HC Deb 02 February 1965 vol 705 cc868-9
6. Mr. Ogden

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what is the average length of time between the holding of a public inquiry on town centre redevelopment proposals and the publication of his decision.

Mr. MacColl

Fourteen months. Where, exceptionally, a second inquiry has to be held the average time taken is about twice the normal average.

Mr. Ogden

Will the Minister use his influence to see that the new regional planning boards help to shorten this procedure? Will he give particular attention to the situation in Middleton, a non-county borough in Lancashire, where a public inquiry was held on 14th January last year, but where no final results have yet materialised? Will he give this question special attention, since the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby happens to be the Chairman of the Middleton Town Centre Redevelopment Committee, and his municipal term of office expires in May this year?

Mr. MacColl

The citizens of Middleton will regret the departure of my hon. Friend, and the exercise of his responsibility. It may help him if I tell him that after the inquiry was held in January a number of modifications were made to the scheme, and that those were sent to the county council on 4th November last. We are now awaiting its conclusions on those suggestions.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will the Minister give thought to extending the system of inquiry by letter, which cuts out a lot of time involved in bringing witnesses and having to discuss the question at the normal public inquiry? If the present system of statements by letter were extended so that it was more comprehensive it might save a lot of time. Will the Minister give thought to a possible extension of this system?

Mr. MacColl

My right hon. Friend is giving particular and immediate attention to the problem of shortening the whole of the procedure in the matter of planning appeals and similar questions. But many of these schemes of central area redevelopment are extremely complicated. There is a great deal of human emotion, and the schemes are violently contested. I would not have thought that they were the sort of cases which could be resolved by an exchange of letters. I would have thought that the publicity of an inquiry was the fairest way.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

In the Minister's reconsideration will he bear in mind the need for giving objectors adequate notice of plans of this sort? In other countries one is required to give long notice if one wishes to build a house or a block of flats, so that people may have an opportunity to object. In this country there is now a tendency for objectors not to hear of these plans until it is too late—when a Ministerial decision has been taken. Will the rights of objectors be preserved?

Mr. MacColl

My right hon. Friend his been shot at for taking too long in considering objections. He is now being criticised for not giving enough time to objectors. If he adopted the hon. Member's proposal it would tend to hold up proceedings. This illustrates the difficulty of the matter. One has to hold a balance between the understandable anxieties of the public and the importance of getting a move on with these proposals. My right hon. Friend's unhappy duty is to hold that balance.