HC Deb 25 October 1972 vol 843 cc1242-50

Lords Amendment: No. 316, in page 133, line 16, leave out "and" and insert: (b) amendments extending the powers of parish and community councils in relation to parking places so as to empower them to provide, maintain, and regulate the use of, off-street parking places for all classes of vehicles, as well as parking places for bicycles and motor cycles, and

Mr. Speed

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

I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that it would be convenient with this Amendment to take Lords Amendments Nos. 318, 319 and 320.

These Amendments provide a welcome extension, as I believe, of the function of parish and community councils. Their germ appeared in Standing Committee through the agency of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison). It was tended further by the noble Lady, Baroness Phillips, in another place and it has now come into the sunshine in the form of these Amendments.

6.15 p.m.

The new powers to be conferred on parish and community councils will allow them to provide and operate off-street car parks but not, of course, on-street parking facilities. These powers will be exercisable subject to the continuing consent of the county council. The form of control will be substantially the same as that to be exercised over the district council's parking powers, except that there will be no provision for appeal to the Secretary of State such as district councils have. Copies of applications for consent will have to be sent to the district council, which may comment upon them. This will make sure that the district council is aware of proposals which might require its approval as planning authority.

Under the existing powers of Section 46 of the 1967 Act over cycle parks, regulation is by means of byelaws subject to the confirmation of the Secretary of State. Regulation of the parish car parks will be by a parking place order under Section 31 of the Act rather than by byelaws, and the order will be subject to county council consent. We feel that it would be both unwieldy and unnecessary to have both the county councils and the Secretary of State giving consent. The powers of Section 31(1) will allow the parish and community councils to make a more flexible, though standardised, parking place order setting out the terms of use. This will be subject to county council consent alone. In addition, the county council will be able to make orders in respect of parish or community car parks, as in the case of district car parks.

It was also accepted in another place that the power was intended to provide modest parking facilities, mainly on amenity grounds—that is, as an alterna tive to grass verges and village greens or, possibly, at the back of parish halls, or such places as that. The concept of "modest" parking facilities is extremely difficult to draft and incorporate satisfactorily in the relevant provisions of the Bill. But the limited resources of parish councils and the provisions for county council control together should be adequate safeguards. We have provided that, as in the case of district councils' proposals, the county may refuse or give consent subject to conditions or modifications.

District councils as local planning authorities would be required to give planning consent to any parish car parks which represented substantial development. The reason for requiring the parish or community council to send copies of all applications for consent to the district council as well as to the county council, and for the county council to consider any representations made to it by the district before arriving at a decision, is to avoid the confusion which might occur if the statutory consent and the planning permission were sought from the two different authorities independently.

What I have said so far relates to Lords Amendments Nos. 316 and 318. Nos. 319 and 320 are consequential upon them.

As I entered my political life as a parish councillor some 18 years ago, and later became the vice-chairman of that parish council, and as the person who nominated me then was chairman of the local Labour Party—so it was really very much an all-party parish council—I think it is important that we should have this small but significant extension of parish council powers—powers which we did not have when I was on the parish council and which parish councils do not have today, a lack that proved embarrassing in involved wrangles with the rural district council to provide a very modest car park indeed. I feel that this is a step forward and that the Bill will be improved by these Amendments.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

We do not disagree with parishes having increased powers. The Minister said that he welcomed this extension of the powers of parish councils, yet that welcome in itself shows a strange dichotomy. The Government were first of all very intransigent about the powers of the county council over all traffic matters, and in particular over car parking matters. They now say that counties shall have these powers and they also increase the powers of the parishes, yet in the debate in another place the Government seemed to show a very strange reluctance to give sufficient powers to the district councils in respect of off-street parking facilities.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) fought a valiant battle in Committee and certain undertakings were given by the Government to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman was told that the Government would consider concurrent powers between county and district councils. I doubt whether "concurrent powers" means, in the ordinary sense of the meaning of "concurrent" that the district can go ahead independently of the county or the county independently of the district. However, there is a proposed extension of the powers of a parish council to provide general car parking facilities.

I can see some difficulties arising from the Amendment. Even though county councils have overall powers over parishes and their applications to provide car parks, it may be that the county councils will bypass their own responsibilities for the provision of car parks by saying that the burden falls upon the parishes.

I have in mind particularly holiday-type parishes—for example, seaside and countryside parishes—which would not need car parking facilities for the requirements of the inhabitants but which, because of a sudden influx of population at holiday times and the need to survive as a community will need to provide parking facilities for others. Very typical are fishing villages and seaside resorts. For example, the village which has a nice beach within its area or which has adjacent woods does not need a car park for its inhabitants, who can conveniently park their cars within the curtilage of their own premises. However, because of the influx of visitors such villages will need to provide a car park. That seems to be the job not of the parish council but of the county council or the district council. It is the district and the county which attract tourists to the area—in particular. the district—and it would be the district's function to provide off-street parking facilities. Districts should not throw the burden on a parish. Although the provision of a car park is not a great financial burden to a county or district, it can be a sizeable burden for a parish which can levy only a limited rate.

It is grossly unfair that a parish should have placed upon it the burden of providing facilities not for its inhabitants but for protection from visitors who want to take advantage of the lovely rural scenery or the seaside fishing village or whatever it may be. I am not against the power being given to parishes, but I fear that county councils will throw their burden on to the parishes.

I cannot understand—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will explain further—that on the one hand the Government look to the county councils for overall traffic planning, roads, car parks, etc., and yet seek to deny equivalent and proper powers being granted to the district councils. The Government are prepared to give such powers to the smallest units of local government yet they deny such powers to a district council, a sizeable authority.

I assure the Government that we will not seek to divide the House, but the Amendment seems a strange and wide departure from what the Government were originally saying, that all road, traffic and car parking powers should belong to the county council in the interests of good planning. Admittedly the plans will have to go to the county council, but I fear that the county council could evade its own responsibilities, particularly in tourist areas, and place the burden of the provision of car parks not upon itself or the district, but upon parishioners. It is a burden that the inhabitants of the parish should not have to bear, as they are not providing facilities for their own cars.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)

I agree with the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes). I am not happy about the Amendments. It is not that I am against parish councils having the right to provide off-street parking, but I protest against the Government's treatment of parish councils in giving them this right compared with their treatment of the district councils.

For my sins, I served on the Standing Committee for many a long and weary day. I made it clear that I was unhappy about car parking. I made it clear that there should be concurrent powers between the district and metropolitan councils and that if a pledge to that effect was not forthcoming I should vote against the Government in Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace, who at that time was in the Department of the Environment, said: Although I still believe that the concept of a county transportation plan is right, I say at once that I think those districts should have the powers to provide off-street parking. I make that absolutely clear. We will introduce Amendments to do that. Although I have said that it will be within the county transportation plan. I go even further than I went before. If the district should feel that it is being oppressed unreasonably by the county, we will also provide for an appeal direct to the Secretary of State. I think this answers any possible doubt that my hon. Friends may have. I then asked my hon. Friend whether the district council and the county council would have concurrent powers, and whether the county council could control the number of car parking places that the district councils could provide. My hon. Friend, referring to the district councils, said: They will have concurrent powers, not only to provide off-street car parking, but to make arrangements for others to provide it …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 29th February, 1972, c. 2125–28.] The general view of most hon. Members who listened to that debate was that district councils would have direct responsibility for the provision of off-street car parking, without being subject to the permission of the county council. I regret to say that that has not happened.

Dudley Council, which is anxious about the matter, was satisfied with the promises given in Standing Committee D, but today it is disillusioned with what the Government have done. It is an issue of great importance to Dudley, because the council has built or planned a shopping precinct which has been successful. The great asset of the precinct is the provision of adjacent free car parking. The council now sees that, because of the Bill, the whole situation could be jeopardised. I do not blame my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench today but I feel, along with others of my hon. Friends who feel strongly about the matter, that I was conned by a promise made in Committee which has not been fulfilled.

If the Opposition decide to press the Amendment to a vote, I shall go into the Lobby against the Government to show my disgust at the way in which district councils such as Dudley have been treated under the Bill.

Mr. Speed

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may reply briefly to the arguments that have been raised. First, I appreciate the long and strong campaign which has been mounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery), not least because I was the Whip in Standing Committee D when he was putting his points of view very strongly. My hon. Friend has since spoken to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself about the matter. If my hon. Friend feels that the Bill falls short of what he, Dudley Council and his constituents required, he can rest assured that it is not through any lack of his own efforts. My hon. Friend has consistently put forward his constituents' view with great vigour.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend feels that he was misled in Committee. My hon. Friend read what was said in Committee, when my hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary said that there would be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. If there is a right of appeal it must follow ipso facto that there is a right of appeal against some form of control.

The district councils are having powers granted to them to provide off-street car parking, but there could be a situation confronting the metropolitan or non-metropolitan counties, which will be responsible for overall transportation, that the over-vigorous enthusiasm of district councils for car parking could prejudice their plans.

I will not go through all the arguments again, because my hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary outlined in Committee the major changes in transportation policy which are likely to take place regarding local authorities. I will give one hypothetical example, not taking Dudley or any other district council. If a district council wishes to spend considerable sums of money on providing massive free off-street car parking facilities to attract people to the shops in the town, that is fine, but what happens about all the roads leading to that shopping centre which may well be in areas completely divorced from the district? It is the metropolitan county or the county council that has to provide those roads and cope with the traffic implications of the enormous free car parking facilities which have been provided. Such a situation, although it may be good for the shopkeepers, might jeopardise and throw into chaos all the transportation plans of the highway authority.

6.30 p.m.

Increasingly throughout the country the major conurbations are conducting transportation studies involving such sophisticated matters as bus lanes, private car parking, the question whether there should be more road improvements, the whole question of passenger transport authorities, and the links between private and public transport. An authority which is responsible for transportation in its widest sense could have its transportation policies jeopardised by off-street parking provided by another authority.

I am sure that the right of appeal by district councils to the Secretary of State will at least meet the point if district councils feel aggrieved by any power that the highway authority may exercise over them.

Mr. Montgomery

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, and that is not in dispute. I am complaining about the pledge which was given by the then Under-Secretary in Committee that the Government would introduce Amendments and also the clear pledge given in Committee that concurrent powers would be given. This has not been done.

Mr. Speed

I have explained it to my hon. Friend. If he feels that he was misled, or if he has misunderstood the situation, I apologise. It is implicit that, if there are appeals, the appeals must be against control from somebody. Perhaps it turns on the use of the word "concurrent". I shall not get into an argument about semantics. It was implicit in what my hon. Friend who is now the Minister for Aerospace said in Committee that, as there was a right of appeal, it must be a right of appeal against control from another authority. I again apologise to my hon. Friend and his constituents if they feel that they were misled.

I could not understand what the objections of the hon. Member for Widness (Mr. Oakes) were. I understand his point of view about the district councils, and it is largely the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill. Therefore, the remarks I have made to my hon. Friend are directed to the hon. Gentleman as well.

The hon. Member for Widnes talked about parish councils being forced by county councils to provide car parks in such places as fishing villages, but he almost knocked that argument down by admitting that those villages would be part of district or county councils. It was the National Association of Parish Councils which pressed for the Amendment.

In many cases there will be the same people involved, certainly at officer level, on the new authorities. If we have any respect for or faith in the new local government set-up, we should not believe that county councils or district councils will act so irresponsibly as to say "You may need a massive car park costing thousands of pounds. You have the power to do it. You do it." I do not believe that that situation will arise.

There have been many examples where great difficulties have occurred in coping with parking problems in a small village, parking which may or may not be connected with tourism. This is a useful extension of the powers of parish councils. It is something that the parish councils want and now have and are delighted about. Where the sorts of problem that the hon. Gentleman mentioned arise and where car parking is needed for visitors on a much wider scale than a parish council could afford, I have no doubt that either the district or the county will do what should be done, because districts and counties will in future be responsible units of local government as they have been in the past. I therefore again urge the House to accept the Lords Amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

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