HC Deb 19 December 1995 vol 268 cc1333-4
5. Mr. Michael Spicer

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether his Department will reconsider the powers of county councils and district councils to give themselves planning permission on their own land. [4879]

The Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

The procedures governing local authority development were revised in 1992. We have no plans for a further review at present.

Mr. Spicer

Is my hon. Friend aware that that is almost exactly the same answer as I had to give when I was the Minister responsible for planning? It has not worn well with the passage of time. Does he accept that, in the interests of natural justice, the gamekeeper should in this context be separated from the poacher?

Mr. Jones

I am glad that my hon. Friend accepts that the right answer should be given by successive Ministers. Of course we have looked at the matter; the last thing we want is abuse by local authorities. If my hon. Friend has any evidence of that and draws it to my attention, I shall certainly look at it closely.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that these circumstances could be dealt with by a more general change? There could be a right of appeal against planning permission that is granted, just as there is now a right to appeal against a refusal. There is a pressing case for such a balance generally, not just in relation to local authorities.

Mr. Jones

The Environment Select Committee rejected that when it looked into the issue. It took a lot of evidence showing a conflict of interest, which is why the Government reviewed procedures at the time, in 1992.

Sir Irvine Patnick

A couple of weeks ago I initiated a debate on this very matter to which the Minister responded. The practice is becoming more and more prevalent: in order to raise cash, local authorities with land are capitalising on it and then giving themselves planning permission. But because this is not a national issue, it has not been called in by the Minister. Something must be done about this bad practice.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend has to recognise that the key thing is whether the proposals are in line with the local plan. If they are contrary to the local plan, they are referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and can be judged on their merits. On the other hand, if they are in accordance with the plan, the proper place to object to them is in the inquiry into the plan.

Mr. Vaz

Does the Minister accept that his answer to his hon. Friend camouflages the crisis that affects our planning system? What is he going to do about the large backlog of cases at the planning inspectorate, the huge delays in processing appeals and the enormous cost of the planning appeals system? When are we going to have a planning policy that is coherent, consistent and cost-effective?

Mr. Jones

I believe that we have exactly that. The point is that when we have all the plans in place for each local authority throughout the country, the situation will be much clearer and that will result in far fewer people having to test their planning applications at appeal because they will be able to judge them against the plan developed for that particular area.

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