HC Deb 23 October 1968 vol 770 cc1461-8

Lords Amendment No. 77: In page 42, line 46, at end insert new Clause "F": F.—(1) The Minister may give directions to local planning authorities with respect to the matters which they are to take into consideration in determining an application—

  1. (a) for planning permission for any such development as is referred to in section 1(6) of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 (special provisions as to publicity for applications affecting Conservation Areas); or
  2. (b) for listed building consent for any works for the demolition, alteration or extension of a building in a Conservation Area,
and with respect to the consultations which such authorities are to undertake before determining any such application. (2) Different directions may under this section be given to different local planning authorities; and any such directions may require an authority—
  1. (a) before determining an application to consult such persons or bodies of persons as the Minister may specify, being persons or bodies appearing to him to be competent to give advice in relation to the development or description of development to which the directions have reference;
  2. (b) to supply to any person or body, whom they are required by the directions to consult, specified documents or information enabling the body to form an opinion on which to base their advice;
  3. 1462
  4. (c) to establish committees, consisting either of members of the authority or of other persons, or of both, to advise the authority in relation to the detemination of such applications as are referred to in subsection (1) above."

Read a Second time.

Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is an important provision, which has aroused some hostility from the local authority associations, which I understand. When this matter was discussed in another place, they were not perhaps fully aware of the consequences of the Amendment. I think that they may have exaggerated its consequences.

To give a brief background to this, subsection (1) of the Civic Amenities Act requires local planning authorities to determine which parts of their areas are areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to retain. It provides for certain effects to take place if there is a question of development coming before them in relation to this conservation area.

It was suggested by a great many interests at various times, and certainly in another place that it is important to get the right advice if the whole purpose of the Civic Amenities Act is to be effective. Subsection (1) enables the Minister to give directions—it is an enabling Clause—to the planning authorities about the matters which they are to take into account when considering the applications for development in conservation areas. Subsection (2) makes it clear that different directions may be given to different authorities. This is obviously right, as in some cases no directions may be given. There is also the question of the appointment of an appropriate committee to advise. I understand the arguments of those who say that we have a learned Royal Commission reporting, that there should be fewer committees, and provision is being taken in this instance for an additional one.

Every case must be taken on its merits. As, in the case of the Countryside Act, it may be necessary in the initial stages for a special committee to be set up to consider countryside matters until the codes and the problems of areas have been decided, so it seems important that in certain circumstances there should be consultation with the appropriate bodies in this important matter. That will go a long way to retaining those parts of our ancient cities the character of which we should safeguard by every means we can.

I can give an undertaking, which I am glad to do now in view of the local authority interest, that it is the Minister's intention only to recommend the setting up of such committees. It would not normally be a direction. The matter will be dealt with on the basis of tolerance and understanding, which is important.

Nevertheless, all the bodies which are interested in this work—the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments and Buildings, the Victorian Society, the Georgian Society, certainly the Civic Trust and a great many others—feel that the general provisions of the Clause, which had a warm welcome in another place, are valuable. I hope that, in the way that I have suggested they will be interpreted, they will be widely welcomed in the House.

Mr. Allason

There is quite a lot to the new Clause. The Parliamentary Secretary ended by admitting that it was mandatory, but not, he said, in the case of the last item of the Clause—the advisory committees. From the wording of the beginning of the Clause, I take it that the remainder is mandatory, because it states that The Minister may give directions to local planning authorities with respect to the matters which they are to take into consideration in determining an application. That means that they must obey the directions of the Minister. That is my first objection. The Minister already has power to give advice. Here, however, the intention is that he shall direct that certain steps should be taken.

First, let us look at paragraph (a) of subsection (1), which concerns the giving of directions for planning permission for any such development as is referred to in section 1(6) of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 (special provisions as to publicity for applications affecting Conservation Areas)". Already, the Minister has issued Circular 53/67 giving local authorities advice on how they should deal with conservation areas. They have been given some specific hints. Presumably, it is on these lines that the directions will now come. As one example, the Ministry has indicated to local authorities that where there is a conservation area, outline planning application should not be accepted; plans for any proposals within a conservation area must be detailed plans with drawings attached.

I do not know whether any reasonable consideration was given to this when the Ministry sent out this circular, but there are a number of objections. First, detailed plans with drawings mean very considerable expense for the developer. Remember that the developer normally goes along with outline planning permission to discover whether the local authority is amenable to the idea, and whether it will be possible to carry out the operation. It is always understood that the outline plans are there to be obtained at reasonably little expense before the developer starts getting down to detail. When he gets down to detail it costs tens and even hundreds of pounds, for preparing detailed plans for submission to the local authority wherever there is a conservation area.

I am happy to say there are many conservation areas already, and many more to come, but wherever there is a conservation area the expense to the developer is considerable. It is possible for outline plans to have conditions attached to them. If it is necessary to ensure that outward appearance, the type of use, and so on, shall be in conformity with the necessity that the area should be conserved, I can see no reason why that cannot be in the conditions attached to outline planning permission.

Then comes the question whether this is a feasible proposition. Remember that outline planning permission is required when a building changes hands. The Minister may say that it is possible for the developer to go along informally to the local authority and find out the sort of plan which would be acceptable and that this will avoid the expense of submitting detailed plans with drawings, but this is not much good where property is going to change hands. The purchaser will require to know not merely that "I have it on the old boy network that it will be all right", but that there is an outline planning permission with conditions attached. Then he is in a position to go ahead.

This is a situation which is thoroughly unsatisfactory. The Ministry has already started on it, but at least at the moment local authorities do not have to accept its advice. I take it that this Clause means that the advice will be translated into orders, into directions which the local authority has got to accept.

Turning to subsection (2) of the Clause, the directions will require an authority to consult such persons or bodies of persons as the Minister may specify". Remember, this is mandatory. This is going much too far. This refers to amenity societies. We know that some amenity societies are excellent, but, at the other end of the scale, there are amenity societies which are little more than small pressure groups to preserve semi-private amenities. It ought to be clear whether the Minister, in directing a local planning authority as to which bodies it should consult, means every body which has formed itself into an amenity society or which calls itself an amenity society.

12.15 a.m.

There must surely be choice. Who is to do the choosing? Clearly, the Minister cannot. He has not a clue as to the motives and background of every amenity society in the country. I am happy to say that the amenity societies, like the conservation areas, are growing in number at a great rate, so clearly the Minister cannot do the choosing. The local authorities are not allowed to do the choosing, because under this Clause the Minister is taking the power to order local authorities which amenity societies they have to consult, so it is perfectly clear that the Minister is looking somewhere else, and I suggest that the only other place one can look is the Civic Trust, which maintains a register of all amenity societies in the country.

If it is the Minister's intention to go to the Civic Trust and get advice, he should say so. When we look at this a little more closely we find that this is not a once-for-all reference. It is that all cases shall be considered in conjunction with x number of amenity societies which the Civic Trust have recommended to the Minister, because each planning application has a different scope. Some are of national importance, so that it will be necessary. The wording of the new Clause indicates that it is the intention that for individual applications, individual separate instructions shall be given. Clearly, different amenity societies will be concerned with different types of planning application.

This means that an enormous amount of work will he placed on the Ministry and I suggest that they will probably try to shrug it off on to the Civic Trust, which ought not to have the burden of the volume of work I see arising from subsection (2).

Paragraph (c) is the one case which is not mandatory. The Parliamentary Secretary tells us that local authorities will only be advised to establish committees. I should have thought that this would be the one case which might be mandatory. Tell them to form committees, but for heaven's sake do not tell them how to form them.

I am second to none in my admiration for amenity societies. I have urged, during discussion of this Bill, that they should be brought into consultation, but this mandatory provision goes much too far. The Clause is resented by the local authorities, who were not adequately consulted. It implies that unless one gives mandatory instruction, they would fail to do their normal duty.

Mr. Skeffington

This is not mandatory.

Mr. Allason

It is mandatory in all cases except paragraph (c).

Mr. Skeffington

I am sorry that the hon. Member has not understood me. I was probably speaking too fast. What I said in relation to the forming of committees was that it was proposed not to direct, but to advise. The whole subsection is enabling and not mandatory.

Mr. Allason

If the Clause is enabling, there is no need to have it in the Bill, but I have drawn attention to the wording: with respect to the matters which they"— the local authorities— are to take into consideration … This is mandatory.

Mr. Skeffington

The hon. Member must read the Clause as a whole, or he will mislead everybody. It says at the beginning: The Minister may give directions to local planning authorities with respect to the matters which they are to take into consideration …

Mr. Allason

He may give directions. If he does not intend to give them we do not need the Clause, but having given them they are mandatory. The local authority cannot say, "I am sorry. We do not agree about the outline planning."

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member has an Amendment suggesting that the directions should not be mandatory. On the Lords Amendment he cannot discuss an Amendment which he has put down and Mr. Speaker has not selected.

Mr. Allason

I am speaking against the whole Clause, because it is mandatory. I had used the word "mandatory" three times before the Parliamentary Secretary interrupted and tried to prove that the Clause was not mandatory. I hope that we can pass on from that.

This is one more example of insensitive handling of local authorities by the Minister. He is always saying that he believes in independent local government and then giving it orders.

Mr. Clegg

I take this opportunity of welcoming the Parliamentary Secretary back to the Dispatch Box. Ministers of

" G.—(1) Where an application for planning permission for any development of land is made to a local planning authority and the case is one where the authority are required to comply with section 1(6) of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 (special publicity for planning applications affecting Conservation Areas) the authority shall also comply with the following subsection.
10 (2) The authority shall, for not less than seven days display a notice on or near the land to which the application relates, containing the same particulars as are required by section 1(6) (a) of the Civic Amenities Act 1967 to be contained in the notice to be published by the authority in a local newspaper.
15 (3) An application for planning permission to which section 1(6) of the said Act of 1967 applies shall not be determined by the local planning authority before both of the following periods have elapsed, namely:—
(a) the period of twenty-one days referred to in paragraph (a) of that subsection; and
20 (b) the period of twenty-one days beginning with the date on which the notice required by subsection (2) of this section was first displayed;
and in determining the application the authority shall take into account any representations relating to the application which are received by them before both those periods have elapsed.
25 (4) In the said section 1(6), paragraphs (b) and (c) shall cease to have effect."

Read a Second time.

Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we can take Lords Amendments Nos. 132, 198, 199 and 251.

State may come and Ministers of State may go, but he, like Old Father Thames, keeps rolling along.

I want to lake up the point made by my hon. Friend. The Clause gives the Minister reserve powers to interfere at will with local authorities, and this has been resented by local authorities. We must either decide to trust local authorities to do a good job or keep powers in reserve to deal with them if they do not behave as we want. In my opinion, it is time that we trusted local authorities; in fact, if we are to make any progress in devolution this is what we must do. That is why I support the attitude taken by my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.