There are two issues. One is about rights to be heard. We have decided now in the Bill to call several documents “development plan documents,” which has a specific legal meaning and a specific legal way. So the strategic plan, the supplementary plan and the local plan are now all development plan documents. If a development plan document is being prepared, it has legal weight in planning, and the quick answer is there therefore must be a right to be heard. On the strategic plans, the Bill currently says that it positively excludes the right to be heard at an examination. That seems to us wholly wrong and unnecessary. If people want to, we should give them the opportunity turn up at an inquiry and test the evidence.
To be clear, even if the criteria are set nationally, green belt allocations will probably be set in those strategic plans. In other words, the issues that people really care about have to be debated in an arena where there is a right to be heard. That would be an easy modification to make, and I so hope that Ministers will seriously give it consideration.
The other issue is centralisation. That worries us even more, because nationally described development management policy has a new legal status. There has been some debate about that, and we are absolutely convinced that it does have a new and special legal status as national policy described in law. The clauses elevate that policy so that where there is a dispute, it is resolved in favour of the national policy.
There are no limitations on what the Secretary of State can include in that national development management policy; nor is there a robust process of parliamentary scrutiny, which there is for national policy statements in major infrastructure. That has to change. If the Government are determined to have such a policy, parliamentary scrutiny and public participation in setting it are crucial.