HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc898-910

Order for Second Reading read.

2.28 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When planning permission for the development of land is refused, the applicant is not normally entitled to compensation, but there are a few exceptions, and they include the provisions of sections 165 and 169 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and the equivalent Scottish provisions which are of course of great interest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram).

This is an arcane byway of planning legislation, which has recently been giving rise to difficulties. The purpose of this Bill is to deal with those problems, and to bring the provisions of sections 165 and 169 more into line with current thinking.

I shall start with section 165. The usual way of obtaining planning permission is by putting a specific development proposal to the local planning authority, but section 24 of the 1971 Act also allows my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to grant planning permission by means of a development order, which may either relate to a specific project or operate more generally.

Thus, the Town and Country Planning General Development Order grants planning permission for no fewer than 23 classes of development ranging from minor house extensions and the erection of gates, fences and walls to extensions to industrial premises — within certain limits—and development carried out by statutory undertakers. A development order is a statutory instrument, and Parliament controls the use of this power through the negative resolution procedure.

Section 165 relates to the situation that arises when a development order is amended. It provides that when planning permission for the development of land has been granted by a development order, when that permission is withdrawn, for example by the revocation or amendment of the order, and an application for planning permission for the same development is then refused, or granted subject to conditions, compensation is payable to the applicant for losses that are directly attributable to the withdrawal of the development order permission.

We are not aware of any compensation claim that has actually been made successfully under section 165. One reason is that permission granted by development orders has very rarely been withdrawn. In 1983, however, we amended the general development order to ensure that any development likely to involve the presence of a notifiable quantity of a hazardous substance would require a specific grant of planning permission from the local planning authority. Authorities have expressed concern that, if they refuse an application for development for which the order previously granted permission — and this includes quite substantial industrial extensions — they may incur a substantial compensation liability.

Again, I am not aware of any case in which that has actually happened, and I would expect an industrialist who was refused planning permission on safety grounds to try to redesign his proposal to make it safe rather than to press for compensation after the refusal. Nevertheless, the concern expressed by local planning authorities is understandable and real.

If a landowner has firm proposals for carrying out development permitted by a development order — if he has begun to draw up plans, buy materials, or has even let a contract for the work — it is right that he should be compensated for the abortive expenditure that he will have incurred if the permission is suddenly taken away.

However, under the present terms of section 165, the right to compensation goes much wider than that. In particular, it contains no time limit, so that the refusal of a planning application many years after the revocation or amendment of a development order may create a compensation liability. The landowner may have had no plans for carrying out the development during the time when the permission was available — indeed he may have bought the land after the order had been amended—but he may still be able to argue that he has suffered loss because he is not allowed to carry out the development.

The situation is wholly unsatisfactory. The Bill therefore provides that compensation will only be payable for adverse decisions on applications submitted within 12 months of the revocation or amendment of a development order. If a landowner already has a scheme in hand, this allows him time to put in his planning application. If he does not already have a scheme in hand, we can see no reason why compensation should be payable. A development order is not permanent, and the risk that a planning permission granted by a development order will be taken away before it is exercised is no greater than many other risks that are accepted as an essential part of a landowner's lot, and for which no compensation is payable.

Under section 169, compensation is payable for the refusal or conditional grant of certain classes of development which are specified in Part II of schedule 8 to the Act. This includes the enlargement of buildings which were in existence at the time of the introduction of planning control in 1948 so long as the cubic content of the original building is not increased by more than 10 per cent. Before compensation is payable, there has first to be an appeal to the Secretary of State against the planning authority's decision.

The reasoning behind this provision is that in 1947 the classes of development in schedule 8 were regarded as so minor that they were within the existing use of the land, and the landowner ought not to lose his right to carry them out. It followed that, if permission for such development had to be refused under the new planning system, compensation should be paid.

Most, but not all, of the classes of development specified in the schedule are also included in the general development order, about which I have just been speaking, so that planning permission is granted for them automatically and no question of compensation therefore arises. One of the main exceptions is extensions to blocks of flats. At one time, there were different views about the precise extent of the right to compensation if such applications were refused, but in 1983, in the case of Camden London borough v. Peaktop Properties (Hampstead) Limited the Court of Appeal ruled that, in principle, compensation would be payable for the refusal of planning permission for the addition of 17 flats to the top of a block of flats that had been in existence on 1 July 1948. That is the matter about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) came to see me. The court rejected the council's interpretation of section 169 that compensation was not payable when the proposal was to create separate flats intended to be in separate occupations from the existing block.

The effect of the court's decision has been dramatic and wholly unacceptable to the Government. According to a well-researched report which a group of residents associations handed to me just before Christmas, in the period 1979–82 the number of such applications was running at between one and four each year. In 1983, there were 12, and in 1984 there were 21. I know from anxious inquiries from planning authorities, particularly in central London, that the trickle of applications has now become a flood. I am told that this is because market factors are now favourable to the economics of such a project. I suspect that the truth is that many of the applications are being submitted in the hope that they will be refused and that a hefty compensation payment will result.

Last February, the Estates Law Digest organised a seminar entitled: section 169 Town and Country Planning Act 1971 — A Cascade of Gold for every building owner". It drew attention to: The great possibilities for compensation for the owners of buildings which existed in 1947 In the light of the Peaktop decision, and examined the essential conditions which have to be fulfilled to secure compensation". Is it surprising that the number of applications has been going up ever since?

Of course, the more unacceptable the proposal is in planning terms—the worse the effect that it has on the environment — the more certain it becomes that the planning authority will be compelled to refuse planning permission and to pay compensation. The local authority must either fail to meet its obligations to safeguard the proper planning of its area, or it must incur financial liabilities which, at a time of financial stringency, it simply cannot afford to meet.

I recognise that section 169 and schedule 8 represent vested property rights, as section 165 does not, and that such rights should not be taken away lightly, even if it can be argued that attitudes to planning control have changed considerably since the time of the 1947 Act, but according to the residents associations' report, there are an estimated 1,230 privately-owned blocks of 10 or more flats built before 1948 in the three central London boroughs alone. We cannot allow the wholly unrestrained extension of these blocks, with all the effects that this will have on visual appearance and on the intensification of parking problems, to say nothing of the psychological effect on residents of the existing flats while the work is going on.

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that, in this type of case, there is clear evidence that the provisions of section 169 are being abused and that we must legislate to restore the position. For the moment at least, we do not regard it as either necessary or right to go beyond the specific abuse relating to penthouse flats, but we might have to examine the matter again if developrs begin to abuse other schedule 8 rights in the same way.

Finally, I should say something about the commencement provisions in clause 3. The amendment to section 165 and its Scottish equivalent will take effect on Royal Assent, so that, if a development order is amended after that date, there will be 12 months for a landowner to put in a planning application before he loses his compensation rights. In the case of amendments that have already been made to the general development order, like the one relating to hazardous development, the 12-month period of grace will run from the date of Royal Assent.

In the case of section 169, however, compensation will not be payable for adverse decisions on penthouse flat applications submitted on or after the date of introduction of the Bill on 24 January. While such a provision is unusual in planning, it is quite common in fiscal legislation. Speculators have already had all too long to put in their applications, while we had what turned out to be fruitless discussions with the representatives of property interests. If they are given a further period of grace, there is no reason why applications should not be made for almost every pre-1948 block before the compensation right is withdrawn, and we should simply be shutting the stable door long after the horse had bolted.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

My hon. Friend is going into great detail about the provisions of the Bill. Will he say something about the amendment to section 169 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which is mirrored by section 158 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972? It refers to pre-1 July 1948 blocks of flats being enlarged. Does it also refer to applications to redevelop areas where blocks of flats that existed prior to 1 July 1948 are proposed to be demolished and redeveloped to the extent of up to 10 per cent. more than the original area?

Mr. Macfarlane

That is not contained in the proposals. The legislation relates to every block before 1 July 1948 where there is a proposed alteration to an existing block. Demolition does not come into it. We considered the entire range of opportunities and possibilities. Hon. Members may wish to pursue these points a great deal further, and we may have to consider them at a later stage and in another place.

We seriously considered covering applications already in the pipeline. This may help my hon. Friend to some extent. However, we reluctantly concluded that that would represent an unacceptable degree of retrospection, and open us to the charge of confiscatory legislation. We believe that the provisions of clause 3 are a reasonable balance between the conflicting interests.

This is a technical bill. The Government responded to the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Highgate, for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams), and by many other right hon. and hon. Members. It deals with an important area which has been cynically abused in recent months. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.43 am
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

Without hesitation, the Opposition welcome the Bill. I agree with the Minister that it is necessary and urgent. I hope that he did not mean it when he said that he was reluctant to introduce the Bill, because we are extremely pleased that he has done so. It is an important piece of legislation.

It would be churlish of us not to welcome the Bill, because, as the Minister knows, when we discussed the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1983 I pressed him srongly on this point. I was worried about the use of hazardous substances and premises. That continues to disturb us, because we hear of more and more worrying examples and reports of hazardous chemicals and substances being manufactured or stored in town and city centres.

On 1 February The Guardian reported a case in Norfolk in which 89 people were taken to hospital. The Health and Safety Executive in St. Helens stated that if there was an explosion there people would be endangered within a one-mile radius. Planning authorities have been extremely concerned about legislation to protect people. In 1983 the Government took some necessary steps. The Bill is urgent, which is why we are helping the Government to get it through the House.

At that time we discussed section 165 of the 1971 Act, and I raised the case of Carless Chemicals in Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough corporation was involved to the tune of about £800,000. It had to pay that to a firm not to expand in the centre of Middlesbrough. Local authorities have been worried about their liability to pay compensation when they revoke general development orders. The Bill appears to cover that point.

I shall not say much about clause 1(2), which is about the 10 per cent. extension—the permitted development of pre-1948 dwellings is generally known — except to say that we strongly deplore the racketeering that is going on, especially in London. We deplore the pure speculation of property developers. It is little short of scandalous that, as the Minister said, a seminar was held last year entitled, "A cascade of gold for every business owner". The Government should have the support of every hon. Member in trying to plug that loophole.

Rural areas are also affected, because this is a town and country planning measure. The 1977 general development order is being reviewed by the Government, and the Opposition believe that the time has come for the review to be completed. We do not understand why there is not more control over the planning of the rural environment. I understand that a serious candidate for exemption from general development order status is livestock development in the proximity of residential dwellings. We all know how serious a problem such developments can be. Although we want farmers to comply with general planning, we do not wish them to be penalised financially for schemes which they entered into generally. As the Minister knows, farmers are often encouraged by the agricultural and horticultural development scheme to submit five or even seven-year development plans. The purpose is to assist farmers to bring their incomes up to levels comparable with non-agricultural incomes over a period of five or six years.

Naturally, such plans are conceived in the light of prevailing planning regulations. What worries me is that a farmer may be refused consent for a building that was planned in his rolling seven-year programme. Will the Government consider whether the 12-month limit is too tight in this case? In some cases it might be better to have a 24-month period.

Mr. Macfarlane

I should make it clear to the House that the Government have agonised over this decision for several months. Our discussions and negotiations with interested parties lead me to believe that we must consider the time element. That will have to be done at a later stage, or in another place, but I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Dr. Clark

I am grateful for that assurance, and I take it in the spirit in which it was given.

However, may I develop the point a little further? Although the discussions are mostly about livestock development, I wish to draw to the Minister's attention the fact that not only agricultural development is causing problems with the general development orders. Some farm buildings that are used for other purposes also cause great problems. I take as an example a case in Lancaster. As the House will know, under class 6 of the first schedule to the general development order, a farmer can erect a building of 465 square metres, and 12m high, as long as it is more than 90m from the next building.

I was invited by the chairman of the planning committee of Lancaster council to visit such a building at Quernmore near Lancaster. It was outrageous. The farmer—I should call him a mushroom grower—told Lancaster city council that he wished to build mushroom sheds. I should emphasise that the mushrooms could have been grown in any disused cotton mill on the outskirts of Lancaster, but the farmer wished to erect them on his farm in an area of outstanding natural beauty. They are extremely unsightly polythene sheds which in no way fit the vernacular architecture of the area.

Lancaster city council tried to do something about what had been done. It tried to persuade the farmer that this was not the appropriate way out. I wrote to the Secretary of State about it, as did Lancaster city council. An article 4 directive was given. However, as the House knows, an article 4 directive does not stop development, and the farmer had cut the sod on each of his six sites. I went up last week to view this again, and it is most unsightly.

I urge the Government, when reviewing the general development order to take into account other buildings which may not necessarily be livestock buildings, because they cause a great deal of inconvenience visually and in terms of smells.

In the hope that the Minister will take those points on board we welcome the Bill and will do what we can to speed its passage through the House. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the points that have been raised, especially with regard to the timing, so that it will be possible to put this right in another place.

2.50 am
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and our right hon. Friend for introducing the Bill. I have pestered Ministers at Marsham street — which itself is not a building of outstanding natural beauty — heavily in the last year. I know the problems that they have experienced in trying to find a simple form of words to cover a most obnoxious practice.

I also thank the Opposition for their courtesy and help in trying to speed the passage of the Bill, which deals with an issue that is wholly non-political.

If I may say so, for almost the first time in my political life in Parliament, I am doing something that Camden borough council would wish me to do, so there is a complete bipartisanship.

The sort of thing that has been happening was instanced by my hon. Friend in the case of Peaktop, a mushroom—if the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) will allow me to use that word—company created merely for the purpose of getting a crock of gold. No reputable property company has been indulging in this sort of practice, but a host of small property companies have come along and looked particularly at places like central London and Hampstead where there are mansion block blocks of flats. These companies have decided that they will make a planning application to add a storey, irrespective of the dirt, the noise and the aggravation that this would cause to the tenants and, indeed, without heed to whether the building foundations would even bear the extension. If the council has tried to be prudent, it has had to face the possibility of paying heavy compensation. Camden took the decision to refuse the application by Peaktop. The case went to the Lands Tribunal. Camden ratepayers will have to pay £100,000 compensation as a result of the application having been refused. There is at least one legal interpretation which says that this appalling property company could have made a reapplication three months later, could have had it refused again and could have received another £100,000. That is the kind of racket that has been building up. As my hon. Friend rightly said, one needed to take urgent action in that case. I am delighted that the cut-off date was publication of the Bill.

I pay tribute to one of the Camden councillors, Commander Ron King, who has been doing a great deal of devilling on this matter to try to establish the extent of the problem. With me he has seen the Minister and he has been trying to ensure that the actions of the council were taken in such a way as not to show undue haste but to examine the cases carefully in the hope that legislation might come along. Legislation is here and the nuisance has been stopped. On behalf of a large number of residents of Camden, and particularly of Hampstead, in which most of the blocks of which I know exist, I offer a heartfelt vote of thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister which I hope can be extended to the House when the Bill is speeded from here to another place and quickly receives the Royal Assent.

2.54 am
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I shall be brief, it being such a late hour. I simply wish to add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and to endorse all that he said, as well as the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg).

In my constituency a serious problem has been developing over property speculation. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in his seat. He knows, too, that in the City of Westminster great concern has been exhibited about the issue, and the local authority was anxious to see that proper action was taken. We are grateful that the Government are acting promptly and swiftly, and glad that the House is supporting the measure.

2.55 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I shall also be brief. We, too, welcome the Bill. It is clear that there was a terrible dilemma, particularly for central London boroughs as planning authorities. They were confronted with two undesirable options. Either they had to grant planning permission for the extension of the mansion blocks about which we have heard, with, as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) said, all the inconvenience — in planning terms, they did not want to do that — or they had to refuse planning permission and pay substantial sums of compensation.

I should like to amplify the hon. Gentleman's explanation. The case went to appeal from the Lands Tribunal, and the finding went against Camden borough council. As soon as that happened the door was open, and the local authorities were all on a loser. It was then necessary for the Government to intervene to deal with the loophole that had been exemplified. That was important.

I have only one regret, and I do not say this as a criticism of the Minister. I understand that the problem was first brought formally to the Department's attention in October 1983 and informally in 1982. I appreciate that there have been several attempts to produce legislation — the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) introduced a Bill that has been superseded by this Bill. There have been strong Back-Bench representations on behalf of the boroughs, but it may be a valid, but minor, criticism that there could have been earlier action. However, we have got past that stage.

The Bill deals with two elements, as the Under-Secretary said. The second is hazardous waste and so on. I have always held the view that the use classes need regularly to be reviewed, particularly in this area, as science develops and uses change. One of the problems is that, because we have not responded quickly, inevitably there has been exploitation in that planning authorities have not been able to control adequately the developments in their areas. Once we are talking about hazardous waste and so on, we are talking about serious uses of land which, above all, planning authorities need the power to deal with.

We are dealing with a limited Bill that we all wish a speedy passage into law, but I hope that the Minister will accept that there are many pressures, which I hope his Department feels, for other reforms in planning law on issues that are underneath the surface. This is just the tip and the peak of the matter. It is not entirely the Minister's responsibility, although it is his Department's, but there are problems such as the landlord-tenant relationship in private mansion blocks, which I know are being reviewed by the Department of the Environment. There are issues under the surface, and the Bill deals only with the most extreme examples.

Subject to that request and concern that we do not just stop here and move quickly to make sure that the other matters are dealt with as soon and as comprehensively as possible, we welcome the Bill. We hope that the owners and residents, particularly in the mansion blocks and the areas of the four central London boroughs who have been most concerned have their problems alleviated and that the ratepayer and taxpayer do not have to foot the bills, when their money has gone into the pockets of those who have no scruples, and they needed the Government to intervene as they have done tonight.

2.59 am
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I wish to intervene on only a couple of points, and I do not wish to be ungrateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, who introduced in an expert manner what is a very complicated, if not obscure, town and country planning measure. It has serious financial implications, but I am sure that both sides of the House will agree that that should not alter the rights to compensation unless we have carefully considered the implications. My hon. Friend the Minister has done that.

I wish to relate my remarks to the proposed amendment to section 169 of the principal Town and Country Planning Act 1971 — which is mirrored by section 158 of the equivalent 1972 Scottish Act. The anomaly could not have been foreseen, however clever the authors of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 had been, or the authors of the 1971 or 1972 Acts had been. This raises the problem of the balance between giving the rights to an individual who owns property on the one hand, with respect for the wider implications of the Town and Country Planning Act for a community or a neighbour on the other.

It was an immensely sensible compromise that a man should be allowed to extend his property by up to 10 per cent. without going through the rigours of the town and country planning legislation. That is one thing, but it was never suspected that a substantial development could be added by an enlargement of up to 10 per cent. without the need for planning permission, or, if planning permission were denied, the right of compensation. The important point that must be stressed, and what the bill seeks to amend, is that the development is, in many cases, happening in areas of central London that have already been intensely developed to the maximum permitted density. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) pointed this out. To allow those properties to be enlarged by putting a further floor on the top of the building would not only deny rights to light to the surrounding properties, but, with all the consequent problems of intensive development, creating problems of parking on the roads below and so on.

Therefore, my hon. Friend the Minister is right to introduce the legislation. I have only one or two inquiries, which I shall make now, to save further time later. Bearing in mind that the Appeal Court decision that raised this anomaly was made in the spring of 1983, and that this part of the Bill will take effect for applications from 24 January this year, what about the financial obligations that may be faced by many of the councils on the applications that have clearly been put in for spurious motives? There could be a considerable financial obligation on some of the local authorities. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could touch on that point.

We are talking about denying rights to certain people, whether we think that they are deserving of those rights or not. I have no doubts about the merits of this measure. A local planning authority may try to use this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, to its advantage, and deny people what they think that their rights are. Under the existing town and country planning legislation, whenever a local planning authority refuses planning permission to an applicant, that applicant has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. That is a cast-iron assurance that if the Bill is enacted the owner of such a property will not suffer any loss of rights and that the local planning authority will be given no unfair advantage. For that reason, I very much hope that the House will pass this measure.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I should like to place on record a very warm welcome for this short but important Bill. It has particular relevance to the borough which I have the honour to represent. I do not need to speak at length, because in introducing the Bill to the House my hon. Friend summarised so well the reasons for its introduction and the urgent need for it. There is an overwhelming case for its introduction by the Department.

Since the decision in the Peaktop properties case in 1983, it has been possible for owners of large structures in multiple occupation to put planning authorities in a position where either they have to approve planning applications which ought not to be approved or they have to incur liability for large sums in compensation which their ratepayers should not be required to pay. I recognise that it was not easy to find the appropriate way to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Peaktop properties case. In discussions with the Department I raised the possibility that it could be done by restricting its application to conservation areas, or possibly by placing an upper limit on the total amount that a local authority might be obliged to pay in compensation.

In the end, in order to help matters forward, I tabled in this Session a short Bill — the Planning Authorities (Restriction of Liability) Bill — and I am most grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) for supporting me. We set that Bill down for Second Reading on 25 January. It was not an entire coincidence that in a very welcome move the Government decided to table their own Bill on the day previous to that on which my own Bill would have come up for Second Reading. I am also very pleased that the Department chose the remedy that I finally decided to recommend to the House in my Bill, namely, to allow the compensation to refer only to individual dwellings.

I need say no more in welcoming the Bill other than that I am very glad that tonight it will complete all of its stages in the House. I hope that very shortly the Bill will go through all its stages in the other place and soon become an Act.

3.8 am

Mr. Macfarlane

May I respond briefly to the many points that have been made. I am grateful for the welcome that the Bill has received from hon. Members. We have made a great step forward not only for the people of London but for the people of Scotland, and, perhaps, elsewhere. If I do not answer fully all the points that have been made, I shall write to hon. Members.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred to hazardous substances. I believe that the amendment to section 165 goes a long way towards meeting the compensation problem which has been one of the main points of concern. But there are other problems. As soon as the parliamentary timetable permits I intend to introduce a new system under which written consent for the keeping of hazardous substances will have to be obtained, along the lines of the consultation paper which my Department published last July.

As for Carless chemicals, this would involve the removal of an existing factory, and it would continue to attract compensation. It has nothing to do with the permission granted by the general development order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are reviewing fully all the amendments to the general development order. The points that he made in his spech are well taken and well noted.

I have studied the case in Lancaster. We shall consult widely all of the interested parties. Agricultural intensive livestock units are, of course, an integral part of our consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) talked about the problem of a landlord possibly being able to obtain compensation twice. That has been gone into thoroughly and I have concluded that it is not possible to obtain compensation twice for the same loss in value of land. The second refusal for similar development would therefore not give rise to a claim for compensation under section 169. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend has all the details.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

My hon. Friend has given a view based on legal opinion from his Department. The information that I gave was legal information available to Camden council. One will always find two lawyers who take different points of view. I only ask my hon. Friend to make sure that that cannot happen any more.

Mr. Macfarlane

I would not wish at this late hour to cast aspersions on the integrity of the lawyers whom we employ, but I shall make certain that there is some reasonable recognition of the points that my hon. Friend has made.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) has caused great concern. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also mentioned the delays of 15 months or so that have occurred. We were prompted to introduce the legislation now because the floodgate was beginning to open.

It is difficult for my Department to provide accurate statistics of the likely number of applications in the pipelines which have occurred as a result of the seminar which was held at the Savoy in 1984. The fact that it was held there was symptomatic of the cascade of gold which it was hoped to develop on that occasion. We have tried to identify and understand the problems and financial obligations of the local authorities. There is no doubt that many of them could well be faced with anything up to an eight figure compensation problem. That is serious and has all sorts of impacts upon the rate support grant, which I shall not go into this evening. The problems facing the local authorities are well known. That figure could be excessive.

I accept that some planning authorities will have rooftop and flat applications before them, but where the landowner has done his part by submitting the application it would be wrong to take away his right to compensation retrospectively. Moreover, that could mean that authorities which had delayed giving a decision on such applications would escape a compensation liability, while those who had determined such applications promptly would be at risk and that would not be right.

The role of the Secretary of State is inherent throughout all the constitutional elements of planning law in Britain, and that still prevails.

Dr. David Clark

A number of the authorities are in penalty. For example, it was feared that Lancaster would go over the target if it applied for a stop order and would therefore be liable to compensation. There are precedents — I think that there was a case with Cumbria county council about sheep scab—where the Government were prepared to abate the special payments in cases where authorities were going into penalty. Would the Minister be prepared to look into that with some London boroughs, because it is important?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am touched by the hon. Gentleman's concern for my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who is forbidden to participate in these affairs at the moment. His point affects many local authorities and I have no doubt that they will be swift in corning forward if they feel that they have any request to make. At the moment it is no integral part of the survey which I have initiated with the local authorities.

The House is giving an important approval tonight. I need to identify many issues with hon. Members, and I take note of them and am grateful for their comments.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Major.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair]

  1. Clause 1
    1. cc909-10
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