HL Deb 02 November 1943 vol 129 cc463-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving that this Bill be read a second time I desire your Lordships' permission first of all to make a few preliminary and, I hope, relevant observations with regard to the measure, and then to deal quite briefly with the text of it. The Bill, as your Lordships will realize, is the Scottish counterpart of the English Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, which was recently approved by your Lordships' House, and which is now upon the Statute Book. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, in the course of the debate upon the Second Reading of the English Bill, adumbrated that a Scottish Bill on the same lines would shortly be brought forward. Here, my Lords, it is.

The Bill which I have the honour of asking your Lordships to read a second time, textually but of course with adaptations to suit Scottish conditions, includes all the clauses of the English Bill, with it certain addition which I shall mention in a moment. The Lord Chancellor, in moving the Second Reading of the English Bill, with, if I may venture to say so, his usual clarity and comprehensiveness, not only explained the purpose of the measure, but also its historical background and its legislative setting. In those circumstances it would be otiose on my part, and indeed worse, were I to seek to traverse less effectively the same ground again. I shall accordingly try, while discharging my official duty, also to conserve your Lord-snips' time, especially in view of the important business which follows. In addition to incorporating all the provisions of the English measure, this Bill contains an additional clause, Clause 13, which corresponds to Section 6 of the Minister of Town and Country Planning Act, 1943. This clause provides that any functions in the matter of the use and development of land in Scotland which are discharged by any other Minister may be transferred by Order in Council to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the Minister for planning in that country.

The Bill, as your Lordships will see from the title, deals primarily with the exercise of planning control over development during the interim development period—being the period when planning schemes are being prepared. As explained by the Secretary of State in another place, this Bill is intended to be an instalment of Planning Bills for Scotland, and will be followed by others which will, taken comprehensively, form the basis of planning in future in Scotland. Statutory planning in Scotland takes it-rise from the Act of 1909, which was a Housing Act. Later Acts, particularly the Act of 1932, extended the scope of planning and the powers of local authorities in the matter. But the need for a still wider conception of planning, and the need for further strengthening the powers of local authorities very soon became apparent, and accordingly by the provisions of this measure all land in Scotland which is not at present the subject of a planning scheme or a planning resolution will be brought under control without any action being called for on the part of local authorities. At present in Scotland only about 2,000,000 acres out of a total of 19,000,000 are covered by planning resolutions or planning schemes. If this Bill becomes law it will have the effect of bringing in for the first time 17,000,000 acres of land in Scotland, which will then be subject to planning control.

In anticipation of the new powers which are to be conferred upon local authorities by this Bill, the great majority of the Scottish local planning authorities have been proceeding for a considerable time quite actively with preliminary surveys, which are necessary as the basis for the preparation of a permanent planning scheme, and this survey work, I should tell your Lordships, is being carried out under the guidance of the Department of Health for Scotland, so securing uniformity in conception and in execution. The need for planning upon a Regional basis has been very fully considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and at his request the Clyde Valley Regional Planning Advisory Committee, which was set up in 1927 in connexion with road planning, has been reconstituted on a very much wider basis to deal with all major planning problems in the Clyde Valley area. Eighteen local planning authorities are represented on the Committee, and it has appointed Professor Abercrombie, the eminent planning consultant, to prepare a plan for the whole of that district, into which the local authorities' schemes will, quite naturally and properly, dovetail. At the suggestion of my right honourable friend, a Planning Advisory Committee has also been set up for Central and South-East Scotland for the same purpose, and the Government are to pay part of the expenses incurred by the Advisory Committees in preparing outline plans for their areas.

Thirty-four out of fifty-seven Scottish planning authorities are represented on these two Regional Advisory Committees, and it is hoped to set up quite shortly further Regional Advisory Committees in suitable areas. The setting up of these Regional Advisory Committees demonstrates, I think, the keen interest which local authorities in Scotland are taking in town and country planning, and their anxiety to co-operate with, other local authorities and also with the Secretary of State himself in this matter. I must add, I think, by way of preliminary, that the Bill which now comes here from another place has been already very fully discussed. The Scottish local authorities are all in favour of it, and in another place the Bill passed through its various stages with only one slight modification, which I shall mention in a few moments. So now it comes to your Lordships, if I may say so, with pretty good credentials.

With regard to the Bill itself, what I have to say I can, I think, condense into a very brief space of time. The Bill has three main objects. The first is to extend planning control over the whole country; the second is to strengthen the powers of planning authorities in the interim development period—that is the period during which these planning schemes are being prepared—the third object is to give the Secretary of State as Planning Minister power to intervene in the national interest with regard to any of these planning proposals.

The first of these objects—to bring in the whole country—is achieved by Clause 1 of the Bill, which provides that as from a date three months after the Bill becomes law, all land which is not at present the subject of a planning scheme or planning resolution will be deemed to be the subject of a resolution passed by the local authority of the area in which the land is situated. That is what is sometimes called a notional resolution, which is familiar enough to the legal profession, and which has been employed time and again in the course of our legislation. The Scottish planning authorities are, generally speaking, the county councils of the country and the town councils of large burghs. There are only two small exceptions with which I need not trouble your Lordships to-day. The reason for postponing the operation of Clause 1 for a period of three months is fairly obvious. It is being done in order to give the local planning authorities a reasonable time within which to make arrangements for dealing with the new obligations which this Bill will place upon them.

The second object of the Bill—namely, the strengthening of the powers of planning authorities in the interim development period—is achieved by Clauses 2 to 5. Clause 2 enables the local planning authorities to postpone consideration of applications for permission to develop land in cases where development is not to be carried out immediately. There is an appeal from that decision to postpone to the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is the exception to which I referred a few moments ago. In another place, the Bill, as introduced, provided that there should be a right of appeal to the Sheriff, but very strong and indeed unanimous representations about the matter were made to my right honourable friend that there should be a substitution of the Secretary of State for the Sheriff. It was pointed out that, as appeals under this clause might involve questions such as the issue of building licences, it was more appropriate that the decision of the appeal should rest with the Secretary of State rather than with a purely legal functionary. My right honourable friend accepted that view, and accordingly the one change which was made in this Bill, during its passage through another place, was the substitution of the words "Secretary of State" for the word "Sheriff".

Clause 3 gives statutory recognition of the right of planning authorities to authorize the erection of buildings for a limited period only, and it makes quite clear that such buildings are not to be regarded as "existing buildings," in the sense of the Town and Country Planning Act, carrying with them a right to compensation. They are to be erected for a limited period only. The replanning of areas which are likely to be redeveloped in the near future might be prejudiced if new buildings of a permanent character were erected in accordance with existing layouts or even if arrangements for reconditioning existing buildings were carried into effect. Accordingly, the sensible course would appear to be that new buildings should be allowed to be put up for a limited period only, subject to the requirement that they should be removed at the end of that period. That would prevent any plan from impeding the wider developments which are in contemplation. When buildings are to be removed at the end of the limited period, local planning authorities will be able to remove them without laying themselves open to a claim for compensation.

Now I come to Clause 4, which enables local planning authorities, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to revoke or modify permissions which they have already granted to carry out developments in cases where the developments have not been completed. Your Lordships will see that during the interim development period the planning authorities have to make the best forecast they can of their planning proposals, and their ideas may have to be revised from time to time as they come to consider the position in greater detail. It is obviously undesirable that developments which have been already authorized should be carried to completion if it is clear that these developments are to interfere with revised planning proposals. Clause 4 enables local authorities to deal with such cases as these. Compensation must, of course, be paid to developers for any expenditure which has been rendered nugatory by the revocation of the permission to carry out the development. This matter of compensation is deal with in Clause 7.

Lastly with regard to these clauses of the Bill to which I have referred, there is Clause 5. This is an important clause. It confers on the local authority power to pull down or to alter buildings which have been put up during the interim development period without the consent of the planning authority, or without compliance with the conditions imposed by them. This is a power which has long been desired by planning authorities, and it is proposed to confer the power upon them by this measure. I should add that the clause provides for an appeal to the Sheriff against the proposal of the local authority to pull down or alter any buildings.

This brings me in the last place to the third object of the Bill, which is to enable the Secretary of State to intervene in the national interest in any planning scheme if he thinks it proper to do so. This is provided for in Clause 6 of the Bill. Under the existing law, applications for permission to carry out any development, if approved by the local authority, do not come before the Secretary of State at all; it is only in the event of refusal to sanction a plan that that refusal can be submitted to him for consideration. Although the greater number of local planning authorities may be trusted to plan wisely and well, and to have regard in their planning to the interests of their neighbours, it may well be that some authorities will not take that course; and experience has shown that developments have been carried through which have seriously interfered with local amenities. In these circumstances, I hope that your Lordships will think it reasonable that the Secretary of State should be given a right in the national interest to interfere with any such proposal. For example, a particular development might interfere with a trunk road which is desired in the national interest. There you will have as the ultimate authority a representative of His Majesty's Government who is empowered by the clause in question to require planning authorities to refer to him for decision any interim development application or class of application.

That explains the Bill so far as the Second Reading is concerned, and, as the remaining clauses of the Bill are largely self-explanatory, I do not think that I should be warranted in detaining your Lordships by discussing them. I will content myself now with moving that the Bill be read a second time. I would add, if I may, that the Bill is an urgent one, and we hope to be able, with your Lordships' permission, to take the Committee stage on the next sitting day. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Alness.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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