HC Deb 14 May 2003 vol 405 cc297-8
2. Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West)

What resources he will give to local authorities to speed up the planning system. [112941]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty)

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has a comprehensive planning reform agenda. We are tackling the structure, processes and culture of the planning system. We accept that authorities need more resources to deliver service improvements, so we are making an additional £350 million available to them over the next three years for planning, of which £50 million is already being distributed this year.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful for that reply, but does my hon. Friend accept that the UK's renewables industry has often faced very significant delays in obtaining decisions through the planning system, whether favourable or unfavourable? Given the considerable potential of renewables to deliver the significant environmental benefits that the Energy White Paper refers to, the extra jobs that could be created in the manufacturing and offshore industries, and the new income streams for rural areas that renewables could deliver, is it not now time that the planning system had a presumption in favour of renewables, rather than the neutral position that it currently takes?

Mr. McNulty

I commend my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of the all-party group on renewable and sustainable energy, and for his interest in this area. Planning policy guidance 22, which is 10 years out of date, does need updating. Among other things, the criteria must include greater clarity and less delay, but I am afraid that it would be totally wrong for the planning system to have a presumption in favour of any type of development.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

For the benefit of those of us who could not serve on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill Standing Committee, can the Minister tell us when the House will consider it on Report? He says that he wants to speed up the planning system, yet the Committee finished its proceedings four months ago. Is it not true that delays in the planning system are more down to central Government than to local authorities?

Mr. McNulty

I would very much like to tell the hon. Gentleman that he was sorely missed in Committee, but he was not. It is certainly still our intention to get that Bill approved and on the statute book as soon as we possibly can.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

In Redhill—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is the only example of turkeys appearing to be in favour of Christmas—a Christmas that I am trying to arrange for them. In Redhill, a major development by Linden Homes, involving more than 500 homes and including a significant amount of social housing, has been mired in the planning process for more than a decade and a half. It is running into planning problems with Network Rail, as access to the site is required from underneath a railway line. I am meeting representatives of Network Rail and Linden Homes next week, and I should be very grateful if the Minister could get an official from his Department to observe that meeting and report back to him on how Network Rail is going to assist in getting us through the planning process.

Mr. McNulty

Strangely, in recent weeks I have listened far more carefully to the hon. Gentleman than previously. However, I am afraid that I am unable to comment on specific planning applications, as they might end up on my desk or those of my colleagues.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

Although I welcome the extra resources that local authorities will get during this period, is the Minister prepared to consider the financing of local authorities that have a lot of difficulty in, and spend a great deal of money on, removing illegal encampments of travellers? Will he please meet a delegation from my local authority, which has spent well in excess of £100,000 in legal fees just to ensure that the planning process runs smoothly?

Mr. McNulty

I accept that this is a serious issue, and I have had numerous meetings on it. I am more than happy to meet a delegation from Nuneaton to discuss it further.