HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc537-40
Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I beg to move amendment No. 32, in page 27, line 2, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take the following: Amendment No. 33, in page 27, line 6, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

No. 34, in page 27, line 8, leave out 'shall' and insert 'may'.

No. 41, in page 89, line 4 [Schedule 3], at end insert— '(c) the local planning authority in non-metropolitan counties, as designated in section 11 Part (6), has determined that, in accordance with the options available to it in this Act, it does not require or intend that any of the area for which it is the planning authority be designated as a Simplified Planing Zone.'.

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and other of my hon. Friends are not able to be present because they are consulting the King of Spain.

The amendments relate to important matters that affect Dorset in particular but the south of England in general. We are not against the principle of simplified planning zones. Indeed, these are appropriate and right for metropolitan areas.

The concern behind the amendments is that the simplified planning zones might lead to the suit of a developer, particularly with the connivance of a Government less favourable to the environment of the country than this Government, and might enforce simplified planning zones upon such areas in a way that would be inappropriate.

The Minister has tabled a number of amendments to try to take account of these objections, but I must tell him that Wimborne district council tells me in a letter that in its view the amendments do not go far enough. It says:

whilst there may be some reluctance from Central Government to use the Power of Direction, it is considered to be an important element which would no doubt be used to override local considerations in unspecified circumstances. What the Bill does in clause 11 is take away to a limited extent the power of the local authority over its own area in relation to these simplified planning zones. I, like all of us, am very concerned about the environment, and the state of the environment is much more potent an issue today than it was, as my hon. Friend will know. This is right and understandable.

The amendments leave the decisions on exclusions to the Minister, not to the local authority. That is the source of the concern. I think the particular concern is highlighted in amendment No. 41. That is the key because it makes it clear that only in metropolitan areas at the suit of a complainant—and I have in mind particularly a developer—can the Minister override what the local authority say.

If we do not have some protection in rural areas that are already suffering from over-development, with a Government that are less favourably inclined to rural areas, we might have a continuation of the over-development which I think no hon. Member would wish to see.

I hope that my hon. Friend will look favourably on the amendments. As I have said, the key is in amendment No. 41. I look forward to what he has to say about the protection of the rural environment and the environment of the south of England, about which all of us who are signatories to the amendment are concerned.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I support the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). As the Bill is drafted, it requires local authorities to accept simplified planning zones both in concept and reality. The effect of the amendments would be that a local authority should not be required to accept a simplified planning zone but that the decision should be retained locally. The hon. Gentleman referred to Wimborne, so there are pressures in rural areas just as much as elsewhere; often there are more pressures in the south of England. There is pressure particularly in and around the green belt, although that may not apply so much to the district to which the hon. Gentleman referred. When there are pressures, it is appropriate for the local authority to decide whether to give additional planning advantage to people who wish to develop. Otherwise, there is a terrible risk that there will be an incentive for the wrong sort of development which would be out of keeping with the surrounding area.

The Government should accept that there could easily be abuse of the powers that they are seeking to give themselves but which should properly be left with local government. The amendment is simple. I hope that the Government will accept that they need not go as far as they are at present minded to do.

Mr. Tracey

As the night wears on too close to Friday, I hesitate to take too many liberties with the House, but I should register the Government's misgivings about the amendments and also put on record some assurances.

The amendments would have a negative effect on the provisions in the Bill which enable local planning authorities to set up simplified planning zone schemes. They would remove certain duties placed on local planning authorities. Amendment No. 32 would make it optional rather than obligatory for authorities to give initial consideration to the desirability of SPZs in their areas. Similarly, amendment No. 33 would make it optional rather than obligatory for authorities to keep that question under review. Amendment No. 34 would also remove the duty placed on authorities to prepare schemes when they have determined that it would be desirable to do so. This action too would become optional under the proposed amendment.

Amendment No. 41 figured particularly in my hon. Friend's speech. The House should note that that amendment applies only to non-metropolitan district local planning authorities. Perhaps there is partisan thought behind it. It would not bite on the London Boroughs or on other metropolitan districts. I take it that the concern behind the amendment is to prevent simplified planning zone schemes from being set up in the less urban and rural parts of the country against the wishes of the planning authority.

As regards the Secretary of State's powers of direction, which seem to be the main source of worry to my hon. Friends from the shires, these powers of direction are already limited to such cases as are referred to my right hon. Friend. Without referrals, my right hon. Friend cannot take action to make authorities prepare schemes. Even if he were minded to use the provision, it would be subject to obtaining the views of the authority. Where a scheme had to be prepared it would be subject to the full procedures of public participation and consultation, including a public local inquiry, if necessary.

There are adequate and fair provisions to protect against unsuitable schemes being set up. My hon. Friends from the shire counties have made a fair attempt to amend the Bill, but we cannot accept the amendments. I urge my hon. Friend to seek to withdraw them.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

I must make it clear that in putting forward the amendments my hon. Friends and I were not proposing a protective, Conservative, backward-looking measure. We seek to protect the environment of the south of England. We also seek to encourage development, but we may not all share the same views about how that should be done. We need to push development, especially in the north and in the extremities of the south of England. We are all agreed that derelict areas and parts of our cities need development. This is not a reactionary move at all. The quality of the environment is precious and must be protected. We are also anxious about the status of local authorities and the strength of local government. I accept what my hon. Friend said about the weakening of the responsibilities of local authorities implicit in amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34.

My anxiety is reflected in amendment No. 41, but I propose to take the assurances that my hon. Friend has given as his undertaking. I have seen his colleagues from the Department of the Environment, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The idea that they would try to force local authorities in rural non metropolitan areas where simplified planning zones would be totally inappropriate to accept them against their will and against the wishes of a public inquiry is unthinkable. I accept that my hon. Friends would never do such a thing. Let us be careful that we never have a Government that might seek to override local authorities in an undemocratic and undesirable way. On the basis of the assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 35, in page 27, line 9, leave out 'determine' and insert 'decide'.

No. 36, in page 28, line 17, after '(1)' insert— 'The following descriptions of land may not be included in a simplified planning zone—

  1. (a) land in a National Park;
  2. (b) land in a conservation area;
  3. (c) land in an area designated under section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as an area of outstanding natural beauty;
  4. (d) land identified in the development plan for the district as part of a green belt;
  5. (e) land in respect of which a notification or order is in force under section 28 or 29 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (areas of special scientific interest).

(2) Where land included in a simplified planning zone becomes land of such a description, subsection (1) does not have effect to exclude it from the zone.

(3) '.—[Mr. Tracey.]

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