HC Deb 21 May 1968 vol 765 cc241-53


Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in line 21, leave out paragraph (a).

I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it may be convenient for the House to consider, at the same time, Government Amendments No. 2 and 4.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

So be it, if that is convenient to the House.

Mr. Skeffington

In Committee on 15th February a requirement was written into the Bill to subsection (3)(a) stating that in making a survey of planning areas, an authority should keep under review the relationship between the development of that area … and the development and planning (including economic planning and development) of the United Kingdom and the Region of which that area forms part. Having had time to consider the matter, the House will realise that this obligation to keep under review and to survey the economic planning development of the United Kingdom as well as of the region of which the area forms part is very wide indeed. The Government feel that it would be wrong to impose on planning authorities the duty of collecting information about, and keeping under review, the economic activities of the whole country. There is provision in other parts of the Bill—for example, in subsection (3)(d)—concerning … the communications, transport system and traffic of … the area and of neighbouring areas. In that case the details concerning neighbouring areas will be undertaken by the authorities of those areas and not by the authority of the area which is making the survey.

This series of Amendments is, therefore, designed to take away—because it is unnecessary and far too heavy a commitment—this obligation to review planning matters for the country as a whole. At the same time, it retains, as a factor in the preparation of the strategic plan, the need to consider … the economic planning and development of the region as a whole No doubt this will come within the sort of policies which will be promulgated by the regional economic councils. The requirement of Amendment 2 should be properly taken into account in the making of strategic plans, but this requirement is a less onerous obligation and a more relevant one. Amendment 4 is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2 being accepted.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

In Committee the paragraph which is now being deleted by Amendment 1 was introduced on a Motion by Government supporters and my hon. Friends found it attractive because it reflected an argument which we had adduced on Second Reading. That argument was that the Bill was putting the cart before the horse from the point of view of local government reform. We felt that, with the Royal Commission sitting on the question of local government structure, the right time for the Bill would have been when the House and the public knew what structure local government would take.

I was not anxious to delay reforms in town and country planning, but I would have hoped that they could have come forward quickly so that we could have fitted them into the reform procedure, and I particularly had in mind what the Royal Commission might advise should be done about regional structure. This is specifically mentioned in the paragraph introduced in Committee and in the paragraph now to be introduced into Clause 2 by Amendment 2. I still think, that it would have been better had the local government reforms been brought forward quickly so that the town planning reforms could have fitted into the new structure. As it is, we do not know on what local planning authorities will be directed to prepare structure plans and it is, therefore, difficult to see with what they should concern themselves in preparing those plans.

We are left in doubt about the size of the authorities, the areas they will cover in preparing structure plans and, therefore the extent to which they will have to look at regional planning. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the paragraph introduced in Committee went too far in requiring local planning authorities to consider national planning, and in Committee my hon. Friends had in mind regional rather than national planning. This is what we wanted to see inserted in the Bill. We are faced with removal of what the Committee put into the Bill and substitution of something in another place in the Bill.

12 noon.

By Amendment No. 1 we take out the obligation on the local planning authority to examine regional planning at the stage when the survey is being made. Under subsection (3) the local planning authority, in making its survey as a preliminary to preparation of the structure plan, is required to consider certain matters. The subsection says, the matters to be examined and kept under review and then it sets out what matters have to be examined and kept under review by the local planning authority.

One of them, introduced by the Committee, was paragraph (a): the relationship between the development of that area on the planning of its development and the development and planning (including economic planning and development) of the United Kingdom and the Region of which that area forms part. If we remove that, there is no obligation to examine or to keep under review regional policy in relation to the development of the area to which the structure plan applies. Then we have the extraordinary position that, being under no obligation to examine it, the authority must have regard to it when drawing the structure plan.

Mr. Skeffington

Has the hon. Member overlooked paragraph (b)?

Mr. Page

Paragraph (b) says: the principal physical and economic characteristics of the area of the authority (including the principal purposes for which land is used) and, so far as they may be expected to affect that area, of any neighbouring areas. We discussed this in Committee. It deals with the development of the area of the local planning authority and how it will affect its neighbours. I grant the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a wider outlook than just the area of the local planning authority, but it is not looking at it from a regional point of view. That would have been provided by paragraph (a) as introduced by the Committee.

Returning to my previous point, the local planning authority will not be required to examine the regional aspects of its proposals in the course of the survey, but when it formulates its structure plan, if Amendment No. 2 is accepted, it will be required to have regard to current policies with respect to the economic planning and development of the region as a whole. This leaves the matter very much in the air for the local planning authority. If it is to formulate a structure plan on the survey, we should let it have the facts in the survey, but to give it new facts to which it is to have regard under subsection (4) at the stage when it is formulating the plan, will leave it with no basis of fact on which to formulate the plan.

This becomes even more important when we consider how the public come into participation. When we look further into the Bill and at the new Clauses we have discussed, we see that the public are to be given information about the survey. That is the first thing which is to be put before the public. If we exclude from the survey any investigation of regional planning, that point will be missed in presenting the whole picture to the public. There will be this gap which will be jumped in preparation of the structure plan.

I fail to see the reason for excluding consideration of regional planning when the survey is being prepared and including it later when the structure plan is under consideration. We have agreed on both sides of the House, and agreed on both sides in Committee, that there are two clear stages with which to start. First, there is the survey in which the local planning authority will get all its facts and to some extent reach conclusions on them by setting them out in some form of a report. Next, the authority is to prepare a structure plan if and when ordered by the Minister to do so.

In preparing that structure plan, the authority is to give consideration to what is in the survey and, one hopes, to base its conclusions on the facts presented in the survey so that the structure plan is a natural follow-on to what is disclosed in the survey. To ask it to consider some other facts when preparing the structure plan—facts which are not disclosed in the survey—will not only put the local planning authority in some difficulty but will not present the full picture to the public when the plan and survey are given publicity under a later Clause.

A point about the actual wording of Amendment No. 2 and the introduction of the paragraph into subsection (4) refers to the region as a whole. I am not quite clear what is meant by "the region" at this stage of our development of local government structure. We have economic regions at present. I presume that the phrase economic planning and development of the region as a whole refers to regions covered by the appointed regional councils, but the word "region" is spelled with a small "r". We use this word in discussing local government, particularly local government reform. Some people have an idea of 50 or 60 regions as top authorities for the country, a sort of pyramid of authorities. Others have in mind a much smaller number— 10 or 20, or even fewer. We should like to have an explanation of what the Government had in mind when drafting this Clause with a small "r" and referring to regions in general.

We should have left paragraph (a) in Clause 1 even if the wording might have been a little better. We should include some such paragraph as is suggested by Amendment No. 2 in Clause 2.

Mr. John Fraser

Since I can claim parentage of paragraph (a) in Clause 1, I express satisfaction with the proposal made by the Government. On reflection, I think it right that local planning authorities should not be under an obligation to survey the whole of the economic requirements of the United Kingdom. I fully accept that argument.

I also accept that Clause 1 of the Bill deals with physical characteristics, economic characteristics and factual matters about population, and so forth. It is probably right to include in Clause 2 the provision to have regard to the economic development of the region, because at that stage they are making a policy decision, having made a factual survey of the economic conditions.

We are making a very big advance in writing into the Town and Country Planning Bill for the first time the obligation on the planning authority to look at the economic planning of its area instead of at the conventional factors in town planning. I am grateful that the Government have accepted the idea, and I think that this is probably the right way to do it.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I hope that I shall be forgiven if I seem to be a little nervous, but, whether it be in Standing Committee or in this Chamber, I seem to be constantly bombarded with Closures, Adjournments, and Guillotines, which tend to affect one's confidence in addressing the House, and is most upsetting generally.

The Amendment is a triumph for the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), who raised the matter in Committee, although his Amendment is now being moved out by Amendment No. 1. He made a very powerful speech in Committee which helped to persuade hon. Members on this side of the House to vote with him for his Amendment. I agreed with him fully and I spoke in support of his Amendment in Committee. I said, as I did on Second Reading, how very important it was that the economic factors of planning should not be left out, and equally how important it was that the regional economic planning councils should feel that their fact-finding and their decisions were not wasted. The amount of material collected by these councils, even if not much has been done with it so far, is quite formidable and would be of considerable help to a planner. I cannot agree that economic development should not be a factor in the survey. I think it should.

If I may give a reason for that view, in Lancashire there has been a very extensive study of the setting up of a new town at Chorley and Leyland. The original intention was to have a town based on the M.6 as a growth point in that area of Lancashire. Subsequently, a further study called "Impact" was undertaken, which considered the layout, the geological structure of the area and to a certain extent the economic trends that were likely to develop, the rundown of North-East Lancashire and the impact that this might have.

12.15 p.m.

What, for example, it did not do, and which I would hope would be included in the word "economic" which is used in the Amendment, was to consider also the fiscal matters which have a direct effect on planning. The problem is not only, shall there be a new town in a certain place? If that happens it will affect the other towns around it in North-East Lancashire. The planners should do two planning schemes before a new town is started, one based on the assumption that the new town would be developed with fiscal incentives from the Government, such as other new towns receive, and one on the assumption that it would be developed without such fiscal incentives Fiscal incentives make a tremendous difference. It means that it will be much more difficult to get development in the older part of the area, and it will perhaps accelerate the rundown. Dealing with this matter in isolation from economic facts is what worries me.

The Amendment now before us takes the matter a stage further. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said, we are in the interim period before the report of the Royal Commission, and we do not know what will be the final shape of local authorities. Presumably, it will be possible at that time for the word "regional" to be given another meaning than that which it has here. All sorts of regional authorities may be proposed, even an assembly in Scotland. I welcome the Government's move as far as it goes, but I still have a feeling that the hon. Member for Norwood had the right idea in the first place.

The Government Amendment in subsection (4), on page 3, makes it absolutely compulsory for the local authority to take into account the matters mentioned in the Amendment. If a local authority or a local planning authority does not take these matters into account in formulating its plan, does that give ground for the plan to be invalidated at a later stage?

The hon. Member for Norwood has done the House and planning a great service, by raising this matter originally, and I only wish that it had been possible for the Government to go further with him than they have done.

Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)

In general, we would agree with the Amendment which has now been proposed, although, as the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) has said, the original Amendment of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), which we all supported in Standing Committee, very intelligently met the point at issue.

The word "region" in the Amendment has, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde has pointed out, a small "r" at the beginning of it and not a capital "R". Have the Government given full consideration to what might ultimately be the pattern of local government in the country when the two Royal Commissions have reported?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has said, there is a possibility that we may have one of two alternative patterns. One does not have to be a seer in order to realise, by the way in which the evidence has been presented to the Royal Commissions, both by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and by the Treasury, that it is highly probable that we shall have regions based on the cities, principally because Whitehall desires to keep a grip on local authorities. I think it should be the other way round, and that there should be considerable autonomy granted to bigger regions, but this is an entirely personal view.

As at present drafted, the Amendment does not say what sort of region we are dealing with. We know that we have the economic planning regions which were set up under the ill-starred and ill-famed National Plan, and we also know that there are various other regions. There are hospital regions, Post Office regions, and I believe we have Income Tax regions, but there is no comprehensive or coherent pattern at the present time. The Minister should say what is meant by the word "region" and whether it would not be possible at a later stage, possibly in another place, to spell out more clearly in the Amendment what exactly is meant. At present I suggest that it means exactly nothing.

Mr. Iremonger

I did not have the great benefit and privilege of being selected to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, but I followed its proceedings, as well as every detail of the Bill, with the greatest possible interest, although a very heavy demand on resources of time and energy is made on hon. Members who want to keep abreast of the totally unnecessary volume of legislation which the present Government has introduced.

I welcomed the insertion of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) about taking regional developments into consideration, and I cannot see the merit of the way the Government are tinkering with this. Clause 1 says that local planning authorities shall institute a survey of their areas and keep certain matters under review. Then, on the basis of the survey and the review, they shall produce a plan and a policy. That seemed to me a perfectly logical and sensible way of going about things, because the plan and the policy are based on considerations of what is going on in neighbouring regions.

But if one is to have one's survey and review and then produce the plan and policy, and suddenly tag on to it certain observations about what is going on that one has not noticed, surveyed or reviewed in neighbouring regions, what will be the effect? Presumably an authority will say, "We have had our survey and review. On the basis of them this would be the plan and policy, but—dear me !—this makes nonsense because we did not survey one of the things that will affect our plan and policy." Can the Minister explain just how it is better to take account of something which affects one's plan and policy after one has made it rather than before?

No doubt there is deep wisdom in this which has escaped me. The hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, and, when he does so, I have no doubt had it, because there will be infinite wisdom residing in the head he is shaking. I hope that he will explain the matter to the House, because it seems absolutely plumb crazy.

What is a region? I have long given up hoping that in legislation or other public utterances any regard will be paid to syntax or grammar, let alone such subtle matters as the use of capital letters. I am glad that this has been noticed. In St. James's Park there is a notice saying: No commercial vehicles allowed in here Unless authorised. Suddenly, in the middle of upper and lower case, there is a capital "U" for unless.

If the Minister of Transport or whatever authority is responsible can put up that sort of monstrosity in a public notice, we cannot be surprised at a certain inconsistency in Bills and Amendments to them. It is confusing to find in the Bill a capital "R" for regions and in the Amendment a small "r".

What is a region? This will have to be construed by the courts. I see no mention of "region" in the interpretation Clause, it is not something which is established by Statute. This strikes me as being legislation by leading article, because in leading article after leading article the pundits have been pontificating on regional this and regional that, regions here and regions there. The. House has been mesmerised into thinking that we have such things as regions, but there are no such things.

One of my hon. Friends said that there was some implication of regionalism in the National Plan, but I should have thought that that was not a definition but an admission of total failure and despair. If one sees reference to regions in the National Plan I should think that they are things which do not exist, not things which could be incorporated later in legislation.

So, I have two questions for the Minister. What is the merit of considering the basis of one's action after taking the action instead of before? Second, what is meant by "regions", whether with a capital or a lower case "r"?

Mr. Skeffington

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) said. I am glad that he feels that we have gone a long way to meeting the very important point he made in Committee. He recognises, and I believe that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) will recognise if he applies his mind to it, that it would be a very heavy responsibility to place on all planning authorities the obligation to survey the whole of the economic planning of the United Kingdom—not even of England and Wales alone. That was the effect of the Amendment made in Committee.

The planning authorities have their own staffs, and they would all be doing such surveys, which would mean duplication. Therefore, whilst we do not ignore this factor, as I hope to demonstrate, it seems right to take this statutory obligation from them. There are already in the regions other bodies that would be doing this. The regional economic planning councils will be propounding their policies, and these can and must statutorily be taken into account in the formation of the strategic plan under Clause 2. The work will be done, and the information will be there.

The planning authorities are still under an obligation under Clause 1(3)(b) and (d) to consider areas adjacent to them. They already have obligations in relation to a sub-region, to an area wider than their own, but they are shorn of the difficulties of wasteful duplication of resources because, by Clause 1(4), they can rely on the adjacent authority for information they want in making their own survey of the sub-region.

That is why I am sure that it is right for us to take away the need to do something which is being done by others, thus avoiding wasteful duplication in keeping under review the whole economic processes of the United Kingdom, and to make Amendment 2 to Clause 2, under which planning authorities shall have regard to current policies with respect to the economic planning and development of the region as a whole; That clearly means the economic region in which the local authority is situated. We may later be faced with much larger authorities as a result of the recommendations or proposals of the Royal Commission. In that case, if the wording is not suitable, we can introduce Regions, with a capital "R", or so define the word as to cover the new set-up. We cannot do that at this stage. "Region" now clearly means a region covered by a regional economic planning council.

The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) asked about resources, and the need for them to be taken into account. He will see that the point he made is covered in Clause 2(4).

Mr. Clegg

I asked whether the word "economic" here also included the fiscal elements of attracting industry from one area to another.

Mr. Skeffington

The sentence to which I drew the hon. Gentleman's attention says: … shall have regard to the resources likely to be available … and that certainly covers fiscal.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his most helpful remarks. I feel that I can go with him to the extent that it would be unreasonable for every authority to have to look at the whole of the economic planning of the whole country. However, that can be got over by removing the few words that include it I am sorry that the Government feel they must take out the whole of the subsection, because, as has been mentioned, the Committee passed this by a large majority from both sides.

I thought that we had the support of the Minister at that time, because he said: With these two Amendments, we have come to the substance of the Clause as opposed to procedural matters, and we have plunged deeply into the subject already. I welcome the debate which we have had and the points which have been made, and with the exception of the matter to which I will turn in a moment—namely, how much we should write into the Bill—I am in agreement with almost everything that hon. Members have said on both sides of the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 15th February, 1968; c. 16.] The objection at that time was principally whether this should be included—as I see it, more to dot the i's and cross the t's. I cannot see how this subsection can damage the Bill. It can only strengthen it.

I appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary's point about wasting the resources of neighbouring authorities, but with cooperation (here need not be waste. This is an important part of the Bill, because it would ensure the underlying necessity of planning perhaps a fairly large area, not only from the amenity point of view, but the economic balance.

In Portsmouth, we had a recent experience of the Buchanan Report on what is known as the Solent city. It has clearly shown the necessity of getting a much wider area, which includes two large cities and EL rural area with all their difficulties and problems. It would be of value to keep this subsection in the Bill to make csrtain that in such cases the large area would be considered.

Amendment agreed to.

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