Clause 9

Part of – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 24th April 2008.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport) 9:00 am, 24th April 2008

Perhaps it would help if I set out what we are trying to achieve in the first place with the changes in clause 9. The Transport Act 2000 requires all English local transport authorities to keep their local transport plans up to date and replace them every five years. It also places authorities under a general duty to keep their plans under review. Under the Bill, we are changing the system to allow local transport authorities to replace their local transport plans as they see fit. It does not alter the duty to keep the plans under review.

We want to do that because we want local transport authorities to have plans that are more responsive to the particular needs of each area. The Bill, for example, enables authorities to replace different parts of their plans at different frequencies. In larger areas in particular, a local transport plan might include both a long-term strategy and a phased plan for implementing its proposals. An authority might want to update the implementation part of the plan more frequently than it needed to revisit its overall strategy. Another example might an authority wanting to revise its parking strategy after 18 months, but not needing to do the  same for buses or road safety. Again, the Bill will give the authorities the flexibility to change parts of their local transport plan without having to go through all the bureaucracy of replacing it all at the same time.

The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington—I take his point about it being probing—would require local transport plans to be reviewed every five years, but not necessarily replaced. As I said, local transport authorities are already under a duty to keep their plans under review. That is set out in section 109(1) of the 2000 Act and we are not proposing any change to that duty. We feel, therefore, that the amendment would not add anything to that duty. It is superfluous. It could also be counter-productive, because keeping a plan under review should be a continuous business, while the amendment suggests a specific process done only every so often, and at least every five years.

Local authorities’ existing plans are due to run until 2010-11, and by summer 2009 we intend to have issued them with guidance on producing future transport plans. We will put a draft of that guidance out to consultation around the end of this year. Among other things, the guidance is likely to cover the process of reviewing and replacing local transport plans, and how and with what frequency, taking local circumstances into account, authorities should be looking to do that.

The hon. Gentleman might be concerned that a local authority may change its plan very rarely—perhaps that is the point of his amendment—but the response we have had from local authorities shows that they think that the local transport plans are useful documents, so I do not think that there is a serious risk that they will just put them on the shelf for five years, or for ever, and never look at them again.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in looking at the guidance when it comes out. I can assure him that we shall set out what we think is an appropriate way to continue that process of monitoring the local transport plans positively so that they reflect local circumstances and differing needs at different times.

Amendment No. 37 would introduce a new duty on local transport authorities to give a year’s notice of their intention to replace their plans, as the hon. Member for Wimbledon said. Preparing and replacing a local transport plan cannot be done overnight, not least because local transport plans are, for example, subject to EU regulations on environmental assessments. Clause 9 already places duties to consult on authorities, which could not be met by plans being produced overnight.

I hope that it offers hon. Members some reassurance to know that the new duty to replace plans as authorities see fit will not lead to constant changing of plans with little notice being given, if that is the worry in relation to the amendment.

Authorities will need to take the process of reviewing, changing and having proper consultations on their plans very seriously. However, requiring a year’s notice would run the risk of erecting a bureaucratic obstacle to the replacement of plans. In many cases, authorities may need a year, or more, to develop, consult on and approve their plans, but not necessarily. One example, which is particularly appropriate at this point, is a newly elected  administration wishing to change parts of its local plan as soon as possible. If some groundwork had been done as part of routine work carried out under the previous administration, it might not take a further year to complete the work. However, as it is not clear whether the amendment would apply to the replacement of part of a plan, it could be an obstacle to such updating.

Likewise, an authority might develop a local transport plan consisting of a longer-term strategy and a shorter-term implementation plan. The authority might want to replace just the implementation part of the plan, which might be achievable in less than a year, even allowing for consulting properly on the changes.

A local transport authority might be able to comply with the requirement to give at least a year’s notice, but, for reasons outside its control, it might need to replace its plans at a date later than the one it originally gave in the notice. It is not clear what legal effect the amendment would have in those particular circumstances.

In summary, local transport authorities are already under a duty to consult on their local transport plans. The amendments propose extra administrative duties, which we do not feel would secure more co-operation between local transport authorities and other bodies. In some circumstances, they would constrain the flexibility that we are aiming to introduce.

I hope that I have given some reassurance to Opposition Members and that they will not press the amendments.