HC Deb 19 October 1972 vol 843 cc587-617

10.11 p.m.

The Minister of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Channon)

I beg to move, That the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th August, be approved. This draft order on town and country planning is a further instalment of the legislation arising from the recommendations of the Macrory review body on the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland. It is the first draft order to come before Parliament providing for the taking to the central administration of direct executive responsibility for a major service, although the House has already passed orders with the effect of appointing both education and health area boards.

In planning, as with water, sewerage and roads, if Parliament approves, the Ministry of Development will take on the function itself, operating through a number of local offices. The Macrory Committee preferred a representative administration to autonomous boards, but, because of the size, population and resources of Northern Ireland, and the need for consistency of operation, centralisation of regional services was made the main recommendation in the Macrory Report.

It is an important reform, transferring functions from the local authority level to a regional level. The opportunity is taken in this legislation to make some changes in existing planning law and to introduce, among other matters, powers enabling the Ministry of Development to undertake schemes of comprehensive development in town centres. The House will agree about this at least, that these new powers are particularly important and appropriate at this time in Northern Ireland because of the need for extensive redevelopment of obsolete commercial areas in Belfast and other towns, and there are also, alas, opportunities caused by the bombing campaign for urban renewal with comprehensive planning rather than the piecemeal redevelopment of existing buildings.

I should say at the outset that these proposals closely follow in all essential particulars the White Paper issued by the then Government of Northern Ireland in February, 1972. These were the proposals for legislation lodged then, for changes in the law relating to town and country planning. The proposals had wide circulation at the time and there was consultation about them. The order closely follows the recommendations of that White Paper, which was strongly supported by the then Government of Northern Ireland and which had an extremely favourable reception from most people connected with the problem in Northern Ireland at that time.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

There is doubt about that.

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion. All I can do is say exactly what happened. The Macrory Report was unanimous, and that is not true of many review bodies in local government in other parts of the United Kingdom. The report was accepted by the Northern Ireland Parliament and by a wide variety of people both in Northern Ireland and outside. These recommendations go to implement it and that is all they do, apart from a few changes in existing planning law which I shall mention and some of which the House may think important.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the re-development portion of the order. Which part of the order is that? We have only 1½ hours to discuss the order, so this is not a matter which may be picked up later.

Mr. Channon

I think I can help the hon. Gentleman. Part III deals with development plans. That is the main portion dealing with the point he has in mind. If I have it wrong I will come back to it.

The significance of the order goes beyond town centres and comprehensive redevelopment. I think that an effective and up-to-date land use planning system must also provide opportunities for ordinary members of the public to be informed about and to influence decisions before they are taken. I think the system proposed in the draft order will not only be effective but will ensure openness, consistency and fairness.

Existing planning law, as hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will know, derives mainly from the Planning and Housing (Northern Ireland) Act, 1931, and the Planning (Interim Development) Act (Northern Ireland) 1944, although there has been subsequent legislation on planning compensation and some provisions to alleviate planning blight.

At present, responsibility for both the preparation of planning schemes and development control rests with local planning authorities, which are the county, county borough and urban district councils and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners in respect of land held by them for the purposes of the harbour undertaking. The Ministry of Development is the planning authority for the areas designated for the purposes of the New Towns Act (Northern Ireland), 1965; that is, as hon. Members will be aware, Craigavon, Londonderry, Antrim and Ballymena.

Development control has been the main function of planning authorities since 1944. Some 16,000 planning applications are made annually in Northern Ireland, of which about 90 per cent. are approved. As the law stands, following refusal of permission or on receiving an approval subject to conditions, an applicant may appeal either to the Ministry of Development or—a provision which does not apply here—to an independent person.

At the moment there is no statutory development plan system in Northern Ireland. I should draw the attention of the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) to Part VII as well if he is interested in the redevelopment. Therefore, the Ministry of Development, with the agreement and co-operation of local planning authorities, has prepared a series of non-statutory area plans for the guidance of both private and public development. Taking into account area plans presently in preparation, coverage of the Province has been largely completed.

Hon. Members will know that a great deal of useful work has been and is being done in planning in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members will take the opportunity of paying tribute to all those councillors and officials who have contributed to this position in the past.

The draft order makes changes in the present system. Much in it will be familiar to hon. Members, although there are variations from the English and Scottish planning systems. The most striking feature is the proposal that there should be only one planning authority in Northern Ireland—the Ministry of Development. That was one of the most crucial recommendations made by the Macrory Committee in 1970. I think it was widely welcomed—in deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)—by nearly all sections of opinion in Northern Ireland and also by informed opinion in Great Britain. Certainly both the major parties in this House welcomed it at the time.

Following the publication of the Macrory Report, the Ministry of Development paper on the proposals for legislation was published in February by our predecessors. Consultation then took place with all interested parties, including local authorities. The proposals were well received and the comments made were taken into consideration in framing the Order, which is based on the Ministry of Development paper of last February.

The proposals for the draft order were published at the beginning of July. They were again widely circulated to all interested parties and were laid here before the House rose for the Summer Recess—two months ago.

As the order stands, local authority executive planning powers would be repealed and replaced by a consultative role to be exercised by the new district councils concerning all aspects of planning, including development plans, comprehensive development and individual planning decisions.

The executive rôle for the Ministry in planning was recommended by the Macrory review body and it must be looked at in the light of the size and scale of Northern Ireland and of similar proposals for water, sewerage and road services for each of which Macrory recommended and the previous Northern Ireland administration accepted, as do we, that the Ministry would become the sole executive authority.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is it not a fact that although planning authorities consisted of the county council and the urban district councils, the final appeal was always to the Ministry of Development and often there was an independent inspector or a person appointed by the Ministry? His recommendation was not necessarily accepted and the Ministry of Development always had the power to overrule any decision made in regard to planning.

Mr. Channon

I shall check what I have said and if I have misled the House I shall correct it, but I think that the right of appeal lay not only to the Ministry of Development, as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland there was a special feature that there could be an appeal to an independent person who, I believe, was then appointed by the Minister of Development to hear the planning appeal. In these circumstances, I believe that the decision of the independent person was final.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I would ask the Minister to confirm this later because I think he will find that even though the independent person was appointed the Ministry still had the right to reject or accept, and in many cases the independent inspector's report has been asked for by parties who felt aggrieved that his report was not accepted.

Mr. Channon

If I have misled the House I shall seek an opportunity of correcting what I have said. The hon. Member is an expert in this field and I may have it wrong, although I think I am right.

The appeals are an important feature of the new proposals, but before I deal with them I should explain that the intention is to decentralise decision-making in this sphere as far as possible, and it seems likely that there will be at least several places in Northern Ireland at which professional planning staff will be stationed, namely Belfast, Ballymena, Craigavon, Londonderry, Coleraine, Downpatrick and Omagh.

One further feature is Article 15 which provides for publication in the local Press of planning applications. Responsibility for publication lies with the Ministry and a small fee will be charged. That is con- tained in Article 14. The prescribed fee is expected to be about £2 per application. A minumum of 14 days must expire before the Ministry can determine an application and any representations made by neighbours or members of the public within that time must be taken into account. That is a very important advance on what occurs in other parts of the United Kingdom where only a restricted range of proposals has to be advertised.

There seems to be some misunderstanding about who can actually apply for planning permission. As in Great Britain, there is no restriction as to who may apply. One result of the Ministry becoming sole planning authority and taking all planning decisions at first instance is that the present appellate function of the Ministry would no longer be consistent with the new situation. On the other hand control over individual planning decisions can have an important effect on planning policies.

Resolution of this dilemma resulted in a right of appeal against adverse Ministry planning decisions being provided by Article 23 which deals with appeals except in those cases where the application is of such special importance that there is a special procedure under Article 22 which involves the opportunity of a local public inquiry.

The appeals system should be and should be seen to be independent of the Ministry. Therefore, I should draw attention to Part XII, which refers to Schedule 3, the Part which sets up the planning appeal commission. The Commission will consist of both chartered town planners and lay members with other experience so as to bring to bear judgment other than that of the professional planner, important though that will be. They will be appointed by the Governor of Northern Ireland, and during the operation of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act this function will be exercised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Among its functions will be hearing and deciding planning appeals. Its decision will be corporate and final. It is envisaged that the hearing will always be by a planner member, but the Chairman might in addition assign other or perhaps all the Commissioners to sit in on any hearing according to the nature and complexity of the matter. If the House would like further details of the Commission I shall be delighted to give them, as I recognise that this is an important feature of the order.

Hon. Members will note that the Commission is involved in a number of instances throughout the draft order, at times in a decision-making capacity, as with planning appeals, and at other times with power to recommend only, as with development plan inquiries.

Hon. Member will agree that along with development control the other major pillar of the planning system is the preparation of development plans. I am told that at the time Macrory reported consideration was given to the adoption of the new English structure and local plan system, but because of the existence of a single regional planning authority and the size and scale of Northern Ireland, it was decided that such a system would not be appropriate. After all, a structure plan in Northern Ireland would clearly cover the whole Province. The Northern Ireland Government had already developed a broad regional economic and physical development strategy, which, with the assistance of outside planning and economic consultants, is reviewed at five-yearly intervals. This plan has been seen to be a considerable success.

The non-statutory area plans of the Ministry of Development are drawn up within the guidelines of the regional development programme, and it is envisaged that a single-tier development system will be adequate, given the existence of the broad regional strategy. The functions of these development plans, as with local plans in England, will be to set out proposals and planning policies, to show areas of major change and firm land acquisition areas, and to provide opportunities for the public to be informed about and make representations about the plan proposals both before the plan is finalised and again at the formal public inquiry.

A very important feature of the Order is the setting up of a Historic Buildings Council, with broadly similar functions to those of the other Historic Buildings Councils in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The final aspect on which I should like to comment at this stage is comprehensive development. Under the new towns legislation in Northern Ireland, powers to undertake town centre developments were given to New Town Commissions. Plans are being or have already been drawn up at Craigavon, Londonderry, Antrim and Ballymena, which are to be implemented partly by the Commissions and partly by private enterprise, working within the Commissions' overall plans. Implementation of these existing plans will be carried on by the Ministry after the winding up of the Commissions.

Outside new town areas the only general redevelopment powers available are those under the Housing Acts. These powers are very restricted and provide only for slum clearance and redevelopment of areas the major part of which consist of unfit housing.

General powers to undertake urban renewal are required in Northern Ireland. Because of the need for comprehensive planning for associated roads, housing, water and other services it is proposed that the Ministry of Development should be responsible for this function. This is provided for in Part VII of the draft Order, which provides for the Ministry to prepare and undertake development schemes. Areas for which development schemes are envisaged should be foreshadowed in the appropriate development plan, just as proposed action areas are shown in the structure plan under the English system.

This is an important order, an order over which there has been considerable discussion and consultation. It was strongly supported by our predecessors, and should commend itself to the House. In what has been a tragic week for Northern Ireland some may think it inappropriate to try to talk about other things than the desperate security situation and the tragedies in Northern Ireland. That is not my view. My view is that we should also go ahead with planning and other matters, as we have dealt with education and health earlier this Session, to try to help make the framework for a reform of local government, which I think has been widely welcomed in Northern Ireland, certainly by nearly all those to whom I have talked. I hope that it will be widely welcomed in this House as well.

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend referred to Article 7. Subsection (2) says: The Ministry may by order adopt as a development plan, in whole or in part and with or without modifications, any plan prepared before the commencement of this Order with respect to the development or other use of land, notwithstanding … Does the term "land" include water? It is most important that this order should apply to reservoirs and other areas of water.

Mr. Channon

I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to reply to that later. It is an important question and I do not immediately have the answer.

This is an important order and I hope that the House will allow us to proceed with it. I believe in the reform of the structure of local government in Northern Ireland. I believe, as I am sure the House does, that it is a step forward. The reform has been widely welcomed both in Northern Ireland and here.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I begin my contribution to this necessarily short debate with the comment that it would be surprising if the people of Northern Ireland were very worried tonight about rates and planning, but of course they are vital subjects to the community. They are important to the social development of the Province and warrant our close attention because, as we all find in our constituencies, planning affects people and too often it is too late when we find out in what way it does affect them and that the intention of the local authorities and the legislature when the parent legislation was passed ignores some important aspects.

The two orders we are debating tonight come under the procedure laid down in the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1972, and therefore we have only one and a half hours for debate. Implicit in the hon. Gentleman's argument, because it is implicit in the Act, is that this procedure will be used for orders which are of vital importance to the running of the Province.

I want briefly to say something which, if we were not so restricted in time it would be worth making at much greater length. The fact is that one and a half hours is just not good enough for an important document such as this. It is the equivalent of a Bill which would take a great deal of time in this House and in Committee. One makes every effort in study and research but I for one do not feel adequate to raise in five or ten minutes all the issues that should be raised. I say this now because in the new Session we shall have to find better procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. We have to find a way whereby those who know Northern Ireland and its problems intimately can raise matters in the House and in Committee, when Members with local knowledge are able to dig into a subject and show Ministers that the approach made by the Government is the wrong one. An order such as this, for example, needs not new procedure but should be treated as a Bill going through the House.

The Northern Ireland problem is far too serious to make narrow party points. It is not in that spirit that I raise the matters to which I wish to draw attention. It is the function of the legislature to dig deeply, because complete wisdom is not given to any of us. Those of us who have taken part in Committee stages know that we have often reached a point when we say "I had not thought of that aspect; I had not even considered it before"—and that is how the process works.

I raise these general matters not in any carping spirit, but I feel that in the new Session we must turn our minds to a new approach in dealing with legislation of this kind in a deeper way.

The Minister of State said that there had been considerable discussion in Northern Ireland, but it must be realised that this is among the first, if not in fact the first, of the orders which were not discussed at Stormont on Second Reading or in some other way. We know from the Written Answer given on 15th May that there are six orders in connection with local government reform and other orders concerned with drainage matters. I wish to ask the Minister which other orders are to be considered in the near future. It is something of a surprise that we have to delve into these planning matters in this way. If early warning were given in the OFFICIAL REPORT that these matters were coming up for discussion, we should have longer to do our homework.

I was recently asked by the Secretary of State to sit in at a meeting of the Advisory Commission, and I found it most interesting. May I ask what is the role of that Commission in terms of this order? I presumed the Advisory Commission had looked at it, but I wondered whether any changes which it had suggested had been incorporated in the order.

These orders arise from the recommendations of Macrory on local government reform; there has been a reallocation of power and responsibility for the different services. Will the Minister also consider publishing in the OFFICIAL REPORT a simple breakdown of which services have been allocated to the local authorities and area boards? I am seeking information to enable us more intelligently to examine these orders as they come before the House.

I wish to ask a number of questions. Article 3(2)(b) gives the Ministry power to undertake studies on the size, composition and distribution of the population of an area". Is this a new function of the Department for which they will need to have extra staff qualified to carry out the studies?

I also understand that the Ministry of Development has opened a Development Advice Centre which may offer financial inducements for households to settle permanently in any of the five growth centres in the Greater Belfast Area. Where are these centres, how is the scheme working, and what other plans are there to avoid too heavy a concentration of population in one area of Northern Ireland? Even brief visits to the Province reveal the existence of an imbalance of population and activity in the north so that other areas do not get as much activity.

I have a question to put on Article 11 which contains a definition of the term "development" and which is the kernel of the order. How does this definition differ from that previously used in Northern Ireland? Is it now identical with that used in the comparable Acts in Great Britain?

Article 25(1)(a) provides that development for which planning permission is granted must be begun within five years of the date on which the permission is granted". On 12th October, 1972, at the Conservative Party Conference the Secretary of State for the Environment said that he wanted local authorities to try to reduce this period of five years substantially and that on applications to him a much stricter time limit would be imposed. This was thought to be an important point to put forward at the Conservative Party Conference. It is not mirrored in this draft planning order. However, if it is too late to take it into account, may we assume that the Ministry will take the point made by the Secretary of State for the Environment and act accordingly? I presume that the Ministry is enabled to do so by Article 25(1)(b). The question of five years is one which needs to be raised. Is it not too long a period to allow someone to act upon permission granted to him?

A subject which is not of world-shattering importance but which has been put to me arises on Articles 31 to 36 and 82 to 87, which refer to buildings of special architectural or historic interest. In my area, which is an area of clearance, from time to time there are revealed buildings of historical importance that the community wants to save. It is curious what a wide variety of buildings they turn out to be.

In Newry the early nineteenth century customs house on the canal has been destroyed by a bomb. In Londonderry the Georgian building on the city wall has been seriously damaged by an explosion. The customs house in Newry was an income tax office and in Londonderry the house on the city wall was the local office of the Belfast Telegraph. To some degree, to protect Ulster's cultural heritage we should be more careful in these sad times about what we put in these historical buildings. There are most important buildings in the North of Ireland. Are Articles 31 to 36 sufficiently strong to protect them?

Article 54(1) specifies the cases when the Ministry may acquire land. The authority to local authorities and others all over the United Kingdom to acquire land is an important point that the legislature should watch. Are the cases identical to those specified in the comparable Acts in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Article 100 provides for grants for research and bursaries. This is a welcome provision. How much money is it intended to make available over the next 12 months?

Article 105 talks about advisory bodies or committees. Can the Minister give some examples of that? In Government in Whitehall we are given to appointing advisory bodies and committees at the drop of a hat. They proliferate and they are set up with the best of intentions but I sometimes wonder whether in the course of time we lose sight of why they were set up. I am sceptical of bodies of this kind. Nevertheless I accept that on the small scale they are necessary. Can the Minister advise us as to what is involved?

There is only one point I wish to raise on Schedule 3, concerning the constitution of the planning appeals commission. Will the hearings be in public and will the reports be made public? Schedule 6 extends to development plans the right of an owner of certain blighted property to require the relevant authority to purchase that property at its unblighted price, this being a right, I am given to understand, created by the Planning and Land Compensation Act (Northern Ireland) 1971.

It has been put to me that property may become depreciated in value on the private market because of bombing activities in the Province. Will the provision in this order cover such a situation? On my reading of this it seems that it may not. I wish that we had an opportunity to discuss this because the depreciated value of property in Northern Ireland is a matter that has arisen a great deal in the last two or three years and is something to which we must all put our minds.

In article 7 we talked about the general development of city centres and so on. There is a great deal of this being done in this country. I visited Manchester the other evening and saw the enormous amount being done there. It mirrors what is being done in the city of Leeds. I feel strongly on one point. I hope that in this draft planning order there is sufficient power for the authorities to consult the people of the area. I am not speaking for Manchester now but I find in too many places that the people in the area find out too late what is going on. The planning development that takes place is often done at the instigation of planners with the very best of intentions but without considering the needs of the people living in the area.

There is one other general question—house prices. I gather these have always been significantly lower in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, even in Ulster, house prices have risen considerably and according to the figures issued by the Nationwide Building Society, which I think all hon. Members receive from time to time, the percentage increase in house prices during the last five years, from the second quarter of 1967 to the second quarter of 1972 is 46 per cent. for new houses, 47 per cent. for modern existing houses and 35 per cent. for older existing houses. The average price of a new house in Northern Ireland is now over £5,000 and the average value of the site is £1,163. The site value as a proportion of the whole price is 22.2 per cent.

This last figure is higher than comparable figures in the rest of the United Kingdom. The proportion in Scotland is 14.3 per cent., in Wales 19.3 per cent. and in North-East England 19 per cent. In Ulster, therefore, the price of land relevant to the price of homes is much higher, which is not something one would expect working from theory. What measures is the Ministry of Development taking to deal with the price of land and hence of new house prices in Northern Ireland? There are many more questions I could ask, given time, but I would need a far different procedure to do so. This is the purpose of the House of Commons, to go into the small details of legislation of this kind. We shall have to put our minds to considering a different procedure for investigating orders of this nature before the new Session gets under way.

In the past the Minister has seen fit to send me Written Answers to my questions. I should be happy with that on this occasion. But it is important that all of us, even those who are not from Northern Ireland, should get the necessary information in order to build up a stock of knowledge which will stand us in good stead in the months ahead.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

We were forced to accept having debates restricted to a time limit of one and a half hours for a draft order which had already been through some stages in the Stormont Parliament. To the best of my knowledge—and here I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees)—we were promised a proper debate on orders which had not been through the local Parliament. This order has not been considered by the local Members of Parliament, and yet we are expected to allow it to go through after a cursory debate. This is by any standard a complicated and detailed order which requires very careful consideration and lengthy debate. What makes the position worse is that no explanatory document has been issued which would help Members with the consideration of the order. The way in which the order has been presented to the House is not in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has a number of points to make and therefore I shall keep my comments fairly brief.

I want first to raise the question of rights of way. The Ulster Society for the Preservation of the Countryside and other amenity organisations have, for a great many years, been pressing the Ministry of Development at Stormont and its predecessor the Ministry of Health and Local Government to introduce legislation dealing with rights of way but without success. In Great Britain the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, deals with this matter. Naturally there was a great demand for it here; the pressure of population was all that much greater.

Under that Act a duty was laid on the road authority, normally the county council, to have all the rights of way and alleged rights of way surveyed. In this work the rambling clubs played a big part. When a right was disputed the matter was settled one way or the other by the council at public expense. All established rights of way were then signposted with the notice "Public Footpath". The existence of the right of way was recorded and the register was open for inspection by anyone. The Act provided in addition that when considered necessary paths could be closed and also that new paths could be created where there was a public need.

Twenty years experience of the Act has thrown up some weaknesses, but its enormous value has never been disputed. We in Northern Ireland demand that we should have the benefit of similar legislation. I regret that the Government have failed to include it in this order because I do not believe that our demand is unreasonable.

The amenity organisations have been pressing the Government for legisltion ever since the Planning Advisory Board published its Report The Ulster Countryside" in 1946–26 years ago. In that Report the Board stated that the first essential action is amendment of the law relating to rights of way and the provision of machinery to determine any existing cases in dispute". Despite that and the Ministry of Development's expressed hope in March, 1968, that it would deal with the matter in a comprehensive planning Bill, four years later we have this order and no provision is made for it. This is a disgraceful state of affairs.

Provision should be made for the creation of long-distance footpaths, particularly at this time when the making of such paths could provide valuable employment with a high labour content, and do so in country districts where it is most needed.

I wonder whether the Minister is in a position to say whether the term "land" in article 7(2) includes water.

Mr. Channon

"Land" includes land covered by water, according to the Northern Ireland Interpretation Act, 1954.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am deeply grateful. That saves me taking up the time of the House.

Article 11(2)(d) deals with planning control. Forestry should come within normal planning regulation. Large-scale forestry operations, particularly when they involve the planting of thousands of acres of moorland with conifers, can have a profound effect on the landscape and should be subject to ordinary planning procedures. The provision in parks of cafés, museums, office blocks and interpretative centres and the provision of large car parks should also be subject to planning control.

Article 15(a) and article 37(4) deal with the notification of planning applications. I ask the Minister to say that notice should be given in one of the main newspapers in the Province, or in the Belfast Gazette, and that notice of a planning application or designation of a conservation area should appear on the site so that passers by may see that a planning application has been made, for not everybody reads the advertisements in the Press—certainly I do not read the newspapers that carefully.

Article 31(2) deals with buildings of special architectural or historical interest. Paragraph (2)(a) refers to the exterior of historical buildings, but it is equally important to consider their interiors.

Article 32(5)(a) deals with the control of works for the demolition of, alteration to, or extension of listed buildings and says that it shall be a defence to prove that the works were urgently necessary in the interests of safety or health. Buildings seldom become unsafe or unhealthy suddenly.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am glad to welcome the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to the debate. We await his contribution on this important order. I know that he wishes to talk about blood dripping from people's hands, but let him make a contribution on an important topic. It is the first time the hon. Member has been in for a debate on an order.

Once a building has been demolished, it is difficult to prove whether it was unsafe and the argument that it was unsafe could be used falsely as justification for demolition. I ask the Minister to look again at this and to see whether it is possible to bring in a change later making provision for an independent opinion to he obtained before a listed building is destroyed.

Finally, dealing with mineral development, I regret that we have not had in this order—I think I am correct—provision for dealing with phased restoration of mineral workings.

I feel that all mineral working applications should be submitted with provision made for a suitable working programme for phased restoration of a site and that planning authorities should ask for this. It is essential that when mineral work- ing has been completed, the site is restored and is not left an eyesore for the community.

I certainly dislike the way this order has been introduced in this House and I cannot support it.

11.2 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

On previous occasions since the suspension of Stormont, Ulster hon. Members of this House on this side have made their contributions to Northern Ireland legislation in the interests of all the people of the Province.

From time to time we have offered advice within the limits of the Order-in-Council procedure as to how legislation might be improved and to that extent we have tried to facilitate government. It gives me no pleasure tonight to say that we have parted company with the Government because this order is so fundamental and contains so many objectionable features that, deprived of the power to amend it, we are left with one alternative—total rejection.

Since 1963 when it was proposed in the Matthew Plan that a central planning authority should be set up, considerable doubt has been felt regarding the viability of the replacement of the present two-tier planning administration by a single autonomous authority. Many of the provisions included in this order indicate all too clearly that those doubts were fully justified. The order is not a particularly coherent piece of legislation and its full intent can be appreciated only when regulations which may be made thereunder are available. However, this order gives sufficient indication of the vital changes in planning administration which will result to alarm even the most complacent.

In Part III, under "Development Plans", we find that under the order the Ministry may prepare a development plan for any area as opposed to the obligation imposed on local planning authorities, under the 1944 Act, to prepare planning schemes for the whole of their areas. This appears to be a retrogressive step. The form and scope of development plans is not defined and is left to be dealt with by regulations to be made at a later date. Publicity and consultation in respect of the preparation of development plans is to be carried out where, in the opinion of the Ministry, it is desirable.

An inquiry held before the appeals commission shall afford opportunity for objection to the development plan, and before adopting the plan the Ministry shall consider these objections and the report of the appeals commission. This is provided for in Articles 4, 5, 6 and 7. This means that a decision of a single authority can impose a development plan on any part of the Province.

Genuine attempts by at least one county council in Northern Ireland have been made to secure the re-wording of the provision, particularly Article 4. Those attempts received a reply from the Ministry of Development which seemed to assert that the Ministry is right, that it is not necessary to consider any criticism and that it is merely a matter of choosing words in which criticism is waved aside.

In part IV, Planning Control, the order makes agricultural buildings subject to planning control for the first time. That is a highly undesirable feature. It is utterly wrong that a planner in a far-away office should dictate the design and siting of purpose-built buildings for a specialised industry when the farmer will have to endure the results of faulty decisions imposed in matters which are vital to the workability and economy of his holding.

Article 14(1)(c) provides that payment must be made for the privilege of submitting an application for consent under the order. That is likely to affect the judgment of a developer in deciding whether his proposed development is of a type requiring consent, and is a further cause of frustration to add to the delays and obstacles which any planning measure brings in its train.

Provision may be made by regulation requiring the Ministry to consult the district council and others before determining an application, but no reference is made to procedure to resolve a difference of opinion between council and ministry. Applications for planning permission are to be advertised in the Press, thus breaking down the accepted status of an application as a confidential matter until a decision thereon is made. That is likely further to inflate the value of land for development by attracting further offers of purchase by competing interests.

Even if one agrees with the objectives of publication, surely the purpose is defeated by the requirement to lodge objections within 14 days. It is curious that this compares unfavourably with the period of two months which the Ministry allows itself to decide whether an application should be treated as a "major planning application" and the unlimited period which it gives itself to decide whether any particular development requires planning.

I appreciate the need for avoiding delay, but the longer waiting period could be used by various technical officers to make their investigations. It need not necessarily be a dormant period. Article 20(1) provides that decisions on applications can be made personal to the applicant only, which can be useful in dealing with proposals related to alternative sites. The Ministry may, in connection with a submission which they consider to constitute a major planning application, serve notice on the applicant to that effect. In such cases an inquiry may be held before the Appeals Commission whose report and other representations shall be taken into account before the Ministry makes its decision which shall be final on the application.

That is by far the most serious aspect of the order as it makes the Ministry, as a planning authority, the sole arbiter of applications of its own selection without any right of appeal. That must finally divorce the order from any pretensions to democratic legislation. There is a fee, an unstated amount, to be paid for the privilege of submitting an application or an appeal—is that fair or just? In Part V Additional Planning Control, provision is made for the compilating of lists by the Ministry of buildings of special architectural or historical interest which, once so listed, shall be subject to a more rigid development control. But there does not appear to be any provision for the receipt of objections to, or applications for, such listing.

The meaning is obscure in Article 31(7), unless the word "may" has been used in error instead of "any". If that is so, it highlights the necessity not only of making appeal and other decisions final but of making them capable of clarification should all the parties interested therein fail to agree as to the exact meaning. Has an error been made? It is of some significance. In paragraph (7) the words are, may object or structure fixed to a building". It does not seem to make sense. If it be an error, how can it be rectified? We as Members are prevented from making Amendments. Do the Government retain that privilege to themselves?

Now, Part VI, Enforcement. This limits the period within which enforcement action can be taken to four years from the date of the contravention, and it makes no special provision for enforcement against contraventions of previous planning control. This is Article 42(3). In view of the time which has elapsed since local planning authorities started pressing for new legislation in the matter, this seems a serious omission which will lead to the authorisation of much contravening development detrimental to sound planning standards.

It is inevitable in a Measure of this nature that legal processes should feature prominently, and there are constant references thereto. This brings me to what I regard as a fundamental weakness in the proposed structure. The county councils have in the past been served by very efficient legal departments. The county councils are to be abolished on 1st April, 1973. As a sitting councillor, perhaps I am biased, but no one seems to know what, if anything, will be put in the place of those legal departments.

In the present situation, one would expect that those who are presently performing those functions and providing the services would be those who would make the decisions as to how existing talents and services could best be used, but it looks as though each Government Department wants to create its own little legal empire. The Civil Service lawyer has always played a minor backroom rôle in the administration of his Department. The full-time local government lawyer, on the other hand, is an active participant and is both an administrator and an executive. He is accessible and he is accountable. Unless such officers are retained and their Departments remain integrated, there will be little hope, I fear, of avoiding the total collapse of the entire structure proposed in the order.

Unless the new system is fully and properly serviced from a legal point of view, it will, I fear, quickly attract contempt and ridicule. I hope that this folly will be avoided and that existing legal departments will be utilised to provide effective services for the boards, committees and Government Departments.

On a day when we have solemnly spent six hours on a comparatively trivial argument about whether the proceedings of the House should be televised, we are now asked to rush through in 90 minutes a Measure which will drastically affect the everyday lives of one and a half million people for years to come. It is small wonder that there is confusion in Northern Ireland. I have evidence of this in a letter written by the solicitor to a county council, who says that the fact that the Ministry has been asked to bring these matters to the attention of the Legislature by whatever are the appropriate means is an indication of the feeling of frustration and futility experienced by local authorities. To date, I am unaware of any steps having been taken by the Ministry to bring the points raised to the attention of the legislature.

It is with the same sense of futility that I bring these points before this House, knowing full well that it is impotent, except for the power to reject, which I hope will be exercised tonight.

11.15 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Northern Ireland has had a very bitter and terrible experience this week. I am sure that the House will be glad to note that there is comparative peace this evening in the City of Belfast. The people of Northern Ireland will wonder why this House has no time to consider those very pressing problems that afflict them, but has time, 90 minutes, to deal with a very complicated matter concerning the whole of planning and development for the future of the Province.

As a Member of this House representing a Northern Ireland constituency, must solemnly register my protest at the lack of good faith on the part of the Government, for we were promised that legislation that had had no discussion at Stormont before its prorogation would not be dealt with in the way in which we are asked to deal with this important draft order this evening.

This draft order is of great importance. I agree with the Minister that it ought to be considered; but so often I feel that the Government, on issues affecting Northern Ireland, have their priorities absolutely wrong. The order affects people, and people are very important.

Those who drafted the order—I have read it very carefully—seem to think that vast areas of Northern Ireland are wanted for development by speculative builders or others who want to develop in that manner. Is the House aware that the vast majority of applications coming before the planning authorities are made by people who want to build their own homes in which to live?

Why are so many people in Northern Ireland anxious to build their own homes? Because in the past local authorities have failed to provide them with such homes.

I am absolutely opposed to personal applications by people desiring to build their own homes being blazoned in the newspapers of Northern Ireland. This is a personal matter. Hundreds of my constituents who have applied for houses have been told, "You might get a house in five years." Now, when they want to build houses of their own, is their privacy to be invaded because the fact must be blazoned in the areas where they live? Northern Ireland covers quite a small area and is cursed with parochialism. We all know that. Everybody knows everybody else's business. Why should the whole neighbourhood be told that Mary and Jack have entered into negotiations to buy a piece of land on which they want to build? I am opposed to that.

If it were some vast development, certainly advertise it and let everybody know that some speculator wants to develop land in this way. But for the ordinary individual it is an invasion of his privacy and must be opposed.

For example, in the village of Ahogill, in my constituency, not one brick was laid for 20 years. There is therefore a vast number of people on the housing list who cannot get a house. They are prepared to spend their money to build themselves a home and that would relieve the Government of the responsibility of spending the ratepayers' and the taxpayers' money on housing. Those people should be encouraged to build their own homes but the planning authorities in the past have been reticent to give planning permission because of a hold up in overall Government thinking on how Northern Ireland should be developed.

In the past two years I have personally appeared at more planning appeals in Northern Ireland than any other hon. Member. It is a problem which causes great anxiety in my constituency. I discovered that the planners have two grounds for rejecting applications—sporadic development and lack of amenities. The Government would have got their priorities right tonight if they had dealt with drainage and sewerage and the provision of facilities in Northern Ireland before they had entered into discussion on planning. Surely the basic services should be undertaken. I am familiar with the position about water and with the Bill that passed through Stormont But drainage and sewerage is creating great difficulty in Northern Ireland.

Tonight we are writing the obituary notice of the Commissions. The order will destroy them. People had reservations about them when they were set up I believed that perhaps they could not do the task they were set. But any right-thinking person must pay them tribute and I pay it as one who was not always in favour of them. The Commission in my area of Ballymena was not acceptable at first to the people there. There was a great difference between the town council and the Commission. But the Commission has done tremendous spade work in the development of Antrim, Ballymena and the surrounding area. Now the Commission, geared as it is to the development of the area, is to be destroyed as a planning entity.

The Ministry of Development in Belfast cannot handle the work of that Commission and it cannot handle the work of the Londonderry Commission, or the Commission in Armagh. It is all very well for the Minister to hammer the Macrory Report down on the Dispatch Box in support of the proposals, but that report never envisaged the prorogation of Stormont. All its planning was to be tied into Stormont, perhaps an enlarged Stormont with extra powers.

There is another matter which the House should consider. The chief basic industry in Northern Ireland is agriculture. The area I represent is agricultural as well as industrial. Very wisely there was special legislation for the building of houses on farms. If a farmer wanted his son to have a home on his farm the application went first to the Ministry of Agriculture. If the Ministry considered that the farmer was entitled to have a son who worked with him on the farm also living with him on the farm, it issued a certificate which accompanied and supported the application for planning permission. That right is now being destroyed, and the farmer finds that even though he owns 100 acres of land his son has no extra advantage when he wants to build a home on his father's property to work on the farm with his father.

There are many things in the order that I would like to speak about, but other hon. Members want to speak, and it would not be right for me to monopolise the time. But these matters deeply trouble me. There are things in the order that seem very peculiar in the present situation. For example, a person who cuts down a tree or the top of a tree could be fined £400. Men are being cut in pieces in Northern Ireland today, yet we are talking about a fine not exceeding £400 for removing one tree.

Many aspects of this draft legislation are ill considered. I agree with the spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), that we should have had a Bill before the House so that we could have a Second Reading and Committee stage and deal with all these points.

I recognise that it is hardly fair for the House to expect the Minister to answer all the points we make. He could not do it. I doubt whether he could be briefed in the time available. But there are some drastic items in the Bill. For example, we find that Article 10 can destroy at a stroke Articles 4 to 9. It says: Without prejudice to Articles 4 to 9, the Ministry may make regulations with respect to the form and content of development plans and with respect to the procedure to be followed in connection with their preparation, adoption, alteration, repeal and replacement. We are asked tonight to give our blessing to this draft. When I turn to its back pages I find a number of enactments that are to be repealed. I asked the Vote Office tonight for copies of the Acts in question, and it could not supply me with them. We are asked to deal with something on which we cannot even get the information. We are asked to deal with Acts and cannot even get copies of some of the Acts that are to be amended. Therefore, we find ourselves in a very difficult position.

I feel that my only way of protesting that the Government have not had time to get their priorities right and deal with issues that are troubling us all, then presenting us with such an important draft order in this way, is to vote against it. I do not disagree with many of the matters in it. It includes good and right suggestions, but I cannot vote for an amendment or change it in any way. It is not amendable, and we cannot make it amendable. Therefore, I must cast my vote against it in protest.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)


Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman know that this debate must finish at 20 minutes to twelve? There is the question of the Minister's reply. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. McMaster

I shall certainly do so, Mr. Speaker, I shall be very brief.

I have made a list of a vast number of detailed amendments to the order which should be considered by the House. We are presented with an order, published only seven or eight Sittings days ago, which stretches to 67 pages and contains 110 separate Articles, and seven detailed Schedules. We are asked to consider it in an hour and a half, knowing that none of the objections which we raise can be dealt with by the Government, that none of them can result in a considered reply or an amendment. My hon. Friends have already raised a number of points, many of which are important. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) raised the question of the inside of historic buildings. We should like to debate whether the inside of historic buildings should be included.

I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Minister of State what arrangements were made for consultation before the order was drafted. Were Members of Stormont consulted? More important, why has the order, which has not been considered by Stormont, been presented here before we know what the future is for Northern Ireland? The order relates to the Macrory Report and depends completely on, among other things, local government in Northern Ireland. What is to be the form of local government in Northern Ireland? When are the local government elections in Northern Ireland to be held? Will the Government set out in their Green Paper the future of Stormont, which is vital to the order? How can we seriously consider an important order such as this in the time allocated to us when so much of it turns on other matters which have not been presented to the House?

I could go on at great length but in view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I leave it at that. I feel that we cannot tonight, in the time allocated, deal adequately with this legislation.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Channon

I think the House will forgive me if I try to reply to the debate, because there is only a comparatively short time left.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)


Mr. Channon

I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not give way.

Hon. Members have raised a number of important points. I will try to reply to as many of them as I can and I will, of course, write to hon. Members on points to which I do not have an opportunity to reply.

I must say to hon. Members that this order which we are asked to consider tonight is an essential feature of the Macrory reform for local government in Northern Ireland. It is possible to be either in favour of the reform of local government in Northern Ireland or against it, but one cannot both be in favour of local government in Northern Ireland and vote against the order—I dare say it can be done, but not in logic—because if the order is not passed, one of the most important aspects of local government, one of the fundamental Macrory features, would not come into operation.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. Since he has challenged the point, however, may I say that the reason why we shall oppose the order is simply that under the Macrory proposals it was envisaged that the Measure would be a parliamentary Bill with full parliamentary time and full democratic processes in order to discuss it, and not an Order in Council contemptuously introduced at this late hour of the night in this intolerable manner.

Mr. Channon

I am sorry if my hon. and gallant Friend feels that I have introduced it contemptuously. I have certainly not attempted to do that. In the time available to me, I have done my best to be as courteous and reasonable to the House as I can and to introduce it in the best way I can.

Captain Orr

I was not implying otherwise of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Channon

If I have offended the House, I apologise.

I am here tonight in the somewhat anomalous position of speaking in support of the whole reform of a local government in Northern Ireland, a reform welcomed by, I think, virtually everyone in Northren Ireland with very few exceptions, supported, I think, by all political parties there, certainly the political party which my hon. Friends support, which had the support of the previous Northern Ireland Government and the whole principle of which was debated in the Northern Ireland Parliament. There was a two-day debate a long time ago. A consultation document was prepared in February. The explanatory document was in the Vote Office, I hope, some time ago.

Captain Orr


Mr. Channon

The whole order was published in August, I think on 9th August, and we are now at 19th October. That is not an unreasonable period.

Rather than enter into the polemics, however, I should try to answer some of the points which have been made. If one is in favour of this reform of local government in Northern Ireland, one should in logic support the order, because it cannot possibly operate if it is defeated.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked about drainage and sewerage. I hope he will have his chance to speak on that issue in the not-too-distant future. He raised a point in his intervention during my earlier remarks. I think I was right in what I said. Under the Planning Acts of Northern Ireland there is a right of appeal to an independent person whose decision is final; the Minister cannot upset his decision. That is the law as it stands. The law is slightly different in a new town area but I do not think I should spend time on that at the moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) raised the question of forestry. There is exactly the same exemption for forestry under the English law as exists in Article 11. Article 31(2)(b) contains provisions for the control of the interior of historic buildings.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of rights of way—a very important matter—and it may well be right that there should be legislation dealing with it. I do not think that it is a matter to be rushed into this order. It needs careful discussion with, amongst other, the Ulster Farmers' Union, and would require separate legislation. That is why it has been omitted from the order. But it is an important matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) made an important speech. He referred to a misprint in the order. He must have an earlier copy. The order as it is before us now has been corrected. But he is right to oppose the order because he has fundamental objection to the whole system. I understand his point of view. But I must cross swords with him on the question of the fee. As it is suggested that it should be about £2, I do not think it will be an intolerable burden.

Mr. Molyneaux

The copy of the order I have was obtained from the Vote Office yesterday.

Mr. Channon

I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not get the right copy. There are plenty of corrected copies available now.

The 14-day period is a minimum, not a maximum.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) raised a number of very important points. The historic building provisions are modelled on the English provisions. No decision has been taken about setting up an advisory committee but there might be one on urban renewal. It is a possibility. He says that he is against advisory committees. Yet whenever one tries to abolish them almost every hon. Member says they are essential. I tried to my cost to abolish one not long ago.

There is a development advice centre in Belfast, with Ministry of Development staff, to advise persons who are thinking of moving to growth areas such as Craigavon, Antrim, Bangor and Newtownards. Grants are available to help people buy houses in the growth areas and efforts are made to help them find both a job and a house. This is a useful work which is considered most valuable.

The definition of "development" is identical with that of the English definition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South also asked about planning permission for houses on farms. I see no reason why under the order, such permission is any different from the existing law.

Many points have been raised and I will write to hon. Members about those I have not covered in my reply. This is an important order and I am sorry that some hon. Members intend to vote against it. They are entitled to do so, but if one wants to press ahead with the reform of local government one must press ahead with the consequential measures; one cannot have the one without the other, for otherwise reform will not take place. I hope, therefore, that, on reflection, hon. Members will after all decide to support the order, since it is so crucial for the reform of local government which has such wide acceptance in all sections of the community both in Northern Ireland and in this House.

11.40 p.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I am sorry the Minister thought that I was being offensive to him when I mentioned the contemptible manner in which this legislation was being dealt with. I was talking about the Government. I was saying that to introduce this Measure at this time of night, a complicated measure concerned with the rights of the individual, means that the Minister has no chance to listen to our questions, take them away for further study and then to

Division No. 341.] AYES [11.40 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey Hunt, John Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Benyon, W. James, David Russell, Sir Ronald
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Channon, Paul Kinsey, J. R. Scott, Nicholas
Chapman, Sydney Knox, David Shelton, William (Clapham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lamont, Norman Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mlngton)
Clegg, Walter Lane, David Speed, Keith
Crouch, David Langford-Holt, Sir John Spence, John
Eyre, Reginald Le Marchant, Spencer Stanbrook, Ivor
Fortescue, Tim Money, Ernle Sutcliffe, John
Fowler, Norman Montgomery, Fergus Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Goodhew, Victor Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Gray, Hamish Murton, Oscar Tugendhat, Christopher
Green, Alan Normanton, Tom Weatherill, Bernard
Gummer, J Selwyn Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Worsley, Marcus
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Hawkins, Paul Raison, Timothy TEKKERS FOR THE AYES:
How, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Redmond, Robert Mr. Michael Jopling and
Howell, David (Guildford) Mr. Marcus Fox.
Kilfedder, James Molyneaux, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McMaster, Stanley Pounder, Rafton Capt Orr and
Maginnis, John E. Winterton, Nicholas Rev. Ian Paisley.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order, 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th August, be approved.