Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:20 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative 10:20 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I, too, am interested particularly in the Welsh dimensions of the Bill. They are of general interest, not simply because of the complex interaction of the Bill with the planning powers of the National Assembly and its Government but because Wales is a significant source of various forms of energy, including nuclear energy, and water to England, and will, I trust, feature in a number of the national policy statements that will appear in time.

I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate when we may expect to see those statements, which are clearly important if the Bill is to attain its objective of abbreviating the time taken by planning consent procedures. Like my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, I regret that, although they are to be laid before Parliament, they do not seem to require parliamentary approval.

In this context, I am concerned particularly about the replacement of the Wylfa nuclear power station on my native Anglesey. The RTZ aluminium works at Holyhead and other plants in the north-west depend on its power supply. One fears that there will be a hiatus of some years between the end of the existing power station, which becomes obsolescent in 2010, and the start of its replacement. If the Minister can give some assurance on that energy-gap issue, I shall be very grateful.

Looking at the clauses relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects, I note the differences in treatment of some of them because of the differing powers and functions of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I know that my noble friend Lady Carnegy will refer to Scotland in Committee. Of the 15 different kinds of project listed in Clause 14, and subject to the succeeding Sections 15 to 29, there are some where the Assembly may have functions and others where it has none. It has no power or influence, for example, on onshore generating stations of more than 50 megawatts or offshore stations of more than 100 megawatts. This issue has already caused concern in mid-Wales, where there is a cluster of wind turbine generating stations, and in the resort towns on the north Wales coast, where a 750 megawatt offshore generating station is proposed. If the Assembly has no locus in granting consent to such developments, it is surely essential that Parliament approves the policy statement relating to them.

The projects in England which come within the scope of the Bill and which are within the Welsh Assembly's planning powers in Wales are quite numerous. They include LNG facilities, gas reception facilities, highways and airport developments, transfers of water resources and so on. I am not sure that these Welsh exclusions from the procedure envisaged in the Bill are necessarily advantageous to Wales—or to England for that matter. Most of our strategic highways, for example, run from east to west over the border to and from England: the M4 in the south and the A55 in the north. The Severn rises in Wales before it crosses the border, and Birmingham and Liverpool obtain their water mainly from Wales. If there were to be highway or water developments in England which required complementary development in Wales but could not be subject to the same planning procedure, it might be problematic. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

I come now to Part 10 of the Bill, which relates specifically to Wales. Clause 195, which appeared belatedly during Committee in the other place, is a framework clause which confers extensive primary legislative powers on the Assembly and its Ministers by amending the Government of Wales Act 2006. After the passage of this Bill, the Assembly will have power to pass Assembly measures, which have the force of law, in connection with the plans of Welsh Ministers in relation to the development and use of land in Wales; in connection with the review by local authorities of matters affecting the development of their areas; and in connection with local authority development plans and plans for land use. However, it is made clear that such legislation by the Assembly cannot prohibit a development consent under this Bill.

Clause 196 enables Welsh Ministers by order to give effect in Wales to a series of provisions in this Bill that relate to England only, as things stand. There is a precautionary flavour about some of the provisions in Clause 196. However, all in all this is a formidable package of primary and secondary legislative powers for Welsh Ministers. I confess to being personally averse to framework clauses such as Clause 195 because they mean that this Parliament confers primary legislative powers without knowing precisely how they will be applied. All we know is the key subject matter. In this case, I understand, along with the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that the National Assembly and its Ministers do not intend to follow the broad strategy of this Bill and have devised a planning strategy of their own based on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Part 6 of that Act is entirely devoted to Wales and contains some 18 clauses dealing with the Welsh spatial plan.

As the Minister Mr Dhanda told the Standing Committee in the other place on 5 February,

"Wales has its own distinctive development plan system that is still in its infancy".—[Official Report, Commons, Planning Bill Committee, 5/2/08; col. 663.]

Assembly Ministers are clearly taking advantage of this Bill to consolidate and increase their primary legislative powers—sometimes, it seems, just in case they are needed—and to extend such powers to reviewing local authority plans and ensuring that such plans are produced to their satisfaction. They already have some similar powers under the 2004 Act and it is not clear why they need them under the Bill. Local authorities in this context include national park authorities. It may be that some will feel that the Assembly is taking local intervention in this instance a step too far, confirming yet again its strong centralising tendencies.

Finally, I note that Assembly Ministers are among the list of those who may charge the community infrastructure levy. We all look forward to seeing the regulations, which are required in Part 11, to spell out in detail how the levy is to be imposed and the proceeds applied. The more one reads Part 11, the more distant the levy becomes from the individual development to which it relates.