My Lords, the provision is for all local development documents, including the development plan documents, to be dealt with in the same way as in the original bill, providing that the development plan document cannot be adopted other than in accordance with the inspector's recommendations.
The Commons reason for disagreeing with our amendment is that it would not be consistent with measures to speed up the plan-making process. The Minister has been very forceful on that point—far more forceful, if I may say so, than when we originally debated whether the inspector's report should be binding. At that time we were talking about periods of around six months; now, it is several years.
Ministers have talked about the opportunities open to local authorities if the inspector gets it wrong—recourse to the courts, reconvening the examination in public, preparing a new document and even requiring the intervention of the Secretary of State. It seems to me that any of those courses might take far longer than the six months, which is what we were told was in issue.
I understand the arguments that have been made during the discussion of this issue about the front-loading of community involvement, and that "soundness" as a criterion covers everything that the local authority would itself want to have regard to. That is so. Presumably, under the proposed new system, if a developer appeals against planning refusal on a matter on which the local planning authority takes a different view from the inspector, the local planning authority's views would not even amount to a material consideration. At the moment if there is a difference that provision comes into play. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to confirm or deny that.
What it comes down to is that the Government would prefer to trust an inspector—I shall not quarrel over his independent status, although I do wonder whether it is necessary to have an independent person to check whether a local authority is complying with its own policy, which is what has just been suggested—rather than an elected local authority. Even having listened to the argument made again today, I do not understand that. In a matter of judgment, is it not right that the democratically elected body not an appointee—an independent person but an appointee—should make the judgment?
It may be that the Government do not want to say that they do not trust local authorities not to obstruct house-building plans. We have heard the Minister describe the problems of nimbyism—I apologise to him for using an acronym because we have tried to avoid them—at local level, but the Government have not actually said that. If the inspector has done the job thoroughly, the local planning authority is likely only very rarely to object to the recommendations. At the price of six months, or perhaps just occasionally a lot longer—if it is a lot longer the position must really be very complicated and I would suggest that there must be many issues to sort out—is it not worth not just getting the development plan right but being able, by putting the weight of the local authority behind it, to show that it is right and widely accepted?
I have not yet been struck by lightning for suggesting that six months is not terribly long in the matter. The older I get—and we have all got a lot older during the course of the Bill—the shorter the period I feel that it is. Amendment No. 21D standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, proposes that the authority cannot adopt a development plan unless it is certified as being in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy or spatial development strategy in London. As I said to her before we came into the Chamber, I am not entirely sure whether that is very cunning or whether it makes no difference in that general conformity would be required in any event because of that being about a part of the plan being sound—to use the technical term. I had hoped that we might hear whether the Government have comments on the amendment or indeed might accept it. We have not heard that, but I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's arguments. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 21 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 21A, leave out "not".—(Baroness Hamwee.)