HC Deb 18 December 2002 vol 396 cc828-30
4. Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

If he will make a statement on how he intends to improve the involvement of local communities in planning decisions. [86321]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill will, subject to parliamentary approval, require all local planning authorities to produce a statement of community involvement setting out what the authority will do to involve the community in preparing local development documents and in their consideration of planning applications.

In addition, we will provide Planning Aid with significant funding over the next three years to enable it to become more proactive and to develop a greater role in targeting communities that traditionally do not get involved in the planning system.

Mr. Lilley

How can the Deputy Prime Minister explain his decision to take out of the hands of elected county and district councils in Hertfordshire and North Hertfordshire key decisions about housing, especially as he previously justified the approval of a plan to build 10,000 houses on the green belt on the grounds that the decision was endorsed by the elected Labour party that was then in power and that there were no other sites? Now a Conservative group has taken power and found alternative sites, so why is the right hon. Gentleman overriding local democracy, and why he is determined to concrete over the green belt?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's recollection of that application is somewhat limited. He will know that we do not make a judgment according to whether a Labour or Tory council has made the decision; we have planning inspectors to make independent judgments. They made that recommendation, and I accepted it.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

Why is the Deputy Prime Minister's commitment to community involvement so poor? He was recently asked whether he would call in a planning application in which a district council gave itself consent to develop its own land, despite the fact that all the people of the town, Teignmouth, asked for the application to be called in.

The Deputy Prime Minister

There are many thousands of applications on planning inquiries which bear my name, but as the hon. Gentleman will know from the process, I am not aware of any individual case. I will look at the matter that he mentioned and write to him, provided that the planning procedure has been completed and that I am not interfering in the process.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

The Deputy Prime Minister's White Paper on regional government was entitled "Your Region, Your Choice", but it is clear from the two Bills already before the House that the Government intend to remove the planning powers from county councils, whether or not there is a referendum and irrespective of the result of any referendum. Why are the people not being given a say in this vital aspect of local government? Should not the White Paper have been entitled "Your Region, No Choice"? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is far too noisy. If hon. Members want to chat, they can leave the Chamber.

The Deputy Prime Minister

I always find it very difficult to understand the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, because it was a previous Conservative Government who abolished county councils without any consultation, along with their planning powers and everything else. We made it clear in our White Paper that it is for the people to choose, and we will give them a referendum. The Conservatives did not do that when they abolished county councils.

David Davis

Well, I did not think that I would get a proper answer to that, so I am not surprised. In the spirit of Christmas, I shall try something a little easier. Yesterday, it became apparent that the Government intend to add insult to injury for county councils. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), told the House that the regional planning bodies would be funded by central Government to the tune of £6 million. In Committee yesterday, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions said that the money would be taken from county councils. Which one is right?

The Deputy Prime Minister

Those bodies will be financed by central Government.

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