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Planning — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:20 pm on 13th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 1:20 pm, 13th October 2011

My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I have been so impressed by the quality of the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Rooker that I want to make one or two comments in this reunion of Planning Ministers. When we first came into Government in 1979, I had that responsibility for four years in the Department of the Environment.

I also wanted to add a voice from these Benches to my noble friend in support of some of the helpful comments that have been made. I particularly thought that the noble Lords, Lord Hart, Lord Howarth and Lord Rogers, made most interesting speeches.

I shall make just three points. First, there must be a presumption in favour of brownfield land. That is not just important because you are saving green fields. It is crucially important for urban renewal-town centre and city centre renewal. It is more difficult and takes a little more time but the benefits are very real. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, brought that point out very clearly.

Secondly, a point was made that some people had been pretty slow about local plans. Wiltshire, which I know quite well, has formed itself into a unitary authority within the past 18 months. It is now in the process of trying to create its local plan. It has not been dilatory: it is just that it does not have one at the moment. I hope that those points have been taken into account. I do not know whether the period should be one or two years-the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, suggested two years-but it would be intolerable if developers were able to take advantage of the absence of a local plan, perhaps for perfectly valid reasons, to establish quite unacceptable developments.

Thirdly, I understand the enthusiasm of new Ministers coming in when they launch these new policies. It seems a wonderful statement to get rid of 1,000 pages and have only 52. I have a certain feeling that I am probably responsible for one or two of the pages that will now be swept away by the great reformers. I dare to believe that there can now be a period of reflection when we might just draw on-the noble Lord, Lord Hart, made this point-the merit in some of the stuff there. If we do not quite achieve a 52-page outcome, it might be worth while seeing what is really of merit and quality that can be kept.

I particularly welcome the splendid way in which my noble friend has dealt with a very difficult situation. This was not magnificently launched at the start and there were many misunderstandings. I think that we can find our way through to a sensible planning policy that must have continuity and good sense behind it. Some of the arguments have suggested that it does not matter about planning because we have plenty of green fields and areas. After a short break, I went from being Secretary of State for the Environment to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There are an enormous number of green fields in Northern Ireland but anyone who looks can see how planning has gone wrong there. People have been allowed to build in quite inappropriate places in really wonderful countryside.

Of course we must encourage growth where sensible, but getting sensible planning policies in place on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis is very sensible and I admire very much the way in which noble Lords have conducted this debate.