HC Deb 16 April 1975 vol 890 cc433-5
18. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent changes there have been in the time taken to make planning decisions in his Department.

Mr. John Silkin

Many different kinds of planning decisions are involved. Planning appeals are by far the most numerous and the speed of decision on these has improved steadily over recent months.

Mr. Gow

Is the Minister aware that the average time which elapses between the holding of a public inquiry and a decision by the Secretary of State is eight and a half months? Does he not regard that length of time as being likely to do great damage to the Government's plans to speed up housing construction?

Mr. Silkin

The situation relating to planning inquiries is always difficult because on the one hand one wants to be able to make a decision as quickly as possible—the hon. Gentleman is right to stress that point, and I do not want to be complacent about this because the process has to be speeded up—and on the other hand one must allow for the fullest possible public participation and involvement. This is common to all sides, and it is a question of balance between the two. The speed of decision-making in the Department has increased, and we shall do everything we can to see that it improves.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Has my right hon. Friend considered whether delays could be due to the shortage of inspectors employed by his Department and by his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales? Will he be good enough to look at this matter?

Mr. Silkin

I cannot speak for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, but in my Department the number of inspectors has increased and a large body of new ideas has come forward from Mr. Dobry in his report. We shall look at those ideas and see whether we can implement them. We are as anxious as anybody to speed up the process of decision-making, provided that the right amount of public participation remains.

Mr. Graham Page

Why has the Minister delayed a decision on the Dobry proposals by sending that report out for comments from those who assisted in drawing up the report? When does he hope to implement its recommendations?

Mr. Silkin

To implement all the Dobry recommendations without consulting the local authority associations would be a very doubtful procedure. However, perhaps I may assure the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that whereas when he left office the Department had 17,000 appeal cases outstanding, we have succeeded in reducing the number to 12,000.

Mrs. Dunwoody

In looking at the question of delay, will the Government examine a related difficulty? Is my right hon. Friend aware that developers believe that if they get the foundations of buildings into the ground and then await the Minister's decision, they will have a case for holding local authorities to ransom? They know that if a local authority stops development it will have to pay considerable compensation. Does not my right hon. Friend not agree that this is a real and difficult problem?

Mr. Silkin

The whole question of enforcement is a matter to which Mr. Dobry in his very worthy report has drawn attention. We will examine the matter.