HC Deb 26 January 1972 vol 829 cc1479-532

Order for Second Reading read.

7.11 p.m.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The title of this Measure has in brackets the word "Amendment". Perhaps we might better have used the words "miscellaneous provisions", because the Bill deals with a number of important matters relating to town planing which we have collected together in one Measure.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I endeavour to deal with the provisions of the Bill in four parts—first, the examination in public of structure plans; second, the structure plan areas; third, office development control; and, fourth, demolition in conservation areas. The Bill conveniently divides into these subjects, although that is not the order in which they appear in the Measure. Perhaps I have chosen them to some extent in order of importance.

I will start with Clause 3, which deals with the new procedure for the examination of structure plans. I shall probably shock those to whom all planning is anathema—those who I might call members of the lillies of the field school—when I say that town planning is now on a three-tier system with a mezzanine floor.

At the top is the regional strategy, prepared in the regions by an expert team provided by my Department and local authorities, sponsored by the Regional Economic Planning Council and standing conference of local planning authorities in each region. That is at the top of the planning pyramid.

One next comes to the structure plans, which will be prepared by the local planning authorities; under local government reform these will be prepared by county planning authorities. These are the plans which were introduced under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968.

It is perhaps wrong to call them plans in this context in that they consist of a statement of strategy, rather than a design on a map, setting out the policy and prin ciples on which a whole planning area is to be planned, but not drawing lines on a map or getting into those sort of details.

One next comes down to the basic grass roots planning of an area; that is the drawing of lines on an Ordnance Survey map to show in detail how it will affect the citizen in the street or the plot of land.

I said that there was in this three-tier system of planning a mezzanine floor. Here we find the industrial development control and office development permit systems. I do not think we should leave these out in thinking of planning. More and more they will come into the planning scheme rather than be remote from it. Indeed, in this Bill we deal with the O.D.P. system.

The Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, introduced a new development plan system. That sought to remedy the problems which had become apparent in the system originally introduced in 1947. I do not say that they were problems inherent in the 1947 system, but that is the way it worked out, and I am shocked to have to tell the House that I have found development plans in my Department which we have been conscientiously studying—there is nothing wrong in this under the present law—for 10 years or more. and we are still studying them.

This is happening because they are development plans which were detailed as "land use plans" and the responsibility of the Minister under the 1947 legislation had become involved in a mass of detail. Consequently, long delays ensued while the plans awaited the Minister's approval.

The new 1968 system, if I may call it that as a form of verbal shorthand, replaces the old development plan by two separate plans. The first is the structure plan, setting out broad strategic policies and proposals—it is eventually submitted to the Secretary of State—and the second stage is the local plan, which sets out in detail the way in which the structure plan proposals will be implemented at the local level. The local plan will not come before the Secretary of State unless he considers it needs his approval.

These new structure plans are not, as were the old plans, limited to land use. The planning authority must now cover transportation and take account of the economic implications of its proposals, and particularly of their relationship to regional policy. In the new system there is to be, for the first time in the history of development plans, a statutory process of public participation for both the structure and local plans so that people may have adequate opportunities to know about the choice of strategies and the proposals of their local planning authority and make their influence felt at this formative stage.

Thus, the new development plan system under the 1968 Act is different in three respects from its predecessors. First, it is a two-tier system of structure and local plans. Second, it is what I would call "whole planning"—not just land use but economic and regional planning. Third, we have public participation.

If my tone of voice is complimentary to this system, I admit at once that it was introduced by the Labour Government. I had pleasure in being a Member of the Committee which examined the Measure which introduced the system and I hope that I gave it all the support it deserved, because it is a system which I think we can make work.

However, those far-reaching changes were not accompanied by changes in the provisions for public local inquiries into objections. That is what we missed in dealing with the system. The Act just provided for an inquiriy into structure and local plans on the sort of litigation basis on which inquiries are held at present. I go as far as saying that that omission to devise an appropriate kind of inquiry for a structure plan could be fatal to the whole system we set up under the 1968 Act. The delay, the blight, the failure to probe and decide the real issues, the loss of sight of the wood for the trees, would frustrate planning and bring chaos to both development and conservation, which we want to achieve under the new planning system.

In the Bill we are not proposing to alter the well-established arrangements for public local inquiries into local plans. These are the ones in which we deal with the detail of the individual's property and his interests. It is clearly right that there should continue to be not only the right to object but for objections which are not withdrawn to be heard at a normal type of inquiry as we know it; no matter how minor the objections may be, from a financial or area point of view, they should be thoroughly considered. But the House will appreciate that if an inquiry in that traditional form had to be held on the basis of detailed objections to the new structure plan, there would be an unnecessary and unacceptable overlap, and consequently delay. Above all, we should have frustrated what has all along been seen as the prime object of the structure plan—the need for a plan which would enable the local planning authority to present, and the Secretary of State to consider matters of policy and general proposals, and which would secure the implementation of regional plans such as that which the Secretary of State has already approved for the South-East.

What the Government are therefore seeking to evolve from this new form of plan is a more relevant means of publicly examining the key issues which are raised by that plan. There will be a wide range of material from which to identify those issues—from the statement which the planning authority has to make on the outcome of the public participation which it has carried out, to the Secretary of State's own examination of the plan and the objections to it received. From all those we shall be able to identify the major issues raised by that plan.

As for the examination itself, which will be held in public, we need to provide a panel with a suitably independent chairman to discuss matters with the planning authority and with other participants on the inquiry, to probe aspects which have been seriously contested or give rise to objections, to assess worthwhile alternatives and finally to make a report to the Secretary of State. That report would he published, providing him with a basis for a decision on the plan far more relevant to the structural issues than could ever be the case if the examination had been concerned with detailed objections.

The Bill does not itself make any detailed provisions relating to the public examination. The new procedure will be evolved in consultation with those concerned, particularly with the Council on Tribunals, with which I have already had discussions, and we shall find the best procedure to put into regulations eventually. Some criticism of these ideas has naturally been put forward. The criticism has been focused mainly on what is thought of as the loss of the objector's right to be heard. In this connection I emphasise again that there will already have been ample opportunity for public participation.

It is a prerequisite of the procedure under this Bill that the public participation shall have been very thorough in depth even if perhaps restricted in time. There is no restriction to the right to object to the structure plan, and all objectors will still have their written objections considered. That remains an entrenched right for the individual. The statutory duty on the Secretary of State to consider their objections remains. The duty which we now impose on the Secretary of State, a mandatory duty, is to decide what are the main issues of this structure plan and see that they are thoroughly considered at the examination in public. That means a choice of not only the issues but of the participants as well. This will be difficult and we shall endeavour to provide a procedure at which the Secretary of State's choice, both of issues and of participants, can be questioned and discussed. If we can devise a procedure for discussion of the agenda first without causing too much delay or making it a cumbersome procedure, we shall have achieved the aim of this part of the Bill.

Again, those points in particular will be the subject of further discussions with all the interested organisations—the local authority associations, the professional bodies, and the Council on Tribunals. Provision has alrady been made in the Bill for ensuring that examinations are subject to the general oversight of the Council.

I hope that the House will forgive me for spending a little time on this matter. I can move fairly rapidly over the rest of the Bill. Going back from Clause 3 to Clauses 1 and 2, these deal merely with the mechanics of structure planning. As we left the 1968 Act, we had directed each local planning authority to prepare a structure plan. Some of them have wished to prepare the plan in conjunction with their neighbours and, by law, if they did so they could go on with their surveys over a wider area—South Hampshire, for example—but when they came to present that structure plan to the Secretary of State they had to take a pair of scissors and cut it up, which is just nonsense. So in the Bill we are providing that the local planning authorities can join together to make a structure plan over any area which is convenient. That is not mandatory. It is purely legalising a voluntary arrangement between local planning authorities. The Bill also provides that, if they change their minds at any time during that process, they can come out of the joint process and prepare their own plan, and whatever has been done in the joint process can be used in preparing any structure plan they choose to do on their own.

The other point on structure plans relates to London, and Clause 4 and Schedule I are important provisions for streamlining the planning system of Greater London. Existing legislation under the 1968 Act provides for the Greater London Council to prepare a structure plan, and each of the London boroughs to prepare structure plans—some 33 plans. Looking at the inquiry which is now proceeding into the Greater London development plan, the mind boggles at the time it might take not only to complete that inquiry but then possibly to have 33 more of these inquiries throughout the London boroughs.

In the Bill we are seeking to say that once we have got the Greater London structure plan, the London boroughs can go straight to the stage of preparing their local plans. This is not demoting them in any way; rather, it is promoting them, because they can prepare those local plans for the whole of the area if they choose, or for part of it, and they do not have to bring a local plan to the Secretary of State for approval. So they can get on with the job right away once they can fit their local plans into the Greater London Development plan. Again, these provisions will also enable the London boroughs to prepare such joint local plans as they consider appropriate.

I come now to the third part of the Bill, relating to office development control. Clauses 5 and 6 relate to the extension of the present powers in respect of office control beyond August of this year. The area of control has been successively reduced since 1969. The control itself dates back to 1965, and at present it is applied only to the South-East planning region and for developments over 10,000 square feet. When control was first introduced, it was seen by its authors as a temporary measure to control what was believed to be excessive office employment growth in London. Its life span was seven years. This means that, unless provision is made for continuance of its powers, it will lapse on 5th August of this year. Some hon. Members will doubtless say, "Good riddance", but there is still a purpose in it. The Government have carefully considered what they should do about office control. Few controls are without their enemies and the very powerful voices which have been raised for the abolition of these types of control have been raised on the grounds—to some extent, justified—that they have led only to a shortage of office accommodation in central London, with the result that they have contributed to a quite unprecedented rise in rents.

I have said that there is some justification of that criticism of the controls. The Government are not keen on interfering with the normal operations of commercial and professional development and would like to remove this additional irksome step in the planning process and leave it, perhaps, entirely to the planning process in due course. We have concluded that an intelligent use can be made of the control for a limited period to further the objectives of the Strategic Plan for the South-East.

Hon. Members will remember that in October of last year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the Government's decision to accept the main recommendations of the Strategic Plan for the South-East. We think that we can mould this control into a positive form. We propose in future to use the O.D.P. system positively in London so that we can meet on good planning lines the demand for office accommodation in London. There should be no restriction on the provision of modern office space in London to replace obsolete or outworn premises or to satisfy the requirements of businesses which can function properly only from London.

More than that, there needs to be a supply of new and modernised space available for developing concerns and to take advantage of new stimuli such as the entry into Europe, because we are seeing the demand even now at this early stage, in the City of London particularly—it may be a prestige demand, but it is there—from Europe.

In the near future a balanced policy of office development for London and for the region as a whole can be best brought about by the operation, principally by the local planning authorities themselves, of the new system of development planning of which I have spoken earlier.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that there is something of the chicken and the egg analogy in this? He knows from his experience that developers who want to develop in a city generally go in the first place to the local authority to get general planning agreement. Many town halls are now telling such intending developers, "Until you get an office development permit we cannot talk to you". Can he cut those lines?

Mr. Page

I was coming to that. There must be more co-operation between the O.D.P. system and planning, eventually to lead, I hope, to the abolition of the system and the building of it into the planning system entirely, but I do not think that the planning system is quite ready for it yet. When we get the structure plans and the local plans I am sure that we can bring the O.D.P. system into the planning system. In the meantime, we see a value in the more direct powers of control that we have under the O.D.P. system. Therefore, we propose in Clause 5(1) that the existing power should be extended for a further five years, but because we are determined not to keep the control a moment longer than is necessary we have included provisions to bring it to an end by Order in Council before 1977. I say again that in its administration we will ensure that it is an aid and not a hindrance to commercial development.

I come finally on what I call "part 4" to demolition in conservation areas. Section 1 of the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, requires local planning authorities to determine which parts of their area or areas are areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance and to designate such areas as conservation areas.

More than 1,500 of those areas have already been designated in England. They will normally include some buildings which are of special architectural or historic interest and which can be statutorily listed as such, with all the protection which listing as of architectural or historic value gives them. They will also include buildings which, although they can contribute to the character of the conservation area, are not such as could be listed. For example, a fine row of Victorian villas built around the middle of the last century gives a character to that conservation area, yet one would not dream of listing that row of villas as of great architectural or historic value. Anyone who knocks down the row of villas destroys the whole character of the conservation area; yet at present that can be done.

The Bill seeks to put restrictions on that, treating the demolition of a building of that sort in the same way as something which requires listed building consent would be treated. In future, if the House accepts the provisions of the Bill, conservation areas as they are designated will include certain areas—it may be a block; it may be a terrace—which the local planning authority thinks are of such a character that they should be protected from demolition and the planning authority will issue directions to that effect. Those directions will not be effective until confirmed by the Secretary of State, except in cases of emergency, when they will become effective immediately but will lapse unless confirmed by the Secretary of State within six months.

Once a direction becomes effective in respect of a building it will not be possible lawfully to demolish it without the consent of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State, and the normal rights of appeal will apply.

I should with some temerity mention that the provisions apply also to Scotland in a separate Clause—Clause 8—and in Schedule 3. It is necessary to do it in that way because of slight variations in the legislation in Scotland and because of reference to Acts not yet consolidated.

I have dealt, perhaps sketchily, with the four parts of the Bill. I said at the beginning that we have collected these miscellaneous items together in the Bill. They are urgent. There are no doubt many other matters in planning which it is desirable should be dealt with and which we might have included in the Bill, but they might have been controversial. We think that these four points are so important and so urgent to the proper administration of both development planning and planning control that we have collected them together in the Bill, and I hope that the House will accept them and give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

The whole House will want me to congratulate the Minister on a very clear exposition, which those who do not normally earn their living in planning or are not specialists in planning will have understood as well as the rest of us. If I may add a personal congratulation I thought it was a tour de force, especially as the hon. Gentleman was engaged in Committee the whole of yesterday on one of the most complicated Bills in the history of Parliament.

Mr. Graham Page

So was the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Silkin

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me a little churlish if I start with one complaint. On 18th October, on Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill [Lords], which was a consolidation Measure, I told the Solicitor-General, who was in charge of the Second Reading: I should be grateful if we could be told how the Government propose to deal with any amending legislation and whether they have any in mind at the moment. He said in reply: The right hon. Member asked how we would proceed with any further amendment of this legislation, when and if we were to wish to do so. I am not in a position to say on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment what legislation may or may not be in prospect—save only to say that there must never have been a time in the last 25 years when there have not been legislative proposals about town and country planning in prospect somewhere, because a constant stream of suggestions are made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1971; Vol. 823, c. 506–8.] So far so good, but let us look at the dates again. On 18th October we had the Second Reading of that Bill and on 3rd November, which was within three weeks, the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill. We wonder why it was necessary to hasten the consolidation Measure ahead of this Amendment Bill. Was it really necessary? The Government having decided to consolidate planning law—and most of those who practise this welcome it and regard it as very desirable—to come along with a new series of amendments almost immediately is, as I think Sir Desmond Heap pointed out in the Journal of Planning Law, rather like the situation when one shuts one door and another closes. I hope that we can do something to see that that does not recur. I believe it to be totally unnecessary. But I hope that the Minister will not take that personally, except perhaps as a guide to the future.

There are really four new provisions in the Bill, and perhaps another minor one. The minor one is contained in Clauses 1 and 2, the provision for general surveys, reports and structure plans and, if necessary, their withdrawal. I only mention it because my noble Friend Lord Greenwood, who was the architect of the 1968 Act, questioned in another place whether it was necessary. He felt that there could have been something like an avoidance-of-doubt Clause in the Bill. It may not have been necessary. His argument was that authorities had been perfectly able to combine in the past. But whether or not it was necessary, it is probably desirable to state it explicitly and I do not see that it can do much harm.

I turn to the question of the structure plan and the local plan. One must never draw an analogy too far, but the provision is almost like a White Paper as regards the structure plan and committee procedure as regards the local plan. I fully appreciate that changes had to be made, because the Minister was involved in far too much detail. Public inquiries tended to drag on and on. We have the awful warning of the Greater London Development Plan as a monument to how long they can go on. Perhaps I may differ with my noble Friend my father in saying that it may well be that development plans in the old sense were causing considerable time-lags. The Minister referred to matters still being considered 10 years afterwards. I could probably find examples of their being considered 20 years after. The provision is an evolution and we must understand it.

In general, the new proposals have been very much welcomed, particularly among my hon. Friends, on the basis that the Minister can select the key areas for examination. Not everyone is quite so convinced that time will be saved. There are some arguments; the National Federation of Building Trades Employers has some reservations, expressed in a note which it has circulated. Its reservations appear to be slightly mutually contradictory though that does not necessarily disqualify them. I understand that its argument is that the right to deny locus standi to all and sundry in structure plan inquiries may lengthen the local plan inquiries. We can see the force of that. It also says that structure plan inquiries are likely to be carefully rehearsed arguments between counsel appearing for powerful interested parties and that that would seem to lengthen the discussions about the structure plan.

One thing is certain: that we do not know. We shall just have to see how the provision works out, but for that reason it will need to be watched very carefully. I hope that the Minister will keep it constantly under review, because the aim is one that we are all seeking to achieve. However, we may not have the best possible answer. I am not being critical of the Minister's solution. I think that it probably is right, but we tend as the years go by to approach all matters concerned with the speeding-up of planning with a certain amount of caution. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is aware that it will have to be watched very carefully.

There is no doubt that Clause 4, dealing with London, will help enormously in the saving of time. On previous form, the grand show in London, the G.L.D.P., looked like beating "The Mousetrap" as the longest-running show in London. The removal of the horrifying prospect of a further 33 structure plans is something which all of us can only view with considerable relief.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned office development control. I do not know what all the fuss is about. The hon. Gentleman's proposal is neither so laissez-faire as some of my hon. Friends may think nor so wildly revolutionary as some of the hon. Gentleman's hon.

Friends may think. It is a wait-and-see policy—I nearly said a standstill policy. Clearly, something must be done this year, and the Minister has said "We shall give ourselves the right to go on for another five years if we want, but we could give it up after five days if we wanted to". So he is not committed to anything at this point.

I was impressed by the hon. Gentleman's arguments about the part the O.D.P. can play in the immediate future in the good planning and development of London. I was not as impressed with his arguments about Europe as perhaps he was, but there are other reasons why I should not have been quite so impressed with them. By the same token, since a large number of American enterprises have also taken up office accommodation in London, we are liable to join the North American Free Trade Area as well.

The final point of the hon. Gentleman's four points concerned buildings in the conservation areas. Here something is being achieved of great value. To say that it is long overdue is to say that neither administration was fully seized, at the moment when it considered conservation generally, with what could happen. I am very glad that what is basically a very necessary assimilation with the control of purely listed buildings has been entered into, but two points need to be considered.

First, as far as I can see there is nothing to prevent an owner from allowing his property to fall into decay, listed or not: Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive. It is possible—I do not say that it is generally done—to assist the effect of nature so that a building becomes so difficult of reconstruction that it literally falls to pieces.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. What he says is particularly true of some areas of the South-West, which have many thatched cottages that look very nice but are very expensive to maintain. One of the methods to see that they are rebuilt is to allow them to get into a terrible state of disrepair.

Mr. Silkin

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me. It is a matter to which the Minister's mind should be directed and to which there might be relatively easy answers.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Whereas what the right hon. Gentleman says is true, looking simply at the corpus of town planning law, there are other statutory provisions that may be relevant in this context. If people allow their premises to get into disrepair, under other statutory codes they may be liable to pains and penalties.

Mr. Silkin

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct with regard to a number of cases but not, alas, every case, as he will appreciate.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. This seems to be developing into a Committee debate. Does not he agree that the real trouble is that the preservation legislation is very largely negative and that positive inducements—probably tax inducements—are the answer to make it worthwhile for people to preserve and enhance the properties we want to see preserved? At present we are far too negative.

Mr. Silkin

I think that in part the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is the answer, but there are other methods to deal with the problem as well. It is a question that we need to examine fairly closely. Fortunately, there is now an ambience of preservation and conservation in the country. There is perhaps a sudden realisation that we have a considerable heritage to preserve and conserve, and that the more we can do about it now the better it will be for our descendants.

Having had a certain amount of agreement from Conservative hon. Members, may I go on to another point on which they may not be quite as unanimous? Why should not demolition of unlisted buildings also be subject to control outside the conservation areas? The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said there are a number of pains and penalties in relation to that but we agree that they do not cover every property, whether in a conservation area or not It is always an easy answer to say, not that the Minister would necessarily say it, "This is not the time or the place. We can deal with that in some other Bill at some other time", if indeed the hon. Gentleman has any sympathy with the point. I hope that he has. I take heart from the fact that he himself called the Bill almost a miscellaneous provisions Bill, and indeed it is. It consists of a number of different provisions not allied to one another, not linked with one another. Therefore, it would be quite possible to do it.

Although, hopefully, the general effect of the earlier Clauses will be to speed up planning inquiries and cut down the period of blight, which is what we are all after, the effect of the Bill itself is complex and somewhat unpredictable. The Town and Country Planning Association is very concerned about the administrative and functional problems that will be created by the simultaneous passage of this Bill and the Local Government Bill. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who is the Chairman of the Town and Country Planning Association will have something to say on this matter, should be catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. For myself, I wonder whether the Government have given proper consideration to what may happen should the Local Government Bill become law and the number of planning authorities thereby increase from 140 to about 420.

On a number of occasions I have asked the Minister whether he is confident that sufficient qualified staff are available to deal with local plans. I wish I could be as confident as he has sometimes appeared to be. What I regard as a terrible difficulty will be aggravated, not lessened, by the Bill. It is no good setting up totally new procedures if the qualified staff to deal with the local plans are simply not there. At the risk of otiose repetition on my part, I should like once more to be reassured that the Minister is aware of the problem and feels that it is not as grievous as I have said.

In general, we on this side of the House are sympathetic with the aims of the Bill. Naturally, we do not propose to divide against it. I have raised a number of points, and hon. Members on both sides will raise other points. For that reason the Committee stage will probably be a long and searching one. If at the end of that a really good Bill emerges, it can only do good in the general history of our planning law.

7.56 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

When I first looked at the Bill, ranking the provisions for the joint survey with the general provisions of structure plans, I concluded that, like all Gaul, it was divided into three parts. I respectfully associate myself with the compliment paid by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development on the lucidity and precision with which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. With a characteristically conscientious refinement of sub-division, my hon. Friend made it four parts. The right hon. Gentleman, yielding to the natural and irresistible urge of Oppositions to go one better, extended it to five parts. I will not enter into any further mathematical calculations, but will confine my observations to that part which my hon. Friend classified as the most important.

I do not propose to comment on the provisions relating to the office development permits, nor yet on conservation areas. This is not because they are not important—obviously they are. Indeed, the provision to extend beyond the initial seven years of the Control of Offices Act the office development permit system, although not controversial in this House, may to some extent be controversial outside it. The provision of Clause 7 extending some protection against the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas should, I hope, be non-controversial everywhere. It will at any rate be sure of a cordial welcome from those concerned with the visual aesthetics of environment.

I want to deal with the provisions making changes in the planning procedures. This matter goes to the heart of town and country planning. The central provision is Clause 3, which substitutes new procedures in the structure plans for those contained in Section 9 of the Act of 1971, provisions which are better known to most of us in their pre-consolidated form as Section 4 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968. The 1968 Act provisions contained in the case of structure plans a new device in town planning at the time, the traditional procedure of the right of objection and public inquiry of a quasi-judicial nature, long familiar under the 1962 Act and indeed the 1947 Act before that.

Clause 3 retains a duty to consider the relevant objections and to hold a form of public examination into material matters, but gives the Secretary of State a wider discretion. This is the fundamental change which transforms the procedure from its traditionally forensic character to a deliberative character, transforms it from the quasi-lis, to use the jargon, to the seminar.

The question which those interested in town planning have to ask is: is this change an improvement: is it worth trying? We start from the position that there are no planning procedures as yet universally established and necessarily accepted as optimum procedures. Most modern societies have their problems of land use and planning, but their methods of dealing with them differ. In the United States these problems are resolved by a mixture of public relations exercises and judicial decision. In this country we seek to resolve them by a mixture of quasi-judicial consideration and executive action. If we have not as yet arrived at a perfect solution, that is not unexpected, reflecting as it does the difficulties of the matter which are inherent in the nature of town planning, because all town planning is in essence an attempted reconciliation of conflicting considerations.

If must be over 20 years since in cross-examination of Lord Holford—Professor Holford as he then was—I put to him the definition of town planning as being an effort to achieve the highest common factor of what is both economically practicable and aesthetically and socially desirable. He was good enough to say that it was an admirable definition, but of course it masks in a sense the real difficulty, which is what is meant by "socially desirable". I venture to suggest that it means not only reaching the right results but reaching them by the right methods, that is to say, methods acceptable in a democratic society and in a reasonable time. This introduces further conflict, the conflict between a full opportunity for participation and representation on the one hand and the necessity for speed on the other. That, like most of the more difficult conflicts in life, is a conflict not of a bad thing against a good thing but of two things each good in themselves.

Public participation is a matter of the first importance and one which has been widely canvassed. It is the subject of anxious debate, not only in this country. In July I had the privilege of addressing, together with Judge Kaufman of the Federal Court of Appeal, those sections of the American Bar Association then visiting this country on the question of public participation in these matters. A little later, my hon. Friend, the right hon. Gentleman and I met at a stimulating weekend conference of the London School of Economics on these same matters at Oxford. It is a very good sign that there is this broad-based and wide-ranging interest in the subject of public participation in planning, and I am sure it will continue.

I come to the other possibly conflicting consideration and that is the time factor, which also is very important. If reasonable expedition in planning processes is not achieved, there is the clear danger that, for all the expenditure of time and energy in giving everybody their say, the right result will not in the end be achieved. What will be achieved is a result which might have looked right in earlier circumstances but has been overtaken by events.

Everyone concerned with town and country planning knows how great is the danger that plans, be they development plans, structure plans or regional strategies, could be out-dated in most respects by the time they reach the end of their long Odyssey and secure formal approval. This danger is as old as the 1947 Act. Development plans under that Act were delayed, not only by democratic and bureaucratic processes, but by the sheer slog of chronicling the existing and permitted land use. When those plans finally staggered or stumbled to approval it was found that the 1961 census had invalidated most of the underlying population estimates on which they were based. The statistics are somewhat alarming—seven years, I believe, for the original development plans to be prepared and submitted, and another eight years for the completion of the approvals. That is looking up the train in last year's Bradshaw with a vengeance.

Such delays inevitably derogate from the purpose and standing of planning, and make it understandably unpopular with the ordinary property-owning citizen who is not concerned with the philosophy of planning but is uneasily and sometimes painfully aware that planning delays mean protracted blight and financial loss.

Here we see what appears to be an irony but is in fact a logical outcome of the 1968 Act, which introduced welcome improvements into planning procedures but at the same time increased the possibility of delay. The basic concept of separating the formulation of strategic planning from its detailed application was a sensible one but, in so far as it necessarily involved two plans—the strategic and the local—instead of one development plan, it meant that more time was required in the planning processes, in that it duplicated the opportunity for objection and inquiry.

The main innovation and the great advance of the 1968 Act was its conscious effort to extend public participation by providing the right to participate in decision-making rather than participation only at the stage of comments on plans already put forward which, if not technically res judicata may pardonably be thought in practice difficult to upset and reverse. Along with this valuable new right of participation, the 1968 Act kept the old form of objection and inquiry. In other words, it poured new wine into old bottles.

The philosophy behind the changes which we are asked to approve today is to maintain public participation but to create a pattern more meaningful and less time-consuming. In that it is surely to be commended. It may not in all respects turn out to be the right answer. Certainly, it is unlikely to be the final solution, but, after nearly 40 years in the world of planning, I do not expect finality, I only hope for advance.

There is an augury of success in that the solutions have been fashioned to meet the situation and the problems as experience has defined them. Those who have some expertise or distinctive contribution can make their contribution in the preparation of the structure plan. For such people and such purposes the seminar type of examination proposed in Clause 3(b) may well be the most suitable, more so than the traditional procedure by quasi-lis. For individual citizens the desire for public participation is mainly for specific, local and individual rather than general, regional and social. They are less interested in the formulation of structure plans and regional strategies than in local plans and probably they are most interested in the rights of individuals affected by specified planning applications.

Indeed, the most popular form of participation which the Government could give would probably be to grant a right of representation or participation at the application stage instead of only, as now, on an inquiry into a refusal of planning permission. In current practice if a permission is granted there is no right of representation for the aggrieved adjacent resident or owner or other interested person. From my experience in constituency representation that is the subject on which most people would like some greater right of participation in the planning processes.

The proposals mark an advance, not a revolutionary one but radical in their own way. Success is never certain in the evolution of planning procedures as experience shows, but I feel that we can view the prospects of the success of these new provisions at any rate with sober confidence, made the more probable because the matter is in the hands of my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development whose extensive knowledge, long experience and indefatigable industry in planning matters have been known to me and most of us over the years and which I am happy to salute today.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

We have recently had a number of large and complicated Bils and it is a pleasant change to get a small, complicated Bill. I am grateful to the Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silk in) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) for their clear exposition of a subject upon which I confess to having a limited knowledge. Four years ago the right hon. and learned Gentleman followed me when I made my maiden speech and made some kind remarks. I can only say that if ever I make the kind of speech that he makes I will be more than happy.

In the period before the 1947 Town Planning Act a great many of us were enthusiastic about new concept of town planning. Now some of us are worried that town planning legislation has multiplied and is getting too complicated. Nowadays we have two sets of objections and two sets of inquiries where formerly there was one. I am not sure whether people are not becoming a little scared of town planning and whether our legislation is not making public participation less likely rather than more likely. If our attendance tonight is anything to go by then it has made it less likely.

The public tend to participate later, often when it is too late, and the public participation we have seen, such as sitting down in the middle of a motorway, should make us pause to consider whether, even at the early stages of dealing with structure plans we could not get more participation than we do. I know that it is difficult. I have tried in extremely small areas which might have become clearance areas to get people to form community councils to talk to the planning officer about the redevelopment of the area. I realise that it is an extremely difficult thing to do, and to do it at structure plan stage is even more difficult.

Manchester has done a great deal through exhibitions, getting people interested and asking for their comments. Much more needs to be done. One example of how this has worked concerned some cottages in a heavily industrialised area which have now been listed as historic buildings. They are only 200 years old, and in some of our conservation areas this would be a mere nothing. These are the only cottages we have that are 200 years old. It was as a result of exhibitions and public participation that the cottages were listed and saved from demolition.

One of the problems about participation, especially with redevelopment, is that people living in the area at the time the redevelopment is planned will not be the people who will live in the new development. Many planning officers are taking participation much more seriously than before. Public participation starts with enthusiastic officers backed by enthusiastic councillors, and we do not always get that combination. There are some who regard this as something of a closed shop.

There was provision in the 1962 Act for the co-option of members of the public to planning committees but little seems to have been done. The Skeffington Committee frowned on having representatives of local organisations on planning committees but thought that, where a local area was being discussed, even at the formative stage of the structure plan, people from that area, or with interests in the area, might well be co-opted on to planning committees for a temporary period.

Can Parliament help with this participation? There is no doubt that if publicity is to be brought to bear on a planning situation Parliament is much more capable of providing that publicity than the county councils. Too often the county council headquarters, 30 or 40 miles away, is more remote than Parliament. If the matter is discussed in Parliament, even after 10 o'clock at night, it would help to bring publicity to the issue.

Clause 1 mentions joint structure plans, but in the new metropolitan areas there may well be need for joint local plans. At present it often happens that a local authority provides a park near to the edge of its boundary and the park is used more by people on the other side of the boundary than by those within the boundary. There may be a possibility of joint local plans. We are repeatedly concerned about the need to conserve beautiful developments of the past. I have my doubt whether we are creating conservation areas for the future.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I am grateful for the opportunity of taking part in the debate because as an ordinary constituency Member I find that planning problems crop up more frequently than any other problems which come to me. I also find that this is an area in which I can have least effect. Out of the dozens of cases I have been concerned with I have won only about twice. There are real problems here. Another reason why I am grateful for this opportunity to speak is because the industry which I seek to represent and which I love very much, agriculture, is so much affected by town and country planning.

The bulk of the land taken for other users comes from agriculture. It is a sobering thought that every week 1,100 acres of good farm land are taken away for other purposes such as roads, hospitals, schools and the building of all the other things which the community needs. While this is necessary, it is very important to see and to plan that we do not use good agricultural land where we could use poorer land. To think of 1,100 acres a week disappearing! After all, we do not make land. Perhaps we may in the future, with the Wash and other barrages. The Dutch are more on the ball on this than we are. However, it is important that the agriculture industry should be consulted all along the way because planning affects us probably more than it affects any other industry.

I welcome the joint survey and joint structure plan provisions. This proposal is right and proper and practical. We in the South-West are particularly concerned about this, because planning authorities should work together to consider not just the area of one planning authority alone but the needs of a much wider area, and they should form large joint structure plans.

The reason I say this is that unless the planning authorities in the South-West get together and think in terms of the South-West, we in that part of the country will be in considerable difficulty, particularly since we are to have a new motorway in our area, with all the planning which will have to be done for meeting the needs of tourists. We shall have to think of such mundane things as toilets on the motorway and other roads, and of all the facilities which will have to be provided for the tourists as they pour into the South-West. After all, it is a day trip now—or it will be—from Birmingham to Dartmoor, Exmoor, Bodmin and so on: down and back in a day. All this will require very careful planning. I do not think that just one small planning authority can think in the terms of what is needed and of what the Bill seeks to do through joint structure plans. I welcome that provision very much.

We on this side of the House have a standing joke amongst ourselves, saying that my hon. Friend the Minister is doing a very good job. I think he is doing a very good job, but I think he must turn his attention and that of his Department to the needs of agriculture, particularly to future planning for such major planning decisions as those for milk factories, because a milk factory affects a very large area. We have had a case just recently when he turned down an application. This is not just a matter for the local planning authority, for a decision such as this affects a very much larger area. I believe that through this Bill mistakes—I go even so far as to say "mistakes"—made in the past can be rectified.

Another important matter is the need for explanations. A planning officer once said to me "Planning is a matter of opinion" and he said that his opinion was so-and-so. It is difficult for people who are making planning applications to understand that, or to accept it for that matter; but they do. It could be made much easier for them if there were fuller and better explanation of a decision. The public, certainly my constituents, have a right to it.

Not only should better explanations of decisions be made but more warning should be given of decisions and of planning. The advertising of them should be explored so as to give people an understanding of what is going on. It is ridiculous to say, "Go to see the plans in your town hall". People just do not do that, but they do read the local papers and they listen to the radio. Far more effort ought to be made to tell people what is going on. After all, they have a right to know about things which will affect their lives and businesses.

My hon Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) made a very good point in discussion when he said that it is important to put up notices of what is going on. If a great sewage farm, a milk factory or a caravan park is planned and decided upon, a large notice on the site of the proposed development should be put up showing what is to take place.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Is my hon. Friend aware that he has a great deal of support on this important point? Even a small notice would be of immense help, even in comparatively elementary planning changes such as a proposal to change a front room into a hairdressing saloon. There should be notices to draw to the attention of the passer-by the change that is to take place.

Mr. Mills

I am sure that is right. This is a miscellaneous Bill, and perhaps the Minister would consider having a Clause to deal with this important point about notification by notice boards or something of that sort. That would be of benefit to the planning authorities and to all concerned, because if proposals are hidden, and then people suddenly discover what is to be done, there can be very serious trouble.

I do not intend to speak long but I want to deal with a brief from the National Farmers' Union. As usual, it is a very good brief. The N.F.U. mentions about this Bill one or two things which it is right I should bring to the attention of the House. It says that the Bill substitute some vague examination in public and gives the Secretary of State power to determine which issues shall be examined at the examination in public and to decide who shall be allowed to make representations at it. That seems to me rather dangerous, that the Minister shall have power to say who shall make representations. I would think that in Committee that ought to be looked at very carefully.

The N.F.U. also says: Unless very much firmer assurances are given by the Government than, in the Union's view, have been previously given this clause constitutes a considerable erosion of the rights of the individual which could have serious consequences for the farming community. It further states: The N.F.U. believes that the public inquiry system is still the best safeguard for public participation. If, however, the Government is convinced that the procedure can be streamlined without eroding the rights of the individual it is hoped that it will be able to give a firm assurance to this effect and elaborate on what the nebulous examination in public will mean in practice. What does that proposal really mean? Will it mean that things will be speeded up? That is another important point.

The N.F.U. also says: In particular the Union would strongly urge that the Government should make it clear beyond doubt that there will be adequate opportunity for meaningful objection at the structure plan examination stage wherever agriculture is a relevant factor. I ask the Minister to take this on board very seriously because, as I have said, agriculture is probably affected by these decisions more than any other industry. Therefore, it is important that agriculture should understand what is at stake and have some say in it.

In this Bill—this is probably out of order, which is why I left it to the last—I have seen no mention of something which I at least feel very strongly about—that local parish councils should have a bigger say in planning, and particularly that they should be notified. I cannot understand why this is such a major obstacle or why the previous Government refused it.

Mr. Graham Page

I can cut this short. In answer to a Written Question only a couple of days ago, I said that we were arranging for all parish councils to have notice of applications.

Mr. Mills

That is marvellous. It confirms what I said in my opening remarks, that the Minister is doing a very good job. I need say no more.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)

I cannot recall having spoken before in support of any Government Measure, but I support this Bill. I will address myself entirely to Clause 7, dealing with the power of local authorities to control the demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas where they consider that they will preserve the character of the areas. This arises from a situation in my constituency which has been regarded as a test case. In citing it, I can illustrate vividly how necessary this legislation is.

I pursued the matter over a long period and I was promised legislation by the Secretary of State to cover the situation. I am happy to see that this is one of those rare promises which the Government have kept.

The case involves a group of streets in Canonbury known as the Alwynes. Probably the representations which I and other people have made on this issue have influenced the Minister in framing this legislation. The Times and the Sunday Times on Saturday and Sunday both devoted special articles to this case. The architectural correspondent of the Sunday Times suggested that there would be no housing gain in this scheme, and that it would involve a distinct disruption of the neighbourhood.

The architectural correspondent's first point was the obvious one that they are in a conservation area and that their present unlisted status is a loophole which the Bill is designed to correct. He went on to say: … well-known architects should surely be prepared to obey a self-denying ordinance, especially in their back yards. He was referring to Sir Basil Spence, who is the architect for this scheme and who lives nearby. He continued: I would like to hear just once of an architect publicly refusing a commission because of possible environmental damage. In isolation, it is a perfectly good scheme; the point is that such isolation has long gone from inner London, It must be considered as part of an environmental balance sheet of profit-and-loss—and the time can't be far off when this becomes a statutory requirement for any planning application. That article highlights the issue of whose profit and loss is under discussion.

It is probably a very clever move to hire such an eminent architect as Sir Basil to design this scheme, but it has certainly not over-awed the residents in the area. They do not think very much of Sir Basil or his plans or of Lord Compton and the Northampton Estate, who are the owners. My postbag has bulged with protests about this scheme. They were pushing at an open door in my case. I have had more letters on this subject than on any other local issue and probably as many as on any national issue in which I have been involved.

Property speculation is involved here, whatever aura of respectability may be given to it in this case. There will be some pretty rich pickings for the speculators if the scheme is allowed to go through. It would be interesting to have a complete breakdown of the estimated costs and sale prices of the long leases proposed for the houses which will be built. I should like an examination of this. Also, since they own the area and will not have to buy the land, I wonder whether this saving will be reflected in the prices or whether purchasers will have to pay the competitive market rate.

Whatever the answer to those questions, it seems clear that many of the local residents will be priced right out of that area of Islington. There cannot be any housing gain to the borough—rather the reverse, since the new properties are bound to go largely to newcomers, upper-class immigrants, who can afford the inflated prices at which these houses will inevitably be offered; they will be far from the reach of the many thousands of Islington people who are desperately in need of homes.

To return to the conservation aspect, the residents believe that this conservation area should remain intact and whole. So did the G.L.C. Historic Buildings Board. So did the former Islington Council, but it found that it lacked the power to preserve them, and this has been the experience of the present Islington Council. There is no doubt that the present council would like the Minister to call in the Alwynes case for a proper public inquiry. I hope he will do so because there is some doubt that this Bill will be in time to rescue the situation. I hope it will.

I have already referred to my postbag. Every letter I have had has opposed the scheme. I will not read all the letters, but I will mention one or two of the adjectives used by my constituents. They have described this scheme as disastrous, disreputable, destructive, harsh, monotonous, appalling, ruinous, greedy, outrageous on æsthetic and social grounds, and sheer money-making vandalism. Perhaps I should quote a sentence or two: Too much in London has disappeared under the bulldozer. Please do all in your power to prevent any more vandalism.' The word "vandalism" has run like a common thread through so many of the letters I have received on the subject. Another letter said: Can we not tight this, not only for the sake of the Alwynes but for the sake of London? The Secretary of State originally decided against the Islington Council preservation order. This was a decision taken in June, 1970, and I appreciate the reasons for it. I am not sure whether at that time the Minister had come to grips with environment matters. Perhaps he has done so since. I have been fighting on this issue ever since, as the Minister will know. I am not a conservationist at all costs. It depends what one is conserving, and even Conservatives will agree to that. There are many areas of Islington where the bulldozer is long overdue and where the vandalism has been the existence of slums which would have been better razed many years ago—and would have been if the landlords had not got in the way.

However, there is no social gain in this case. Quite the contrary. Once the decision is taken, it is irreversible. I hope that the Minister will act directly to save the Alwynes. If he cannot do so directly and immediately, I hope the Bill will become law rapidly. It may just be in the nick of time so that the local authority can use the powers which the Minister has described.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

As an architect, I am tempted to comment on some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant), particularly in relation to Sir Basil Spence; but, because of the time element, I shall not do so and I hope that my profession will forgive me.

I welcome this Bill not only as a town planning consultant but also because some small part of it bears great similarity to a Clause in a Private Member's Bill I had the privilege to introduce last Session. This was the Urban and Rural Environment Bill. It passed its Committee stage unamended, but it got no further because of the lack of parliamentary time. Whether it would have passed the Committee stage unamended if hon. Members had not realised it would not reach the Statute Book I do not know, but mention of it gives me the opportunity to pay a small tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for the great help he gave me on that Bill and his criticisms on that and other matters.

I should like particularly to comment on Clauses 7, and 8 relating to Scotland. This applies to the power of local planning authorities to direct that a building in a conservation area should be the subject of permission before demolition and this very much resembles Clause 3 of my Private Member's Bill.

I wish to take up one point made by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) who pointed out how, despite legislation, so many buildings of historic and architectural interest are being demolished. The Civic Amenities Act gave the power to local authorities to enter premises with a view to effecting repairs, but that power was rarely implemented simply because the money to do so would have fallen on the rates. Clause 5 of my own modest Bill would have removed this obstacle had it reached the Statute Book.

In Britain, there are no fewer than 1,742 conservation areas, some of them small, others of them comprising the whole of the medieval parts of towns like York and Chester. The total number of buildings represented in those areas, is only a fraction of the total in Britain. Much as I welcome Clauses 7 and 8, I question whether this Bill will be sufficient to deal with the problem that we face.

If I may pose a rhetorical question, how many local planning authorities will see that most of the buildings which should be preserved in their conservation areas will be made subject to the need to have permission before demolition? For some years, our local planning authorities have had the power to put preservation orders on trees. Trees are needed most in our towns and cities, yet, since tree preservation orders first came into being many years ago, in Birmingham only 29 are subject to orders, in Liverpool 45, in Manchester 2, and in Leeds 10.

Does not my hon. Friend think that the Clauses would be better if they were put the other way, so that all buildings in conservation areas automatically needed permission before they were demolished giving local planning authorities the power to make exemptions? Buildings are still coming down. The Americans have a much better sense of proportion, though obviously they are more wealthy. They are prepared to pay a million pounds to have a bridge taken down stone by stone, transported across the Atlantic and across thousands of miles of their continent, and re-assembled stone by stone in the Arizona desert. We shall live to rue the day that we allowed so many of our old buildings to be demolished, and I ask the Government to consider amending Clauses 7 and 8 to remedy the situation.

Perhaps I might suggest in passing that Clause 10 should also be amended. It relates to when Clauses 7 and 8 should take effect. I believe that they should take effect immediately that the Bill goes on to the Statute Book, instead of having to wait for a month. There is a desperate need for immediate action to be taken.

I wish to raise two further points. The first of them has been touched on already by one or two hon. Members, and it concerns the need for publicity to be given to planning applications. My hon. Friend said recently in reply to a Written Question that he accepted that parish councils that wished to have notice of planning applications relating to land within their parishes should be entitled to it. He went on to say that legislation would be needed to make it a statutory requirement, and that it was not appropriate for any current Bill. We are now considering a Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, and I suggest that this might be an opportunity for a short Clause to be inserted for the purpose. For want of better advice, my hon. Friend might adopt Clause 9 of my Urban and Rural Environment Bill, since that would do just this.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) that it is important for more notice to be given to members of the public of planning applications in order to remove some of the bitterness which is often felt by people who believe that they have no say about what is to happen in their immediate environment. Again, I commend to my hon. Friend Clause 8 of my Private Member's Bill.

Finally, I should like to touch on a matter of critical importance, particularly in the West Midlands. Recently there have been examples in the West Midlands of harmful substances being put on waste tips. I know that the hon. Members for Rugby (Mr. William Price) and Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) have had instances of this happening in their constituencies within the last week. As a town and country planning consultant, I was quite horrified to learn—I hope that I have the situation right—that at present it is legal to dump prussic acid, better known as cyanide, on rubbish clumps without any need for permission. That is a horrifying state of affairs if it is true. Again, the Bill provides an opportunity to remedy that situation.

I welcome the Bill. I believe that it is a step in the right direction, and I congratulate the Government on introducing it. I hope that my hon. Friend will pay serious attention to the points which I have raised. If he is able to include them at the appropriate time, in Committee or on Report, I believe that, instead of being a step in the right direction, it could be a great stride forward which would have support from both sides of the House.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I, too join, in welcoming the Bill. I thought the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) about the importance of trying to encourage much wider public interest and understanding in the whole planning sphere was very interesting. He is absolutely right in saying that that is not present at the moment.

It is only when we come to the local plans—the local action plans as they are to be called—where individuals feel themselves directly and personally involved that we are likely to get a wide measure of public participation in the sense of acute anxiety, pressure, and so on. But I do not give up hope that we may succeed in interesting a steadily wide range of people in the longer term strategic and structure plans with which the bill is concerned. I am encouraged in that view partly because of the efforts which are being made today to include this subject in school programmes. It is now understood that planning is not a matter purely for the highly-qualified specialist; it is a matter of direct and real concern for all who are concerned about living standards.

There could be no more important decisions for us to make in common than the kind of priorities we choose for the way that we order our lives and organise the environment in which we live. This is essentially what these strategic and structure plans are about. Therefore, a great deal of our judgment on what success or failure the Bill is likely to achieve is on the question whether it is likely to help forward in any way, even in a modest way, the wider involvement of people in the whole problem.

I repeat, I have some encouraging feelings about this matter, because large numbers of schools are beginning to take up issues and work out projects based not only upon purely local plans, but upon some of these wider longer-term schemes. I am glad that the association with which I am involved has been helping, with a great deal of interest, to develop some of these projects in schools.

I congratulate the Minister on what he has done to try to encourage wide discussion of his proposals in a range of circles where there is obvious interest in the matter. Some of the consultative papers which his Department has issued have been well worth while and have prompted a lot of useful suggestions and recommendations. Plainly, this is of value.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) that one cannot wholly divorce this Bill from the kind of structure which we are now working to set up which will have to implement a great deal of it. Many of us must inevitably have sincere anxieties on that score. I shall give an example to illustrate the point, though I shall not debate it now, since there are plenty of opportunities to do that, morning, afternoon, and night, on Tuesdays and Thursdays in that continuing performance—I can hardly call it entertainment—which is a feature of our lives here in the House now.

One of the problems to be considered in this connection is that the new metropolitan authorities which will be responsible for preparing structure plans as distinct from local action plans will, in my view and the view of others concerned, cover only a relatively limited area, and there will have to be continuous consultation with outside authorities, consultation which it may be difficult to maintain in a full and effective way. This is but another example of the problem which I have seen all along, that is, the need for a wider authority than is proposed in the Local Government Bill for these major long-term strategic and structure plans.

I come now to some of the details. Those of us who have had some experience of these matters welcome the attempt to put greater flexibility into the method of holding planning inquiries in the future. If we accept that representations should be made and discussions take place about the value of different alternative proposals for the long-term development of an area, how do we ensure that the various points of view can be expressed freely and effectively? I do not believe that it can be done if we rely upon a purely legal framework for this type of inquiry. I should much rather see—I think that this is in the Minister's mind—something more like an informal conference rather than the old type of legalistic inquiry.

The Town and Country Planning Association has had some experience of this problem. The Greater London Plan as presented, for example, offered an opportunity—I am not complaining about what was done—for this kind of representation. We did not want to make objections as such in the narrow purely legalistic sense, but we wanted to challenge certain basic principles of that plan and open up ideas about other ways in which objectives could be achieved.

We had the help and goodwill of many people who willingly gave of their time to put forward fresh ideas which we believe to be of importance for future discussion and the development of something that will be of value to all the citizens of London. But, inevitably, at that state at any rate, the proceeding was largely on a legalistic basis, with cross examination, no doubt very efficiently and effectively carried on, but not likely to encourage the more informal presentation of fresh ideas that we want.

I hope that we shall get precisely that in the future. I hope that we shall get this more relaxed and somewhat more informal but nevertheless organised, presentation of alternative views. I do not see how one can do it other than by the Minister having the power to select a limited number of issues which can be discussed in that way. I can see the difficulty, I realise the criticism that may arise, but I do not see how else it can be done.

I hope that if a number of issues are to be selected and if, as one hon. Member said, there is to be selection of those who are to appear, the issues presented will be put forward in the form of possible alternatives so that the matter does not appear to be finalised, or in any way near a final position. I hope that there will be the opportunity of some argument and discussion across the table as it were of broad alternatives which may be put before those who attend.

If that is done, we may be surprised to find that rather more people are willing to come in and take part in that kind of inquiry, or conference as I would rather call it, than perhaps is the case now. I hope that that will prove to be so. I believe that even if that is not the case initially, it will prove to be later on as people get accustomed to the new type of inquiry or conference. I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity, at the end of this short debate, of saying something more in amplification of what he said about this procedure, but I think that I am interpreting correctly the broad lines of what it is hoped to achieve.

If I am correct, I believe that instead of this whole area of presentation of broad plans being regarded by elected councillors and by everybody else as a restricted area for the professional planner, it will be seen to be an area of great importance for the general public as well, and one in which the general public and organisations representing various points of view have every right of expression; just as much, if not more right of expression than when it comes to the much more detailed local plans to which we are accustomed now.

I welcome the Bill. I share with my right hon. Friend the view that this is by no means an unimportant Measure, and one that will require some examination in detail. There are a number of matters that we shall wish to raise in Committee. I welcome it as a step forward in participation in a real sense in our future planning processes. I am sure that such a step forward was in the mind of our late colleague, Arthur Skeffington, whose report prompted a good deal of the further consideration that this matter has received.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I appeal to the Minister to consider a major omission from the Bill. I refer to the need to provide additional safeguards for individual owner-occupiers when planning applications are being considered.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) spoke of the more relaxed approach that we are having to planning consultation and the consideration of new schemes. I am afraid that at present in the minds of many people exactly the reverse is happening. More people are feeling helpless and remote when planning applications are being discussed, not only at county level but even in smaller units. The pace is going so fast that they feel that whatever they say or do they will not be able to make any real impression.

One reason for the public having this feeling is the small amount of publicity that is given in advance of when and where applications will apply and be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the need for additional publicity when announcing applications for planning.

This publicity must occur not just through local newspapers, which can be easily missed. My local newspapers handle these matters well, but there are invariably a large number of details printed on each occasion and they can easily be missed by people whose areas will be affected.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will go a stage further and think in terms of making it compulsory for the local planning authority to inform established residents' organisations and similar bodies of forthcoming applications, and also inform residents who might be directly affected if the planning applications are granted.

An important residents' and property-owners' association in my constituency has written to me saying: The Association has on many occasions objected to applications for outline planning permission and has often been very dissatisfied with the decisions reached by the Local Planning Authority. We consider it wrong that the applicant should have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State against a refusal of permission by the Planning Authority, whereas those objecting to the granting of permission have no such right. I appreciate the difficulties which local planning committees face. I served on one in the London area for a number of years. But the fact remains that one can get areas of friction between bodies of local residents and their local planning authorities because they feel that they have not had a real opportunity of their case being heard by people who look at it from an entirely independent point of view.

Some of the new planning authorities which will come into operation in 1973 will be even more remote from the people they are affecting than the present ones, particularly when we have, in terms of major roads, planning applications concerned with areas 220 ft. on each side of those roads. There will be many small individual applications, and it is bound to be feared that those who will discuss these matters will lose touch with the people they are affecting. My hon. Friend the Minister may try to argue that local planning authorities can revoke outline planning permission. But in practice they are very reluctant to do so because it can be extremely costly. Therefore, they tend to stick to the original decision. But if it was done on the basis that the outline planning grant was only outline planning grant, and that there could be no question of compensation if for some reason that was withdrawn at a later date, we could get over that problem.

No planning authority is infallible in its wisdom. Not even this House would claim that. We have to remember that for many individuals the one major asset they ever acquire is the house in which they live. At times that can be placed at risk.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Up to the last 30 seconds I have been following my hon. Friend's argument not only with interest but with acquiescence. Indeed, his first point rather echoed a point I made earlier. On his suggestion about revocation of outline planning permission, without compensation, would he not agree that this would create a good deal of difficulty and possibly injustice? It has been clear law ever since the case of Hamilton and the West Sussex County Council that only the reserve matters can be varied without compensation when an outline permission is granted. If it were to be revoked without compensation it would, would it not, impose a good deal of injustice on those developers who, on the faith of the outline permission, had expended time and money? Perhaps my hon. Friend would care to illustrate that particular facet of his very interesting argument.

Mr. Bowden

I appreciate my right hon. and learned Friend's point. I think that the reason he has taken that view is that I have not been able to explain to the House in any great detail what was on my mind. It was only that if the objectors were to have the same right as the applicants to appeal against the decision of the local planning authority, during that period of time in which that appeal may be registered, say, 28 days, and the time it is heard, it would be fair enough that no compensation should be paid. This would then become a standing risk that all applying for outline planning permission would have to face. But at present it is one-sided, because the applicant can appeal against the local planning authority's decision, but the objectors can not. Furthermore, many applicants are powerful bodies, powerful companies with large resources. They can afford, quite rightly, to employ able and distinguished consultants, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), and can present a foreful and effective case which often will not give the same chance to the individual objector who may be the owner-occupier whose one and only asset is seriously threatened.

This is a chance for the Government to add to the Bill on the lines I have suggested, to show their concern for ordinary citizens. To quote a phrase anything but original: justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

During the debate it has been of considerable interest to note the number of hon. Members who have come in and out of the Chamber who are members of the Standing Committee on the Local Government Bill and who therefore share a positive interest in what we are discussing. Some of us are tempted tonight to remove ourselves from a detailed examination purely because of the number of hours we are spending currently examining line by line the Government's proposals in that Bill.

This Bill enables us to speak more generally about its objectives, the first of which is to tackle the problem of structure planning, the second of which deals with inquiries and objections related thereto, the third of which is the extension of time for office building and the fourth of which is the very important matter of the control of demolition in conservation areas.

I greatly doubt whether the proposed scheme will succeed in solving our great social problem. When I was a member of a municipal planning authority I tried hard to reconcile the interests of the authority with those of the general public which was affected by the authority's intentions. Since coming to Parliament I have found that parliamentary intentions are often confounded in practice when expressed in an Act. What authorities do, perhaps unwittingly, is often different from what the House intended, and that causes greater confusion amongst the public.

For this reason, and because the Local Government Bill is now in Standing Committee, this Bill may have been introduced at the wrong time. To introduce this Bill at a time when the Standing Committee is considering a considerable number of Amendments to the Local Government Bill is to put the cart before the horse.

In one respect the Bill takes a step backwards, not forwards. Under previous legislation one of the Minister's obligations when structure plans were submitted to him was to require that a consideration be made of objections to structure plans and to afford a hearing to the objectors. This is to be substituted by Clause 3(7): On considering a structure plan the Secretary of State may consult with, or consider the views of, any local planning authority or other person, but shall not be under any obligation to do so. The machinery for public inquiry will to some extent protect objectors, but beyond that stage what will be the effect of the Minister's new rôle in that he is not obliged to receive objections?

It has rightly been said that people generally are interested in how something specific affects them, how a plan in a local area affects them. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) dealt with that with special care. He has considerable knowledge and many years' experience—I think he mentioned 40—and his judgment on these matters is always respected in the House. However, he added that a corollary was that the same personal interest was not involved in regional planning or structural plans at a regional level. I think that on reflection he will agree that that is not totally correct. It is a relative matter. There is no means to measure the extent of the interest. But I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that during our consideration of the Local Government Bill many of us have been surprised at the amount of interest in structural planning on both a regional and a national basis.

One of the great features of this country is the totality of our national character as distinct from a definition of the State. Over many centuries the people have evolved into all manner of groups concerned with liberty, freedom, conservation, building, architecture, communications and the like. Through that grand design which I have described as the national character, immense, positive criticism of structural plans is made in a way which, quite different from the local expression, is nevertheless powerful.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind reference to my speech and to me. What I intended to say was that individual citizens were less interested in the structure planning than in its more detailed manifestations. I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman, of course, that groups, associations, amenity societies and other interests which are citizens in the aggregate are, fortunately, very interested in structure planning. But I think that their interests and participation may be better served in the examination form now suggested that the old forensic form of inquiry. I do not think there is anything between the hon. Gentleman and myself—at least, I hope not.

Mr. Leadbitter

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right. Our difference is merely one of emphasis. We are talking in relative terms of the way in which individuals view one aspect of planning as against another. I draw attention to the relative difference to try to deal with the point I want to bring before the House. With a different form of examining structural proposals and, in addition to the individual interest on the parochial or local scene, the more powerful and often more expressive interest through the organisations created by individuals in so many varied fields, we are bound to suggest that perhaps the Bill falls short of achieving the machinery that is desirable if structural proposals are to be examined at the right point in such a way that objections and people's concern can be felt effectively.

In other words, those of us who have worked in Parliament, especially on Standing Committees of various kinds, those of us with legal, planning or local government experience, feel that one of our great dilemmas is how best to solve the conflict of the planning process and the social interest expressed by people who are not directly involved in the planning proposals. We are often concerned in local government in joint schemes with other local authorities, or with projects in the larger areas of water boards. For example, we are anxious to provide amenities in the Lake District and the like. We often find that the decision has been made at a point of no return and that the objection part of the process becomes ineffective.

There is a need for a comprehensive study, since the Town and Country Planning Act, 1971, was a consolidating Act and these amendments have come up only a short time later. There is genuine concern in the Department about the need to initiate a study to discover how the conflicting interests in planning can be reconciled and objections made more effective.

I turn from the generality of that larger problem of structural planning to planning proposals at local authority level. It has been said that when a local planning proposal is made it would be nice if a notice could be put up to say that this or that is being done. In Parliament and local government there are some of the best people in the country, who are dedicated to pursuing the interests of the country, but in Parliament and local government there has always been a confounding element in how best to convey to the general public what they want to do and how and when to do it. To put up notices is not sufficient.

I hope the Minister will take into account our debates on the Local Government Bill, in which we discussed the need to build up neighbourhood councils and to bring the neighbourhood into our local authority structure. The local authority would then be able to examine the interests of the neighbourhood and, if it had a statutory right to know of the planning proposals of the higher local authority, it would be able to bring to the attention of the people the likely consequences of those proposals.

Mr. John Silkin

My hon. Friend has made a valuable point, on which my mind has been exercised for some time. Does he agree that the real answer is not only the establishment of neighbourhood communities, community councils, but also the provision of proper technical assistance to them, so that they may fully understand what otherwise begins to look like an ancient and forgotten script?

Mr. Leadbitter

I agree with my right hon. Friend. No machinery should be set up unless consideration has been given to the type of technical know-how that is required to make it effective.

Another matter on which local government can be criticised is the propensity of local planning authorities with plenary powers to have discussions which are unrecorded in the council minutes. Councils have nothing to lose by making known their discussions on matters affecting the general public. Many local authorities adopt the philosophy of protectionism and think it is better not to let the people know too much. Since Parliament is a barometer of public feeling, I hope it will be felt that problems which have been voiced in Parliament can be discussed in debate outside. The vast majority of councillors and local government officials would have everything to gain from widening opportunities for discussion.

As has been said, there is little controversy on the Bill. It goes in the right direction although it might have been better timed. The direction is not always the most important thing; what matters is how far one can get.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I start by asking my hon. Friend to amplify his intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) on the subject of parish councils. Is he proposing to make this a statutory requirement, or will it be advice to the councils concerned?

I give a qualified welcome to the Bill as a whole and will concentrate my brief remarks on Clauses 3 and 5 as they affect the South-East region. I am sure that Clause 3 is a step in the right direction, but I am doubtful whether it goes far enough. There are three parts to structure plans—preparation, participation, and the inquiry. The Bill shortens only the inquiry part, and I question whether the Government will be able to hold the line on this when it comes to major representations.

I have taken part in a major participation effort on the third London airport, and I can see that sort of operation coming again. I have been a member of a planning committee for the last nine years, and I am also a member of the London Regional Planning Conference. The Minister will know the representations that have been made to him by the Conference, and he will know of the Press statement issued just before Christmas which says that completion of a full cycle of plans for the region may well be 20 or more years away. This is much too gloomy. The general consensus, in my region at any rate, is that it will take something from seven to ten years on present estimates, that is five to seven years for the structure plan and two to three years for the local plan. In the meantime, planning in the regions is at a halt. The development plans are grossly out of date but still broadly adhered to. An authority tries to tread delicately between the out-of-date development plan on the one hand and the broad-brush strategy of "Strategic Plan for the South-East", which was approved by the Minister last autumn. on the other.

The strategic plan is not a statutory plan and I commend the remarks in another place of Lord Nugent that perhaps the way out of this may be not to have the structure plan as a statutory requirement but simply as a guidance plan enabling an authority to get on quickly with the formation of the local plans which really affect people and with which they are much more concerned. We are dealing with a conflict between participation and efficiency, and in this instance I come down firmly on the side of efficiency.

I was disappointed to hear the Minister's reply to a question at Question Time today about the proposals for the division of the planning function in the Local Government Bill. There just is not the skilled staff to do this if they are divided among a large number of authorities. I may be out of order in mentioning this, but I hope that it will be reconsidered. If the length of time and preparation of the plans affects planning itself and gives it an additionally bad name the effect on the release of land is even worse.

The Minister must be aware that there is a lack of urgency in local authorities today which is easy to understand because on the one side they have the threat of local government reform and on the other side they have the excuse of the out-of-date development plans. The remedy lies firmly in the hands of the Government. They must require speedy implementation of broad-brush structure plans without the statutory requirement. They must make it clear that they are prepared, unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, to allow appeals on the housing front on land which is on the fringe of old development plans.

Turning to Clause 5, I am glad that control of office development is being retained. I was somewhat surprised to read the speech of Lord Silkin in which he said that he did not think this was necessary and that the whole thing could go back to the planning process alone. I put a question to the Minister for Transport Industries, but I do not think that he understood the point I was trying to make. The G.L.C. proposes, over the next decade, to increase the number of office jobs in London by 75,000. I do not say this will happen. It is being talked about.

The figure of 75,000 is almost exactly the total labour force envisaged for the new city of Milton Keynes when finally completed. It would be a tragedy if this wonderful opportunity London has—alone among capital cities—of being able to do something about its environment because of its falling population were to be lost. It is the high cost of office accommodation in central London that persuades firms to move. If the Minister accedes to the proposal of the G.L.C. he will at one and the same time destroy this chance of improving the environment of our capital city for good and all and he will exacerbate our housing difficulties, certainly in the inner London boroughs. He will also further overload commuting facilities to the outer metropolitan areas. Moreover, he will do grave injustice—and I admit that this is a constituency point—to the development of new towns like Milton Keynes, and, even more important, areas of high unemployment beyond the Metropolitan region.

It is fair to say that both in the time of the Prince Regent and more recently, after the war and the destruction in the blitz, marvellous chances were missed for improving the environment of London. I hope that my hon. Friend will not miss the third chance.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

With your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would answer points which have been raised in the debate. Let me say first how pleased I am that the Bill has received support, on the whole, from both sides of the House.

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) started with a complaint with which I have great sympathy. He said that we have just passed a consolidation Bill, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1971, and then we bring in an amendment. Of course, the simple answer is that there is always a law which one might have included in a consolidation Bill if one had waited; there is never a right time to do consolidation. I think that perhaps on this occasion we could have looked ahead a little bit, and I accept the criticism.

I find that I am thought of as being something of an expert on consolidation Bills, having toiled at them at late hours of the night. I recollect one occasion, Mr. Speaker, when, having made an impassioned speech on a consolidation Bill, and having been called to order six times by your predecessor and then sat down—there were only the Minister and myself in the House apart from the occupant of the Chair—I found that somehow I raised the temperature in the House so much that someone in the Gallery rose to his feet, yelled abusive language, jumped over the rail and landed with a thud on the floor by the Bar of the House. If I can raise that sort of heat in a speech on a consolidation Bill such as that one was. I hesitate to think what I could do with such an interesting Bill as we have before us tonight.

The right hon. Member for Deptford asked whether I would keep that procedure suggested in the Bill for structure plans constantly under review. Well, of course; and the working out of the procedure is not a matter which I shall feel has been decided once and for all when we start these inquiries. This will be an experiment, there is no doubt about it; and we shall try to work it the best way we can.

On the question of O.D.P.s, the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not think I had committed myself to anything. I must say that I thought I had committed myself quite a lot in saying what we intended to do with O.D.P.s in future. We intend to administer them from a positive angle, to assist the carrying out of the South-East Strategic Plan—that is to say, pinpointing growth areas as decided by that plan and deliberately using O.D.P.s for that purpose. So far as central London is concerned, we recognise that there must be adequate provision of modern office space in London to replace obsolete, outworn premises and that, more than that, we need a supply of new and modernised space available for developing concerns. I hope that we shall see in future a positive attitude to the use of this control. I think the control is still necessary, until the whole matter can be incorporated in the planning system, and we shall in the meantime use it positively.

The right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with conservation areas, referred to houses which might be allowed to fall into decay.

There is a procedure whereby the local authority can serve a repair notice on the owner of a listed building, and if those repairs are not carried out it gives rise to powers of compulsory purchase, so the local authority can take over the property and put it into repair. If a local authority takes that action, it may be doing so for a national purpose, for the public in general, and not necessarily for a local purpose. We have in mind assistance under those circumstances. I cannot go further than that at the moment except to say that it is under consideration, but I recognise the national importance, not merely the local importance, of saving historic buildings and places of architectural value.

Mr. Leadbitter

On the question of the repair notice, is it not a fact that the procedural rights of an owner would allow him to counter that notice to the point at which a year or more could pass before the local authority could make the notice effective?

Mr. Page

It depends on how expeditiously the local authority deals with the matter. There is the owner's right to protect himself on these occasions, because they lead towards compulsory purchase and we must give him the right to defend himself.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Would not my hon. Friend concede that prevention is even better than cure? Although it is not in the Bill, so we probably cannot say much now, perhaps he could encourage some of his hon. Friends in other Departments to help provide incentives for owners not to let their buildings get into this! position. There are some incentives which can be given, not grants of taxes levied on individuals but concessions on the taxes they pay, to make it worth their while to keep these places in good repair.

Mr. Page

So long as this comes within the Money Resolution, perhaps we can discuss it in Committee. I am not sure whether it does, but it is certainly an idea.

The right hon. Member for Deptford mentioned the increase of staff required by planning authorities, as a result of what we are doing in the Bill, the general trend of the sophistication of planning and the reform of local government. He is convinced that there are not the qualified staff.

Mr. John Silkin

With respect, I am not convinced either way. I simply want strong reassurance.

Mr. Page

Perhaps I can convince the right hon. Gentleman. There are about 4,000 chartered planning officers in practice, with probably a substantial number not so qualified but fully qualified in experience. As against this approximate number of those in practice—I have had no complaints of current shortage; it is only anticipating future shortage—there are under training 1,100 in planning courses at the universities and 1,700 in colleges of further education. I cannot say how many of these will qualify. This training started back in 1967 or 1968 and it is now being stepped up again with the assistance of the University Grants Committee.

So there are in training about three-quarters of the number of those in practice. Like any other profession, as they come out they will not be qualified by experience, but I hope that during the next two years, before we get into local government reform, we may be able to use some of these on research work to give them experience. I hope that local authorities will take up their services to give them the necessary experience.

I feel that some existing local authorities may have a tendency to look down their noses at the man who is academically qualified and are not prepared to take them on as they should. I may be wrong, but this is the feeling I have. But these men who are academically qualified need experience and we should like to see them in jobs preparing for what is needed after local government reform.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) made an absolute gem of a speech on planning. I shall read it again with great enjoyment. He mentioned that he had 40 years' experience on these matters and I must say that during those 40 years I have enjoyed periodically sitting behind him hearing the sort of things he said today. I am enjoying it just as much now that he is sitting behind me. He put forward my case today, as he has put forward my case on other occasions in other places, with great satisfaction to me. I do not think I need say any more. I will take into account all the things he said and the suggestions he made.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) asked that there should be more public participation. On this, the position is that I have already circulated to local planning authorities a document setting out to what extent we would wish them to carry out public participation on the lines of the report of the commission chaired by the late Arthur Skeffington. I pay my most sincere tribute to him for that work which he undertook with such great conscientiousness. Having received the comments of local authority associations and others on that document, I have amended and revised it and it will go out as a circular very soon.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me about joint local plans. The local planning authorities drawing local plans in London will have the right to draw joint local plans under the Bill. Others will gain the right under Clauses of the Local Government Bill. Therefore, that will work as the hon. Member wishes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) raised some interesting points based on his knowledge of agriculture. I assure him that whenever development is taking place on agricultural land the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is sought and we do not move without that advice. From that we appreciate the value of agricultural land and try to set it against the value to the public of the developments which are taking place on it such as motorways, ordinary roads, reservoirs and so on.

My hon. Friend asked one or two questions on the document issued by the National Farmers' Union. I assure him that the people who can make representations now will still be able to make them under the terms of the Bill if it becomes law. We are taking away no rights of representation. My hon. Friend asked whether the system of public examination would speed up public inquiries. I hope that it will, and this is half the object. The other half of the object is to see that we examine the important things. If we were to continue with the old system of public inquiry I do not think we would be able to examine all the right issues in structure plans.

My hon. Friend also asked whether there could be meaningful agricultural objections. I would point out that there is already provision for this in the 1968 Act.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked why parish councils should not have notice of planning applications. Perhaps I might read the Written Answer which I gave on this subject to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) on 24th January. I said: I accept that parish councils that wish to have notice of planning applications relating to land within the parish should be entitled to do so. Legislation would be needed—and is not appropriate for any current Bill—to make this a statutory requirement. In the meantime, I shall commend, in a circular to local planning authorities on the wider question of local publicity for planning applications, the exten sion of the voluntary arrangements in operation in many parts of the country whereby some local planning authorities do give parish councils an opportunity to see and comment on applications, within a strict time limit"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1972; Vol. 829, c. 339.] Many local planning authorities have this arrangement with parish councils. But, in order to make it universal, I want to introduce it in convenient legislation. I am advised that, as it stands at present, the Long Title of the Bill precludes this, but we will see whether it may be possible to put down an Amendment to deal with this point.

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant) referred to a specific case in his constituency. Perhaps I might tell him that Clause 7 of the Blil was born in Alwyne Villas, in Islington, East. This is the case which gave rise to our thoughts about the demolition of buildings in conservation areas.

If Clause 7 was born in Alwyne Villas, its father was my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), who first introduced it to this House in his Private Member's Bill last year. My hon. Friend has invited me to accept a lot more than was in that Bill, but these are matters which I am sure he will raise in Committee. My hon. Friend wanted this Bill to take effect immediately. But it is traditional and conventional that there should be one month after Royal Assent for a Bill of this sort to take effect.

My hon. Friend also asked for publicity to be given to planning applications. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), asked the same question. We have something like 450,000 planning applications a year. If local planning authorities were required to give notice and to give time for the results from that notice on every occasion, I am afraid that the planning procedure would collapse. But I have in mind and hope to be able to put before the House very soon provisions for site notices in certain cases.

At present, we have the procedure with the "bad neighbour" case where notice has to be given. I want to extend that not by newspaper advertisements but by site notices for those cases where ordinary persons will be affected by some substantial development near their homes and they should be told about it. The best way of telling them is to stick on the site a notice saying that it is to be developed, say, for a block of flats 24 storeys high. They will then be able to make their voices heard at a stage before the local planning authority deals with the matter.

Mr. Chapman

That is one of the most heart-warming utterances in the whole debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend. Will he also agree that there need be no delay to the consideration of planning applications if it is done, since those who want the development can put notices on the site while they are drawing up plans and before submitting them to local planning authorities?

Mr. Page

This is one of the main points. I do not want to create further delays in planning by this sort of procedure.

I come now to one further point made by my hon. Friend. It concerned the harmful substance on waste tips. Everybody has been shocked over the past few days to realise that there is nothing, other than perhaps the laws of common nuisance or trespass, to stop anybody tipping these poisonous substances anywhere they choose. If local authorities and those owning tips carried out the codes of practice for both ordinary refuse disposal and the disposal of toxic waste, which have been promulgated by the Department, this could not happen. I propose to take the earliest opportunity of making those codes of practice statutorily enforceable.

I have litle time to deal with the other interesting points which have been raised. I find that those hon. Members who have been sitting for long hours on the Local Government Bill are gluttons for punishment as several of them have spoken in this debate. I am grateful for their support both here and in Committee.

The whole point of Clause 3 is to reconcile what the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) called the conflict between the local planning authority and the public. I do not call it a conflict. After all, the local planning authority is a democratically elected body to carry out the work which the majority of people in the area want. The conflict is between the public works which a local planning authority authorises—I am thinking more of roads and that type of planning—and the indivi dual who is interested in a particular site. Frequently, it is the individual who holds up some good planning work which is desired by the neighbourhood. Therefore, we have to try to strike a balance. The Bill will attempt to do just that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) asked about the speed at which we could carry out the structure plan system. I have dealt with the question of staff. The comments of the standing conference of local planning authorities in the South-East were very exaggerated when they said that the completion of the full cycle would take 20 years. I am determined that it shall not take anywhere near that time. If it takes a quarter of that time, I shall be very disappointed.

The preparation of the structure plans is not holding up the release of land. I take Southampton as an example where interim plans have been issued. The chief planning officer has already identified 35,000 sites for houses by issuing these interim plans before issuing the structure plans.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the Minister do me the courtesy of telling me whether my point about the form of the conference which he is proposing in place of the old type of legalistic inquiry is fair?

Mr. Page

I am not sure that I should go as far as calling it the seminar—I gather that that is the impression which the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) had of it—which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East explained. Its function is to probe the issues, not merely to hear objections.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Back to