HL Deb 28 November 1972 vol 336 cc1222-42

9.10 p.m.

LORD GISBOROUGH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the large number of cases where planning permission is given and work started before the general public have become aware of the development proposed, whether they will take steps to ensure that the public are made more aware of such developments in adequate time to effectively object.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, over and over again one hears people who are shocked at developments which are taking place around them saying, "I had no idea it was going to happen; the first thing I knew was when the demolition team moved in". I have a quotation here from one local chap who said, "The first thing I knew of a house being built in front of the line of mine was when crosses appeared marked on the trees. I went up to ask the planning officer about it, and he said that permission had already been given, and it was too late for me to do anything."

But it is not always too late, my Lords, because there is a case at the moment of some land nearby where I live which was given outline planning about three years ago, and nobody really knew about it except the district council, who approved it. When detailed planning was applied for recently there was an outcry, and the result has been that the planning permission has been revoked at the cost of what may well be up to £100,000 compensation, which the council will have to pay. There is also a notorious case going on at the moment concerning a conspicuous hill off the M.6 called Barrack Fell, between Penrith and Carlisle. In this case the R.A.C. received permission to put a pylon on this hill, and nobody knew about it. People have now discovered the position, and there is an outcry. One of two things will happen: either there will be revocation, with the consequent compensation, or else the pylon will remain there to the detriment of the countryside.

What is the present situation with regard to the public finding out what is happening around them? At the moment, any development which involves any risk of producing an offensive smell, sight or sound to neighbours has to be advertised in the local Press, and site notices have to be posted. This type of development includes such things as music halls, sewerage, fish and chip shops, slaughterhouses and so on. Any substantial departure from a development plan also has to be advertised and site notices have to be posted; and no planning application of any sort can be entertained unless the developers produce a certificate to say that notice has been posted on the site for a period of seven days. Besides these positive requirements to give publicity, authorities are also advised to give publicity, my way of advertisement and the posting of site notices, to all applications for development which are liable to cause general interest.

Now it may be thought that the combination of advertisements and site notices is enough—and it often is. But was it enough for Queen Anne's Mansions, which I think took certain Members of this House by surprise? In practice, does one read all the advertisements and details in one's local paper every night, or every day, to see what is happening in one's own locality? I think very few people do, but no doubt some do. If one does that, does one also read the advertisements in the newspapers of those towns which we happen to love so much and pass through regularly—perhaps Bath, Edinburgh or Newcastle? Even though one may not live in those cities one can have a great interest in what happens in them. One may live in Tyneside and read the Journal from cover to cover yet miss the advertisements for the Piccadilly Hotel application in Hamilton Place about which there was a Question in this House recently. Site notices were no doubt displayed on Queen Anne's Mansions; but did we see them in time? Site notices are often inconspicuous and inadequate and often set back on the wall away from the pavements. They can be confused with flyposting and with notices announcing the latest demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Press advertisements, too, are often missed. Yet how else can one inform all those who are affected by and interested in what goes on around them than by Press notices or site notices? One can write to everybody but that would be prohibitively expensive, totally impractical and virtually impossible.

In Switzerland they have a system whereby when you want to put up a house you must erect four poles, one at each corner of the proposed building. These show the height of the building and its exact position. This practice gives accurate information to everybody except those who are blind; and I think that planning does not much matter to them. While this is an excellent system, I am not clear what happens in the case of a housing estate of a hundred houses. I do not expect that 400 poles are erected. I can see some problems also in trying to indicate the height and position of a structure like the Post Office Tower. That would be impracticable; but the principle has merit.

It occurred to me to wonder how this principle could be applied to conditions here. I believe it could be well worth considering the possibility (in addition to the advertisements and site posters on specific types of difficult applications) that applicants should be required to fly a yellow flag on the site. I say "yellow" because a yellow flag would not be confused with a flag of any other colour. Of course, the colour is not important. What is important is that when you saw a yellow flag on a site you knew something was going to happen. There would be one on the corner of each building proposed to be built or demolished and a flag at 100 yard intervals on the perimeter of a new housing estate. We have often had applications in Scarborough to replace the windows in a Georgian terrace with skylights. This can affect the appearance enormously. In that case I would hang the flag from the window. It would be a condition of every application (with certain exceptions such as housing estates) that yellow flags must be displayed. They would be distinctive and immediate and every one would know that something was going to happen and would read the details set out in the notice under the flag. One would not have to be close to the building to see the flag. It would provide immediate information. It would be cheap because the developers would pay for the flags. It would relieve the present reliance on the local Press, and the developers could certify that they had flown a flag as they now certify that they have posted notices.

The Minister may reply that Press advertisements and notices are adequate at the moment. I would disagree with this. There is evidence that one does not see that things are happening. Above all, I am sure he will correctly point out that the open planning meetings next year which the Press will attend will make it easier for people to know what is going on. The Press will undoubtedly report all the major items. But there are hundreds of applications made and I do not believe that the Press will report on all the small things. Whether a garage is to be built in a front garden or not, the world will still go on. The Press may well not report such a small matter; but it may be of great concern to a neighbour. In fact recently I had a similar sort of case occurring at home. Many small developments can be of great con- cern to people, particularly to people interested in amenities and conservation.

Planning committees do their job well, but they must decide applications on the information given to them and local feelings and considerations must come into thise considerations. The interest of planning members varies enormously. Some are very concerned with town improvements and conservation of good buildings, and this probably applies to the majority. But, equally, there are others who undoubtedly have Philistine tastes in architecture and planning. However hard planning committees may try, they cannot be relied on to be perfect. Much has been done to make planning information available to the public. Much more is being done, whether for good or for ill, by the opening of the meetings. But this is still not enough. Let us devise a plan which is so foolproof that never again shall we hear this quotation: "The first I knew about the position of the house was when white crosses appeared about 30 degrees in front of the line of our house."

9.21 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the opportunity given us this evening by my noble friend Lord Gisborough to discuss this very important subject, even at a somewhat late hour—though not particularly late by this season's standards. The particular aspect to which I wish to devote a few minutes of your Lordships' time is the question of conservation areas and listed buildings in those areas. My noble friend has dealt in considerable depth and with extreme clarity with the question of green field sites; and as a yachtsman he is putting up flags of a distinctive nature at the masthead. I think it is a most imaginative suggestion that he has put forward with regard to the marking of green field sites with poles. When we come to the rather more sophisticated problem of conservation areas, all built-up and all very much higgledy piggledy, we reach the hunting ground of the developer.

I should like your Lordships to cast your minds back to the year 1966, the year before the Civic Amenities Act and much of the recent planning legislation, to a particular case in the Midlands, the case of Silhill Manor, near Solihull, in Warwickshire. A mediaeval manor house, which was a listed building, was standing on a site. A housing developer, who was a speculator, decided that it would be in his best interests to pay £15,000 for the manor house and to stand the cost of the maximum fine of £100 for demolishing it. He was convicted on indictment of that offence and paid the maximum fine which was imposed. The cleared site value was no less than £60,000. This was the storm warning, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough's two black cones could rise because note was taken of this very significant point, almost the turning point in the conservation of buildings.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, perhaps it was not, but the Civic Amenities Act 1967 specifically included in Part I the whole question of fines relating to acts causing, or likely to result in, damage to listed buildings. In 1967 the maximum fine on summary conviction was increased to £250, or three months' imprisonment, and on indictment to an unlimited fine, or 12 months' imprisonment. It is very interesting to note (and this was repeated in the 1968 Act) that Section 2 of the 1967 Act states that, on conviction on indictment, … in determining the amount of any fine to be imposed under paragraph (b) of this subsection the court shall in particular have regard to any financial benefit which has accrued or appears likely to accrue to the offender in consequence of the offence. My Lords, this fact alone has helped enormously to prevent any more "Silhills". But I suggest that the discussions that we have had recently on the current Bill which is before your Lordships' House gives rise to two important thoughts. First, are the current fines on conviction, whether summary or on indictment, sufficient to deter an aggressive developer? Secondly, are they sufficient in the light of the rise in both property and land values in 1973 terms?

A further matter that I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships is the fact that since 1968, under the Planning Act of that year (for which I am more than ready to credit the last Administration for bringing it into operation), it is particularly welcome that a whole group of amenity societies are statutorily to be provided with information on planning matters. I think my noble friend Lord Gisborough can take comfort from the fact that by Statute, where a conservation area is concerned, and indeed where a listed building is concerned, whether inside or outside the conservation area, the Ancient Monuments Society, the Council for British Archaeology, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Georgian Group and the Victorian Society are all liable to be consulted as voluntary bodies: and of course the statutory body, the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, has in any case to be consulted. It is my contention, my Lords, that although local authorities have reserve powers, they must be encouraged to use them: and I urge most strongly that there is a case for reviewing and increasing the fines concerned.

There is also the potent factor of decay, which is permanently on the side of the would-be developer and the would-be demolisher. It is a question of development value which the owner or the person who is going to develop the site is most anxious to see perpetuated. How often it is that we have a case of what we call the frontage or façade trick: the assurance given to a local authority by a developer that the façade will remain standing and all will be well; that there will be a beautiful new building behind, but the frontage will remain! Then, hey presto! unfortunately, the wind blows in the night; a structural engineer is called in; the façade is unsafe and as a result all is lost. I believe that there is a case here for re-examining the working of the Civic Amenities Act and also the protection given to listed buildings. I feel that there is a strong case for the use of this technique by well-skilled builders and developers in the case of particular buildings. It is noteworthy in London that we have the Nash Terraces as a lasting monument to this technique to-day. Nevertheless, this should be reviewed.

A further matter brought before your Lordships is the question of the planning register—and here I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Gisborough. When a local authority, as in the case of a London borough, perhaps, has many thousands of planning applications on the register, how is it possible for the authority to communicate with the public and for the public to make the necessary inquiries? My noble friend has placed his finger upon an important communications problem, and I think we ought to consider tackling it in a whole variety of different ways. For my part, I suggest to your Lordships that the question of listed buildings might be considered by a review of the way in which notices are displayed, both on the building and in the newspaper. Those rather grim little notices that we see on buildings are really rather useless. I have so often seen them defaced or damaged. I believe that there is a case for some new form of identification. In the case of newspaper notices, I think there is a strong case for either recommending or insisting that planning applications are segregated into a particular part of the newspaper. Of course your Lordships will be aware that only certain planning applications have to be announced in a newspaper; but in this case they should be segregated and not muddled up with any number of local public notices. I have made my point on listed buildings, and since my statutory limit of nine minutes has been reached I do not wish to detain your Lordships longer.

9.31 p.m.


My Lords—




My Lords, at this late hour I rise to congratulate my noble kinsman, Lord Gisborough and the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for bringing forward this vitally important matter of planning permission as an Unstarred Question. The only tragedy, as I see it, is the very late hour to-night and the very few Members of your Lordships' House who are present. I believe that the subject of our discussion forms a very important part of our lives, one which is brought to our notice every day. This debate is important because planning departments in local government have consistently tried to satisfy the public in the past, but I believe that planning departments throughout the country are being given much more work now than they have had in past years. Probably due to this increase of planning applications, it is taking longer for the local officers to complete their work and to get the applications dealt with.

We have heard of the preservation side of this matter, but on the commercial side, as I see it, there is to-day a new type of businessman involved. He is young or middle-aged and he is either very rich or has enormous loans from the bank. After he has put in his planning application to the county council, or whatever body is concerned, he is apparently not going to wait for months for the application to be granted to him. He would far rather—and this is a very evil thing, but it is happening throughout the country—take the repercussions afterwards, having got the footings of his building in; and then the public realise what is happening. Therefore, my Lords, the planning department officials of county council are very much up against it, both as regards the volume of work they are faced with and the shortage of time in which to do the work. They also have very little time to inspect the projects or the sitings of particular buildings that are proposed.

So we have this businessman, and I am sorry for the council staff who have to deal with him. He is a man who, in an effort to get his own way, will telephone and be very difficult with the staff. He just will not wait for months. But having put in his planning application to the planning department, it is against all the rules that he should go ahead beforehand with his attempt to make his money work. But it is happening, my Lords, and it can be seen throughout the country. You suddenly see this building coming up in front of you and you wonder who has granted permission. I am sorry that this should be so. I am all for the young businessman being allowed his bank loan and getting on in this progressive world; but he is crossing the paths of local government, and that must somehow be counteracted. If the Government—and any Government has enough to do, as has also any local government have enough to do—would consider approaching the local authorities (obviously they must not override local government; that would be difficult and dangerous), it would help.

I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, could enlighten me on two or three questions. First, could the Government suggest—and I use the word "suggest", but one could use any other word—to local governments that they should only consider allowing planning permission for projects over a certain size that comply with certain requirements? My noble friend Lord Gisborough hangs up flags—anything for a signal of an impending danger. He leans flags out of the windows, or from the tops of staffs. But developments over a certain size should stand in abeyance for a certain period of time before attracting planning permission; in other words, from the moment an application goes forward there must be a three or four months' interval in order that the public may be informed about the project through the media we have been discussing to-night, the Press. We have heard of the Press media mentioning that a certain project is about to be commenced. But that is also underlined (or over-lined, if you like) by a bigger project which you cannot see. Item (a), I wonder whether more approaches could be made by the Government to local government with regard to a time period; and item (b), whether local government would make sure that their local Press media properly bring out and separate the facts so that the public can see them. If this is done, I think the public will realise that something is happening. For example, I remember a pond in a local town. For some months the local council had been advertising that they were going to build a wall around the pond. They had said so in the local Press. But when people woke up to the fact that the wall was being built there was an outcry. The reason for this was that the writing in the Press was not strong enough. Item (c) is for the promoters of any project to be made to place a model of the project in the local town hall, or council hall, so that the public can see it. I believe that if you can combine these items together you will get rid of the antagonism which is aroused in the public to-day.

Could the Government approach local governments and suggest that following a public outcry—and I have given the example of the pond in a local town which had been the subject of advertisement—over any particular project an unbiased committee should be formed or drawn up from local businessmen? Could not this be arranged through the local government committees and associations, or other associations, in order to assist the local planning department either to come to a better conclusion or definitely to help the public as a whole? It is completely against all rules—and well we know it—that any building work should start before official planning permission has been given. It is equally unkind to the public that they do not know what is going on; and they should be given every chance to be allowed to see and know what is happening within their district. If more information could be given to the public, it would stop ugly rumours concerning those who have been involved in either field, those who are the promoters or those who are in the council, the council staff.

My Lords, I welcome the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. I am only sorry to-night that there are so few of us in the Chamber to air this view. I could continue for a long time and I know that other noble Lords could, too. Too much is happening in our countryside and towns and we wake up too late. So I welcome this Unstarred Question and am grateful to my noble friend.


My Lords, before I was so politely interrupted by Opposition Members, I should have liked to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, one question. Will be please consider publishing not only the planned routes and roads of motorways but also the alternative planned routes of motorways? The Government of my right honourable friend Mr. Heath pledged for more open government. This would be a very important contribution to more open government.

9.43 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for only a minute or two. I must say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that we did not interrupt his speech. It is just that the Opposition, as always and on every occasion, are better informed than are the Government Benches and we knew that the noble Viscount, Lord Long, was going to take part in this debate. Knowing that, we thought he ought to have a preference over the noble Earl.

My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, for introducing this short debate. Of course he would not expect the Government to accept his proposal. I do not want to be pedantic, but it is not altogether well worded because the concluding part of it asks, that the public are made more aware of such developments in adequate time to effectively object Whether they want to object or not, they ought to be given time to object. I should have thought that if they want to object they must have a case to object to. If time is to be provided, it is not simply to allow people to object; they must object because they have a reason to object.

I have never found in all this debate that ratepayers are in fact always overlooked. I think it is absolutely right that, if big changes are to be made, local people ought to know about them. If there is any weakness in legislation, let us remember that it must have been a weakness created by this House and another House. We have always insisted in Acts of Parliament that every local authority must notify all the constituents and ratepayers that these alterations are going to take place; and we have always insisted that they ought to do it by notice in the public Press. This, of course, they carefully do. The only complaint I have heard to-night is apparently that the advertisements are not more specific, they are not more prominent; but no more than that. As I understand it, the local authorities have all conformed. Indeed, it is always difficult to advertise some notice that alterations are going to be made. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said—I do not know whether he wants to interrupt or not.


My Lords, my complaint was that people do not in practice read all their papers, and it is unreasonable to expect them to read all the local papers every day.


My Lords, the great difficulty is that people do not read at all. One of our great difficulties is that unless they see something on "the telly" they do not know what is going on in the world. Even the suggestion that we might put a yellow flag on a window to denote that the window was about to be changed could create considerable difficulty, because, as was cited by another noble Lord, if one were to take the Nash Terrace and put a yellow flag out of every window from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace it would be thought that we were welcoming the Emperor of Japan, or somebody like that. So this idea is obviously a non-starter.

I do no want to be too critical, but I remember being in Strasbourg at a time when the European Movement was getting rather more popular and, not the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, but another of that ilk, known as Duncan Sandys, was then leading the movement in the Council of Europe, and the Council of Europe thought it ought to have a flag to denote who was in favour of Europe and who was not. So they created a flag with two long green legs and a little green and white insert in the centre, which became known as "Sandys' Pants". I did not think it did anything to support the Council of Europe or the European Movement; nor do I think this idea of a flag is a great idea. All I can say is that publication is obligatory, but, as was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Long, along comes somebody with a big bank balance, either a Walker or a Slater (he did not denote which, but I am sure these were the people he was referring to) and begins building. In all seriousness, if in fact changes—and substantial changes—have to be made, there are organisations in this country who have something to say. I am certain that this Question covers my native country of Scotland, as well as England and Wales; and in Scotland we have societies such as the Georgian Society, the Cockburn Society in Edinburgh, and many others. Indeed, sometimes we feel that whenever we want to make a change we cannot do it because of one of these societies. They are not always regarded as a great help.

So what we need to do is to bring a little sanity into the situation if we are going to make substantial changes in the architecture in the countries involved—and I would assure your Lordships that nobody is more concerned than I am. Before I ever arrived in the Houses of Parliament I earned my living by helping to preserve the best in decoration and otherwise in the country, so I do not speak without feeling in the matter. If we are going to do this I think there is a responsibility on every local authority or planning authority that is involved. All I would say is that we should not let things reach the stage where the system is abused by people who object simply for the sake of objecting, because we then bring the whole thing into disrespect and the strength of the case is thereby weakened. I understand the motive of the noble Lord in instituting this debate to-night. I think there is a good reason for doing so, and, understanding it, we support it. The only word of caution I would utter is that, having agreed to do that, we should not allow this privilege, if privilege it be, to be abused by a few people who would so upset it by taking a crankish point of view and would prevent development in the country which might be for the economic good of Britain as we should like it to be.


We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Gisborough—

9.49 p.m.


I hope that the Minister will forgive my intervening, my Lords, but I did say that I wished to speak in favour of the proposal which is before the House. Whether or not my intention reached the ears of your Lordships I do not know. Perhaps I may be excused if my remarks did not get that far, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will allow me to say a few words on the subject.

I have read in Hansard with great excitement the terms of this Question. This matter has been coming up for a long time and now that it is before the House the issue has developed into a mini debate. I am particularly interested in this subject because it applies to the very civilised country in which I live and which is called the Isle of Man, where houses suddenly appear, apparently without anybody having been asked anything about them—this in a part of this country containing every conceivable type of preservation society with many people being interested in what everybody else is doing. Despite this intense local interest, houses seem to appear in the middle of fields and elsewhere without people quite knowing how they got there. This sort of development is taking place with great speed all over the British Isles.

The question is whether by some means we can so contain the developers that people may know what buildings are going up in time for them to make any reasonable objections that they may have. The idea of having yellow flags may be a good one. Flags of this colour do not mean plague but disease. That was in my signalling code in the old days. I believe that a yellow flag with a black dot in the centre meant plague. At present one sees beautiful fields, in which are growing wild flowers and cattle graze, suddenly, apparently without warning, become the sites for houses and other developments.

I will not delay your Lordships by speaking at length and I apologise if it may be thought that I have jumped into the debate. In fact, I have been anxious to make a brief contribution. Noble Lords should be strongly in favour of what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, has been suggesting. It should not be possible suddenly to put up a building or to have to rely on information being gained in pubs and elsewhere. The people who live in the area should be given reasonable opportunity to raise any objections that they may have.

9.52 p.m.


My Lords, as I was saying, I am grateful, as we all are, to my noble friend Lord Gisborough for having asked this Question. I will not report him on this occasion, but I must warn him that if he talks about "revocating" in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, he will be in trouble. The short answer to my noble friend's Question is: Yes, we do think that more should and could be done to let the public know what planning applications are being put in; and later in my remarks I will indicate what we think can be done and how we propose It should be done.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandys for the valuable and interesting points he made, which were concentrated primarily in the sphere of conservation. Though I assure him that I will see that those points are fully considered, I will deal now with only some of them—those that come within the field of publicity, the subject to which the original Question referred. As for the point raised by my noble friend Lord Onslow, rather than go into that subject—the point he raised was not so much that of publicity for proposals when finalised as the extent to which the public should be drawn into the discussion of alternative routes—I will write to him about that because it is not a subject with which I would care to deal without notice and off the cuff. It raises a number of sophisticated issues. I will write to him and if, after I have done that, he wishes to raise the matter as a separate issue, I would welcome a debate on it.

By way of a prelude, I would remind your Lordships that the local planning authority, when deciding an application, has to have regard to the provisions of the development plan and to other material considerations. The development plan therefore provides a backcloth for the day-to-day development control decisions which the planning authority is required to take. New style development plans—structure and local plans—for which provision was made in the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act, are subject to extensive and specific arrangements for publicity both at the formative stage, before the planning authority has reached any firm conclusions, and subsequently when it has a settled plan which is laid open for public inspection and objection. Circular 52/72 was issued last June and dealt with the question of public participation in development plans. The Government have expressed the view that giving the public an opportunity to participate in the formative stage will, when handled with skill and understanding—and that certainly involves the imaginative use of maps and models—not only make the plan a better plan but also do much to improve relationships between the planning authority and the public, and help the public to know and anticipate the kind of development that will be coming along as the result of individual planning applications later.

The relevance of this to the question we are discussing today is of course that—particularly when there is a wide coverage of local plans—the public will have a better understanding of the pattern of development for the area for anything up to 20 years ahead; they will have an opportunity of saying how they want their area to develop; and the planning applications will not be so unexpected and will be judged against the provisions of the plan. It means also that a distinction must be drawn between public participation in the plan-making stage and members of the public making representations about specific proposals for development. That is by way of a prelude to the particular matter which my noble friend raises.

Now we come to publicity for applications. The initial statutory requirement is that where an application for planning permission is received the local planning authority must place a copy of it and the accompanying plans in the planning register, where they remain until the application is determined. The register, which is normally kept at the office of the district council, is available for public inspection. If my noble friend Lord Long will give me any information he has about development requiring planning permission that has been started without it, I will certainly have the matter looked into. But I confirm that the local planning authority has ample powers of enforcement and powers to use a stop notice to deal with that situation. However, I shall be glad to look into any cases he cares to refer to me.

In addition to the need to put applications in the planning register and for that to be open to the public, there are statutory requirements for further publicity in three cases. I have explained that the development plan is the subject of publicity; and it is right that where there is a significant departure from the provisions of the plan there should be extra publicity. Thus, where the local planning authority receive an application for planning permission which would involve a substantial departure from those provisions, they are required to put an advertisement in a local newspaper and must consider any representations made to them within the period stated in the advertisement—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is it not a fact that when somebody proposes to-make an alteration notification of the alteration has to be made to adjacent owners before anything can take place?


My Lords, not in every case. I am coming to certain cases where that does apply; but it does not apply in every case. First of all, it depends whether it is covered by the General Development Order, and then it depends on whether or not it is in a certain category, to which I am just coming. This is in fact the next group of categories for which additional publicity is required. These are the classes of un-neighbourly development which are designated in the General Development Order: public conveniences, disposal of refuse or waste materials, sewage disposal plant, slaughterhouses or knackers' yards, theatres, cinemas, music halls, dance halls, skating rinks, swimming baths, or gymnasia, and so on.


There is not much left out!


There is quite a bit, my Lords, but I confirm that we shall very shortly be making substantial additions to that list. These are forms of development which may need careful siting in appropriate areas. Before an application for permission can be considered, the applicant must advertise his proposal in a local newspaper, display a notice on the site for at least seven days and the local planning authority may not determine the application until the period for representation stated in the notice—which, again, must be not less than 21 days—has expired. Those are two categories: the departure from the plan and the un-neighbourly developments.

Thirdly—and this is the aspect introduced by my noble friend Lord Sandys—where application is made for permission for development which would affect the character or appearance of a conservation area, the local planning authority must publish an advertisement in a local newspaper and display a notice on or near the site for at least seven days. Again they must consider any representations made within a period of not less than twenty-one days. These are statutory requirements. They would certainly apply to Queen Anne's Mansions, but they did not apply at the time the application was filed, though in fact the City of Westminster, as I explained in the debate on the subject, did advertise the application to a greater extent than they were at the time statutorily required to do.

In addition to these additional statutory requirements for publicity, we have already encouraged local planning authorities to use their discretion to publicise proposals which are likely to have wide effects; and many of them already do so. Some have standing arrangements for notifying bodies likely to be concerned—for example, local civic and amenity societies, which several noble Lords have mentioned. They do that where they think that proposals will arouse considerable interest. Some also have arrangements for informing people living in the vicinity of a site about comparatively small developments affecting adjoining properties. I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Hoy was saying. This is certainly a good practice, but at the moment there is not a statutory requirement to do this in every case.

We have had a number of interesting proposals for carrying the matter a stage further, including yellow flags—though I must say, as an ex-sailor, that I do not care much for the use of a quarantine flag in this instance; models, which I agree have a part to play particularly in the earlier stages when the development plan itself is going through, public participation, and larger and clearer forms of advertisement. All these ideas are well worth considering, as is the Swiss suggestion. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, for the cautionary note which he sounded, and which I think will be particularly welcome to the local authority associations. In our zeal for giving more publicity to planning applications, a zeal which we must to some extent pursue, we need to strike a balance between the burdens which are laid on local authorities, particularly the planning departments, bearing in mind that in addition to securing greater publicity for the planning process as a whole we have also to pursue another objective; namely, that of making the whole machinery work more smoothly and more rapidly, without at the same time losing sight of the other objectives.

So we come to the question of what more can be done and what further steps can be taken. I should first of all like to remind your Lordships that in the Local Government Act we have already taken a further step, because that Act now contains provision for parish councils, if they so wish, to be notified of planning applications concerning the area of their responsibilities. That is an advance. Secondly, we can, and we shortly will, by changes to the General Development Order, extend the categories, including several more un-neighbourly categories of development for which extra publicity is mandatory. That we intend to do.

Thirdly, and more generally, I can say that we have it in mind to legislate, when opportunity occurs, to give local authorities—and the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, is perfectly right in indicating that this is the right place for the discretion for further publicity to lie—power to require applicants for planning permission to display site notices in cases additional to those in which they are at present required to display notices and to advertise. We intend that this should apply to Government Departments, as well as to other applicants and upon the same basis.


Hear, hear!


I think noble Lords will appreciate that we are making progress in a number of useful directions there. Meanwhile, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, suggested, we will in advance of such legislation further encourage local authorities to extend the use of publicity for planning applications, at their discretion and in ways which seem suitable and apt to them. I think that in this way we, and they, will gain experience of the kind of publicity that is helpful, the way that it can best be managed, and the most practical steps to take, all of which will be very helpful when it comes to framing legislation on the lines that I have just indicated.

As I have said, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, and all the other noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, because a number of useful and novel ideas have been mentioned which we shall now be able to study as we contemplate these further changes.

House adjourned at six minutes past ten o'clock.