HL Deb 25 October 1972 vol 335 cc2153-62

3.8 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move, That the Draft Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on August 9 be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The draft Planning Order in Council also results from the proposals of the Macrory Review Body on the reorganisation of Local Government in Northern Ireland. One of these proposals was that planning should become a regional service carried out by the Ministry of Development. I should explain to those who are not familiar with the structure of Government in Northern Ireland that the Ministry of Development covers much the same range of responsibilities as the Department of the Environment at Whitehall; that is, local government, housing and transport. It is, therefore, a very large Department. In addition, however, to making this transition the draft Order provides a new code of planning law for Northern Ireland bringing it broadly into line with that which applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. Perhaps before going any further I ought to say that in this context planning means the formulation and co-ordination of policies for securing the orderly and consistent development of land and the planning of that development. The whole question of the way the use of land is planned, and its effect on the physical environment is a large one, but the definition I have given is that which is contained in Article 3 of the draft Order.

The current situation is that responsibility for planning in Northern Ireland is held by over 30 different local authorities which handle most of the day-to-day decisions on applications for planning permission. The Ministry of Development has in recent years, with the agreement of the local planning authorities concerned, taken on the responsibility of preparing development plans for various parts of the country—although on a non-statutory basis—and also is the planning authority in New Towns areas. The Macrory proposal for planning administration' was that all planning powers should be vested in the Ministry of Development as the sole planning authority in the Province. This recommendation was accepted by the then Government of Northern Ireland, was subsequently endorsed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and is now given effect in the draft Order which is presented to your Lordships to-day. The principles on which it is based were summarised in paragraph 2 of a document published in February, 1972, entitled Town and Country Planning—Proposals for Legislation. Copies of this document are available in the Printed Paper Office. Paragraph 2 stated: It matters to everybody that we should have an up to date and effective land use planning system. It matters too, that the system should ensure openness, consistency and fairness so that people can know about important changes before they take place and can have an opportunity to influence them.

My Lords, the state of planning law in Northern Ireland is some way behind that of the rest of the United Kingdom. The sort of controls on planning which exist at present are broadly the same as those which applied in Great Britain before the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947—the Act with which the late Lord Silkin is so prominently associated. The current law in the Province is, in the main, contained in the Planning and Housing Act (Northern Ireland) of 1931 and the Planning (Interim Development) Act (Northern Ireland) 1944. Legislation in 1965 was placed on the Statute Book at Stormont dealing with compensation and that put this aspect of planning law on to a more modern footing. Certain other changes, including provisions to alleviate planning blight, were made in 1971.

In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that a comprehensive new planning code was required, together with provisions for the preservation of buildings of special architectural or historic merit, and trees, and for carrying out town centre development. This draft Order, the proposals for which have been the subject of extensive consultation, is the result. From the date it is approved and comes into force it will provide systematic control based on statutory development plans, thus putting Northern Ireland on the same footing as Great Britain has been since the 1947 legislation.

My Lords, rather than try to summarise all the provisions in this long and, in places, complex draft Order, I think it would be more appropriate, on this Order as on the last, to mention a number of points which are of particular significance, either intrinsically or because they represent a divergence from planning law in Great Britain. The position of the Ministry of Development as sole planning authority in Northern Ireland in itself, of course, creates a problem which does not apply in Britain. The Ministry will, among other things, be responsible for preparing development plans and deciding in the first instance on applications for planning permission. In Great Britain these functions lie with the local planning authorities and the Department of the Environment has an approval function in relation to structure plans and an appellate function in relation to planning decisions.

The absence of a two-tier planning structure in Northern Ireland means that there is no separate planning body to carry out this appellate function. The draft Order meets this situation by the device of what is described as a Planning Appeals Commission. This will be completely independent of the Ministry of Development and will have the function of hearing and deciding planning appeals against adverse Ministry planning decisions. Part XII of the Order provides in normal circumstances for the Commission members to be appointed by the Governor of Northern Ireland, so as to emphasise the independence of the Commission from the Government of the day. That will be the situation with regard to planning decisions. As to the approval of development plans, the procedure proposed in Part III of the Order is for the Ministry of Development to adopt a plan after a public local inquiry has been held by the Planning Appeals Commission. While the recommendations of the Commission on the inquiry will be published and, I may say, will be given very full and thorough consideration by the Ministry, they will not be binding. The reason for this is because of the nature and the importance of development plans which will set out planning policy and development proposals, the implementation of which will be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government Departments and other public authorities. It is essential, therefore, that the ultimate responsibility for development plans should remain with the Ministry. Let me stress, however, that a development plan will be adopted only after full public participation, in line with the recommendations of the Skeffington Report, that is the Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning chaired by the late Arthur Skeffington. There will be a public local inquiry held before the Planning Appeals Commission and, after consideration of the Commission Report, the Ministry will be required to issue a public statement of its decisions on all recommendations made by the Commission.

My Lords, because of the Ministry's role in adopting development plans, planning applications in respect of development which would be a departure from the plan are made subject to a special procedure by virtue of Article 22 of the draft Order. Such applications of major importance are decided by the Ministry after a public inquiry before the Planning Appeals Commission. This procedure is, I believe, is similar to the powers of the Secretary of State for the Environment to call-in "for his decision planning applications of particular significance. Another new and important feature of the draft Order is contained in Article 15 which provides for the advertisement by the Ministry in the local Press of all applications for planning permission. Thus local people will know of any applications that have been made which may affect them and will have at least 14 days after publication before any decision can be reached. Reconstruction of bomb damage in commercial areas and in town centres, such as Belfast, will also be facilitated by this Order. Part VII provides powers, where necessary, not only for work of this kind but also for schemes of comprehensive redevelopment of central areas of towns which have become decayed and outdated. The powers provided by this part of the Order are of some importance, enabling the Ministry of Development to acquire and develop land in accordance with a development scheme which, before it is adopted—I repeat again—must go through a public inquiry system involving the Planning Appeals Commission.

My Lords, I have outlined in this brief introduction the main differences between this Order and the legislation which has applied for some years in the rest of the United Kingdom. As I have explained. it follows the recommendations of the Macrory Report in making planning a regional service over Northern Ireland as a whole while at the same time bringing planning law in the Province into line with modern requirements. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, laid before the House on August 9, be approved.—[Lord Windlesham.]

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, the remarks I made in relation to the previous Order and on our ability to deal with this matter apply equally, perhaps even more so, to this Order which is an extremely interesting one. I am sure that any noble Lords interested in planning and planning procedures will find it rewarding to read the Order which I find strangely intelligible—if I may draw attention to that point—after all the unintelligible legislation we have been having in this House. The Explanatory Memorandum is also of interest.

If I may deal briefly with one or two points, first of all, I think the noble Lord has helpfully explained to us the main difference between the proposals here put forward and the prevailing United Kingdom legislation. I was a little surprised at his saying that Northern Ireland, which normally has sought to keep closely in line with United Kingdom legislation, had not moved more fully into line in the past. But what we are now discussing is a different animal. There is in this case a one-tier authority with a vengeance; namely, the Ministry of Development. If I remember rightly, there is another Department concerned with industry in Northern Ireland. Are there any differences between this Ministry and the Department of the Environment? If I am correct, for the purposes of this particular Order it is comparable with the D.O.E. My reason for raising this point is my concern as to how far there may be conflicts between the functions within the Department.

This brings to the very unusual procedure by which the Planning Appeals Commission in certain matters (though not, if I understand the Minister correctly, in regard to general development plans), is going to be an independent statutory body whose decisions will be final, whereas in this country ultimately the Minister is responsible. This raises an important Parliamentary principle. It is a further development in what I might call the tribunal field, and almost a further move to an extension of administrative law outside Parliamentary control. One entirely sees the reasons for this, and providing the Department and the Ministry continue to control general development policy, then I am hopeful that there will be no conflict. It would be intolerable if, however, admirable and independent the Planning Appeals Commission were, their views on development were significantly different from those of the Government and of the Department. It may well be that in the light of experience it will be necessary to reconsider this matter.

This brings me to a further point with regard to this Northern Ireland legislation, which we have to pass virtually unconsidered. Reports on developments of this sort should be made available to Parliament. I would again stress to noble Lords that Parliament is carrying a heavy responsibility and is failing to discharge it. We rely on the integrity of Ministers and officials, and we are happy to do so; but this is not the British Parliamentary way of proceeding. There will need to be further consideration of how this sort of matter is to be handled, and I should like the noble Lord to tell us whether there are arrangements for the provision of the equivalent of annual reports such as emanate from some Departments in the United Kingdom. It will be of the greatest importance to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have the most open form of government—the sort of open government which all Governments, including this Government, talk about but never in fact do anything about. I accept of course that we introduced the Green Paper system. I think this is an area in which it will be extremely important that information on how these procedures work is provided. Officials will need to be especially sensitive in relation to the general public.

There are a number of other interesting minor provisions, but I am not sufficiently expert to see how far they differ. For instance, there is control over listed buildings. Can the noble Lord say whether this is exactly on all fours with the United Kingdom system? If he cannot answer that question, I will not press him; but perhaps he could let us know, bearing in mind that we have had one or two examples where the action with regard to listed buildings has not been found to be as comprehensive as we should like. I do not wish to seem frivolous on this subject, but there is, regrettably, scope for demolition in Northern Ireland which does not apply in this country. As the noble Lord began his speech so I would end, by saying that we are well aware that there are desperate affairs going on in Northern Ireland. The Government are entirely right, in my opinion, to proceed with the development of the right machinery of Government regardless of the discouragement which we may be experiencing in the political field at the moment.


My Lords, listening to the comprehensive explanation that we have just had from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I am impelled to ask a question which some of your Lordships may regard as premature, but which I am sure is bound to occupy the minds of many of your Lordships. What estimate has yet been reached as to the cost of repairing the damage already done in Northern Ireland? Obviously, we cannot envisage what further damage will be inflicted, but surely the subject of how the cost involved is to be met—whether it is to be met by the ratepayers in Northern Ireland or, in particular, in the Belfast area, or through the medium of a special housing loan—has been considered. These are matters that are bound to occupy the attention of the Government. Is it possible to have some information on the subject?

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, particularly for his remarks about the intelligibility of the draft Order. There is a separate Parliamentary draftsman at Stormont. It is seldom that draftsmen are complimented in this way, and I will pass on the noble Lord's remarks to him. The Ministry of Development in Northern Ireland is to be distinguished from the Ministry of Commerce; they are two separate Departments. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is quite right in drawing the analogy between the Ministry of Development and the Department of the Environment rather than the Department of Trade and Industry. The Ministry of Commerce is concerned with trade and commerce, but its powers in some respects are a good deal less than those of the D.T.I. in Whitehall.

I note the thoughtful remarks of the noble Lord about the Planning Appeals Commission. This is a new device. There had to be some way to provide for appeals against planning decisions. Since the Macrory review body recommended that planning should be a regional service, covering 1½ million people as a whole—the right sort of size for a planning authority—it meant that unless other provisions were made the Ministry of Development would be judge and jury in its own cause. Therefore, by setting up an independent Planning Appeals Commission to hear appeals it was hoped that some element of independence could be introduced. I believe that that will happen. The noble Lord asked whether there was the possibility of conflict if the Commission turned out to be very independent-minded and started to take a line that was against the way in which the Ministry saw things, and he asked what the result would be. One cannot speculate at this stage. The important aspect is that there should be an independent body and that it should be seen to operate. There is some need for genuinely independent institutions in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that this one will be a useful addition.

In the debates we shall be having shortly, and in the public discussions that will be taking place on the basis of the Government's Green Paper, the question of reporting to Parliament is something that may well come up. As to the way Government Departments are held accountable, it may be a regional assembly on the lines which some people have advocated. There would be a series of functional committees which would be serviced by officials. These also would be need to report to whatever regional body or Parliamentary institution is set up in Northern Ireland, and also the Parliament at Westminster might be concerned. These are issues which will call for a lot of thought, and will, I am sure, receive a great deal of debate.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked whether control over listed buildings, which is taken for the first time under the powers contained in this Order, will be the same as that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Articles 31 to 36 refer to this, and I understand that these provisions closely follow the equivalent British law. The Ministry has already carried out, on a non-statutory basis, a programme of listing buildings in various parts of Northern Ireland, so the process has begun. It is close to that which applies in Britain.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked about the cost of repairing bomb damage. There are a whole number of different schemes for compensation and financial aid. Statements have been made from time to time in Parliament about the costs under various headings, and a White Paper on financial arrangements was published some months ago. It is the Government's intention shortly to present a Bill dealing with financial provisions for Northern Ireland, and so early in the next Session there may be an opportunity for us to debate this question further.

On Question, Motion agreed to.