Clause 24 - Two-person Panels

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 6th January 2015.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I wish you and all members of the Committee a very happy new year. As we come to debate part 4 and a series of changes to planning regulations, I am not sure that I can promise the excitement of killer shrimps, but we will probably have a lot of “wild bores”—we will see how we get on.

We have no real quibble with clause 24. The Government clearly set out the rationale for changing the number on the Planning Inspectorate panels to allow for two-person panels in the review of the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. I have a couple of clarifying questions for the Minister. The response from the Government to the NSIP review was not clear about the triggering factors for a two-person as opposed to a one-person or three-person panel. It would be helpful if the Minister reminded us what the triggers will be. Secondly, will the lead member in a two-person panel always be a more senior inspector, and if not, how will the lead member be chosen?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Good morning to you, Sir Roger, and to members of the Committee. As the shadow Minister said, we come now to part 4, which deals with matters less exciting  than invasive non-native species, but none the less does some important things to speed up the development of our infrastructure.

The purpose of clause 24 is to amend the Planning Act 2008 to allow the examining authority that examines nationally significant infrastructure projects to be comprised of two-member panels said. The number of inspectors who are assigned to an examination is decided on a case-by-case basis—I hope that that answers the question about what triggers it—taking into account the complexity of the case and the level of public interest in the outcome. So a number of factors will be taken into account in deciding whether one inspector is sufficient or whether there needs to be an additional inspector, given those criteria.

Currently, the law, as tightly defined back in 2008, allows only for examinations to be carried out by a single inspector or by panels of three, four or five inspectors. Applicants pay an examination fee based on the number of inspectors and the number of days that those inspectors sit. The Planning Inspectorate has reviewed its records and looked at the applications it expects to receive in the coming months and it estimates—it is quite a precise estimate—that 18% of applications would be suitable for examination by two inspectors if that option were made available. The proposal was consulted on in the Government’s review of the regime last year and received support from across the spectrum of users. It will provide much more flexibility in the way applications are examined and will ensure a better match between inspectors and work load.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 10:45 am, 6th January 2015

I thank the Minister for those comments. I shall not press the matter further this morning, but it would be helpful to have some indication of the criteria that are employed when deciding on the number of panellists. I do not think that the Minister answered my second question about how the lead member in a two-person panel will be chosen. I hope that the Minister will reflect further on these points and enlighten us at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.