HC Deb 19 June 1991 vol 193 cc411-22
Mr. Steen

I beg to move amendment No. 133, in page 98, line 48, at end insert— `(c) population forecasts issued by central government and by independent agencies, as well as district and county population growth forecasts in relation to specific local areas, and the impact of these forecasts on household formation.'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 136, in page 104, line 12, at end insert `(9) (c) to the likely resources available; (d) to the capacity of existing facilities to service the increased population resulting from new residential development, and where existing facilities are not deemed to be adequate to meet increased needs, no further residential development shall be permitted unless the capital works required to service any new residential development have been or will he provided'.

Mr. Steen

The amendment was tabled by several of my hon. Friends. I wish to deal with both amendments Nos. 133 and 136. Amendment No. 133 is about population forecasts. The amendment proposes to add to paragraph 16 of schedule 3, under the heading "Structure and local plans", a provision whereby population forecasts will be included, discussed and considered. The reason for that is simple.

The Department of the Environment produces estimates of future household formations which are handed down to the county councils. In theory the estimates can be challenged, but in practice they tend to be accepted as tablets of stone. The county councils allocate a certain number of households to each of the district, town or borough local authorities, which are obliged to find room for the new buildings.

A group of people in Holborn deal with population statistics. There are about 2,000 people there, but about six of them specifically deal with household formations, which are not the same as houses. They pass the information over to a group of civil servants in the Department of the Environment. I do not know how many dozens of civil servants in the Department analyse and forecast household formations.

The figures are then massaged and sent down like darts to the county councils. Councils are told that they must provide in their structure plan for so many households in their area. For example, my county council may be asked to provide for 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 households. That request is based on figures which emanate from Holborn and go on to the Department of the Environment. Devon or any other county council receives the figures. Although technically it can challenge them, it has no machinery to do so. How can the council challenge figures which suddenly arrive on its desk? The council then has to cut up the figures and distribute them around the district councils. It is similar to bidding. The county council says to each council, "How many can you manage?" It has to share the household formation figures around the councils. The councils then set about their local plans, which are the strategy for the area for the next five years. They have to include the number of households that the council has been told by the county council, the county council has been told by the Department of the Environment and the Department of the Environment has been told by the Holborn statisticians is required in that area.

The trouble is that the household formation figures are estimates. They are simply computerised figures and they are not always correct. An analysis of the Department of the Environment's 1985-based household projections shows how the rate of household formation is expected to decline sharply in every county in the country. For example, 32 per cent. fewer households will be formed in Devon in the last five years of the 1990s than were formed in the first five years of the 1980s. Overall there is a 45 per cent. drop in household formations throughout Great Britain.

Figures are handed down like tablets of stone from the Department of the Environment to the county councils and local councils draw up their local plans on the basis of them. The figures have dropped by 45 per cent. We are still building houses on the basis of those false projections. It is rather like a train running at 125 mph—it takes a few miles to stop. We are continuing to build houses on an inaccurate premise which was produced by computer.

Amendment No. 133 provides no more than a means whereby the estimates of household formation can be considered during the consultation period of the local plans, so that they can be revised in the light of local need and local land use. The importance of the amendment is not just to allow the national figures to be considered but to introduce local needs and local land use.

10.30 pm

We know that more houses will be needed during the coming decade to provide for new households, but new homes do not necessarily mean new housebuilding on green-field sites. For example, we do not need to release more and more land to satisfy the cry for new homes. The County Planning Officers Society recent figures show a national picture of 23 per cent. more land identified for housing development than is required by the structure plan building rates during the next five years. In the hard-pressed south-east an astonishing 58 per cent. more land has been identified for housing development than is required. The Government forecast that 550,000 new households will he required in the south-east alone by the turn of the century, yet the County Planning Officers Society says that 58 per cent. more land is earmarked for housing in the south-east than is required.

As I have bored hon. Members with this on many occasions, they will know that approximately 180,000 acres of public land is lying vacant, derelict, dormant, underused or underutilised. About 80,000 acres of it is on the Government land register, but that has not been brought up to date for nearly two years. Therefore, we do not really know how many acres of vacant, dormant, derelict and underutilised land there is in public ownership. All that we know is that there are more than 100,000 acres of public vacant land, probably near 180,000, and probably nearer 300,000 if one includes the private sector as well. Since it is perfectly good building land, why do we have to build on green-field sites and allocate 58 per cent. more land in the the south-east for building?

Not only have we got surplus land, we have also got some 99,200 local authority houses and flats lying empty, of which 31,000 are in the Government sector. Those buildings should be repaired and used before we build more houses on green-field sites which do not need to be built on.

Amendment No. 133 suggests that, when local plans are being drawn up by district and borough councils, regard should be had for the local need and what the local people have to say.

I cannot impress too strongly on the House even at this hour just how serious the matter is. If we get our population forecasts wrong we will end up building the wrong number of households in the wrong places and we will take more and more land which we do not need to take to build houses that do not need to be built.

Amendment No. 136 deals with what should be included in local plans. Under the Bill, such plans will be statutorily required in every part of the country. I welcome that first-rate initiative by the Government. I am glad to say that South Hams was one of the first local authorities to operate local plans, even before they were required by law.

The amendment is necessary because good planning practice should ensure a link between new housing development and physical and social infrastructure. That link should be set out clearly in the local plan.

Good planning practice, as operated by a responsible local authority, should make sure that the requisite infrastructure to service new development is in place. That has sometimes been lacking in the past; as a result, development has sometimes outstripped local infrastructural facilities.

Even South Hams was overwhelmed by housing development during the past decade. It swamped the existing infrastructure. About 48,000 houses were built in Devon between 1981 and 1991, and I am afraid that the infrastructure could not keep pace with the number of new households that resulted.

A lack of school places was the immediate result. Rapid population growth consequent on large housing development in one area meant that the county council had to ask the Government for a large basic needs allocation in its annual capital guidelines, so that new schools could be built. However, when school construction is slow, or the population increases faster than predicted, the education authority has to do what it can. In Stokeford, near Ivybridge, the education authority had to provide eight temporary classrooms to house the overflow from the eight permanent ones already built.

In the whole of Devon, there are 1,456 temporary classrooms housing some 30 per cent. of the total school population. Seventy per cent. of primary and secondary schools have one or more temporary classrooms. [Interruption.] I cannot be blamed for the fact that the debate on this amendment came so late at night. Since I speak for a great number of shire county Members who have been kind enough to turn up tonight, it would be wrong of me to read the note that the Whip has just handed me, would it not, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Hon. Members are perfectly in order if they read from briefs handed to them.

Mr. Steen

That is just what I was doing, Madam Deputy Speaker. But I will not read notes handed to me by colleagues.

It is wrong to go on building more and more houses and allowing more and more people to move into an area without providing the infrastructure to allow them to enjoy the homes into which they have moved. It is wrong to allow them to move into homes if the electricity supply is inadequate and the lights keep going out. It is even worse if the sewerage systems cannot cope. In South Milton, the sewage was backing up into the system, because the sewerage authority could not cope with the volume of houses that it was required to service. That is why infrastructure must keep pace with new development. We should not allow new houses to be built unless we provide adequate police cover, school places, water, electricity and gas.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the deplorable state of affairs that he describes really exists in Tory South Hams?

Mr. Steen

It certainly exists in a village in South Hams; also in Dartmouth the sewerage system is so appalling that a total embargo has been imposed on new house building. The same has happened in Ivybridge, one of the fastest-growing towns in Devon. Things should never have reached that stage.

The local plans give no consideration to infrastructure. There is nothing to stop a developer from continuing to build houses, provided that the local plan allows him to do so. According to my planning officer, once the provision is in the local plan the pace of development cannot be slowed down, regardless of good planning practice.

The amendment merely proposes that, before housing developments proceed, the infrastructure must be either in place or readily available. Nothing is more harmful to constituents than to move into new housing developments in good Conservative shire counties and then to be without the basic facilities that they deserve.

I think that I have made my point. No one can doubt the importance of the amendments. I ask the Government to consider ways in which they might reassure Conservative Members who are concerned about the speed of housing development—as opposed to housing development itself—and the inadequacy of the population forecasts, which allow more houses to be built than are needed. Once the houses are built, the people who live in them will need an adequate infrastructure if they are to enjoy their new homes.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has raised two points: one concerns population forecasts, the other infrastructure. I note that many of my hon. Friends have appended their names to the amendments, and I understand the concern that is felt throughout the House about both subjects. I hope to reassure my hon. Friend and others, however, that the present system can cope with their anxieties.

My hon. Friend said that the Department massaged the figures. I am sure that he did not mean to imply that we were not engaged in the pursuit of truth; we have no interest in getting the forecasts wrong, and producing assessments that are higher or lower than what proves to be the case. We take population figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and convert them into household forecasts, using the best techniques available. Having engaged in broad consultation, we then convert those into indications, rather than targets, for the purposes of the structure plan.

My hon. Friend suggested that the forecasts were handed down like tablets of stone. That is not true; they are an indication, which is passed down to local authorities. The authorities are entitled to look at local factors—such as information about household formation—and, having taken those factors into account, to tell the Department that its figure is too high or too low. It simply is not true to say that we impose rigid targets on authorities, defying any evidence that they may have about local circumstances. That would be bad planning, bad politics and bad economics. We have advised the local planning authorities to take account of population projections and other forecasts, apart from our own, when they draw up their structure plans. There is an important degree of flexibility in the system, and there is no question of my Department's imposing unrealistic targets.

Of course the Government have the responsibility to make sure that, when we plan ahead, the sum total of provision made in the various structure plans bears some resemblance to the population growth and household growth. It would be irresponsible of an Administration not to do that, but we do it in a flexible and responsive way, not in the rather dictatorial way that my hon. Friend erroneously implied.

10.45 pm

I think that I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks on infrastructure. It is certainly the case that inadequate infrastructure is a material consideration that can be used for turning down planning permission for a new development. It would be wrong to permit a new development when there was no chance of, for example, a necessary new road being completed when the development became ready for occupation. The whole point of planning is that the infrastructure and the development move within the same timescale. If my hon. Friend looks at the environment White Paper, he will see that the object of the planning system is to secure the most efficient and effective use of land in the public interest, and to ensure that service facilities such as roads, schools and sewers are built where they are needed. Planning policy guidance note No. 12 deals with my hon. Friend's anxiety. It says: Phasing of development over the period of one plan may be justified by considerations relating to infrastructure or the adequacy of other services, which may indicate that a particular area cannot be released for development until a particular stage in the plan period. My hon. Friend asked me to reflect again on what he has said to see whether we can give fresh guidance. We are looking at planning policy guidance note No. 3, and I have taken careful note of what my hon. Friend has said. I shall see whether guidance needs strengthening.

Mr. Steen

I am reassured by what my hon. Friend says, except that there are 1,456 temporary classrooms, housing some 30 per cent. of Devon's school population, and that is caused solely by the housing development outstripping resources for the infrastructure.

Sir George Young

I have explained that if a local authority got a planning application for a housing estate and was not satisfied that there would be a school to cope with the children, that would be a material consideration and it could use that as an argument for turning down the planning application for the houses. The system allows a response to my hon. Friend's point.

Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)

What happens when a planning application is granted, and the developers undertake to put in the infrastructure, but then they fail to do so, and houses are built without any of the infrastructure that was supposed to go with them?

Sir George Young

As my hon. Friend knows, the local authority has powers to attach conditions to the granting of planning consent. It can insist on a time scale—for example, that a road is provided first. If the conditions are broken, that invalidates planning consent. Local authority planning departments have the powers that they need to grapple with the issues that my hon. Friends have outlined. We do not need the amendments, because the system already gives planning authorities the capacity to cope.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend's Department on a specific point—the responsibility of water suppliers to provide the necessary water for new developments. There seems to be some misunderstanding between local authorities and water suppliers as to the responsibility of the latter to warn local authorities that they should put a stop to further development because the water sources are not sufficient to meet the requirements. I would appreciate some clarification on that point.

Sir George Young

I understand my hon. Friend's point. When the local authority produces a development plan looking forward for five years, and its estimates of household formation, the water authority is involved in the debate. It can be consulted and asked whether it is within its capacity to meet the infrastructure requirements. The bodies responsible for infrastructure provision can then plan on the basis of a clear picture of the future shape of the community's future. That is an important part of the preparation of the development plan.

When it comes to an individual planning application, the adequacy of the infrastructure is a material consideration in deciding whether permission can be granted. If the water authority has not made the infrastructure available, the local authority can use that as a reason for turning down the application. One hopes, however, that if the planning system and the planning consultation has worked, the water authority will have advance notice of the local authority's plans and the provision that will be necessary.

If at the end of the day the water authority cannot make the structure available, the local authority can claim that as a material consideration in not wanting to overload the system and in deciding not to approve the application. However, under the Water Act 1989 water suppliers have a clear duty to supply water for domestic purposes.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the present situation is totally different from that which has obtained for the past 15 to 20 years? My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that there is considerable concern throughout a good proportion of the south of England about there being too much water extraction, and about the disadvantage to the environment generally and to rivers in particular. Is my hon. Friend saying that, as a result of the Water Act 1989, the National Rivers Authority or the water companies themselves will be able to stop further development because sufficient water is not available?

Sir George Young

That decision would be not for the water authority but for the planning authority, which could certainly take that view. If it were not satisfied that the infrastructure was available, it could refuse a planning application for a development. The failure of the water authority to provide the necessary infrastructure would be a material consideration and one that the authority could use.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams asked whether we are changing the system. The Bill makes substantial changes. We are moving towards a system that is much more plan-led. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that all the authorities involved in the provision of services march together at the same pace, in accordance with a plan to which they all contributed.

We want to move away from having lots of appeals, brought about because no one is clear what is the designation in particular parts of the country. We want up-to-date plans that cover the whole country, so that we can move with confidence to a new system that involves fewer appeals and references to my Department—and that has the confidence of local people, given that they will have been involved in the preparation of the plans. I am not sure that I can go further in meeting the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams, but I repeat that his amendments are not necessary because there is flexibility within the system to cope with the concerns that he expressed.

Mr. Steen

With the permission of the House, it is not as my hon. Friend the Minister says—it just does not work like that. However, I am bound to accept my hon. Friend's reassurance that there will be a new dawn and new vision in planning—and, in view of his remarks, it would be wrong not to give him the beneft of the doubt. There is no point to dividing the House at this time of night, but I am far from satisfied that the process my hon. Friend the Minister described operates in practice. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I beg to move amendment No. 63, in page 104, line 38, at end insert— '(4A) Before prescribing any guidance or information under subsection (4) concerning aggregate demand forecasts the Secretary of State shall undertake public consultations with representatives of—

  1. (a) persons carrying out mining operations;
  2. (b) persons using the product of mining operations;
  3. (c) owners of interests in land containing aggregates;
  4. (d) mineral planning authorities;
  5. (e) environmental and conservation interests; and
  6. (f) local interests.'.
This amendment was prompted by the publication on 7 May by the Council for the Protection of Rural England of "Determined to Dig"—a study by John Adams of University college, London, which focused on the quality of aggregate demand forecasts. The study clearly showed that there has been little correlation over the years between forecasted demand and actual demand. Despite the poor quality of forecasting—whether it has resulted in overestimates or in underestimates—there is still plenty of aggregate material.

The importance of "Determined to Dig" is that it focuses on the fact that, in considering local quarrying plans and in examining applications by quarry companies to extend their sites and for new permissions to quarry, decisions are based largely on estimates of aggregate demand. All too often, mineral planning authorities have to grant permissions to quarry simply because a certain demand forecast has to be met. They have to authorise the extension of quarrying, often into sensitive areas of landscape and sites of special scientific interest, because the demand forecast states that a certain quarrying capacity is needed. Applications have had to be approved willy-nilly with the result that, across the country, many important landscapes have been destroyed.

The purpose of the amendment is twofold. We realise that an attempt has to be made to forecast demand, and we want the forecasters to carry on with their work. We hope, however, that that work can be improved, and that in future there will be a better correlation between forecast demand and actual demand. But before the final estimates—the estimates on the basis of which the mineral planning authorities will work—are produced, we want widespread consultation throughout the industry and among all those who can fairly be considered to have a concern. The relevant bodies are listed in the amendment.

We hope not only that there will be a discussion of the way in which the estimates are arrived at—with a broader group of people involved, to try to improve them—but that other sources of aggregate will be examined. They could include recycling the aggregate or using secondary aggregates. We should concentrate on other ways of achieving aggregate supplies—or supplies or alternatives to aggregate—so that we can reduce the amount of quarrying because there is no doubt that in many parts of the country scandalous sins are being committed against our beautiful country which we should not be prepared to accept.

I hope that the Government will look on the amendment with a kindly eye and that they will be prepared to accept it. It would do nothing to stop the forecasters making their forecasts. It would merely subject the process to public consultation and scrutiny before the final figures were etched on tablets of stone—if that is the right phrase, given that we are talking about quarrying. There should certainly be consultation and scrutiny before the estimates are used as the main guidelines by the mineral planning authorities in considering applications to extend quarrying.

I hope that it will be accepted that this is a way to make a useful contribution to the debate about forecasting, so that we can minimise the damage to our countryside. I can think of an example in my constituency near the village of St. Bride's Major, where the mineral planning authority is undertaking a local plan exercise, part of which will involve accepting the destruction of a part of a site of special scientific interest. That is not acceptable and the sooner we improve our consultation processes the better it will be for our countryside.

11 pm

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I do not know whether the Government will look upon the amendment with a kindly heart, but it strikes a chord with me, as I raised the subject in an Adjournment debate on 9 May. However, with respect, there is one deficiency in the amendment, because it does not seem to be very specific about obliging anyone to consult those concerned with producing alternatives to aggregates.

In that connection, after my debate I received a number of letters from people who are willing to consult. One letter was from Boral Lytag—Pozzolanic Lytag Ltd.—which points out that, although it is involved with the use of ash aggregate as an alternative, it is not represented at aggregate working party meetings. Another letter was from CRA Services Ltd., which has developed a process in Australia known as "neutralysis" which converts municipal waste into an aggregate by high temperature incineration". I am in no position to judge the activities of those firms or whether those processes are better than what is happening at present; I mention them simply because I have a feeling that there are alternative sources out there which are not being sufficiently exploited.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I realise that this might be stretching the point a little, but it could be said that such companies had a conservation interest in aggregates, which is mentioned in para (e) of the amendment, but I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

Mr. Walden

I accept that argument, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts mine.

Secondly, I understand from the Government's response to my Adjournment debate that their mind is by no means closed on the subject. I also understand that the forecasts for aggregates that they produce are for debate and are not written on tablets of stone—or whatever tonight's cliché is.

I am glad that the Government have moved on interim development orders, as I have a particularly nasty case of that in my constituency in Ivinghoe Aston, where a chalk quarry is allowed to operate right up to the fence of a property, which would never be allowed to happen nowadays.

I like to believe—I hope that the Minister will confirm my belief—that the Government are open-minded about this question. However, I should also like the Government to make it clear to county councils, which have to make decisions in the meantime, that they should not be over-impressed by the aggregate forecasts, that they should go slow on any doubtful cases—I have in mind the case of Mursley in my constituency, where the county council has an interest—and that they should not rush into decisions in a fast-evolving situation.

I hope that the Minister will buoy my faith in the Government's open-mindedness on this question.

Mr. Yeo

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) that the Government look with a kindly eye at most subjects. The objective of the amendment is one of those subjects. The Government published new long-term forecasts of national demand for primary aggregates on 7 May, but I cannot stress too strongly that those forecasts are not Government plans, or production targets that have to be met. They are simply forecasts. One of the purposes of publishing them is to promote the debate that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I wish to see. The new forecasts suggest that there will be continued steady growth in demand over the next 20 years, although the rate of growth may be below that experienced in the last 40 years. It is essential that the environmental consequences of that demand are examined very carefully.

The Government are undertaking a review of the present guidance on the provision of aggregates—MPG6—to ensure that it is up to date. The demand forecasts are the first step in this review and provide a useful starting point in the consideration of the environmental implications of the rising demand for aggregates.

We fully recognise that there is increasing public concern about the mining of aggregates. We have also made it clear, both during the passage of the Bill and elsewhere, that we are determined to achieve higher operating standards in the minerals industry. The Bill contains a number of provisions that are designed to achieve precisely that.

We also want to see an increase in the use of waste and recycled materials that contribute, at the moment, less than 10 per cent. to present demands. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham made a very important point about that. I fully share his concern about the importance of finding alternatives. We are determined to improve that figure. Therefore, we have asked the industry to show how that increase can be achieved. I hope that our own research, which we shall publish later this summer, will also provide some pointers as to how that increase can be achieved.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to say which he considers more important—aggregates or the environment? He knows that in my constituency there is an example of the environment having been completely spoilt by digging for aggregates.

Mr. Yeo

It is impossible to quantify precisely which is the more important. We want to achieve the conditions that make possible sustained economic growth. We see no inconsistency between that objective and the objective of substantially raising the environmental standards adopted by the aggregates industry and other industries. We are encouraged by the co-operation that many of those engaged in the industry are providing. They also see the need for higher environmental standards. A major part of our effort is directed at achieving an increase in the use of alternative materials.

In addition to the research to which I have already referred, other research that we have in hand is looking at the potential offered by marine sand and gravel and coastal super-quarries, one of which I shall be visiting later this week. We are also examining whether at present there is over-specification in the use of aggregates, which causes the wasteful or excessive use of a valuable natural resource.

The publication of the forecasts that the consultants have prepared has been undertaken now to ensure an open and public debate about the forecasts and the environmental implications of the predicted growth in demand. We want that debate to be as wide as possible. We have not formed any final views about the forecasts. For that reason, we want the views of industry, the mineral planning authorities, the environmental and conservation bodies and the public at large about the forecasts at this stage. That will enable us to give careful consideration to all the comments that we receive when preparing the new draft guidelines to replace MPG6.

The draft guidelines will include the Secretary of State's views on the long-term forecast of demand for aggregates. They will therefore be the subject of extensive formal public consultation with a wide range of interests. The views expressed as a result of that exercise will then be taken into account before any revised guidelines are issued.

I hope, therefore, that it is clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) that arrangements already exist for an extraordinary wide-ranging public consultation exercise about the aggregate demand forecasts and the draft guidelines. It is precisely in order to promote that debate that we published the forecasts. We therefore do not feel that it is necessary to enshrine in legislation arrangements for ensuring a proper public debate. We are unable to accept the amendment.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The Government suggest that there will be an opportunity for widespread consultation. I look forward to that, and especially to the development of the recycling process to enable us to reduce the nation's need for quarrying, which often destroys much of our beautiful landscape. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 117, in page 107, line 37, leave out '288' and insert '287'.

No. 118, in page 109, line 14, after 'section', insert'"repeal and" is omitted and'.

No. 119, in page 109, line 40, at end insert `and for "38" there is substituted "39".'.—[Mr. Yeo.]

Mr. Win Griffiths

I beg to move amendment No. 120, in page 111, line 38, after 'authority' insert `, except that in National Parks, other than those which exercise the functions of county planning authorities under Schedule 17 of the Local Government Act 1972, they shall be exercisable jointly by the National Park Authority and the county planning authority;'. We debated this issue in Committee so I shall not detain the House too long, but I wish to emphasise the fact that the amendment is a key recommendation of the report by the national parks review panel, "Fit for the Future", which was published in March this year. We realise that many of the report's recommendations will be implemented as part of a national parks Act. However, the Bill gives us an opportunity to implement one of the review panel's key recommendations immediately, which is that national parks authorities should become structure planning authorities jointly with the relevant county council.

I give art example of one of the difficulties that can occur in national parks. All national parks are outstanding and it is invidious to classify them in any order, but surely the Pembrokeshire coast must rate as one of the most beautiful. However, Dyfed's structure plan contains no special provision for different treatment to reflect the special status of the Pembrokeshire coast national park. For example, settlement policies do not refer specifically to the existence of the park, and county-wide policies for tourism also ignore the special problems of the national park. There is therefore an urgent need for the amendment to be accepted.

The national parks review panel said: We are firmly convinced that national park authorities must play a fuller statutory role in the new structure plan process … we therefore propose that there should be a single structure plan for each county, prepared by the county council jointly with the national park authority, thus enabling the national park authority both to influence county-wide policies which may affect the park, and to be responsible for drafting specific policies for the park. That proposal has been endorsed by the Countryside Commission.

I hope that in the five weeks that the Government have had to consider the Bill since we last debated it they have already worked out some improvements and concessions on environmental issues. I hope that they will not find the amendment too difficult to swallow, and it would be most appropriate for them to accept it.

Sir George Young

I have, of course, used the entire five weeks to think intensively about this amendment, which we discussed in Committee. I have the same difficulties today as I had then with the concept of joint responsibility for structure plans. It would be a novel requirement that two authorities had to agree on a joint structure plan. What would happen if one authority could not agree with the other? There would inevitably be delay and there would have to be some machinery for resolving that. This is not a recipe for success.

11.15 pm

The National Parks Authority has a keen interest in the structure plan. We intend to provide in regulations—there will be statutory cover—for the National Parks Authority to be consulted on the county's structure plan proposals before they are placed on deposit. That will ensure the close involvement of the parks authority in the preparation of structure plan proposals for its area and it will be free to raise any outstanding issues of concern once the proposals are placed on deposit for objection. It is likely that they would then need to be discussed at the examination in public under independent chairmanship.

We would then reach the solution wanted by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and ensure that the two authorities were involved in what emerged, but we would not impose an obligation to agree. I see problems in that since one would have to resolve a dispute if the authorities were unable to agree on the structure plan.

I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Bridgend will not press the amendment. As I said in Committee, it is premature to come to a decision on some of the recommendations. I hope that the substance of the hon. Gentleman's comments can be achieved by the mechanism that I have outlined.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Given the regulations that the Minister has said will be introduced to involve the National Parks Authority more fully in the planning process, we are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, it seems that the Minister is rejecting one of the principal recommendations of the review body. I hope that at a later stage we shall look at the effectiveness of the Minister's proposals. In the next few years the Government could, and probably will, be different. We can look at it again then.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

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