HC Deb 14 November 1973 vol 864 cc483-5
4. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will review the planning appeals procedure.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

A review is already being carried out by Mr. George Dobry, QC, assisted by an advisory group.

Mr. Molloy

I am grateful for that reply, but is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the appeals procedure can now be seen to be neither fair nor just, because ordinary folk cannot afford to employ the expertise required in pursuing their case? Is he therefore prepared to consider whether opposing groups ought to be given financial aid to prepare and conduct their case, and to make representations to local authorities or anyone else to whom they have to appeal? Will he please consider that aspect?

Mr. Rippon

I hope that in many cases people will be able to make written representations. There really is no need in many cases why they should be involved in any considerable cost. But I shall certainly ask Mr. Dobry to bear in mind the points which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm whether individuals or other interested organisations may make written representations to Mr. George Dobry and his team of advisers who are undertaking this inquiry? Will Members of Parliament be able to make oral representations to this team of advisers?

Mr. Rippon

Certainly. I know that Mr. Dobry and his group will welcome representations from whatever quarter they may come. I should have thought it correct, in the first instance, to write. Then consideration might be given by Mr. Dobry and the group to the question whether or not it would be helpful to receive oral representations.

Mr. Rowlands

Will the Secretary of State also make sure that the answer does not lie in the loosening of democratic control over planning committees and planning applications, as has been suggested? In this age of considerable concern and suspicion over planning matters, particularly over individual applications, there should still be full democratic control and we should not revert to planning officers deciding in their own right, as has been suggested.

Mr. Rippon

I hope that all suggestions for streamlining planning procedures will be considered by Mr. Dobry. There is some anxiety that ordinary routine matters should be speeded up as soon as possible, but there is no question of taking away from the appropriate authorities their statutory rights and responsibilities.

18. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make it his policy to call in for determination by him, under Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, any planning application of a local authority or local planning authority in its own area.

Mr. Rippon

No, Sir. This would be quite contrary to our policy, endorsed by successive Parliaments, that local planning authorities should take decisions for both public and private development proposals.

We consider, however, and have so urged local planning authorities, that they should ensure that their development proposals receive the same publicity as private applications and that there is the same opportunity for the public to make representations. We intend to make provision in forthcoming regulations for these proposals to be placed in the statutory register.

Mr. Chapman

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that planning laws should not only be fair but should be seen by the public to be fair? There have been recent cases of local planning authorities giving themselves permission to put up buildings which are out of scale with their surroundings, thus wrecking the character of their neighbourhoods. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look sympathetically at this matter?

Mr. Rippon

In the circular that we issued on 5th June we said: the basic principle should be that opinion should be enabled to declare itself before any approval is given to proposals of wide concern or substantial impact on the environment; and that this should be so whether the proposal is that of a Government Department, a local authority, statutory undertakers or a private developer. That is important. We are going to put these matters in the regulations to ensure that the public are informed.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that that answer does not get round the objection that it is deeply offensive to residents that a local authority should be both applicant and judge in a case? Does he agree that it would be more in accordance with natural justice that such cases should be referred to the Department, or at least that all neighbours should not only be advised—which is desirable—but required to be informed?

Mr. Rippon

The circular which I issued in June on the publicity of planning applications not only dealt with the register but indicated the circumstances in which notices should be put up on a site where any development of substance was taking place. I am sure that is right. Earlier, hon. Gentlemen opposite were urging me not to interfere with the democratic process. It may be right in certain cases for the Secretary of State to call in applications, but I believe that something more than a local interest must be involved.

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