HC Deb 16 March 1981 vol 1 cc159-73 11.43 pm
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Conservation Areas) Special Development Order 1981 (S.I., 1981, No. 246), dated 19 February 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 February, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

It will be for the convenience of the House if at the same time we discuss the second prayer: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1981 (S.I., 1981, No. 245), dated 19 February 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 February, be annulled.

Mr. Graham

We are tonight to give approval—or not—to a series of what are laughingly called "minor amendments" to development control within our planning laws. I have no hesitation in saying, however, that the impact of these proposals could affect many ordinary householders more directly than the Budget proposals that the House has just passed.

I begin by acknowledging that the Opposition support the general movement in the past 10 years towards simplifying the controls over both residential and commercial development. Mr. George Dobry made a series of detailed proposals intended to speed up and simplify our legislation, and we support those, but in our desire to remove the frustrations felt by builders, architects, commerce and industry as well as by the householder and the planning committee we must beware that we do not tip the balance detrimentally away from the best interests of the community simply because this offers the prospect of speed of decision or economy.

We are dealing here with potential mistakes which, if made, can damn the planning system for ever. More important, a wrong approval can not only cause domestic and neighbourly strife; it may then stand, literally, as a monument to bureaucratic stupidity. Today's planning errors may become tomorrow's costly reminder that quick decisions are not always the cheapest, nor is the cheapest necessarily the best.

Before examining the package of changes contained in the orders, we should remind ourselves of what the Secretary of State asserts that they will achieve. In answer to a question on 11 November 1980 he said: We anticipate that the changes will achieve a worthwhile reduction in the load on the planning machine in England and Wales, enabling local authorities to reduce expenditure and concentrate on processing the more important applications more quickly and efficiently."—[Official Report, 11 November 1980; Vol. 992, c. 178.] Secondly, they are intended to remove the necessity for local planning authorities to process large numbers of planning applications for minor development of little significance in the protection of public amenity. In the consultative document the Secretary of State referred to small householder developments, the vast majority of them being completely uncontroversial. There we have it: the purpose of the proposals is to reduce the load on the planning machine and to "reduce expenditure", and they are "of little significance." Those three matters are the nub of the Government's case.

We must not forget—and no doubt the Minister will remind us—that these amendments to the General Development Order form but one part of a small piece of Government or departmental strategy to simplify, to speed, to make more efficient use of the planning system and to economise. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State reminded the House of these interlocking initiatives when we considered the planning fees aspect a short while ago. The 6 March issue of the journal Planning, however, states: From April 1st local authorities will find it more difficult to determine planning applications within eight weeks. That is the conclusion from a straw poll of planning authorities on the implications of the introduction of planning charges and new amendments to the general development order. Let us consider what the orders seek to achieve by allowing an extension, for instance, of industrial buildings—increasing permitted development without approval from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent., subject to a maximum increase in floor area to 750 square metres instead of 500 square metres at present.

While the Opposition appreciate the value to the community of encouraging small businesses, in giving this amendment a fair wind we are concerned with some of the implications. Many a small industrial firm will be sated either within or adjacent to residential property. We shall therefore wish to ensure that in encouraging small businesses we do not do so at the expense of residential amenity. For instance, where will the extra 20 per cent. extension to be allowed in this come from? A likely source might well be land at present used for car parking or landscaping—both crucial uses if the factory is situated cheek by jowl with residential property. What steps has the Minister in mind to ensure that residential amenity is not sacrificed in order to expand the industrial use?

I now turn to the proposals to allow a change of use from light industry or general industry to warehousing or storage, or vice versa, in premises below 235 square metres. The Government argue in favour of the change that it will stimulate and expand the small firm sector and encourage private sector investment in small industrial premises. However, in many areas the market rent for small warehousing units is higher than it is for light industrial units, and if the relaxation results in existing light industrial units being lost through conversion to warehousing, it would be the opposite of what the Minister desires. In any event, warehousing can often result in generating a greater traffic flow than light industrial. There is a case, in our view, for converting warehousing to light industrial, but there is none the other way round.

The proposal that garages, stables, loose boxes and coach houses would not count as an enlargement of the dwelling house if they are sited 5 metres or more from the house but would be treated as buildings incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house could also have a damaging effect upon neighbouring properties. The proposed amendment would encourage an owner to site his garage so that he could retain the full permitted development tolerance for an extension to his house. In the absence of a rear access road, this would be achieved only by siting the garage a third of the way down his back garden. He would then be able to build the garage in whatever materials he chose. In permitted development there is no control over the form, materials and detailing of the building work. The visual impact of the uncontrolled development will increase in quantity, to the detriment of our visual amenity.

I welcome the exemptions from these orders as they apply to national parks, areas of outstanding beauty and conservation areas. It is right for the Secretary of State to be concerned to restrict a damaging effect on amenity in these cases. But what about the rest? I can do no better than to quote from a letter that I received from the Chelmsford borough council, in which it is stated: It is interesting to note that the Government accepts that the proposed relaxations of control could have a 'significantly damaging effect on amenity' in, for example, conservation areas. It follows that a proposal which the Government concede may well damage amenity in a conservation area could also have a similar effect in other areas. Are we not in grave danger of aggravating and accentuating two classes of area in this country? That which is already enjoying a measure of protection is to be even more protected. Those areas outside the protected areas will, when the order comes into effect, be at the mercy of the jerrybuilder, the enthusiastic do-it-yourself merchant, and the neighbour who could not care less.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the order simply extends the exemptions which already exist. His arguments are arguments of principle against having any exemptions at all.

Mr. Graham

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until I have finished the whole of my speech. He will see that I deal with the case for the exemptions. By virtue of the exemption in the conservation areas and the areas of special beauty, we shall have two classes of conservation area. We shall have those which were in existence before 1 April and those which come into existence after 1 April. In the case of those which were in existence before 1 April, the present limits of 10 per cent. or 50 cubic metres for extensions will continue to be applied. However, in the case of declarations after 1 April—regardless of when—properties within the new conservation areas will be permitted to develop up to 15 per cent., or 70 cubic metres, without planning permission. The local authority will be faced with the choice of tolerating the ridiculous situation of two conservation areas with wholly disproportionate standards or of applying to the Secretary of State for action on a special development order. Will that happen in every case?

On 1 April, my local authority of Enfield will have 11 conservation areas. Most of them are of great charm and historical value. I refer, for example, to Enfield town, Church Street, Edmonton, Winchmore Hill Green, Forty Hill, Bulls Cross, and Ponders End. Different areas are in different situations. In future further conservation areas may be sought immediately adjacent to existing ones. Will it not look daft if some are restricted to 10 per cent. while others are entitled to a 15 per cent. development limit?

Has the Secretary of State decided whether he will entertain local authority requests to include future conservation areas within the exclusions? Will he entertain requests to apply 10 per cent. and not 15 per cent. to specific conservation areas within an authority? Must the provision apply to them all? If the answer is that it can apply to one area, does that not create different classes of resident within an area? Does it not also raise the question of hybridity? Will the Minister comment on that possibility? Indeed, existing legislation envisages such a possibility.

I turn to the proposal that gives the Opposition the greatest unease, namely the proposal to allow—as permitted development—the enlargement of a house to increase from the present limit of 10 per cent., or 50 cubic metres, to 15 per cent., or 70 cubic metres. That is an increase of no less than 50 per cent. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the significant alteration that has been made by exempting terraced houses from the order. That could prove most helpful. However, one chief planning officer spoke to me after the modification had been made. He said "It will not reduce work, merely change it. In fact, it will change from consideration of the environmental aspects into a bureaucratic interpretation of rules about whether the property is a terrace, in a conservation area, an area of outstanding beauty and so on."

Who wants this change? Local authorities do not want it. Local planning committees and planning officers do not want it; authorities both large and small are virtually unanimous about that. Like this Government, the Labour Government had a proposal foisted on them. The Labour Government consulted just as widely as this Government. They took account of the representations and withdrew the proposal. Consultation was a more meaningful concept under the Labour Government than it is now.

Most of the representations that I have received have been against the proposals. I invite the Minister to tell us what evidence he has received of bodies and of individuals in favour of the measure. The representations that I have received from local authorities and others state that the present system is clear, fair and expeditious. There have been no complaints about the system. It is fair to neighbour and applicant alike. Time and again I am told that increasing permitted development for residential property will lead to a proliferation of complaints about larger extensions. That would negate any savings in staff time that might be gained from a reduced number of applications. Time will be spent on telling neighbours what is or is not permitted.

Will the Secretary of State listen to the voices of householders? I listen to residents' associations and to the Federation of Enfield Residents' Associations, which represents 30,000 ratepayers in the London borough of Enfield. They have unanimously asked me to oppose the increase from 10 to 15 per cent. My ratepayers' association—the Bush Hill Park ratepayers' association—wrote to the Secretary of State. It told the right hon. Gentleman that any relaxation would open the door to undesirable and ill-planned development which would be detrimental to neighbouring properties. My own council, the London borough of Enfield, has been vigorous in opposing this development, and earlier attempts in 1977 were just as strongly resisted.

The impact which a house extension may have is determined not only by its size but also by its position and characteristics. It is not unknown that even comparatively minor extensions, which may now be carried out without planning permission, may seriously affect the architectural quality of an entire street or reduce the quality of life for next-door neighbours.

Let us consider the exemptions in schedule 1 for dormer windows. That is ludicrous. Some of the worst environmental visual slums result from dormer window extensions to the side or rear of houses, using the roof space. They are hideous eyesores if allowed to be treated unsympathetically. They cry out for control, yet the order excludes them from the permitted development tolerances.

Let me quote directly from three authorities which no doubt have made their views known to the Members serving their areas. First, Blaby council wrote: Although a number of individuals will be less constrained by planning controls, even a greater number will be provoked by their absence. Although the number of applications would be reduced, additional time would be taken determining which proposals constituted permitted development and dealing with the enquiries and complaints which would be generated. I quote the views of the London borough of Barnet: Proposal (a) in the consultation document is considered unacceptable in the Metropolitan area where density of development is already relatively high and would inevitably result in extensions which would be visually unsatisfactory and adversely affect the amenities of adjoining property. Furthermore, even though such a relaxation would result in a reduction in the number of applications for planning permission, there would be unlikely to be a reduction in the vetting procedures to define permitted development, and certainly no reduction in correspondence arising from developments actually undertaken. I now quote from a letter from the South Oxfordshire district council, a council which I am sure is well known to the Secretary of State. The chief planning officer, a Mr. Phillips, writes: It is my personal opinion that a reasonable professional process will merely be replaced by a legalistic bureaucratic one …Changing the GDO will increase the work involved in volume and make the calculations more complex. No doubt the Ombudsman will confirm that disputes between neighbours very quickly become disputes between the aggrieved neighbour and the local planning authority, and explaining the legal aspects of permitted development is time consuming when the people concerned are obviously affected in an adverse way by the exercise of such permitted development rights. Mr. Phillips goes on to say: I have given Mr. Heseltine, who is the Member of Parliament for a large part of this district, information to the effect that his proposals could reduce our applications by 5 per cent. in number but that overall our workload could well increase, and I gave the reasons outlined above. I feel very strongly that it is totally wrong for the Government to introduce legislative change to achieve bogus objectives. The same gentleman wrote to me after the modifications had been notified, saying: I have repeatedly told the Secretary of State and the DoE, that dealing with an application is often quicker than arguing about whether it's permitted development, and a good deal more rewarding for the professional staff. These orders are a hotch-potch. However much the Secretary of State tries to justify them as needed or essential, however much he uses jargon or gimmicks, he will not do so in response to the demands of the people or the profession. He will seek to justify them on the grounds that they will add to his armoury of weapons in his fight against bureaucracy and waste. His zeal is misplaced, but, worse, he demeans and diminishes the work of a dedicated profession and democratically elected local councillors. He will gravely damage our environment; he will set neighbour against neighbour; he will bring our whole system of planning control into disrepute—all vainly to seek a reduction in public expenditure. In that he will fail, and we shall all be the poorer.

12.4 am

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Not for the first time, I have the pleasure of following the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). Not for the first time, I must disagree with his interpretation of statutory instruments relating to town and country planning. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the considerable tribute that, he paid to my profession of town and country planning. This gives me an opportunity of declaring whatever interest there may be in belonging to that profession.

These orders are necessarily complicated and technical, though I welcome them very much. After all, they come originally from orders introduced about two or three years ago by a Labour Secretary of State for the Enviromnent. Those orders were withdrawn after considerable criticisms were made, basically from two areas: from the environmentalists, to put it in shorthand, led by the redoubtable Lord Duncan-Sandys, and by local authority associations which were concerned about what they thought would be the intensity of development not requiring planning permission in certain areas of the country.

Mr. Latham

My hon. Friend ought also to add the Liberal Party, whose representatives are singularly missing.

Mr. Chapman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has an expert knowledge of town and country planning matters. I did not know that they extended to comments on political parties.

Where I disagree with the hon. Member for Edmonton is that I believe that the Secretary of State or the Minister has carefully considered the very genuine criticisms that were made about the original order. The whole purpose of this order is to meet those criticisms. So, as the hon. Member says, there have been excluded from this order increased exemption for minor developments not requiring planning permission, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and the 5,000-plus in conservation areas.

In dealing with objections about intensity of development, the Minister has introduced the special exemption for terraced housing, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and, very importantly, exemption where the extension of the development would take over 50 per cent.—I am again speaking in shorthand—of the curtilage of the premises. I believe that those exemptions meet the serious criticisms and worries that were raised by town and country planners, environmentalists and local authority associations.

I think that I can emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) to the hon. Member for Edmonton. If no exemptions existed stow, I think that the hon. Member for Edmonton would have a point in talking about the extra work in which local planning authorities would be involved in vetting whether applications had been received or not received and whether they needed planning permission. These applications, in any case, would have to come in under building regulations. However, as exemptions already exist, there can be no extra work involved for local planning authorities. I, for one, disagree with my borough, Barnet, if it has made that criticism.

When the great Town and Country Planning Act was introduced in 1948.——

Mr. Latham


Mr. Chapman

The Act came into force on 1 January 1948, but the Bill was passed in 1947. I do not believe that there was any intention then that town and country planning should be involved with modest extensions to either residences or industrial premises. The machine has become far too bureaucratic, and this change is a step in the right direction.

I welcome the orders and hope that the House passes them. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say how many fewer applications will be made as a result of the orders. When the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) introduced his draft orders three years ago, he talked about a reduction of 20 per cent. in the number of applications. I always thought that that was slightly exaggerated. I believe that these orders will save about 10 per cent. or possibly 15 per cent. If that is so the 10 or 15 per cent. is at the bottom end—the minor applications—although they might cause local controversy, this will clear the system so that planning officers can deal as thoroughly but more expeditiously with the more significant applications.

Statistics provided by the local planning authority associations show that, although Parliament has laid down a two-month period for determining planning applications, many take much longer. That is particularly true of the more significant applications. Time is money. Time is wasted when applications take much more than eight weeks to determine. In an age of inflation and of unemployment in the construction industry, I hope that the planning professions will co-operate to see whether they can improve on their performance.

A planning application is either right or wrong. It does not take more than eight weeks to determine whether it is right or wrong. I do not suggest that the system should be quickly bypassed or that bad decisions should be taken. I hope that the orders are passed and that as a result the more significant applications are equally thoroughly but more expeditiously determined.

12.13 am
Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I wish to make a brief contribution which does not relate to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), who is an expert in these matters. It relates indirectly more to the point made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) about Ponders End. I welcome the orders in general. However, S.I. No 246 seems to engrain into planning legislation an area of outstanding natural beauty". I should be ruled out of order if I outlined what that animal is. It has little planning status. We seem to be taking a step towards developing this powerless institution.

Of course, I believe that beauty, whether in the countryside or the town, must be protected. It is clear that national parks and conservation areas, which the hon. Member seeks to attach to Ponders End, have meaning in countryside and town. But an area of outstanding natural beauty is a vague concept. It is a vague creation of British bureaucracy at its best. We try to arrive at the right decisions by empowering a whole range of bodies to take decisions about an area of countryside. If one wants to see the nonsense that that sometimes produces, one has only to look at the Blackmore Vale, which is not in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the Winterbourne Valley, which is. There is no possible reason for such a designation. One argues that Cranborne Chase should be designated because it will be treated differently if it is not.

My argument is that we should regard the whole of the countryside differently. If the planning rules that apply in the order relate to beautiful areas, whether in the town or the countryside, they should apply to countryside across the board. Area of outstanding natural beauty does not constitute a sufficient definition of such an area. We should protect all countryside, whether beautiful or not. I hope that careful consideration will be given to this particular planning designation of an area of outstanding natural beauty to see whether it is the right and relevant way to designate those parts of our countryside that need protection.

12.15 am
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I wish to make a brief intervention. It is perhaps inevitable, after the matters that we have debated earlier today—the Budget and all the difficult decisions that we have had to make in that regard—that the House wishes to reach a speedy conclusion and to pay less attention to these orders than they deserve. But the amendments to the General Development Order are significant, and it is regrettable that a debate of this importance is overshadowed by what went before.

I have sympathy with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). I suspect that he will not carry the matter to a vote, but he has expressed the anxieties of many people who are deeply concerned about this relaxation of planning controls.

We are in a dilemma. We want a relaxation of planning controls, and at the same time we want to protect the rights of individuals to protest against developments of neighbouring properties that are intrusive upon their own properties, upon their own rights. I know of many cases in my constituency where there have been objections to developments alongside—garages and extensions—that have caused major loss of amenity to individuals.

No matter how many modifications are introduced in these orders as compared with those introduced by the Labour Government, there will still be many people who feel that they have suffered an injustice and lost some rights to protest against extensions of a neighbouring property that would deprive them of light, amenities and so on. It worries me that we are debating the matter in this way.

I do not pretend that I know the answer. As I said, we are in a dilemma. We want to relax bureaucracy and increase individual freedom, and yet we shant to protect individuals. I do not wish to be too pompous, but Edmund Burke said that if we could not have reform without injustice we should not have reform. Yet we are engaging in a reform that will create injustices for some individuals, and that worries me.

The point was put effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) that we are exempting numerous conservation areas from many of these relaxations, as well as areas of outstanding natural beauty. We are saying that in those areas individuals will not be free to carry out extensions but that in other areas they can do so. We are drawing a black and white line and making a clear definition between areas. But the world is not like that. There are many grey areas where people are entitled to similar protections.

Clearly, I—and, I suspect, the House—will not vote against the orders, and while I understand my right hon. Friend's motives in seeking to relax and remove many petty restrictions I still believe that in years to come many individual Members of Parliament will receive complaints that will arise as a direct result of these relaxations. Some of us may perhaps regret the way in which they will have been passed this evening.

12.20 am
Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

I rise on a small matter and I shall be grateful if the Minister will consider it. It relates to Class III—Changes of use which raises the whole subject of the change of use of premises. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion No. 220 on planning regulations for sex shops. This issue is causing great anxiety in many urban areas, although it is not strictly related to the statutory instrument. In my constituency there was difficulty when a sex shop was opened next door to the local Baptist church. That was not the most popular of decisions in my constituency.

There are anxieties on this issue. As the law stands, there is no town and country planning regulation to deal with the matter, no way of stopping such developments. The Department should see whether there is some way of empowering the local authority at least to regulate these occasional undesirable developments in unfortunate circumstances such as that in my constituency.

12.22 am
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

In suburban parts of London such as my constituency there is a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the changes incorporated in the orders. We all like the idea that our homes are our castles and that we are free to do what we like in them, even to the point of extending them, but we are not too keen on the chap next door doing the same. That sums up the attitude in my constituency. It applies particularly where there are not only a substantial amount of residential development but, here and there, small pockets of industrial development.

Inevitably, residents complain periodically about noise, dust and dirt from adjacent industrial facilities. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary explain why it is proposed that the permitted extension of a dwelling-house shall be up to 15 per cent. while for industrial developments it is 20 per cent.? It seems somewhat illogical to my constituents who live near these pockets of industrial development that industrial property can be expanded to a greater extent than can private residential property.

12.23 am
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I shall commence by trying to answer some of the points raised by my hon. Friends and then turn to those made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham).

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnett (Mr. Chapman) gave the entire justification for what we are doing. I greatly welcomed the way in which he commented upon it. He asked specific questions about the changes. We estimate that there are about 50,000 planning applications a year dealing with domestic extensions of this kind. Since there is a total of 500,000 planning applications of all kinds, that number represents 10 per cent. We expect the changes we are proposing, with the changes in the relationship between district and county authorities on planning and with the finishing of the structure plan operation, to result in a reduction in public spending of about £10 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) sought to raise the interesting point about areas of outstanding natural beauty. I take note of his comments and have sympathy concerning the problems he described. However, they are not directly related to the orders. I shall write to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked about intrusions on neighbours' rights, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) made a similar point. We accept that in a number of developments there would and could be an increase in friction between neighbours, but that happens under the present operations with a permitted 10 per cent. increase in size. The safeguards that we have built into the system, especially in relation to terraced properties and two-storey extensions and the boundaries of properties, should go a long way towards reducing the cause of friction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) asked whether the orders would make any difference to the problem of sex shops. They will not do so. It is only fair to recognise that that matter is causing widespread anxiety. Although the matter does not fall within planning law at the moment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is viewing these developments with some concern and will, no doubt, consider further what, if anything, can be done.

Mr. Moate

The order specifically refers to tripe shops and cats' meat shops. How many tripe shops and cars' meat shops are there compared with sex shops?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is right. The order also refers to shops for the sale of pet animals and birds. However, I must not be drawn too far away from the massive importance of the matters under discussion.

We cannot have it two ways. Either we believe that there is a desire for a real relaxation of planning controls, with a legitimate right to relax controls where possible, or we do not. As the hon. Member for Edmonton recognised, the Labour Government closely considered the matter in 1976 and 1977. In 1976, the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was reported in a press release as follows: Mr. Silkin told a conference of builders and town planners in London that the planning system was a good one but he believed that too much time was being spent on dealing with trivial matters when matters of principle should be considered. He was, therefore, proposing a number of possible changes to the General Development Order … The proposals. … were designed to give a greater freedom without destroying the planning framework". That is what we are about at this time.

In another place in 1977., Baroness Birk said that the previous Administration's proposals would leave more time for the careful and efficient control of the proposals that were of greater significance to the community and would reduce the frustration felt by people wishing to extend their own houses who had previously found themselves caught up in the planning system. She also said that the proposals would be of benefit to small firms proposing to extend their premises. I wholeheartedly agree with her.

We believe that it is important, where possible, to reduce the level of bureaucracy and the level of public expenditure and to free from control a large portion of those whose planning applications are approved in full measure. About 93 per cent. of planning applications of this sort already receive approval. We are not dealing with a vast range of planning applications that cause local authorities grave disagreement when considering them.

Mr. Graham

I am worried about a phrase that the Minister used earlier when he suggested that £10 million was about the sum that the Government sought to save. They are starting with the premise of seeking to save £10 million. In order to save that, we have to agree to these relaxations. There was nothing wrong with a previous Government or a previous Minister having an aspiration but, having consulted those who had to carry it out, reaching the conclusion either that the time was not right or that the extent of relaxation was too much. Will the Minister say what weight of opinion he has received contrary to that which I have received from the profession and from councillors not in favour of the relaxations listed in the orders?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that there is a major difference between our two parties about what to put at the top of the list. We tend to put the ultimate customer at the top of our list—the person who has to decide whether he wishes to extend his property. We have to decide whether the application needs to be considered and whether the planning application procedure should apply to him. We have a different view from that of the Opposition about public expenditure. We have a different view also about the principle of what planning should do. Planning should deal in the round with the environment in which individuals may be free as far as possible to pursue their own legitimate aspirations. These are major differences that I do not think we can reconcile in this short debate.

More than half a million planning applications are made every year, and the planning system is under strain. About half of the applications relate solely to small household developments. Many of the applications are approved. About 93 per cent. of all householder planning applications in England during 1979–80 were granted. It is clear that not all the applications are necessary. It is equally clear that at present the more trivial of the applications are serving only to clog the planning machine and are imposing an unjustifiable burden on local authority resources. This is happening at the expense of taxpayers and ratepayers.

From the house or factory owner's point of view, the retention of unnecessary controls is an infuriating and time-wasting obstruction. It will become even more indefensible when the new system of charging fees for planning applications comes into operation on 1 April. There will then be all the more reason for trying to ensure that applications have to be made only when there is some genuine planning requirement to be met.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Apart from one man's petty bureaucracy being another man's protection, is not the hon. Gentleman's logic at fault when he argues that 93 per cent. of all household planning applications made in 1979–80 were granted? Is it not clear that at present applications are made with some care and with some concern for neighbours? That is why they are accepted. If there is a relaxation of the controls, it does not follow that the same degree of care will be taken. The chance of an authority rejecting an application will not be present to the same degree.

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. We believe that the changes that we propose and the safeguards that we have built into the orders will deal with the applications that cause difficulty. There are constraints implied in the orders that we are putting before the House.

It will be appropriate for me to make some firm observations on the main provisions of these measures. First, the amount by which a householder may enlarge his house without needing to make a planning application is increased from the present limit of 50 cubic metres, or 10 per cent. of its cubic size if greater, to 70 cubic metres or 15 per cent.

Secondly, private garages will in future be treated as extensions of the dwelling-house for the purposes of the order only if they are built within five metres of the house. Otherwise, they will be treated in the same way as other outbuildings, such as garden sheds, and will not, therefore, count towards the permitted allowance for house extensions.

Thirdly, the limit for permitted extensions to industrial buildings is raised from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. This is subject to a maximum increase in floor area of 750 square metres instead of 500 square metres as at present.

All these measures were proposed in the previous Administration's 1977 amendment order. However, in that measure a blanket relaxation was proposed which took no account of the special needs of certain areas. We are very conscious, however, that an extension which was quite unexceptionable in itself could, in certain very sensitive areas, have an impact out of all proportion to its size. We have, therefore, taken the view that it would not be justified to relax controls in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and conservation areas. The purpose of the special development order currently before the House is to exclude all such existing areas from these relaxations.

Mr. Graham

The Minister has mentioned industrial relaxation. Where will the additional space come from? Clearly, space for an industrial site will be precious. I am worried about small factories that are sited within residential areas. This is an aspect to which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred. Such a factory may have a tiny car park. When the owners are seeking the opportunity to expand, they may decide that the 20 per cent. provision makes it worth while, whereas it would not have been worth while with the 10 per cent. provision. Certain landscaping conditions could have applied. What steps has the Department in mind to ensure that existing protections for local residents will not be diminished to encourage industrial users?

Mr. Shaw

We are giving industry no new rights. We are merely extending an existing right. It cannot be argued that a new problem is being created. It is our experience that there are relatively few instances in which industrial extensions give rise to the problems that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Although the occasional difficult case will still occur, the various safeguards will, in general, prove adequate to guard against any widespread or serious problem.

In addition, there is a new safeguard withdrawing permission for any extension within 5 metres of the site boundary. In some cases, that will represent a tightening rather than a relaxation of control.

The other main item in the order is a new flexibility of use for small industrial and warehousing premises. That has the twin aims of giving small firms an extra element of freedom, and, as a result of that freedom, of encouraging developers to provide new premises for small firms.

All those proposals were the subject of consultation last year. We had many replies, including several from right hon. and hon. Members, giving a great deal of helpful and constructive comment. We considered the views expressed very carefully and took them fully into account in reaching our decisions. As a result, we made a number of substantial modifications in order to minimise the risk of unsuitable or unneighbourly development. That point was raised by a number of my hon. Friends.

The main modifications that we have made will exempt terraced houses from the relaxation, limit the amount of garden that can be built on, control attempts to incorporate garages into overlarge extensions and control two-storey extensions close to a neighbour's boundary. Industrial extensions will also be brought under control when they are close to the boundary

Mr. Latham

Will my hon. Friend confirm a point regarding warehouses which is of concern to some of us? If a use is changed from a factory into a warehouse of up to the permitted 235 square metres, any extension in the size of the warehouse beyond that will require planning permission. The local authority could refuse that planning permission if it so wished, for otherwise the warehouse could grow and grow.

Mr. Shaw

That would be the position. However, as my hon. Friend will recognise, the establishment of the warehouse for its original purpose would constitute the most relevant fact in determining any further application that might be sought to be made for an increase in size.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I am interested in mansion blocks. It has been the practice to add a complete extra floor to mansion blocks on the ground that that was within the percentage of permitted additional development. There is a risk that that manoeuvre might be made easier under these orders.

Mr. Shaw

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question about mansion blocks and extensions now, but I shall write to him.

We cannot foretell the precise effect of those changes, but we estimate that they will take out of the planning system some 50,000 applications a year, or perhaps more. That represents a significant gain in freedom to the individual citizen, a reduction in unnecessary bureaucracy and a saving in public expenditure. That is why I invite the House to support these measures.

Mr. Graham

Will the Minister reply to the point I made about the different categories of conservation areas that will result—those which existed before 1 April and those which will exist after 1 April? Is it not correct to say that those in existence before 1 April will be restricted to permitted development of 10 per cent. and that those in existence after 1 April will be able to have 15 per cent.? Will the Minister comment on the difference in category and the aggravations which that can cause?

Mr. Shaw

My charity knows no ends. Where there is a conservation area or an area of outstanding natural beauty in the process of being created, there would be a problem about 1 April, which is the date when the regulations will come into force. My right hon. Friend has powers to deal with that matter. Should there be the subsequent establishment of an area of conservation or outstanding natural beauty, that would be taken into account in dealing with the matter.

The hon. Member suggested that two areas of planning would be involved—two conservation areas where double standards might apply. It is a question not of creating two nations or employing double standards but of moulding the framework to meet the special needs of a particular area. That is the hallmark of good planning.

Question put and negatived.

Motion made, and Question put, That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1981 (S.I., 1981, No. 245), dated 19 February 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27 February, be annulled—[Mr. Graham.]

The House divided: Ayes 42, Noes 100.

Question accordingly negatived.

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