lord how he might reply to this intervention. I think that the first thing a civil servant would say is, "Well, you have raised an entirely hypothetical question. Get lost. It's not real". The example I have quoted suggests to me that this is not a hypothetical question. We have an example and we should make up our minds about the matter. We need to consider the issue further and I shall be very interested to hear what other noble Lords and the Minister have to say. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will see whether I can get further and better particulars to answer for Defra because I am not fully up to speed on that, although I take the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has spoken to his amendment. I shall start by giving him the modern-day Civil Service version in reply to his amendment, which I suspect is probably no different to his day.
The amendment would add area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards to the list of authorities in Clause 5(3) of the Bill with a statutory advice-giving role on the review, monitoring and preparation.
The authorities in Clause 5(3) are singled out to advise the regional planning body because they have expertise of strategic planning and, in the case of county councils and unitary authorities, they are responsible for delivering major services. The area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards would have neither that experience nor the responsibilities, so it would not make sense to add them to the list.
I emphasise again—I hope I did in Committee—that the Government attach great importance to ensuring that areas of outstanding natural beauty are protected through the planning system. We also expect area of outstanding natural beauty management bodies to play an important role in the new planning arrangements; for example, as partners in developing a sub-regional strategy for their areas, where that is appropriate. I take on board what the noble Lord has said because in Committee he expressed concern about insufficient collaborative working. Since then he has obviously taken further advice and he has referred to the detailed letter from my noble friend Lord Bassam covering that issue.
The area of outstanding natural beauty management bodies are, of course, principally comprised of local authority representatives. One must remember that. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides that where area of outstanding natural beauty conservation boards are established, at least 40 per cent of the members must be drawn from local authorities and at least 20 per cent from parish councils. In the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, where conservation boards are currently being established, it is proposed that local authority representation, as I believe the noble Lord implied, will be substantially higher than 40 per cent. Local authorities are and will continue to be at the heart of the management of areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The fact that local authorities are so strongly represented seems to me to be the best safeguard that they will take the work of areas of outstanding natural beauty seriously. If, as has been suggested, that is not always the case, we cannot really provide in planning legislation for a change of attitude.
It appears that further and better particulars have not arrived. I shall reply to the noble Lord by letter on the points that he has raised. I shall do that as quickly as possible, in case he wants to take advice on this important issue and return to it at Third Reading.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I look forward to receiving his letter. I shall then consider what further action to take. It occurs to me that I might provide him with a rather more graphical explanation of the problem that I foresee. Let us suppose that the north-eastern regional authority decides that it needs to promote tourism to encourage employment and income in the region. It may consider that it would be excellent to have a large tourist centre adjacent to Hadrian's Wall in the Northumberland National Park. I believe that that kind of activity would be wrong, given the terms of existing legislation which protects the national parks. When the Minister replies to me, he may have that example in the back of his mind—an example of the kind of thing, that with the best intentions in the world, might go wrong.
Landscape protection is terribly important in our country. When I returned from serving abroad it was always such a delight to visit an area of outstanding natural beauty to see how unchanged it was. They are some of the great treasures of our country and we should not destroy them for rather menial, current activities without very good reason. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this group of amendments ties in with a strengthened role for strategic planning authorities. As I have delayed the House for some time on this matter already today, I shall endeavour to be brief. I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 13 and 14. They strengthen the statutory duty of county councils, metropolitan, unitary and national park authorities beyond the government amendments to Clause 5. We have talked about those several times today. They actively assist in the regional planning functions of the RPBs. We want to go further than giving those authorities a statutory advisory role. The authorities will have to carry out the functions for their areas on behalf of the regional planning bodies. Only that will be sufficient to ensure an effective planning system.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are very straightforward. The first deals with ensuring that where authorities have undertaken functions of regional planning bodies and have incurred expenditure in doing so, they will be reimbursed. We discussed that in Committee and did not receive a very satisfactory answer. The power must be statutory. It is only best practice to make it legally watertight. The Minister said that the authority could tell a regional planning body to go away and return with a better offer if the cost of work was not adequately reimbursed. I believe that that would be too casual. It sends out an unwelcome message that when it comes to paying local authorities for the work that they do on behalf of regional planning bodies, such payment is optional or voluntary.
Presumably, in the funding arrangements for regional planning bodies, they will receive funding to carry out their functions. It is clear that, where those functions are performed by another authority on their behalf, the funding should be transferred to the relevant authority. Any other approach would be unsustainable. We would like to see the Bill as clear as possible on the principle of payment.
Amendment No. 16 deletes subsection (6) of Clause 5 and would remove the prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 6(6) on its behalf. Those functions are publishing a draft provision to the regional spatial strategy, preparing the report of the sustainability appraisal of the proposals in the draft provision, publishing any further documents related to the draft revision required by regulations under Clause 6(5)(b) and submitting those documents to the Secretary of State.
The aim of the amendment is to permit more flexibility in the system. It may be necessary for a regional planning body to delegate all or parts of those functions to local authorities in order to match up the right expertise to the right work. That would simply be pragmatic. It may become a helpful support mechanism in the transition period if regional planning bodies have that option available to them.
It would still be the regional planning bodies' choice whether it wanted to delegate any part of those functions to other authorities. The RPB would still have ownership. To leave them with no choice demonstrates once again central government interference that actually stifles devolution. I would have thought that all assistance between authorities and regional planning bodies should be encouraged. If we are to have a regional planning system, perhaps regional planning bodies will need as much help as possible. We on this side of the House feel very strongly about pushing the Government a little further on provisions for strategic planning authorities in the new planning system. I beg to move.
My Lords, our amendment to delete "may" and insert "shall" is Amendment No. 15. That concerns the reimbursement provision mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. As he has reminded the House, the Minister said that if the regional planning bodies' proposals were inadequate to cover the cost, the local authority could tell them to go away and return with a better offer. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House on what basis a local authority could say that. It probably would not say it in quite those terms; there are more formal ways of putting such matters. What legal basis would a local authority have for saying that? After all, authorities have a duty under earlier parts of this clause and I am sure they would not want to avoid exercising that duty. Here we are simply talking about "fair's fair" and if that is so, the balance of legal weight needs to be similar on both sides.
My Lords, the amendments are somewhat familiar, as noble Lords have said. They deal with the basis on which the regional planning bodies make the arrangements with local authorities for those authorities to exercise the regional planning bodies' functions. The Bill provides a clear statutory role for authorities with strategic planning expertise in advising regional planning bodies. These amendments cannot then be needed to give counties and others a statutory role in strategic planning.
We have been clear that if the sort of partnership arrangements that we want to see are to work well, they must be entered into voluntarily. Unwilling partners will not be well placed to carry out effective regional planning. The regional planning body has an important job to do for its region. This is likely to be best done by arranging for others to carry out some functions on its behalf.
Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 would leave the regional planning body unable to carry out its responsibilities and would most likely be fatal to strategic planning at the regional level. The local authority is not obliged to enter into arrangements with the regional planning body. These are voluntary—they can refuse. One assumes that the financial arrangements must be part and parcel of the agreement.
We heard that a power not a duty to pay sent out an unwelcome message, but this is to overlook the interests in the real world of both the regional planning bodies and the local authorities. If it is not in the local authority's financial interests to enter into an arrangement unless the regional planning body provides some funds, it will say so, and it will not enter into the arrangement. There will be no payment where this is what the regional planning body and the authority agree to as part of agreeing the arrangements. These are adults; they are professionals. They ought to be able to come to voluntary arrangements that include the necessary reimbursement where required.
We heard that the regional planning body should be able to arrange for an authority to publish a draft revision and submit it to the Secretary of State to give more flexibility, as Amendment No. 16 would provide. Our position on this is clear, and I will repeat it. Prohibition on a regional planning body for arranging for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 5(6) on its behalf is vital to guarantee true regional ownership of this key regional strategy.
I have made this point since Second Reading. To get clarity of ownership we must reserve certain key functions for the regional planning body. The regional planning body must take final responsibility for the draft revisions to the regional spatial strategy, the report of the sustainability appraisal and any other documents required by regulations. That is the reason that this amendment is not acceptable. It goes to the heart of what we are trying to do here, and undermines it. I do not say that in a pejorative sense, but that would be its effect.
On Amendment No. 17, I will repeat what I said in Committee. The words, "must be taken to be", rather than, "shall be"—that is the arrangements under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972—are used because a regional planning body is not a local authority. They were used for that reason alone. The wording in Amendment No. 17 would be right only for arrangements between local authorities, and because the regional planning body is not in law a local authority, that would not be the case.
We find Amendment No. 26 difficult to understand, but we assume that the intention is to refer to subsection 5(3) not subsection 4(2). I made this point on an earlier amendment, where there was clearly a carry-over from Committee stage in the drafting of colleagues' notes. If this is the case, the amendment would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and national park authorities to assist the regional planning body in preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. We are a bit surprised to see the amendment re-appear.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that the purpose of the amendment was to provide county councils and unitary authorities with a statutory role in the preparation and revision of regional spatial strategies. Clause 5 now does that. That was part of the government arrangements and negotiations with the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network, which clearly have not gone far enough, as indicated in our debate earlier this afternoon. I have no doubt that we will hear more about that in due course. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendments.
My Lords, in his comments on Amendment No. 15, the Minister referred to the reimbursement subsection (5) in terms of the arrangements that are the subject of subsection (4), immediately above it. There is a difference between us because since subsection (5) was drafted we have added subsections (1) and (2) to the clause. When I was talking about the legal basis on which an authority could say, "Get lost until you make me a reasonable offer", I was referring to that part of the clause. The Minister may have been referring only to what was there originally when this part of the Bill was drafted. It is worth making that point now, because it may at least be worth considering whether it needs to be tweaked.
My Lords, I will take further advice on that, and if need be I will write to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, we have been over some of this ground before, but I want to go back to it again. We have now changed the Bill considerably since its original inception, and we hope that it will stay somewhat changed when it becomes ultimate planning policy. No one is disputing the ownership of the RSS. The policies will belong to the regional planning board. We need total clarity about payment as we complete the stages of the Bill.
Obviously, the regional planning body will need other bodies to help it in its work. The Minister has accepted that. It will need other local authorities in the region—the regions are all very big—unless it is going to have vast empires of staff. There are not enough planners in the country to do that. Therefore, there will need to be collaborative systems of drawing up the regional planning strategies. There will need to be clarity about payment, not just taking the best offer that comes along, which was rather jokingly talked about in the early stages. We will listen, and we will read what the Minister says. Perhaps he would like to clarify the situation before Third Reading. We will read what has been said in Hansard. No doubt we will come back to these issues at the Bill's next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 22 requires the regional planning body to get on with revising the RSS to make it its own, not more than three years after the commencement of Part 1. Amendment No. 23, which we also debated in Committee, proposes a five-year period. I am not sure whether that means every five years, although that seems to be the basis on which the Minister responded to the amendment the last time around. I am not clear that that is what is intended.
This is another way of seeking to tackle the issue of who owns the regional spatial strategy and to move smartly towards it being the work of the regional planning body. However, I take the point made earlier this afternoon that the regional planning guidance was by no means divorced from the regional planning bodies, as they exist at the moment. As I understand it, despite what the Minister said, they are not "Regional Planning Bodies" under the terms of the Bill; they are regional assemblies that have had that job given to them. They are not regional planning bodies as designated by the Bill; the Bill has not been enacted, so they cannot be.
We identified the three-year period because the Minister said on the previous occasion and repeated today that it would take at least two years for a revision. I am not seeking to knock out the regional planning guidance, but I am saying that we should get on with the successor work within a time frame that the Minister seems to think reasonable.
The second of our amendments would delete Clause 6(2). I cannot for the life of me understand why the regional planning body has to give notice to the Secretary of State that it intends to prepare a draft revision. That seems to be prescription of the highest order. We have been exhorted so many times to think about what things would be like in reality, and it seems unreal to think that the regional planning body might operate in such privacy that it would tell nobody—certainly not the Secretary of State—that it was dealing with a draft revision. We want to get the situation on an even keel with the other things that we have been talking about. I do not see why the Bill needs to be so prescriptive here, so I thought that I would indulge in a whinge about the Secretary of State's overweening and unnecessary role in some cases, of which this is an example. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall not move Amendments Nos. 23 and 25 today. There were substantial answers on the previous occasion. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, today, and we can reflect on the issues before the final stage.
My Lords, I shall also try to keep it brief. Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 fish in essentially the same pool. No doubt, the noble Lord will listen to what I have to say about them. The amendments tackle the same issue.
We want to move as quickly as possible to put in place regional plans that are genuinely spatial and provide an effective statutory framework for delivery through local plans and ensure that they are kept up to date and timely. The issue is whether it is necessary or helpful to legislate for that. In my view, it is not essential to put that into the Bill. We already have in place a system that means that regional planning guidance now and regional spatial strategies in the future are regularly revised as needed by regional planning bodies. We do not need to prescribe a fixed timetable in legislation.
In aid of that view, I cite something that my noble friend Lord Rooker referred to earlier, when talking about revision. The west Midlands has the oldest current regional planning guidance. Believe it or not, it dates back only to 1998. As, I think, my noble friend Lord Rooker suggested, a revision is in process and will be issued shortly. In every region, full or partial revisions are already under way or are being planned. We simply do not have a problem with out-of-date regional plans being allowed to gather dust that might make such an amendment necessary.
Requiring a revision of the regional spatial strategy—I assume that the amendment refers to a comprehensive revision—at least every five years is too prescriptive and would be unhelpful. The regional spatial strategy looks at least 15 years ahead and addresses a wide range of issues and policy areas. A comprehensive revision is therefore a major exercise in terms of time, money, expertise and other resources. It is a major commitment. We would expect a comprehensive revision to take nearly two years from the process kicking off to the end of the examination in public. We do not want, by prescribing a fixed five-year revision cycle, to compel the regional planning body to spend what we might say is half its time revising the whole regional spatial strategy. A fixed review cycle would reduce flexibility and potentially create unnecessary work.
Amendment No. 24 would remove the requirement on the regional planning body to give notice to the Secretary of State of its intention to prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. The noble Baroness was honest enough to say that it was a whinge, and I reckon that I recognise a whinge when I see it. Fair dos to the noble Baroness: I understand where she is coming from. It is not an over-onerous requirement. The regional planning body and the Government Office will, in any case, discuss when revisions need to be prepared and the sort of topics that they should cover. Although the final revision of the regional spatial strategy remains the Secretary of State's document, it is right in principle that he should be notified when the regional planning body intends to prepare a revision. My guess is that that would help in the planning of workloads, and so on, and enable the Government Office and the Secretary of State to understand where the process is at a given time, which is probably useful. I can understand the whinge, but it is not an over-burdensome issue, and we should not detain ourselves with it at this level.
I hope that the noble Baroness will be happy to leave things as they are. I think that I have covered the points that were raised, and I hope that my responses will find favour.
My Lords, what I said on Amendment No. 24 was a whinge, but it was a question as well. I suspect that, were the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, in opposition, he might think that this was a good point to ask Members of the House to take a little exercise, just to make the point. I shall not do so. The Minister made the best of a bad job, but those two lines should not be in the Bill. They are nonsense.
I hope that the Minister will understand that, with Amendment No. 22, I was not proposing that there should be a triennial revision. The confusion about the quinquennial revision arose from one of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, which was not spoken to.
My Lords, I must put the noble Baroness's mind at rest: I understood that. Those proposing both amendments wanted to establish some idea of the regularity of the revision process.
My Lords, the amendment would ensure that, in any revision of the regional spatial strategy, all relevant strategies drawn up by local authorities in the region were taken into account. I do not like the phrase—the noble Lord, Lord Judd, used it this afternoon—but it is about "joined-up government". It is about recognising the importance of the bottom-up approach; many of us have criticised the Bill because we think that it is too top-down.
There are four areas of strategy listed here—transport, housing, economic and other regional strategies—but many of the three areas of transport, housing and economic strategy are key to sustainability in this process. We have had long debates about sustainability and there will undoubtedly be more debates at this stage. However, if we are serious about sustainability—and we are discussing defining it in the Bill and how difficult it is—it is important to expand in the Bill where we can, to ensure that we are looking at it carefully.
Shortly before I came down to the Chamber, I opened a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which enclosed the consultation paper on planning policy statement 1. In that letter he emphasises the importance of sustainable development. In the document he also emphasises the need in planning policies to pursue proactively the four aims of sustainable development; namely, economic development, social inclusion, environmental protection and a prudent use of natural resources in an integrated way. The various strategies we have listed here will certainly assist in making sure that that happens. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no difference between us on the need for the regional planning body to have regard to these strategies when preparing a revision of the regional spatial strategy. That is subject to two qualifications. The first is that there is no intention to have separate regional transport strategies. These are an integral part of regional planning guidance at present. Draft planning policy statement 11 makes it clear that, in the future, the regional transport strategy should be an integral part of the regional spatial strategy.
The second qualification is to the proposed obligation to have regard to all other regional strategies. In fact, listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I have just rewritten her own amendment. If the first three paragraphs, together with the word "other" in the final paragraph, were to be deleted and it read, "all regional strategies", it would mean exactly the same thing as listing the three and then saying, "all other regional strategies".
There is a test of relevance when one includes all the regional strategies. I am not an expert on this, but apparently there are regional strategies concerned with emergency planning, contingent on natural disaster or act of war. They are not really relevant to the area we are dealing with at the moment, so that would not work.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said in Committee that draft planning policy statement 11 makes it clear that the regional spatial strategy should be consistent and supportive of the other relevant regional strategies, including in particular the regional economic, housing, and cultural strategies. Draft planning policy statement 11 explains that the reason why the draft regulations refer only to the regional economic strategy, rather than the cultural or housing strategies, is because the economic strategy is the only one of these strategies to have a statutory basis.
I make it absolutely clear that we agree that regard should be had to these other types of regional strategies where they are relevant. The policy is quite clear on this, as set out in planning policy statement 11. However, we see no need to refer to these strategies in the Bill, and we could not do so anyway because of the non-statutory basis of many of them. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his answer. I beg to differ with him on natural disasters. Having had discussions, particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, on what we mean by sustainability, I know that he is of the view, as are others, that sustainable communities are also communities where people are protected from natural disaster and are safe communities. Safety is also about protection from natural disasters such as flooding. I do not therefore totally agree with him on that point.
He said that the strategies we were talking about, apart from the economic strategy, were not statutory. I thought that the drawing up of strategy by the regional housing board was a statutory function. Maybe I am wrong about that.
My Lords, I cannot answer this off the top of my head, but the way in which we have put the funds for the housing corporation and the housing investment programmes for local authorities into the regional pot has not involved legislation through this place. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no statutory instrument. It has been set up, but it is not statutory in the normal sense of that word.
While I am on my feet, I want to say something about natural disasters. By definition, natural disasters occur and one has to try to avoid them. My point was that there is, however, a regional strategy concerned with emergency planning.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that explanation. He clearly does not agree with our line. I am concerned that we try, wherever possible in the Bill, to include matters which make very clear what we mean by sustainability. That was part of the purpose of this amendment. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will speak also to Amendment No. 30.
Amendment No. 29 provides for the draft revision to include the purposes of the regional spatial strategy. We had some debate in Committee on the scope of the RSS. In that context, I picked up the reference in Clause 4(3)(b). That provision states that the regional planning body must consider whether the implementation of the regional spatial strategy is achieving the purposes of the regional spatial strategy.
I may be told, of course, that it is not necessary to say this because the regional spatial strategy will set out its objectives, but it does not actually say so in Clause 6. It needs to say so, in order that the regional planning body can monitor what it is doing, and so that others can monitor what it is doing and hold it to account.
Amendment No. 30 proposes that policies should be included in the regional spatial strategy in respect of the format as set out in the amendment. There has been a good deal of resistance to being explicit about these matters, but we are losing the current structure plans and unitary development plans, which have requirements attached to them, imposed through Schedule 4 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. The schedule contains explicit requirements for structure, unitary, and indeed local plans, to include policies in respect of the conservation of the natural beauty and amenity of the land, the improvement of the physical environment and the management of traffic. I am concerned to ensure that this is not lost.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made a point about not having room for more on the face of the Bill. He said that everything else would remain as it is in the principal Act; that is, the 1990 Act. That Act was amended by the 1991 Act. I hope I have shown that we would lose something that is in the 1990 Act unless it is specifically retained.
I have added a paragraph in Amendment No. 30 regarding,
"the conservation of natural resources" because it seemed the logical thing to do. Thinking has moved on since what became the 1990 Act was going through the process of creation. Many would say that conserving natural resources is now something that one would, if your Lordships will forgive the pun, quite naturally include with the other matters in the schedule to the 1991 Act. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendments are consistent with the Government's policy on what a regional spatial strategy should contain, although Amendment No. 30 is not broad enough in scope. I have said before that there is an issue about what we should prescribe in the Bill in terms of the content of the regional spatial strategy rather than in policy guidance and, if necessary, in regulations.
Paragraph 1.5 of the draft planning policy statement 11 makes it clear that the regional spatial strategy should set out a concise spatial strategy for achieving the desired vision for the region, and there should be a clear link between policy objectives, priorities, targets and indicators. This must include being quite clear what the policy purposes of the regional spatial strategy are.
When we debated an amendment similar to Amendment No. 30 tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I said that we would need a much more comprehensive definition of the content of a regional spatial strategy and we must not have such a selective definition that singles out only some of the principles of sustainable development and unnecessarily restricts the scope of the regional spatial strategy. I referred in Committee to the much more comprehensive definition of what the draft planning policy statement says the regional spatial strategy should cover.
A similar issue arose in the past in relation to the content of development plans set out in the principal Act, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The definition there is similar to what is covered by Amendment No. 30.
Since the 1990 Act, we have had to make it clear in planning policy guidance notes that other equally important policy topics needed to be covered. An example is the list of topics for inclusion in structure plans and Part 1 of the unitary development plans, set out on page 19 of planning policy guidance 12, which relates to development plans.
We think it would be a mistake to fossilise on the face of the Bill references to what matters the regional spatial strategy should contain, since these may change in the future. We really believe that such matters of content are best left for policy and guidance and, if necessary, regulation so the House can be involved and we can take advantage of experience and respond more flexibly to future needs. The real bone of contention is putting too much detail on the face of the Bill in the principal legislation, because it curtails us later in reacting to events.
I appreciate that the list of items which I have taken from the 1991 Act is additional to what is in the 1990 Act. It says that the UDP shall consist of a written statement formulating the authority's general policies in respect of the development and other use of land in their area, including measures for the improvement of the physical environment and the management of traffic. These items were substituted for the latter part.
The question that arises is whether the Government think that there has been any problem with what the Minister characterised as the rather restricted list of contents. We are concerned, as he acknowledged, to see the same sort of matters covered. I suppose the question is whether the existing legislation on UDPs and structure plans is thought to be defective.
As I said, I am not sure whether the first amendment in the group has had an answer, but I will read Hansard and see whether it amounts to an answer. The Minister says he did—I do not disbelieve him, I just did not recognise it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, Amendment No. 32 repeats an amendment tabled in Committee to enable the regional planning body to add to what the Secretary of State prescribed should be included in the regional spatial strategy.
The Minister replied that the provisions are a safeguard and that the Secretary of State probably would not have to prescribe. The amendment would not affect that either way. He said he would expect the revision to be agreed through negotiations between the regional planning body and the Government Office and that even if the Secretary of State were to prescribe the subject matter, that did not mean he would prescribe the content of the revision.
"when it appears to it necessary or expedient to do so"
The Minister said that the regional planning body can have what it wants if it thinks it is expedient. It is the "what" that I am bothered about. The four criteria referred to are the extent of the revision proposed by the draft.
The debate went on for quite a long time. I am still not convinced that the clause is as wide as I would like. I am sorry to ask the Minister to go back to the debate; he may feel that it would be adequate to refer back, but if he has some new points, I would be glad to hear them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness was not reassured by what I said in Committee. I will make it really clear and unambiguous, without using much of my brief.
I assure the noble Baroness that if the regional planning body wants to, it has complete freedom to prepare a draft revision that goes wider than any subjects prescribed in regulations under this clause. There is a reason for that: any regulations in no way detract from the duty in Clause 6(1)(a), which provides that the regional planning body must prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy,
"when it appears to it necessary or expedient to do so".
That is wide and catch-all. Therefore, none of the other regulations can detract from that duty. I hope that that spells everything out.
My Lords, the "when" means when it appears necessary. Do not forget that when the regional planning body thinks it necessary, and it appears that it is necessary or expedient to prepare that revision, the RPB will do so—it must do it when it appears necessary. Because the matter is subject to examination in public, the RPB can make minor revisions or major revisions, as I made clear when we discussed the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. It can tear everything up and start again. However, in the mean time, we have regional policies because of the transition from the old to the new scheme. The RPB can make minor adjustments if it thinks that they are necessary.
All such matters are subject to public examination, so they cannot be tinkered with in any rational way by the Secretary State—which is what underlines most of the amendments put before the House. Nobody seems to trust my right honourable friend to do the right thing, yet he has made wonderful, brilliant planning decisions since he has had the responsibility to do so.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister trusts his right honourable friend's successors in the fourth or fifth government to follow this one. That is the problem. We have made it clear throughout the debate that the Minister's integrity is not impugned and neither is that of his right honourable friend, but future governments remain to be tested. That lies at the heart of so much of what we are saying about the Secretary of State's role and why we are so concerned to spell out the "what". The subject matter is not restricted to what the Secretary of State says in the regulations it must contain—it is merely the starting point and the RPB can add its own assessment.
The Minister has reassured me. I am reassured about what he and his colleagues in the Government intend. However, none of us is able to give a reassurance about how future governments will carry on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.33 p.m.