HC Deb 19 February 1986 vol 92 cc295-6
1. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, under the proposals for creating simplified planning zones, he will make it his policy to remove the obligation on local authorities mandatorily to consider the creation of such zones; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (Mr. John Patten)

The requirement of the Housing and Planning Bill is no more than that the authority shall consider whether simplified planning zones should be established. I see no likelihood at all that local authorities, or the Secretary of State, would require such zones to be set up in areas in which they would be environmentally unsuitable.

Mr. Adley

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I support his proposition of SPZs in urban areas. Is he aware that forcing local authorities which do not want to do so, to go through all the bureaucratic exercise of doing the job is not only annoying, but reinforces the views of those who are worried about the whole thrust of Government policy? Will he re-examine the Bill to see whether he can restrict the obligation to urban areas only?

Mr. Patten

We do not want to increase bureaucracy. That is not the intention of SPZs, which are meant to reduce bureaucracy. However, I fully understand my hon. Friend's point, which he has put forward strongly on behalf of his constituents. I undertake to look again in Committee at the points that he has made.

Mr. Nellist

Is not the simplification of planning zones fraught with problems, as the London Docklands Development Corporation, which is a halfway house towards simplification of planning zones, has shown over the illegality of the razor wire fence at News International's plant at Wapping? Would not the full simplification of planning zones bring about even more such abuses?

Mr. Patten

No, not at all. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that the docklands development in London has introduced more than £1 billion of capital and much needed development.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

My hon. Friend's reassuring answer will be very welcome. Are not Dorset and other areas in the south of England places where SPZs are clearly unsuitable and unwanted, and would be an environmental disaster?

Mr. Patten

I am always anxious to try to reassure the county of Dorset, and I have already given the undertaking to look in Committee at SPZs in connection with rural, urban, green belt and other areas.

Dr. David Clark

Does the Minister appreciate that the proposal for SPZs is causing great concern and is believed to be a way of undermining the green belt areas, the areas of outstanding natural beauty and other areas, especially as they were excluded in the consultative document but not in the Bill? Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that SPZs will not be allowed in green belt and other special areas?

Mr. Patten

I have already said that during the passage of the Bill in Committee we will conisder the point about green belt development. Will the hon. Gentleman speak to his Labour colleagues in the controlling groups on Oxford and Cambridge city councils, who want to make incursions into green belt areas, and get them to restrain themselves?

Mr. Wiggin

Does my hon. Friend accept that this concept has to be confined to urban areas, and for that matter derelict urban areas? Will he seek to delineate those areas in the Bill?

Mr. Patten

That is an interesting suggestion. One of the reasons for introducing SPZs is to do all that we can to help inner city areas, a policy which I know my hon. Friend supports. We must also look closely at the important environmental points that my hon. Friend has made.