HC Deb 18 February 1975 vol 886 cc1121-4

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give further powers to local authorities with regard to planning application enforcement orders. The object of the Bill is to amend Section 90 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 so that local planning authorities land enforcement notices may be reinforced by the provision of stop notices covering use as well as operation.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to seek leave to bring in the Bill on the same day as the Dobry Report is published. The report, by a committee which examined the whole question of our development control system, lays great stress on the problems arising from enforcement appeals. Paragraph 6.20, which gives great strength to the Bill, says: It is clear that the great edifice of enforcement appeals imposes an unfair burden on the authorities, as, subject to planning merits, the vast majority of enforcement notices served are sound and therefore the work involved and the complexity of the system is out of proportion to the need to protect individual rights. There does seem to be a case here for doing streamlining and trying to take a few short cuts. It is precisely along those lines that I am seeking to introduce the Bill.

When a local authority is considering land planning applications, it has power under the 1971 Act to refuse the applications and to serve enforcement notices for use or operation. Appeal may be made to the Secretary of State under either category. However, a local authority's back-up power of a stop notice extends only to operations and not to use.

I will not burden the House with the legal arguments about operation and use. Many hon. Members will be aware of the problems of definition. For the purposes of the Bill, I briefly describe operations in this context as building, mining, engineering activities of a permanent kind, which will permanently affect the land involved. In the same context, use implies a temporary purposes which has no such permanent effect.

However, it is that kind of use that has led to abuses of the planning procedure. I should like to give two specific examples based on the activities of Sunday trading organisations.

First, in my constituency a company called Grathleigh Ltd. opened a Sunday trading market on the disused Ford airfield in April 1973. A planning application was submitted on 6th June. It was refused and an enforcement notice was served on 18th June. Then, because of the delays in the appeal mechanism which are all too familiar to many hon. Members, it took 15 months for a public inquiry to be held, and 18 months in all before the appeal was rejected. That rejection came only a week or two ago.

Throughout that period the market continued to operate. Stalls were erected and dismantled, and major traffic problems were caused on roads which are not suited to heavy traffic. No rates were paid by the operators. In carrying out the necessary steps under the planning system, the local authority was obliged to incur expenditure running into thousands of pounds. All the while, there was unfair competition to local traders. The operators concerned now freely admit that, having had their appeal refused, they intend to find another airfield where they can begin the same practice once again.

I turn to a second and parallel example. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) will agree. Thanks to the help of the House of Commons Library, and through Mr. Hart in the Library, who has been particularly helpful, I have gathered that a number of other instances are on record on the same problem. In Melton Mowbray, according to my hon. Friend, there is a precisely similar case of a concern which started Sunday trading on a disused airfield, which it had conducted pending appeal against the planning procedure for about two years. I understand that it has now found another airfield where once again the same process has been repeated. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton is in correspondence with the Minister of State to speed up the planning procedure appeal once more.

The only difference between the two examples I have cited is that at least in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton the operators in his constituency gave him some warning, if only indirectly. I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will take it from me that I am quoting fact and not making some kind of lighthearted post-prandial comment when I tell you that the concern operating in my hon. Friend's constituency is operating under the name of Spook Erections Limited. What is perhaps not insignificant is that the managing director of Spook Erections Limited is also a director of Grathleigh Limited and a leading protagonist in the same argument with my own county council in Sussex. I understand that he has also been active in putting forward similar proposals at Melbourne airfield in Yorkshire.

The whole sequence of events which I have described may be repeated up and down the country, and one of my purposes in bringing this Bill forward this afternoon is to see whether other hon. Members have had similar experience in their own constituencies. I must also assume that the Minister of State and the Secretary of State are both deeply involved in this whole question of planning appeals. For this is my main argument in favour of the Bill this afternoon.

In both the cases I have quoted these matters could easily have been resolved if a stop notice had also been available for use. Much time and expense, both national and local, could have been saved. Potential operators would have seen where they stood and either would have decided to press on despite the appeal mechanism or, more likely perhaps, would have looked for other sites where their planning applications would be accepted in the first place. There is ample safeguard against the frivolous use of Section 177 of the 1971 Act, under which the local authority is involved in heavy expense if an appeal is upheld.

I therefore ask the House to give me leave to bring in this Bill this afternoon. I am heartened to find that the Dobry Report specifically suggests this change in the existing legislation. I believe that it will be in the interest of our local authorities, our constituencies and the Department of the Environment itself. In these circumstances I look to the Government as well as to the House to find time to make sure that the Bill reaches the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael Marshall, Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Michael Latham, Mr. Robert Hicks, Mr. Douglas Hurd, Mr. Patrick Cormack and Mr. Peter Rost.