HC Deb 04 June 1980 vol 985 cc1415-6
16. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what degree of flexibility he allows in the implementation of structure plans.

Mr. Fox

Once a structure plan is approved my right hon. Friend remains involved only where there is an appeal, or a departure from the development plan, or where he sees fit to call in a proposal or to issue a statutory direction.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Since the Secretary of State initiates regional strategy, his responsibility is total. If my hon. Friend has the doubts that he expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnett (Mr. Chapman) about the efficacy of these structure plans, will he set up his inquiry rather than introduce the further six structure plans that he suggests? Does he agree that the gestation period for these structure plans is such that, with the shortage of resources that prevails today and with urban development a key policy, many of the plans are bureaucratic prophesies that have turned out completely wrong?

Mr. Fox

My hon. Friend is right in that we considered carefully whether this exercise should continue. The years that had elapsed between made it imperative that we should get these plans approved as speedily as possible. The length of time in preparation obviously makes these plans less relevant. Flexibility becomes more important. In my hon. Friend's own area especially with housing proposals, a local plan has yet to be prepared that will be site-specific. At that level he will get what he wants.

Mr. Gummer

Would my hon. Friend agree that the structure plan is used by local authorities as an excuse to be more inflexible than necessary? In my constituency, villages are dying because no development is allowed due to the structure plan that my right hon. Friend's predecessors accepted. There must be some kind of flexibility. This can come only from the top. Is he aware that local authorities use these plans as an excuse when making their decisions?

Mr. Fox

The purpose of structure plans was to lay down broad policy and a general programme. As my hon. Friend suggests, there are considerable problems. We are tackling them. As a result of one or two circulars that are in preparation or have been sent out, complaints similar to those that my hon. Friend brings forward will become fewer. I am aware of the serious situation he has drawn to my attention.