§ House again in Committee.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Viscount RIDLEY had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 182:
Page 62, line 35, at end insert—
("( ) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (1)-(3) of section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971—
(1) The Secretary of State may give directions requiring applications for planning permission, or for the approval of any local planning authority required under a development order,
(2) A direction under this section—
(3) (a) Any application in respect of which a direction under this section has effect shall be referred to the Secretary of State or county planning authority accordingly.
(b) Any application referred to the county planning authority under this section shall be dealt with them as if it were a county matter.".")
§ The noble Viscount said: We come to what some think the most important 870 part of the Bill. I believe the debate on this issue would best be held on Amendment No. 182A in my name, and it is for that reason that I would wish not to move Amendment No. 182.
§ [Amendment No. 182 not moved.]
Viscount RIDLEY moved Amendment No. 182A:
Page 62, line 42, leave out from beginning to ("above") at page 63, line 9, and insert—
§ ("19.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (3) below, the district planning authority shall consult the county planning authority for their area before determining any application to which this sub-paragraph applies.
§ (2) Sub-paragraph (1) above applies to any application for planning permission for the carrying out—
- (a) of any development of land which would materially conflict with or prejudice the implementation—
- (i) of any policy or general proposal contained in a structure plan which has been approved by the Secretary of State;
- (ii) of any policy or general proposal contained in a structure plan which has been submitted to the Secretary of State for approval;
- (iii) of any proposal to include in a structure plan any matter to which the county planning authority have given publicity under section 8 (publicity in connection with preparation of structure plans) or under that section as applied by section 10 (alteration of structure plans);
- (iv) of a fundamental provision of a development plan which has been approved by the Secretary of State (whether under Part I of Schedule 5 or under any enactment replaced by that Part of that Schedule) so far as the development plan is in force in the district planning authority's area;
- (v) of any proposal contained in a local plan which has been prepared by the county planning authority (whether or not the plan has been adopted by the authority or approved by the Secretary of State);
- (vi) of any proposal to include in a local plan which the county planning authority are preparing any matter to which they have given publicity under section 12 (publicity in connection with preparation of local plans);
- (vii) of any proposal to include in alterations which the county planning authority are proposing for a local plan any matter to which they have given publicity under the said section 12 as applied by section 15 (publicity in connection with alteration of local plans);
- (b) of any development of land which would, by reason of its scale or nature or the location of the land, be of major importance
871 for the implementation of a structure plan which has been approved by the Secretary of State;
- (c) of any development of land in an area which the county planning authority have notified to the district planning authority, in writing, as an area in which development is likely to affect or he affected by the winning and working of minerals, other than coal;
- (d) of any development of land which the county planning authority have notified the district planning authority, in writing, that they themselves propose to develop;
- (e) of any development of land which would prejudice the carrying out of development proposed by the county planning authority and notified to the district planning authority under paragraph (d) above;
- (f) of any development of land in England in respect of which the county planning authority have notified the district planning authority, in writing, that it is proposed that it shall he used for waste disposal;
- (g) of any development of land which would prejudice a proposed use of land for waste disposal notified to the district planning authority under paragraph (f) above.
§ (3) The district planning authority may determine an application to which sub-paragraph (1) above applies without the consultation required by that sub-paragrah if the county planning authority have given them directions authorising them to do so.
§ (4) A direction under sub-paragraph (3)").
§ The noble Viscount said: This matter deals with the distinction between county and district councils in the matter of applications for development control. There is no dispute over the Government's intention to make control of development a district council function. But there is widespread concern that the structure plan should be protected, and the Government have repeatedly said that strategic planning should be a matter for county councils. These amendments will make it clearer how that strategic role can be exercised. I should have said that I wish also to speak to Amendment No. 184A, which may save a lot of time.
§ The Bill as drafted tends to use nebulous phrases like "having regard to" and so forth, and the safeguards which are built into the Bill are not, in my opinion, enough. I think I should remind your Lordships that the Bill removes the county council's power to direct that applications should be treated as a county matter where the structure plan is involved. Obviously, I am prejudiced in this matter, as your Lordships are well aware. But the number of amendments which have 872 been tabled on this subject show that I am not alone in being worried. Indeed, the following list of bodies, which represent a considerable volume of professional expertise, have all indicated support for amendment along these lines: CBI. British Property Federation, CLA, NEU, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Royal Town Planning Institute and Town and Country Planning Association. There are many more as well. Also I have had a large correspondence on this subject all expressing concern, including a letter from what is now known as the People's Republic of South Yorkshire—not a member of my party but a member of Lord Greenwood's party. I hope these amendments will be acceptable to all those interested bodies, as well as being acceptable to the Committee as a compromise, and to the Government and the Association of District Councils.
§ I think the crunch is probably concerned in Amendment No. 184A, and the rest of it is all consequential. We all recognise the need to speed up the planning process and avoid the duplication of work at different levels. These amendments cannot possibly, in my opinion, be used for any justification for a county council to employ more staff to comply with the changes proposed. I say this because the Bill already provides that the districts must consult the counties, so that work has to be done in any case, the only difference being that the county would have, in a small minority of cases, control over certain types of planning which are specified as threatening the structure plan.
§ Lest it be thought that all district councils are as white as snow and free of sin, I would quote from a massive document, of which I have given my noble friend Lord Bellwin a copy although I doubt whether he has had time to read it, which shows how already under existing legislation some district councils have defied or are attempting to flout the intention of structure plans throughout the country. These mostly concern applications for supermarkets or hypermarkets which are situated on the edge of the boundary of one district and can play havoc with the shopping centre of the other district, but there are also examples of small applications for housing which, taken by themselves, may not be very great, but when added together in a very 873 rural county can considerably affect the settlement pattern and indeed the structure plan for that part of the county. There are also many more serious cases, involving in one instance no less than nine acres of residential property, permission for which was granted by a district council in defiance of the structure plan in one of the home counties. In two other cases similar applications for 600 and 200 houses respectively were agreed, totally against the structure plan.
§ One need only imagine the effect of this type of thing on the use of resources in the provision of infrastructure, schools, roads, sewers et cetera. I must remind your Lordships that the structure plan is also a statement of resources available to the county council for the period in which it should be in force. I submit that total district autonomy allowing them to be total judges in this matter could be a very expensive process indeed and could have a serious effect on public expenditure totals as a whole. As chairman of my own county planning committee for many years, I have considerable experience of this matter. I am still a member of that committee and I have seen where the districts have sometimes been unable to agree to the allocation of resources and may well see this Bill, drafted as it is, coming before them as an opportunity to indulge in what they like to call "county bashing".
§ The Minister said in another place that the departure procedures would be a safety net to back up the structure plan. I submit that this is a laborious, slow and expensive process. The amendments which I am suggesting could make it quite clear where the distinction lies between county and district in the future without the involvement of the Minister in such cases; there is no need to involve the Minister. I think we should all be quite clear that his powers of calling in applications in the national interest are quite unaffected by the Bill or by these amendments. Although I am sure the present Secretary of State would not hesitate to use his powers in this or any other field, and he has demonstrated many times that he is quite willing to do so, I wonder whether a future Secretary of State might be quite so forthright. He might not wish, for example, to use these draconian powers—and they could be very draconian; the power of relocation is a very expensive 874 business—against, let us say, a powerful city with two marginal seats just before the date of a general election.
§ Also it must be remembered that the structure plan has been and is, quite rightly, and will always be subject to most stringent and detailed examination in public by Ministers, by the Government, by the district councils themselves, the parish councils and anybody else who is interested, and the general public kept very much informed and allowed to take part in that process. To permit the relaxation of this process without such consultation seems to me to be absolutely wrong; and this is what the Bill could do, and would be contrary to the whole spirit of the structure plan process.
§ Your Lordships have before you a choice of words of several amendments. I suggest that my own amendments, Nos. 182A and I 84A, represent a sensible compromise which I hope is acceptable to everybody. We also have those of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley and his friends, which indicate cross-party support in this matter. We have, too, to back up at the end an amendment down in the names of the very formidable gang of three noble Baronesses from Cambridgeshire, who have put down something perhaps stronger than I intended. However, I commend it as well. I think Cambridge is very lucky to be represented by three such formidable champions, although I must say, not having been to that university, that Oxford has not been inactive in this field in lobbying the Peers who live in that part of the country. So is every other county council.
§ I only add that the final amendment the Committee has to consider is No. 182B, which my noble friend Lord Sandford has inserted like a snake into the bosom of my own amendment, and I hope it will be treated in that way. I hope I have explained as best I can the purpose of these amendments, and I have great pleasure in moving Amendment No. 182A.
§ 4.10 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD moved as an Amendment to Amendment No. 182A, Amendment No. 182B:
In subsection (2)(a), in line 1, after ("which") insert ("in the opinion of the district planning authority").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 182B: the snake in the bosom, or the nigger in the woodpile, or however one may like to describe it. First, I should like—greatly to the disappointment no doubt of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton—to welcome the highly intelligent and statesmanlike move by the Association of County Councils in putting down, albeit only last Wednesday when we were already well through the Committee stage, their Amendment No. 182A and coupling with it Amendment No. 184A. I should like very much to commend to the Committee Amendment No. 184A as by far the best statement I have seen so far of what district councils, county councils and everybody else associated with the structure plan, need to do in order to protect and establish its status, not to say its sanctity. Amendment No. 184A does that, in my view, admirably and a great deal better than any of the other amendments relating to it.
§ In that connection, I should like to suggest to the Committee that, together with those amendments that have been mentioned, we might also have in mind, though not necessarily to the exclusion of speaking to them when they arise, Amendment No. 183, in the name of my noble friend Lord Mottistone, and Amendments Nos. 184, 192 and 193. My belief is that what my noble friend has suggested provides a better way of doing what all those want to do and have set out to do.
§ Amendment No. 182A is far better than just a compromise; it is seeking to incorporate in the Bill the terms of an agreement—and this is what will be so disappointing to the readers of the Guardian who were expecting that this all resulted from some secret conclave in some country house somewhere or other between the chairmen of shire counties and Ministers in the Department of the Environment. It is no such thing. Amendment No. 182A, sensibly tabled by the Association of County Councils, incorporates the findings of a working party consisting of the associations of all three sets of local authorities and the Department of the Environment as reached on 30th April last. That agreement was intended to form the basis of regulations amending the general development order, and prescribing the way in which the 876 local planning authorities and the county planning authorities should co-operate in the protection and establishment of the structure plan and the settlement of planning applications made to them. I think that in all the circumstances, and considering the confusion, difficulty and heat that had been generated, it was indeed very sensible of the Association of County Councils to table this as their amendment.
I was grateful to receive on Wednesday the 8th a copy of a letter in which the Association of County Councils actually tabled those amendments. Its words to me were:
Appropriate amendments are being tabled as a matter of urgency. I, therefore, hope that you will be able to support the late amendments referred to in the enclosed brief, as a genuine attempt by the Association to give effect to what are believed to be the common objectives of all those interested in an effective planning system".
And so, indeed, it was. The only exception was—and it must have been in their haste—that the county councils left out from the first paragraph of that document, which had been agreed, the words:
In the opinion of the district planning authority".
That, I think, must surely have happened because they were in a hurry. In the time that was available to me, when I checked it, I found that that was the case and, therefore, to put the record straight I tabled my Amendments Nos. 182B, C and D. We shall hear from the Government in a moment whether or not they think that that is necessary. If they think that it is not necessary then I shall listen very carefully to what they have to say and take legal opinion between now and the Report stage and then, depending on what they say, either seek to move it in or leave it out. But I think that first the Committee should hear what the Government have to say about the matter.
§ The other matter is that I should like to get the background straight against which all these judgments are being taken. In February 1973 the framework of legislation about planning was being laid down. I remember that well because I was responsible for taking the Bill through this House. We had a situation where the districts—to whom it was felt the chief responsibility for deciding planning 877 should be devolved (there was a very strong argument for taking the planning as close to the people as possible)—together deployed no more than 3,129 planning officers. It was absolutely clear that, although that theory and philosophy was right then—as it is right now—it was quite impossible for the districts fully to discharge that function the moment the legislation was enacted. Therefore, a whole lot of provisions were made retaining in the hands of the counties a number of important functions. Conservation was one particularly important function where specialised skills were needed, which were not readily available in the majority of districts. But from that moment onwards it was always envisaged that at some appropriate moment the division of responsibility between the districts and the counties should be clearly established with the district councils bearing the main responsibility. The only question has been a judgment as to when they were sufficiently and adequately staffed for that purpose.
§ I should like to quote figures from INLOGOV—the Institute of Local Government. Whereas the districts in 1973 had 3,129 planning officers, there has now been a shift and adjustment between the counties and the districts which has resulted in the districts, all much larger, now having nearly four times as many—12,622. I put it to the Committee that these larger districts, professionally staffed, as they now are, have reached the stage when they can well discharge the planning functions prescribed for them originally in the 1972 Act and be trusted to share, with the county, the protection and establishment of the structure plan. So I should very much like to commend to the Committee Amendment No. 182A as amended by Amendment No. 182B. I beg to move.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
It is very seldom indeed that I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Sandford, but this is one of those rare occasions. I am glad to say that the gulf between us is not a very wide one because for a vice-president of the District Councils Association to differ from his president must be very near to insubordination. But differ I do with him about this amendment, and I shall try briefly to explain why it should not be accepted by the Committee and why that 878 moved by my noble friend Lord Ridley should be accepted.
I spoke at some length on Second Reading about the necessity for the protection of the structure plan, and I shall not repeat myself now. That necessity, as my noble friend Lord Ridley has pointed out, has been fully recognised and amply endorsed by the Government. But, by this Bill, the Government are giving virtually entire control over development to districts, and I have no complaint to make about that in principle. I do not think that there is any dispute about that on either side of the Committee. But the difficulty has been that the safeguards proposed by the Government so far, have not been sufficient to ensure that a district which had it in mind to approve development which ran counter to structure plan policies could be deterred from taking such action. I am the last person to suggest that many districts would wish to depart from approved strategic plans; they would not. I have been a member of two different county planning committees whose realtionship with their districts was very happy, but there can be differences, and I too have seen the document to which my noble friend Lord Ridley has referred. So safeguards there must be.
Until now if a district has not held to its statutory duty to have regard to its county plan, there remains for a county planning authority the power to make a direction, and this power is removed by the Bill. Therefore, we must look at the safeguards which are envisaged by the Government. What are they? First, it is proposed to amend the general development order to require a district to consult the county before determining an application for development that might be in conflict with or which might prejudice the implementation of the structure plan. But if the kind of wording which I have seen suggested is used, it would be very easy for a district to claim that there was in its opinion no material conflict, and so avoid the need to consult. This is precisely the wording which my noble friend Lord Sandford wants to include in the Bill. He agrees that the consultation requirement should come into the Bill—as Amendment No. 182A provides—but the effect of his amendment would be to water down the requirement so as to make it of very little value.
879 Secondly, there is a proposed departure procedure. The Secretary of State is to act as a long-stop to field any proposals for development that depart from the structure plan. However, the question is: how does this procedure get triggered off when a district fails to consult—claiming that there is no conflict, and that there is therefore no obligation upon it to institute the departure procedure? Under these proposals it is the district which would have to start off this departure procedure. The proposed rules did not seem to me to be tight enough. If we are to rely on what is really no more than a code of practice, it must be a firm one. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bellwin would agree with that.
Therefore, failing a power of direction by the county, I believe that it is essential to have a statutory duty written into the Bill that structure plans should be respected by district planning authorities. That is what Amendment No. 184A in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley does. It does it better than the previous amendment, Amendment No. 184, in my name and his, which I do not think will be moved.
I also believe that it is necessary to have the consultation requirement clearly defined in the Bill, and that is what Amendment No. 182A does. I am so glad that my noble friend Lord Sandford is in agreement on that main point. The two amendments go together, and both are essential. I believe these to be the minimum provisions necessary to give statutory backing to the system of safeguards envisaged by the Government. Some noble Lords—and I am sure that we shall hear this in a minute or two, and I am one of them—may have preferred a power of direction restored to counties, and I understand the difficulties. I must confess that I am still not too sure that the departure procedure will be triggered off by an unwilling district, even after the statutory consultation provided for by this amendment has been carried out. I believe that if Amendments Nos. 182A and 184A are accepted by the Government, we shall then have a reasonably firm basis upon which a satisfactory departure procedure can be built.
I cannot stress emphatically enough that these are the minimum requirements that 880 must be included in the Bill, so that the Government's intention of protecting the structure plan can be implemented. The moment we try to weaken the requirement to consult—as the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley would do—then the safeguards are not firm enough.
The words, "in their opinion" and to a lesser extent, the word, "significance" give too much scope for the admittedly rare occasions when a district planning authority feels the urge to flout a structure plan. Let us not forget that, as my noble friend Lord Ridley has told us, a structure plan has been subjected to the fullest possible public consultation; it has been through all the democratic processes we can imagine, has then been approved by the Secretary of State and, finally, it is a plan that is intimately tied up with the control of a county's public expenditure programme, about which we have heard enough in these last few days. I suggest that the Committee should not agree to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford. I sincerely hope that Amendment No. 182A in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley might be acceptable to the Government, and that is the one which I shall support, and I beg your Lordships to do likewise.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I was invited by my noble friend Lord Sandford to consider that my Amendment No. 183 should be included with these others, and I am certainly prepared so to do. That amendment is, in fact, a probing amendment which followed on from a similar one in another place in which the Minister undertook to find out from the district councils whether they wished for the sort of power that my amendment would give them. It seems to me that the district councils are not entirely of one mind as to whether or not they are ready for that, and I personally think that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley, particularly Amendment No. 182A, is the one which is most deserving of support, without amendment to it.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD
I should like to say a few words in support of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley. For some 20 years I have 881 been chairman of the Regional Conference for London and the South-East Planning Authorities, which, in fact, now includes not only the county councils, and the Greater London Council, but also the district councils. Therefore, I shall pick my words carefully in the hope that I shall not offend either of these important bodies.
The point that I wish to make to my noble friend—and I am very hopeful that he will accept this amendment—is that planning matters are very much matters of judgment. Planning is not a science; it is entirely an art. It is a matter of perspective that what looks right at a strictly local level looks much less right at a county level, and possibly even less right still when looked at at a regional or national level. It is for that reason that all the local authorities in the South-East, including London, have for nearly 20 years had this standing conference as a piece of machinery, so that they could bring what were previously their develpoment plans and are now their structure plans together, in order to give the benefit of greater perspective, to ensure that these plans fitted together in the interests of the whole community. It is absolutely vital to look at such matters as the conservation of important natural features—like the North Downs, the South Downs, the Thames Valley and so on—in a regional context, because this affects the whole community, not only of the counties concerned but of London as well for all the people who want to go out there.
So I make the point that perspective—the size of the picture—is a vital factor in planning. There are many matters which need to be looked at in the context of the county, if not wider. This, of course, is the reason why county structure plans are made in the first place, because that will be in the interests of the whole community, but the context of the perspective of the county should be considered. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ridley is right in wanting to maintain the effectiveness of the structure plan in everybody's interests, and ensuring that we have the right machinery to ensure that district authorities then proceed to carry out the structure plan correctly in their interpretation at local level.
In this context I would agree with my noble friend Lord Middleton; in my 882 judgment the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley is really a minimum. It is most important in everybody's interests that the structure plan be maintained. Therefore, I would hope that my noble friend would not find my noble friend Lord Sandford's amendment acceptable because it would significantly reduce even this minimum safeguard in Viscount Ridley's amendment. I would also hope that my noble friend Lord Sandford—he is very wise in these matters and has seen the scene from national as well as local level—would not be inclined to press his amendment. I feel that the amendment by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, will do something to restore the balance, which was not right. It has caused a great deal of anxiety in the Bill as it stands. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept it.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness TRUMPINGTON
While supporting the barrage of Barons who have supported, and no doubt will support, my noble friend Lord Ridley, I think I speak on behalf of the solidarity of Baronesses in pressing the merits of Amendment No. 193, which is perhaps a little stronger in wording. Its object is straightforward. It is to give county councils the ability to call in for their own decision those planning applications which the districts are minded to permit but which conflict with the structure plan policies.
This amendment proposes that the Secretary of State should be able to issue directions specifying the circumstances in which these powers of call-in should operate. This could be used, for example, to ensure that applications which raise national or regional issues would go to the Secretary of State himself, and that the counties' powers of call-in would not apply to minor applications which, although they might conflict with structure plan policies, would not raise genuinely strategic issues and should therefore be left entirely for the districts to decide. I believe that providing county councils with reserve powers on these lines would be the single most effective way of safeguarding structure plan policies, a cause which the Government, I am sure, seek to espouse but which a great many of us believe that parts of this Bill would seriously undermine.
883 I shall not rehearse all the arguments about the importance of safeguarding structure plans. These have been well put already. Suffice it to say that at a time when public expenditure is under increasing constraint and fewer resources are available for schools, hospitals, sewage works and so on, it becomes essential to give full support to the strategic planning policies designed to channel development to areas where it would make the most of existing and planned capacity. The country cannot afford to build duplicate public facilities in other areas just because those areas may have more immediate attractions for developers.
What are the other arguments for and against reserve powers for counties? The Government believe that these powers lead to duplication of development control functions and to delay. I do not share that view. The planning applications to which I propose that these reserve powers should apply are precisely those on which districts would be required to consult the counties under the Government's own code of practice. The time taken to formulate views and secure member-endorsement for county comments would be no shorter than the time taken for the county to settle the decision itself. Indeed, the Government's own mechanism could take longer.
The question of duplication is more difficult, because I would certainly accept that my proposals mean two potential levels of decision-taking. But surely my proposals for a very limited number of county decisions taken in the knowledge of districts' views involve no more duplication than the Government's own proposals for district decisions based on county views. The advantage of my proposals would be a better match between the planning responsibilities of the authority taking this decision and the planning implications of the decision itself.
Finally, let me underline the considerable significance of the word "reserve". The case for the amendment which I have put to your Lordships has been made to me by the Cambridgeshire County Council. The county tell me they have excellent working relationships with the six districts in Cambridgeshire, such that on no occasion since 1974 has the county felt it necessary to use its present powers of 884 direction to take a planning case out of the district's jurisdiction. There have been differences of view but it has always proved possible to resolve these by discussion.
The county council believe that this would continue with the amendment as presented today, but the very existence of a reserve power immeasurably strengthens the county's hand with these decisions with the districts. Without the support of reserve powers it is likely that the districts would from time to time come under irresistible local pressure to bend or breach structure plan policies, and with the Bill as it stands at the moment there would in practice be little that the county council or Secretary of State could do about it.
It has been pointed out to me that perhaps this amendment should occur earlier in Clause 75 to follow subsection (5) on page 64. I am looking to the Government for approval or, at the very least, encouragement, and would hope that any redrafting can safely be left to them. I therefore commend this amendment to your Lordships.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
One is presented here with a sort of escalating tariff of choices. Lord Sandford's amendment would emasculate Viscount Ridley's amendment, which is modest enough as it is. In the first place I would with great respect—as we say when we do not mean that at all—recommend your Lordships' Committee to reject Lord Sandford's amendment. So far as the noble Viscount's amendment is concerned it is a modest change in requiring that consultations should take place by the district with the counties on these matters set out in the amendment.
I personally prefer the amendment in the name of the three noble Baronesses, Amendment No. 193. But having read my Guardian and having considered the entrails of various amendments I have a suspicion that the amendment that is going to be most acceptable to the Government is likely to be the noble Viscount's amendment. I regard Clause 75 in planning terms as the most objectionable in the Bill. It rests on one assumption: it is to speed up planning processes and to remove duplication of county and 885 district functions, and therefore the county councils' statutory development control powers are being abandoned on the basis of speeding up and removing duplication.
As a member of a county planning committee, that, in my experience, is a false position, a false assumption. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, mentioned that the arrangements in Cambridgeshire seemed to work very well between district and county. The arrangements in Merseyside, which have been in operation since 1976, are considered by the county planning officials to be among the most efficient and satisfactory in the country. They are accepted—and I speak with personal experience—by all the districts in the Merseyside area, and work admirably well in practice.
The arrangements reflect the county's desire to restrict its role in development control to fulfilling its function as the strategic planning authority. Delay and duplication are minimised by co-option of district chairmen on to the planning sub-committee of the county and the county giving an early strategic planning view and delegating on most decisions and reserve matters to the districts. The county involvement is limited to four headings: first, the county sees approximately 5 per cent. of all applications; secondly, expected views are given on average within three weeks; thirdly, the county council takes decisions on 0.5 per cent. of all applications; fourthly, it only requires four professional county planning staff, one of the lowest per capita levels in the country.
It is the power of direction and the right to choose which application it sees which has enabled the county to reduce its development control role, while at the same time protecting its strategic planning interests. That is why I prefer Amendment No. 193. Although the county has used its direction power only once since 1974, this statutory power has, in the county's view, ensured a greater degree of district co-operation and adherence to county policies than would otherwise have been the case. Furthermore, if districts are given responsibility for deciding which applications counties see, county councils may not receive applications on which they wish to comment, and districts may even withhold applications where they anticipate that county 886 opposition could conflict with a district's parochial interest to the detriment of the county as a whole. That is why I am not in sympathy with the second amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.
Therefore, on the basis of what I have described as happening successfully in one metropolitan county, and which I am sure is happening elsewhere, the power of direction is the best way of ensuring that the county structure plan is protected with the least amount of trouble, expense and time. That is why I feel that amendment is the best of the three, or the better of the two alternatives we have. I should have liked to see in line 6 of subsection (7) of that amendment after "which" the words "in the opinion of the county planning officer" inserted, but if the Government approve of the concept of what the noble Baroness is proposing, no doubt they will, as she said, tighten up the wording in any event.
It seems to me that if we are believers in protecting the county strategy, we must ensure that there is either consultation, which is the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, or, better still, a right of direction, otherwise I think the whole of the structure that has been built up of structure planning could, unintentionally I hope, be destroyed by the Government by this one part of the Bill, and I therefore hope that one of the amendments will be accepted.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
In rising to comment on my amendment, No. 192, my words may enable the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, to choose my amendment. If I must, I might support my noble friend Lord Ridley's minimum, as I would call it, Amendment No. 182A, but I would much prefer the Government to accept No. 192, which is tabled in my name, or indeed, which is very similar, No. 193, to which my noble friend Lady Trumpington spoke and which is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I support my amendment, or No. 193 as the case may be, because they protect the structure plan much more strongly than the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley. Before explaining why I think that is so, I should like my noble friend Lord Bellwin 887 to say whether the Government at present consider the structure plan to be, first, inviolate; secondly, important and; thirdly, redundant. If my noble friend replies that my amendment makes the structure plan too rigid—or shall I say inviolate?—I must remind him that structure plans can be altered by such processes as departure procedures and a review by the county council.
I make no bones about the fact that I consider that too much agricultural land is taken carelessly out of agriculture, and any one who came down by train, as I did today, could see just how much is taken. I believe that structure plans, to which the agriculture industry has devoted much time, should be kept to as rigidly as possible and the procedures for altering the plan made difficult. Only by that means, as I see it, shall we stop the needless and tragic waste of agricultural land.
As my noble friend Lord Ridley said, the Bill proposes to transfer planning powers to district councils, and although I hate to tell my noble friend Lord Sandford—and I have no intention of getting off my hedge between the county council and the district council; I intend to sit on it as comfortably as I possibly can, although I feel I am sliding off it just slightly—I am convinced that district councils will be far more tempted (indeed, they will be seduced) by their duty to their local constituents to alter structure plans whenever a chance is offered for development. There is absolutely no pressure whatever for a local district councillor to look any further than his local area, and if unemployment remains high, the councillor will welcome any development in his own little area regardless of the county structure plan, which is tied, as I understand it, to the national plan. This, carried to its logical conclusion, will cause even more overcrowding and loss of land in the South East corner of England and more dereliction and unemployment in the less-favoured North and West.
The crux of my worries throughout the few amendments I have tabled to the Bill is that the Bill makes it easier to break the structure plan. Rightly or wrongly, it is rumoured—perhaps my noble friend will counter this one way or the other— 888 that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has little time for structure plans. My noble friend must tell me whether or not that is untrue, and we in agriculture could stop chasing this fox which we have been chasing for a long time and perhaps chase a more constructive objective. Maybe it was put about to divert us. However, if there is to be weakening of the structure plan—and inevitably there will be if the Bill goes through as at present drafted—more agricultural land will be taken, unless a new scheme is devised. I believe that the Bill in this case is typical of the man whose spirit is willing but whose flesh is very weak.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord CLEDWYN of PENRHOS
wish to make a few observations in support of that speech by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. I agree with him when he says that this clause and this group of amendments is of profound significance to the agriculture industry; of that there can be no doubt. There has been, as he said, a progressive decline in the area of good agricultural land in the United Kingdom. We know that it is required for other reasons, and they are mainly good reasons, or so it could be argued. For example, land is needed for industrial development, housing estates, schools, hospitals and roads, all of which are good reasons which deserve support. But agricultural land is currently being lost at the rate of 40,000 acres per annum and about 200,000 hectares have been lost to agriculture since the last war. The situation must therefore be watched carefully. This does not mean to say that the land cannot be used for other purposes, but we must watch it very carefully.
If structure plans are important to us all, they are of particular significance to our primary industry. If one can rely on them in any given area, then one knows where one stands; the farmer knows that his farm is safe for the foreseeable future and that he can plan ahead. All this has to do with another vital area, that of food production, which is of concern to the whole nation. If I understand it aright, the Bill as drafted proposes a fundamental change which undermines confidence in the structure plan. As thing are, county councils determine 889 planning applications in conformity with the provisions of the structure plan; but that would no longer be the case under the Bill as drafted. Furthermore, local plans would prevail over structure plans where there was a conflict between them. That is the central point which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, reasonable man as he is more often than not, has failed to understand on this occasion. Short-term expediency may thus triumph over carefully prepared long-term plans. I fully understand the need to move quickly in certain planning cases and I agree that planning procedure needs watching and overhauling from time to time, but we must be careful not to move to the other extreme.
I received a note, as no doubt did other members of the Committee, from the National Farmers' Union and I thought they made two very important points. The National Farmers' Union suggested, first, that Ministers should publish the draft code of practice, to which reference has been made; that is, that the draft code of practice should be for consultation between county and district councils. This should be done, I think, before the end of the Report stage, so that your Lordships know exactly where you stand. I am surprised that no reference has yet been made to this point.
The National Farmers' Union also recommended that, where the Minister of Agriculture still has an outstanding objection after the council has declared its intentions, then the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales should be obliged to call in the plan for approval. That seems to me to be eminently reasonable, because the two departments would thus have a chance to find a solution that safeguards the national interests, which is the important consideration. I have considerable confidence in district councils, but if we lost that safeguard, we might let outselves in for much unreliable and irresponsible decisions from time to time in the future, and the country would suffer as a consequence.
In the last resort, I would support the amendment proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, I prefer my own amendment, although I would also support 890 the amendment about to be proposed by the two noble Baronesses from Cambridge—
A noble Lord: Three!
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
May one word be said from the North, from Scotland, because although my experience has been entirely there and not in England, I border very extensively on the area of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and we have many times had conversations and consultations. I should like to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has said; I think that that amendment is a very valuable one. Like the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and Lord Stanley of Alderley, I would prefer to have the more definite proposals that are contained in their amendment. I would not support the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the district councils' views; I think that that would weaken the situation. I am quite sure that in the area in which I live, and which I know, the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and, if possible, those of the noble Lords, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and Lord Cledwyn of Penhros, would be ones that people would want to support.
I hope that the Government will realise that there is very strong feeling about this matter, and we should very much like them to accept the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, or the amendment which makes the position even stronger and which comes from Cambridge and from Wales. But from Scotland I would definitely support the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
Perhaps the second of the noble Baronesses from Cambridge may now have a say. I think that most of the county councils support the Secretary of State's attempts to speed up and simplify the planning system, and I think that since 1974 most county councils have accepted that district councils are the right level at which to be clearly responsible for almost all the development control decisions. But I 891 believe that the Bill as it is now before us upsets the present balance and that the Government's proposals risk undermining the framework of the planning policies as set out in the approved structure plans. That could in turn lead to permission being granted for developments which might impose major burdens on county council expenditure on a scale or, a distribution, that was not in the county council's thinking.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is not in his place at the moment, but he will recall that before the days of structure plans we had problems in his former constituency, where the county council made all the expensive preparations in regard to education in the village of Sawtry and the district council agreed that it should build far more houses in the village of Yaxley, on the other side of the road. We had all kinds of problems with bussing children, and so on. That is the kind of thing that can happen if there is not some kind of regard for the structure plan.
We think that the Secretary of State ought to have the power to enable applications for planning permission to be referred either to the county planning authority or to him, depending on the circumstances. We in Cambridgeshire believe that a stronger amendment, such as we have put forward, is justified, to include some sort of formal intervention by counties in a very small number of cases where they think that action by the district councils might breach strategic planning policies.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Trumping-ton, said, we have not as yet had any of these problems in Cambridgeshire, but there is always a first time and we want to be there to stop that. We think that our proposed amendment, No. 193, would leave the Secretary of State with his present powers to intervene in cases of genuine national issues, and would give him power to define the circumstances in which counties would be able to call in cases for their decision. This should apply only to genuine strategic departures from the structure plan.
Since we tabled our amendment, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—we gather, after discussions with the ACC—has 892 put down the major amendment that we are discussing this afternoon. I understand that the ACC sees these amendments as being fairly satisfactory alternatives to those which the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, tabled earlier. However, we in Cambridgeshire consider that the amendments, while quite unobjectionable and better than what is in the Bill at the moment, are still inadequate, because all they do is set out in the Bill itself, rather than in the code of practice, as proposed at present, the circumstances in which the districts should consult the counties on planning applications of county significance, and a rather insubstantial duty is placed on districts to carry out their development control functions and to seek the achievement of the general objectives of the structure plan.
We do not think that either of these amendments goes towards meeting the fundamental concern that, without the reserve power of direction exercisable by the counties, there is no really practical way of ensuring that districts do not from time to time perhaps give greater weight to local considerations than to the expressed views of the counties. If that were so, they could take decisions which might frustrate or subvert the basic structure plan policies.
So we think that perhaps we still need something stronger on the lines of our amendment. As I have said, we would support the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, in the first instance as being rather better than what is in the Bill at the moment, but we would hope that at a later stage your Lordships might support us in trying to strengthen it.
§ Lord DIGBY
In supporting my noble friend Lord Ridley and opposing my noble friend Lord Sandford, I should like to emphasise the genuine nature of the differences between counties and districts. Very often there is a conflict of interest between local voters and the general good, and there is no doubt that many local voters in town or borough can affect the opinion of their councillors. I think it is important in this matter that the question should not be left merely as being the opinion of the local planning authority.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I wish to intervene very briefly on what I think 893 is a very important matter. I like the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, in particular the proposal contained in the part of the amendment at the foot of page 5 of the Marshalled List:(c) of any development of land in an area which the county planning authority have notified to the district planning authority, in writing, as an area in which development is likely to affect or be affected by the winning and working of minerals, other than coal;Having said that, I am also on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penhros in regard to agriculture. We have all received a NFU brief. It would be tedious if I were to read lumps from that excellent brief. All noble noble Lords here know what it contains, and it would bore this sensible Committee if I were to read lumps from it.
I believe that there comes a point where the structure plan and national interest must be taken into account. The winning of coal is of fundamental importance, and so is the production of food. Anyone who knows anything about farming will appreciate that a farmer needs time. He cannot put up with quick changes by either district or county councils when he is trying to bring new land into good heart. If he is dealing with marshland, or land above the 500, 600 or 700 feet contour, he wants to know where he stands if he invests not hundreds of pounds but, these days, thousands of pounds in draining, winning marshland, turning fallow land into productive land.
Whatever conclusions we reach, I believe that in the end the fundamental national interest in coal development and agriculture stand out shoulder high as needing reasonable and understanding attention from whatever Government, and whatever county councils or district councils, are in power.
§ Lord PARGITER
Before the Minister replies, may I put just a small point which is perhaps general rather than particular? I think it is important that legislation should be positive. At the present time the Government's proposals are not positive, and, while there may be machinery for departing from the structure plan, this should be very clearly set out, as has been done in the amendment. We cannot have absolute rigidity, obviously, 894 but it seems to me that the wording of the Government's proposals leaves the whole situation open to doubt, whereas it ought to be made much more positive in the form in which it is put into legislation.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
We have had a very lengthy debate on what clearly is a most important part of the Bill, and one which, as has been shown, illustrates the concern which the Committee and your Lordships have for this matter. I am glad to deal together with the 10 amendments, in effect, if we take in the three which my noble friend Lord Sandford has put forward as well as amendments to the amendment. So let me try to deal with them all together.
The amendments we have been debating offer alternatives or alterations to our proposals in Clause 75 for re-allocating planning powers between counties and districts. What the amendments have in common is that they all deal with concerns about the way that development control—the actual deciding of planning applications—is in future to relate to the structure plans.
Where two tiers of local authorities are involved in a subject of course there will be friction from time to time—and here may I be allowed to make a very narrow parochial point? During the Second Reading debate I referred to the fact that in my own former authority they have some 9,000 planning applications a year, and that just down the road the county authority employed staff to go over each of those to ensure that they did not conflict with the structure plan. It has been pointed out to me that in fact that is not the procedure these days, and that they go over only a percentage of them. I am glad, with the permission of the Committee, to mention that because, that being so, it pleases me, and I think that is a step forward. No administrative arrangements could eliminate all friction completely, but there are better and worse arrangements, the worst of all being uncertainty about what the future arrangements are to be. We have lived too long with that uncertainty, brought about because it had become clear that the existing arrangements had few friends and would inevitably need to be revised and clarified in one way or another.
895 I think it is fair to say that the announcement of our proposals was greeted with a good deal of relief in most quarters; at least the uncertainty was to be ended. Since then we have seen an increasing concern in some quarters about the role of the structure plan under our proposals. I hope we can settle the point today and turn the attentions of the planning system once again in more profitable directions. To do so we need to clarify the Government's attitude to the role of structure plans in development control. Let me take first Amendments Nos. 184 and 192, which propose the same form of words—that is, a duty of the district council to "give effect to" the structure plan in deciding planning applications.
I accept entirely that district councils must pay proper attention to the structure plan in deciding planning applications. The duty to have regard to the development plan in force—and that would include the structure plan—is already enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, and I am happy to reiterate how important the Government believe that duty to be. However, the effect of this amendment would be much more radical. It seems likely that the courts would interpret a duty worded in this way as meaning that the district would not have the power to grant permission for any application which departed from the structure plan. Not only would that be a major change to our proposals; it would be fundamental change in the status and character of the structure plan. Since there would be no power for counties to decide these cases, the only way any departure from the structure plan could be granted would be by appeal to the Secretary of State or by the Secretary of State calling the case in for his own decision. That would result in chaos.
I am sure that that was far from being the noble Lords' intention in moving these amendments. As I understand what they have said today, they were concerned to see a more general duty placed on districts to respect the structure plan. That, it seems to me, would be the effect of Amendment No. 184A. In this context, the question arises of how such an amendment would differ from the duty which is already in the Town and Country Planning Act. On the one 896 hand, it has been argued that this duty is both too obscurely hidden in the legislation and too vague, and that a clear and specific duty is needed in the context of the provision of this Bill. On the other hand, there have been anxieties expressed that a provision like the one in this amendment would cramp district councils in the legitimate and reasonable exercise of the powers that are to be conveyed on them.
The effect of Amendment No. 184A would not be to prevent a district council granting permission for a development which departed from the structure plan. There will of course be strict procedures to be gone through before a district can do so—consulting the county, advertising the proposal and notifying the Secretary of State. We have resisted proposals for any duty to be laid on districts which would prevent them from departing from structure plans in appropriate cases where they had followed the procedures. Nevertheless, I can understand the anxieties of those who fear that we seem to be disconnecting development control from structure plans. Let me assure them that that is not the case. The wording of this amendment is a fair representation of the Government's view of the relation between development control and the structure plan, and as such I shall be content to accept that amendment.
Perhaps I may now turn from the duties of districts to the question of safeguarding powers for counties. We have two amendments, Nos. 193 and 182, which would give counties the power to decide more applications themselves, either where the Secretary of State referred the application to them or on their own initiative. A power for counties to call in applications, as Amendment No. 193 would convey, has been much discussed as an additional safeguard within the system we are proposing. It has been presented as something which does not conflict at all with the principles of our proposals; that it would merely be an additional safeguard. That is not the case. The amendment strikes at the heart of our proposals.
County planning authorities at present have a power to direct a district to refuse a planning application which "would substantially and adversely affect their interests as a local planning authority". 897 This power of direction has been used sparingly or not at all in some areas. In others, it has been used indiscriminately. What is proposed in this amendment is a widening of that power. Counties would in effect have the power either to grant or to refuse planning permission.
Clause 75 of the Bill removes the wide and rather vague definition of "county matters" as including all developments which conflict with the fundamental provisions of structure plans. The amendment would reintroduce that kind of definition into the legislation. What is more, it would give county councils (and not, as at present, district councils) the power to decide whether the definition applied to any particular application. The result would be that a county council which wished to do so could actually increase its development control activity beyond its present powers. There would then be an actual increase in the duplication of work between the kinds of planning authorities. There would be uncertainty in the mind of the applicant for planning permission about who would be deciding it; and the clarification of responsibility which Clause 75 seeks to achieve would be completely frustrated.
Perhaps I may say that it is surprising, to say the least, to see that noble Lords opposite are proposing this amendment. When they were in power, they proposed to change the responsibilities for planning, as part of their "organic change" proposals which we discussed earlier, in a way not too far removed from what we are now proposing. They resisted the arguments of those who pressed for a county power of "call-in", and I must assume that they did so for the same reasons that we have done.
I must also point out that, as they are drafted, the amendments are technically deficient. The first subsection gives district planning authorities the power of direction over applications which conflict with the policies and general proposals of the structure plan. The second subsection gives the Secretary of State the power to issue directions specifying the classes of applications to which the power in the first subsection shall apply. The two subsections are therefore contradictory. For all these reasons, I must resist this amendment, delightfully moved though it may have 898 been, indeed, by my noble friend Lady Trumpington, supported so ably, as always, by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.
The question then arises as to whether it would be acceptable, as Amendment No. 182 proposes, for the Secretary of State to have power to refer cases to the county. The principle we are seeking to establish in Clause 75 is that there should be a clear separation of powers between counties and districts, and that everyone concerned with planning—the applicant, the planning officer, the elected member—should be able to see clearly who does what: what is the district function, and what is the county function. At the same time, we are seeking to concentrate responsibility for development control with one tier of local government, to avoid the duplication that has too often characterised the present system—something for which Lord Wallace pleaded for earlier so ably. On these criteria, the amendment would fail. What is worse, if the Secretary of State were actively to use the power that would be conveyed on him, there would have to be involvement of the Department of the Environment in examining individual planning applications. A greater involvement of central Government is the reverse of what we are aiming to achieve, and I would strongly resist this amendment.
A more minor power was proposed by my noble friend, Lord Mottistone in Amendment No. 183. This proposed amendment adds little to the powers of district councils. Already under the Local Government Act 1972, district councils would have the power to arrange for part or all of their planning functions to be discharged by the county council. But it could be held that that power would not enable a district to pass an individual planning application to the county for decision. Noble Lords might imagine from that that a request for this power might have come from district councils. That is not so.
Finally let me turn to Amendment No. 182A, which deals with the arrangements for districts to consult counties. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Ridley that the classes of applications about which district planning authorities are required to consult county planning authorities should be included 899 in the Bill and not, as the clause currently provides, in a development order. The consultations that will result from the amendment are important. They will enable county planning authorities to contribute effectively to the decisions of districts on applications of significance to the structure plan or to their interests as local planning authorities. It is as well that the circumstances which oblige a district to consult the county should be clear in the Bill itself.
The classes of applications which are set out in the amendment are those devised by an official working party on a code of practice on consultation between district and county planning authorities. This working party has been looking at the totality of the arrangements for such consultation, including the statutory provisions—which were to have been included in subordinate legislation and which are now contained in this amendment—and the informal arrangements and guidance on implementing the statutory requirements which will be contained in a Department of the Environment circular. The working party's membership includes representatives of the department and of the three local authority associations.
Although the code of practice that has been prepared has not yet been formally endorsed by the local authority associations, the acceptance of this amendment will not prejudice it. Rather it will help to dispel the concern that has been expressed that structure plans will not be properly safeguarded. Taken together with, first, the requirement that all significant departures from the development plan must be notified to the Secretary of State for him to call in for his own decision if necessary and, secondly, the appeals system, these arrangements will constitute an effective safeguard for structure plans and the strategic role of the county.
There is a risk in placing these details in the Bill rather than in a development order. It is that, if at any time experience shows that the classes of applications are not what they ought to be, it will be more difficult to amend them than if they were in a development order. There has to be a balance between the security afforded by inclusion in the Bill and the flexibility provided by a development order. We 900 are prepared to accept the risk which inclusion in the Bill involves.
It is possible, under paragraph 19(3), for county planning authorities to authorise district planning authorities to proceed to decide applications which fall in the consultation classes without consulting the county. The Government hope that counties will do this whenever possible. We are anxious for all reasonable steps to be taken to reduce the flow of paper and the delays which unnecessary consultations can cause. We will encourage counties and districts to agree when consultations are not required. We will also encourage them to agree the circumstances in which there should be a consultation because a proposed development would be of major importance to the implementation of the structure plan.
The Government attach considerable importance to these consultations and are committed to seeing that they provide a sound means for protecting structure plans. We believe the local authority associations are similarly committed. But we have made it clear that if, exceptionally, it appears that the provisions are not being followed, we will use the powers available to intervene. I should like to comment quickly on some of the individual points made. I cannot cover many of them. We have been debating for nearly two hours in this one area; and this is still the Committee stage. My noble friend Lord Stanley made a point about structure plans. He asked whether I thought they were inviolate, important and—I think—desirable.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I consider them to be important and all that I have said, I hope, confirms that. Redundant, no! If they were redundant, we should not be having all the trauma that we have been having in trying to get this part of the Bill right. When my noble friend asks whether they are inviolate, I would say that they cannot foresee every contingency; nor can they be changed quickly. If the system is to work efficiently, there must be arrangements, including suitable safeguards to enable the approval of applications which depart from the structure plan. These proposals in the Bill will not make it easier to depart from the structure plan. The safeguards of the duty to consult and the departures procedure 901 and the Secretary of State's powers of call-in will constitute an effective safeguard. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Stanley would, I very respectfully suggest, paralyse the system by preventing any departure being made.
I now refer to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford, Amendment No. 182B. I appreciate the point made by my noble friend that the words "in the opinion of the district planning authority" should be added to make it clear beyond any doubt where the responsibility lies for deciding if the county must be consulted on a particular application. There is some merit in this. But in practice, although the words are not expressly stated in Lord Ridley's amendment, it is, in any case, the district which will need to decide if the circumstances fit the application. In the whole, it seems to me unnecessary to add the words, and I think that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Ridley can safely be accepted as it stands.
On Amendments No. 182C and 182D, I have listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Sandford had to say. However, I think we are here rather getting into semantics. Either development on such a site would be prejudiced—in which case the district should consult the county—or it would not. The qualification provided by the word "significantly" tends to add, if anything, some unclarity. I would not want to accept this amendment.
In concluding, I want to say how I appreciate the statesmanlike approach that everyone has adopted in trying to make this part of the Bill better. It was something in which I myself was involved for a long time in discussions in another incarnation. It was part of the totality of the organic change scene then being discussed. Everybody realised that a compromise of some kind would make sense, provided, on the one hand, you were able to secure the very real concern of the counties that the structure plan was sacrosanct in itself, allowing for flexibility to the extent that I mentioned; and, on the other hand, that the districts were the people on the spot who would have to deal with the nuts and bolts, the sharp end—all those phrases which mean those who have to make it work. Here we have come to a compromise which I think all sides will say is not exactly what we want; 902 but, all right, it should make it better than it is now. In that spirit, the Government accept Amendments Nos. 184A and 182A. I hope that those who have put down the other amendments will accept that if they have not got all they wanted, we should at least see how this works for the future.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
May I speak to Amendment No. 182B? I regard it as a wrecking amendment to Amendment No. 182A. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned the working party and he quoted 30th April. Since then a lot has happened. The ACC certainly have not accepted the basic principle involved and are awaiting the outcome of this Bill before they do so. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken on my behalf and in support of this amendment. I am grateful for the compromise that the Government have accepted. I feel sure that after this both sides—if there are sides—of the argument will work together to make the planning process as efficient and speedy as possible.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I am grateful for the thorough discussion on Amendment No. 182B and all the other amendments that we discussed at the same time. I am also grateful to my noble friend for his wide survey, review and decisive appraisal of what we have been discussing. More specifically, I am glad that he can accept Amendment No. 184 because I think that is one of the best things this debate has led to so far. It establishes the role of all concerned in relation to the structure plan in such clear, precise and accurate language. I am also glad that Her Majesty's Government welcome Amendment No. 182A, bringing as it does on to the face of the Bill important matters which it would not have been right to relegate merely to regulations.
There is still some degree of misunderstanding in this debate about the nature of the structure plan. It is not an infant that the counties must nurse possessively as though the districts were coming into snatch it, kidnap it and strangle it. It has been their duty to produce it. Now it is produced and approved, I suggest that it is common property which all concerned—districts, counties and many others—must work to establish and strengthen 903 for the benefit of the whole of the wide community to which it applies. That is certainly the way in which districts considered it. It is being designed for the benefit of the whole of the community, the county and the six, seven or eight districts to which it applies. I submit that it is in no one's interest to flout it, harm it, to diminish its importance or weaken it. It is one of the main frameworks against which districts will want to decide the applications that come to them.
It is not a handicap or hindrance; it is a great strength and help to have a firm structure plan against which to take decisions—all the more for those district councillors who are under intense local pressure to do something that conflicts with it. If the structure plan is there, they have something to fall back on and against which to justify their decisions. It is certainly not in the districts' interest to do anything to diminish the strength or firmness of a structure plan. They gain nothing at all by lacking a firm and agreed framework against which to work.
I was grateful for some but not all of the things put forward by the "Three Graces" from Cambridge. I was particularly grateful for the illustration that they gave us of the pattern of relationships that have developed between the counties and the districts. That, I am glad to say, is a pattern of relationships which is coming to prevail more generally up and down the country as everybody gets into their stride in the new planning framework. The point I would make is that that has not relied on the kind of powers which a number of amendments which have been sought today would invoke.
In respect of Amendment No. 192, moved so persuasively by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley—and even more persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—it is not my impression that farmers and landowners are unrepresented on district councils. The last district I visited was Radnor in Wales. The council was chaired by a farmer. I should be very surprised if the chairman of that district or the district itself had to rely on the structure plan to make sure that agricultural land did not go by default into development. That is a district—and there are many others—well capable of looking after its agricultural land in the way in which noble Lords would want 904 to see. I, like Lord Cledwyn, would be very happy to trust the district councils to do that job well.
So what it comes down to is that, like my noble friend on the Front Bench, I regard Amendment No. 182A as the clear favourite among the options presented to us, and I clearly favour it. The only remaining question is: Does it need Amendments Nos. 182B, C and D to make it better? I put those amendments in because they were in the document which represented the agreement reached by the working party considering these regulations on the date in question. The paper was issued on 30th April. I am very glad—for the time being at any rate—to accept the assurances of my noble friend on the Front Bench that Amendment No. 182 without Amendments Nos. 182B, C and D will be clear and will operate well. I should like to set an example to the rest of the Members of the Committee who have put down amendments about this matter and withdraw Amendment No. 182B.
§ Lord CLEDWYN of PENRHOS
The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, made an impressive reply to the debate. The Committee are grateful to him for that. May I put one point to him; namely, the case where the Minister of Agriculture still has an outstanding objection after a council has declared its intentions? I suggested that it would be prudent, in the interests of the agricultural industry generally and the country, that that should be available to be called in so that there could be a discussion between his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture. Can the noble Lord say whether there has been full discussion between his department and the Ministry of Agriculture on this point, and whether the Minister of Agriculture and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, are aware of the point?
§ Lord BELLWIN
I do not intend to speak again on this subject. The noble Lord raises a point which comes under Amendment No. 206. The Committee can see how the amendment numbers are now engraved in my head! We will be discussing that.
§ Amendment No. 182B, by leave, withdrawn.905
§ [Amendments Nos. 182C and 182D not moved.]
§ Amendment No. 182A agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 183 and 184 not moved.]
§ Viscount RIDLEY moved Amendment No. 184A:
Page 63, line 38, at end insert—
("(2A) It shall be the duty of a local planning authority when exercising their functions under section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 (determination of application) to seek the achievement of the general objectives of the structure plan for the time being in force for their area.").
§ The noble Viscount said: I beg to move this amendment. It is part of the debate that we have had.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE moved Amendments Nos. 185A to 190 en bloc:
Page 63, line 40, at end insert—
("( ) The following sub-paragraph shall be inserted after sub-paragraph (a)—
(aa) the use of land, or the erection of any building, plant or machinery on land, for the carrying out of any process for the preparation or adaptation for sale of any mineral or the manufacture of any article from a mineral where—
§ Page 64, line 15, leave out ("blocks or pipes") and insert ("products or artificial aggregates").
Page 64, line 21, leave out ("and") and insert—
("(cc) the erection of any building, plant or machinery which it is proposed to use for the manufacture of cement.").
Page 64, line 21, leave out ("and") and insert—
("(cd) the carrying out of operations in, on, over or under land or a use of land where the land is or forms part of a site used or formerly used for the winning and working of minerals and where the operations or use would conflict with or prejudice compliance with any condition imposed on a planning permission requiring the restoration of the land when the winning and working of minerals has ceased.").
Page 64, line 21, leave out ("and") and insert—
("(c) the use of land for any purpose required in connection with the transport by rail or water of cement, or the erection of any building, plant or machinery which it is proposed to use in connection therewith.").
Page 64, line 21, at end insert—
("(cf) the erection of any building, plant or machinery which it is proposed to use for the manufacture of bricks.").
§ The noble Lord said: There is a general connecting reason for these amendments, though there are detailed reasons for each amendment which I will briefly touch on in as short a speech as I can make. The overall intention of these amendments is to try to overcome the anomalous situation whereby the county council is the planning authority for minerals extraction, and the district council for works closely connected to it. This can involve duplication of inspection and expertise and thus has a direct hearing on the reduction of public expenditure. If accepted, these amendments will make the county a single planning authority for minerals extraction and for closely integrated processes.
§ Amendment No. 185A would have the effect of redefining the minerals county matters to include all processing of, and manufacturing from, a mineral which occurs at or adjoining the site of extraction and all processing of minerals which are physically linked to the extraction—for example, by pipeline or conveyor belt—even though they may be some distance apart.
§ With regard to Amendment No. 186, where processes which are closely connected with mineral workings are carried out on a site which is already subjected to control by the county planning authority, it is logical that they, too, should be county controlled. The production of concrete materials and of artificial aggregates is frequently undertaken at aggregate distribution depots; hence, they should be classified as county matters. This amendment seeks to achieve that and thus to avoid unnecessary duplication of control. The purpose of Amendment No. 187 is to make cement manufacturing a county matter and thereby integrate its planning with the extraction of minerals upon which it is totally dependent.
§ Amendment No. 188A covers the difficult period between the end of working 907 minerals or carrying out ancillary processes and the completion of restoration or the commencement of after-use of the worked area. It is perfectly right that district councils should be the planning authority after minerals working has ceased, and that the conditions attached to the original consent have been satisfied. In the interim period, however, the county council has responsibility for ensuring the restoration of the land and should, therefore, be entitled to deal with the development applications which directly bear on how or what restoration needs to be carried out.
§ The amendment seeks to avoid the situation whereby, for example, a county council demands tree planting to meet restoration conditions, and a district council gives permission for a development, the first part of which is to clear the area of trees. I trust that the Government will be able to accept this amendment, indeed all of them.
§ With regard to Amendment No. 189, there are a limited number of cement rail distribution depots in the United Kingdom, and these are strategically sited with respect to the 27 manufacturing works and the main centres of demand. The handling and storage of cement at these depots can be technically complex. The strategic siting of depots, the bulk quantities, the special handling precautions involved and the close integration of cement production with minerals extraction all point to the county being the right authority to judge planning applications. It has the necessary expertise and experience of minerals and general strategic matters. The question of whether the development of a cement depot is dealt with by the county council or the district council is dependent on whether the land is allocated for such character of use in the appropriate structure plan or development plan. There is, therefore, at present an inconsistency between one area and another and the amendment seeks to correct this position.
§ Turning now to Amendment No. 190, this amendment is designed to make brick manufacture a county planning matter. Although most brickworks are located on or adjacent to the site from which clay is extracted, and will thus be county matters from a planning viewpoint, 908 some will be divorced from the main sources of mineral supply. In such instances, it is logical that the authority responsible for the minerals extraction site, and probably with the technical expertise already of the specific needs of the brick—including tiles—industry, should have the planning function for the manufacturing site. Once again, this would avoid duplication of expertise and effort between district and county councils and would minimise conflicts and planning delays. I beg to move.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
In response to the group of six amendments which my noble friend Lord Mottistone has proposed, I can at the outset say that I can give him satisfaction about four of them, but not about the other two. I do not propose to speak at great length about the amendment, but it would be very much better if I drew attention to each amendment separately, and I hope that that will explain the matter reasonably satisfactorily.
In moving Amendment No. 185A, may I say that my noble friend has pointed out its virtues. It is an issue which the department has been discussing with the CBI, and the department has also consulted the local authority associations. There is a broad consensus of view that it would be sensible to widen the definition of minerals county matters to clarify and unify responsibility for developments linked with mineral extraction sites. The result would be that quarries or mines, and their associated processing and manufacturing plant, where these are all part of an integrated unit, should be dealt with by the same planning authority. That is a simpler and more convenient arrangement for everyone concerned and I am happy for this amendment to be accepted.
Turning to Amendment No. 186, your Lordships will recollect that that is in regard to concrete blocks or pipes, and is to insert the words "of concrete products or artificial aggregates". In this context, my noble friend said that the Bill really provides that rail aggregates depots and aggregates wharves, together with some related activities at those sites, shall be county matters. This amendment extends the scope of the mineral related activities 909 on such sites which would be county matters. It does the same for such activities where they are carried on at or near the mineral extraction sites themselves.
The Government's view is that this would be a convenient extension to make. It will mean that most activities on those sites, which are related to the aggregates or their processing, will be dealt with by the same authority. At the same time, it does not involve a proliferation of small schemes being dealt with by counties, since there are only a limited number of sites around the country which are used for the rail and water transport of aggregates. The amendment will also help to concentrate in the hands of the county planning authorities responsibility for developments at mineral extraction sites. I am therefore content that this amendment should be accepted.
Amendment No. 187 relates to the erection of any building, plant or machinery which it is proposed to use for the manufacture of cement. In this context, once again, I am glad to give my noble friend some satisfaction. He has explained the arguments in favour of this change and I accept that we are talking about a small number of works which are very closely involved with the process of extracting minerals. I understand that the three local authority associations concerned have indicated that they are content with the proposal. I am therefore happy that this amendment, too, should be accepted.
Turning to Amendment No. 188A, in this context, essential though they are, the impact of mineral workings on the environment can often be severe. To mitigate these problems it is now the well established practice, accepted by all concerned, to provide, in the original planning permission conditions, conditions requiring the restoration of the land after the workings have finished. My noble friend did explain this point very well, if I may be permitted to say so, in introducing the amendment. But very difficult situations can arise, where other planning permissions are granted for developments, which make it difficult or, indeed, impossible to restore the land in the way that was originally intended.
The amendment appears to me to meet this point exactly and in a way which 910 would be acceptable to all concerned. The authority that imposed the condition—that is, the county—would be able to take a view on whether the new proposal was a reasonable alternative to the restoration that had been envisaged. I am happy to say that this amendment will be accepted.
Corning to Amendment No. 189, I regret that I have to say here that the Government are dissatisfied with the proposal. Here we are dealing with the use of land for any purpose required in connection with the transport by rail or water of cement, or the erection of any building, plant or machinery which it is proposed to use in connection therewith. The Government have accepted the principle that rail depots and marine wharfs for the distribution of aggregates should be made county matters. This was the first of the six amendments that we have been dealing with. We did so on the grounds that counties had a responsibility for the extraction of aggregates in their area, and since the supply of aggregates needed in a county may rest on a combination of production in the county and import by rail from production elsewhere it makes sense for the county planning authority to have responsibility for both aspects of the aggregate supply.
I do not accept that the case of cement distribution is a parallel one. The installations involved are not especially complex in character in comparison with other forms of distribution depots; nor is complexity in itself a reason for counties rather than districts to determine planning applications. Granted that cement is produced from minerals for which counties have special responsibilities, I do not see that the county responsibility should be extended to the distribution of the processed product. In that way the argument could be extended to any product produced from minerals. Where mineral matters are involved in cement distribution, districts will be able to consult counties for advice.
In the last of the amendments proposed by my noble friend in the group of six, we are dealing with brick works. Once more I regret to say that the Government are less happy than they were with the earlier amendments. The noble Lord has argued that because of the expertise in mineral matters that counties have 911 acquired, and also for the sake of consistency, all applications relating to brick works should be decided by counties. In the interests of consistency and tidiness we have accepted that processing of minerals carried on at or adjoining the site where minerals are extracted should be dealt with as a county matter. It is clearly in the interests of the mineral operator that he should deal with the same authority for all developments on his site, but I do not think the principle would extend to a brick works at a distance from clay workings without a direct physical link between them. I expect my noble friend has a particular situation in mind. But if we were to accept that I do not see why any other sort of manufacturing which involved processing of minerals should not be a county matter. For instance, steel works or chemical works would be a good example.
In our view, brick works raise planning issues which are closer to those of factories and other industrial processes than to mineral extraction. Certainly there may be aspects of brick work developments which involve expertise in matters involved in the workings of minerals—an expertise which is to be found in county planning departments—but that is something which can adequately be dealt with by consultation with the county authority. I could not accept that it requires the county to decide the application.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I would propose to comment on each of the amendments—the two that have not been accepted—when we come to them, as they are called.
§ On Question, Amendments Nos. 185A to 188A agreed to.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
On Amendment No. 189, I have listened with interest to what my noble friend had to say. Perhaps I might be able to detect in that something which would give rise to my putting down an amendment at a later stage. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
On Amendment No. 190, I think that even more so in this case there are grounds for putting 912 down another amendment on this matter at a later stage. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.48 p.m.
Lord MOTTISTONE moved Amendment No. 191:
Page 64, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (b).
§ The noble Lord said: This is another matter. It is really rather closely related to the earlier long debate we had and I was intrigued that none of my more expert noble friends saw fit to include this within their ambit. The main purpose of it is to probe further the assurances already given by the Government in another place on both 8th July—columns 419 and 420—and 17th April, column 2183. The assurances place considerable reliance on the code of practice. The code of practice which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in relation to an earlier amendment, and mentioned by myself in relation to an earlier amendment of mine, is one that is not with us. It is extremely difficult to judge—and this has happened before, if I might say so to the Government—in many cases, whether one is on the same side as the Government or in opposition, whether it is worth plugging away to get something inserted in the Bill, if one has not got a clear picture as to what the code of practice will look like. I hope that in replying to this amendment the Government will be able to give assurance that before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House—at the worst, on Third Reading—we can see at least a draft of the code of practice. This would make a considerable difference to what amendments we might care to put down later. Having said that, I would very much like to hear what the Government have to say to this amendment as it stands.
§ Lord BELLWIN
This amendment seeks to remove from the clause a subparagraph which gives effect to the main purpose of the whole clause. The division of responsibility for development control has given rise to disputes between authorities, to wasted work and to uncertainty for applicants and all concerned. I touched on this in a very long debate we had a little while ago. And at the heart of the confusion and dispute lies paragraph 32(d) of Schedule 16 to the 913 Local Government Act 1972. I hope my noble friend would not seriously propose that we should continue in the state of affairs that that paragraph represents. But in moving the amendment my noble friend was, I think, concerned to have clarified the arrangements the Government envisaged to accompany the provisions of Clause 75.
I hope he will be reassured by the arrangements for consultation with county planning authorities which are now to be incorporated in the Bill itself as a result of Amendment No. 182A. This will ensure that district planning authorities have a duty to consult counties about all those classes of application in which the county should have an interest in consequence of its responsibilities for the structure plan. That includes not only any material departure from the policies and general proposals of the structure plan but also developments which accord with the structure plan but which are relevant to the plan because of their size of character.
Counties will thus be aware of all proposals for development affecting the structure plan. They will have the statutory right to comment on the proposals and the district will be obliged, by the terms of Clause 75, to have regard to those comments. In addition, there are the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Development Plans) Direction 1975, which is made under the powers of the General Development Order and the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and has the force of law. Under that direction, a local planning authority who wish to grant permission for any proposal which is a substantial departure from a development plan must advertise the proposal in a local newspaper and notify the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The direction will need to be amended as a consequence of the wider powers of deciding applications which are being given to district planning authorities by this Bill. In making the necessary amendments we shall require that districts not only notify the Secretary of State of any proposals to grant permission for a substantial departure from the structure plan but also, in doing so, convey any views which the county has given in response to consultation. The Secretary 914 I of State will then have the opportunity to call in the case for his own decision. These arrangements seem to me to offer the assurance that any decisions taken to depart from structure plans will be taken in the open, with the full awareness of all concerned and with advice from the structure plan authority.
Of course, any system can be abused, but I do not agree with those who have claimed that the system we are proposing is particularly susceptible to abuse. Nor is there reason to suppose that district councils will flout its provisions. But it has been made clear in another place—and I do so again now—that we shall be watching carefully the operation of the new arrangements. The regional offices of the department are in contact with planning authorities in their areas. If problems arise in an area the Secretary of State has wide-ranging powers to take remedial action. I do not anticipate that he will often need so to do. It is certainly not the case that the new system will mean a much greater involvement of Whitehall in local planning, but if necessary the Secretary of State can and will use his powers.
He can issue a holding direction under Article 10 of the GDO to prevent a planning authority deciding an application; he can call the application in. As a last resort, in a case where permission has been granted harmfully and in contravention of the procedures, he can use his default powers to revoke or modify a permission. The burden of the compensation which would result would fall on the district planning authority concerned.
I have dwelt on the safeguards, and there are others, but in doing so I do not want to get them out of perspective. What we should be concerned with even more than the safeguards is the vast majority of planning applications where extreme issues do not arise. The proposals in Clause 75 will provide a better and more efficient system for dealing with those cases, and I hope that my noble friend will agree with me that the result of this amendment might very well perpetrate a worse system than the one we are proposing. If he does, I hope that he may feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I did not wish to upset my noble friend with my amend- 915 ment. As I said, it was a probing amendment to find out how he was getting on with the code of practice, to which I did not hear him refer. Can he tell me when we can expect it?
§ Lord BELLWIN
The code of practice is in Amendment No. 182A. It is written into the Bill and there it will be.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
Do I understand there is not a separate code of practice—that everything that is effective within it is in the Bill?
§ Lord BELLWIN
Amendment No. 182A gives the power for a code of practice to be there, and that is where it will be seen. The wording of the code of practice has been agreed, I understand, by all the parties concerned, and I am quite sure that once it has been agreed to the point where it can be published my noble friend will have access to it.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I am sorry to plug this point, but I do not believe that the code of practice has been seen by all the parties who might be concerned. If it could be, that would be helpful. I think in particular of the CBI. I am not sure about the National Farmers' Union. All sorts of people will want to see it, and it would be most helpful if we could.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I am told that the state of play over the code of practice is that the local authority associations, those most closely concerned initially with agreeing it, have had much consultation and discussion upon it and are at the point where it has been agreed. If it has not been agreed, certainly it is not far from being agreed, and when it is I am quite sure that it can be made available to any other bodies—certainly to those to whom my noble friend referred.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
May I ask my noble friend whether this will be before the Report stage of the Bill?
§ Lord BELLWIN
I understand that it will eventually come in the form of a circular. That will be the time for anybody who wishes to comment upon it so to do.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
There is considerable feeling about this 916 by certain parties, I believe by the NFU as well as by myself, who have not seen the code. It is our land. I hope my noble friend will expedite the code of practice so that we may be able to see it.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
I shall certainly find reason to put down a further amendment at Report stage to keep this under way. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 192 not moved.]
§ Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 193:
Page 66, line 22, at end insert—
("(10) The following subsections shall be added after section 35, subsection (6), of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971:
§ The noble Baroness said: I am sorry that I cannot be so co-operative. There was support for our amendment from all sides of the Committee. While we are glad that the amendments moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, have been accepted because, as I said, they make the Bill a little better and a little more understandable than it was originally, we still think there is a fundamental concern about the reserve power of direction. In view of the support from all sides of the Committee, I must press the amendment.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
My noble friend Lady Trumpington, who has had to go to another meeting, asked me to apologise to the Committee on her behalf. If she had been here I am sure she would have weighed in with a powerful argument.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 193) shall be agreed to?917
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 105.
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Foot, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Oram, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Glenamara, L.||Pargiter, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.||Peart, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Gregson, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Banks, L.||Hale, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hampton, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Bernstein, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Henderson, L.||Segal, L.|
|Birk, B.||Henley, L.||Simon, V.|
|Blyton, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Jacques, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Brockway, L.||Janner, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Jeger, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Kaldor, L.||Stone, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Listowel, E.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Longford, E.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|David, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Maelor, L.||White, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Milford, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Denington, B.||Mishcon, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Noel-Baker, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Exeter, M.||Mills, V.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Ferrers, E.||Minto, E.|
|Alport, L.||Fortescue, E.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Morris, L.|
|Armstrong, L.||Freyberg, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gainford, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Gainsborough, E.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Glenarthur, L.||Newall, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gowrie, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Greenway, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gridley, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Renton, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Halsbury, E.||Ridley, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hanworth, V.||Rochdale, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Chelwood, L.||Hatherton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cockfield, L.||Holderness, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kemsley, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Killearn, L.||Spens, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinloss, Ly,||Strathclyde, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Long, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Loudoun, C.||Strathspey, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Digby, L.||Lyell, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Tranmire, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Mancroft, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Margadale, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Marley, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elton, L.||May, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Middleton, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.919
§ Clause 75, as amended, agreed to.
§ 6.7 p.m.
Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE moved Amendment No. 194A:
After Clause 75, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Transfer of Officers
§ .—(1) In the case of any person who on the date when this Part of this Act comes into operation is in the employment of a county planning authority, the Secretary of State shall by order make such provision as is necessary to ensure that, to the extent (if any) to which, by reason of the operation of this Part of this Act, that person would, apart from the order, cease to continue in that employment, that person is transferred, on a date to be specified in or determined under the order, to the employment of such district planning authority as may be so specified or determined.
§ (2) An order made under this section shall include such provision with respect to any person who is transferred by or under the order from the employment of a county planning authority to a district planning authority so as to secure that—
- (a) so long as he continues in the employment of that district planning authority by virtue of the transfer and until he is served with a statement in writing referring to the order and specifying new terms and conditions of employment, he enjoys terms and conditions of employment not less favourable than those which he enjoyed immediately before the date of transfer; and
- (b) those new terms and conditions are such that—
- (i) so long as he is engaged in duties reasonably comparable to those in which he was engaged immediately before the date of transfer, the scale of his salary or remuneration, and
- (ii) the other terms and conditions of his employment, are not less favourable than those he enjoyed immediately before that date.
§ (3) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: We have just agreed an amended Clause 75. The effect of this clause will be to reduce the planning functions of county councils and to transfer some of those functions to district councils. As a consequence of those provisions there is likely to be a reduction in the numbers of planning staff employed by county councils and a consequential increase in the staff employed by district councils. It is important that the interests of the county planning staff who may become redundant as a result of these provisions should be protected.920
§ The new clause which I have tabled provides for redundant staff to be transferred, on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which apply in relation to their employment with the county councils, to the district councils to whom the planning functions are to be reallocated. The transfer of responsibilities and functions to district councils or, in London, to the London boroughs has been a continuing process over a very great number of years. It is proper and right that arrangements should be made, as have been made in the past, for the protection of staff interests. I am sure that they should again be made on this occasion.
§ Lord BELLWIN
The effect of this clause would be as the noble Lord has said, to require the Secretary of State to make orders to transfer from the employment of the county council to the employment of a district council any staff who became redundant as a result of the transfer of the development control function to districts under Clause 75. The orders would also provide for protection of their terms and conditions of employment following transfer.
The purpose of Clause 75 is to remove a source of inefficiency: the new clause would in large measure preserve that inefficiency, and is quite unacceptable both on that account and because it is unnecessary. If I may recall to your Lordships the purpose of Clause 75, it is to remove the duplication and uncertainty resulting from the handling by both district and county planning authorities of development applications on certain reserved topics known as "county matters". If the district authorities were to be saddled with any of the counties' staff who would otherwise be made redundant, as well as retaining their own staff, the purpose of Clause 75 would be mostly negated. Frankly, I consider this to be a rather astonishing amendment.
The new clause is similar in terms to Section 255(2) of the Local Government Act 1972, which provided for transfer and protection of staff of authorities which ceased to exist as a result of the reorganisation of local government. That was a very different situation from the present one: about a million and a half employees were transferred, and special 921 arrangements were essential. Transfer and protection orders have also been made in some other instances, but the scale of the transfers has been very much greater than is now in prospect.
In the circumstances which would be covered by this new clause there is no need for such elaborate arrangements. I do not envisage that the new arrangements will lead to many transfers because district councils should be able to adjust to them without any increase in staff. Any transfers that did take place, would be covered by the normal recruitment and appointment procedures, and of course such staff of county planning authorities who are made redundant presumably will be eligible for compensation. This is an unnecessary amendment and we cannot accept it.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
In his reply the noble Lord said that he does not think there is a need for such elaborate arrangements as are detailed in the amendment, but I hope he will agree that it is necessary for proper arrangements to be made to protect the situation of individual members of staff, and if in fact district councils are recruiting additional staff, there should be some preference or priority given to county planning staff who become redundant as a result of this legislation. It may be that the details as proposed are not necessary, but I should have thought it was necessary for some protection to be made for the county staff. To pay redundancy compensation, when it need not necessarily be paid if a transfer could be arranged, seems to be not necessarily the most sensible arrangement.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I still fear that I do not follow the argument at all. First, I do not see in general terms why the district authorities need to employ any more staff to do only that which they are doing now; but if in certain circumstances they found that they needed to, I presume that they would recruit in the normal way, and I cannot think of anyone more qualified for those positions than those who had been working on similar work in counties. Obviously, that would be a potential source of skilled and informed people; but to lay down beforehand some rules on a hypothetical situation, I should not have thought was necessary. 922 The rules with regard to staff arrangements and redundancy are those which pertain throughout in the normal way and I really do not think it is necessary to set up something special.
§ Lord SANDFORD
As I explained in the earlier debate, the districts already have 12,000 planning officers and I should have thought that under present circumstances that number would prove quite adequate.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
I will look at what the noble Lord has said in his reply and possibly return to this at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 76 [Fees for planning applications etc.]:
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Viscount RIDLEY moved Amendments Nos. 195 and 196:
§ Page 66, line 26, after ("amount") insert ("(a)")
Page 66, line 29, at end insert—
§ The noble Viscount said: As your Lordships are aware, this clause deals with the question of making charges for the application for planning permission—something quite new. This has not yet been agreed, of course, and anything I may say in support of my amendments is on the assumption that the Committee agrees to Clause 76. I realise that may be a drastic assumption and I may be quite wrong.
§ If we accept the principle behind Clause 76, as someone who wants planning permission and puts the state to quite a lot of trouble and staff time in dealing with the application, then the 923 Government must stand by the logic of their proposals; and the Government themselves, in the form of Ministries or nationalised industries or, in the peculiar case of the Secretary of State for Energy under the Opencast Coal Mining Act (to which I shall refer later), must be prepared to pay in the same way as anyone else seeking planning permission or otherwise. It seems to me to be absolutely logical that we cannot exempt one class if we are going to do this at all.
§ In my own county at the moment we have a proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board for a nuclear power station; we have a proposal from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority for the burial of nuclear waste in the Cheviots; we have about six major opencast sites being proposed by the National Coal Board. I suggest that all of that is taking up three-quarters of the time and has done for some months and may be will continue to do so for some years to come. It will continue to be the concern of not only the county council planning people but the six districts where they are involved.
§ It is not my business to get involved in the debates on this matter, but quite an amount of time is taken up in fixing public inquiries and public meetings. County Hall is filled with people of all shapes, sizes and colours day and night on these matters—and quite rightly, because public concern is very real and very great. It has taken a great deal of time and, in this particular case, has cost local authorities a great deal of staff time. Counsel have to be briefed, and so on, so although planning permission is not particularly necessary, in Amendment No. 196 paragraph (c) "deemed planning consent", means that the Government give themselves consent but consult first. These matters seem to be worthy of higher charges than to the ordinary person who wishes to put up a couple of houses in the village, for which consent they pay about £40 a house.
§ I hope that the Government will accept that there is some logic in what I am trying to achieve. I am not saying that any charges levied should necessarily go to the county council; it may be that the district council should receive them. That is not the point I am trying to make. 924 It is just that the Government would hoist themselves with their own petard. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 195 and 196.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I should certainly like to support my noble friend, at any rate in his logic. If there is a case for charging fees to private applicants for planning permission there is certainly one for charging statutory undertakers such as the Central Electricity Generating Board, the North Thames Gas Board, et cetera, many of whose applications involve at least as much work if not a great deal more by the planning staff. If there is a case for accepting these amendments, I would want to support it and, if it is accepted, I should want to move a further amendment at Report stage to read "local planning authority" for "county planning authority", because the districts are as much involved as the counties.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord MISHCON
I rise only to test the view of the Committee on the logic of this debate in the form that it is taking. As I undertsand the amendment, moved with his usual clarity and brevity by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, it is that he does not like the idea of charging planning fees, but if one is going to charge planning fees he would like the system to be extended.
Before one has a debate in regard to the question of extending planning fees, and on the other amendments, it would seem sensible at least to hear some speeches in order that the Committee may formulate a view on the whole subject of whether planning fees are a good idea at all. I do not want to weary the Committee, but if it is thought to be in order I should like to speak to this amendment and say that, far from agreeing to the extension of planning fees, I think the whole idea of planning fees is wrong. Normally I realise that would form a speech on the question that the clause stand part, but I am endeavouring to save time during a very busy programme; and it seems to me, if I may repeat myself to make my point clear, such a waste of time to make long speeches on the subject of extension or non-extension when the whole principle is one that ought to be debated in connection with this amendment so that we do not have a repetition of it afterwards. If I found that was acceptable to the Committee— 925 and I look at the noble Lord the Minister when I ask this question—I would continue with my speech, but obviously I should hate to be speaking against the will of the Committee.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I should have thought that that was an eminently sensible suggestion. If my noble friend would feel happy that we should deal with the amendment in that way, it would be quite convenient so far as I am concerned.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
I will take it in any way the Committee wishes in order to get this matter dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rather cunningly inserted in my words something to the effect that I was not in favour of planning charges. I never said that. I said I expected I was prejudiced but we should come to this on the debate that Clause 76 stand part. I am quite happy to move my amendment and leave it for debate in this general way.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, but I wonder if it would not be more convenient to have this debate on the Question that the clause stand part.
§ Lord WIGODER
With some reluctance I dissociate myself from the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I appreciate that there are a large number of general issues to be raised in the course of the various amendments and in the debate on the clause, but I would respectfully suggest that we are going to get into a state of considerable confusion unless we take the amendments seriatim, beginning with the one in front of us now.
§ Lord MISHCON
Since the whole idea of my intervention was economy of time, the last thing I want to do is to argue the point before the Committee now at any length. It seems to me to be the view certainly of some Members that it would be more convenient to take the debate I am talking about on the Question that the clause stand part. Therefore, I, reluctantly though I hope courteously, sit down.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
I had hoped that the helpful and constructive suggestion of my noble friend would have commended itself to your Lordships, because we are now discussing 926 what is a matter of very important principle, and although obviously from a procedural point of view we take the amendments seriatim, I very strongly believe it would have been preferable to have discussed first of all the principle involved before the amendments are actually moved, apart from the one already moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley.
The important thing about this is that it is introducing a new principle, and I am sure that all of us must to some extent be torn in our minds. I have recorded in your Lordships' House earlier this Session that I am a house builder, I am a planner and I am also a connoisseur of local government. By good fortune the views of the Housebuilders' Federation, the Royal Town Planning Institution and also the Association of Metropolitan Authorities coincide upon this issue. I have, finally, after a good deal of debate with myself, come down against the imposition of these charges. My noble friend Lady Denington at one stage very nearly converted me to supporting them, but after a very stern struggle with myself I came to the conclusion that the charges were quite wrong.
I want therefore to stress very much my objection to this, first of all in principle. The Housebuilders' Federation, for example has reminded us that the Department of the Environment itself in its Circular No. 9 of 1976 said that there is a presumption in favour of development and the permission should normally be granted unless it is clearly against the public interest or contrary to an approved policy. That seems to me to be a principle to which it is extremely difficult to take exception, and I am sorry that what I believe to be a basic right is being eroded in this way.
Perhaps if I might trespass still further upon your Lordships' tolerance and good nature, I could say also that I believe this is wrong in practice. It will add to the expense of development, it will slow down the building of houses and it could reduce the amount of available land. Those are all very basic objections. I should have liked to feel that we could have a general debate on this before we proceed to consider the very important amendments the noble Viscount and others have tabled.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
I, too, share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that apparently the very helpful suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, does not appear to have been accepted by the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, is absolutely right in that the clause itself introduces a new principle, about which people on both sides of the Committee I think have very real doubts. It would seem to me to have been much better to explore the whole issue as to whether there should be charges before proceeding in detail to consider whether any particular body should be excepted or included, or varied within it. Indeed if we do not do that it may well put some of us in a difficulty.
It is at least a tenable view that there should not be charges at all. It is an equally tenable view that if you are going to have charges there should be no exception to them, that there should be common fairness. If exceptions are suggested, I do not know how someone who does not like the idea of charges can be expected to vote in ignorance of what the final decision will be as to whether there are to be charges at all. I wonder whether the Minister would, notwithstanding the as always authoritative indication of view by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, indicate that in some way or other before proceeding to the detail of these amendments we could debate, in the form of a debate on the clause stand part or otherwise, the general principle of charges. One of the great merits of this House, as a House and when we are in Committee, is that we are very flexible. Indeed we are masters of our own procedure. Naturally no one wishes to press the view if the rest of the Committee dislike it, but as one who does very much share Lord Greenwood's view, I appeal to my noble friend to give it further thought.
§ Lord WIGODER
I do not want to pursue the point I was making. I was a little perturbed because it seems to me that there may be wholly different considerations on the question of charges for planning applications and on the question of charges for appeals; it may be they are two quite separate issues. I was perturbed that if we had a general debate the two issues might get intermingled rather undesirably.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I am, of course, a babe in arms in the way in which these things are done. Would it be possible to have a debate on the original amendments which could reach across the subject generally, and then at least one will know the views of Members? If we had a debate on clause stand part—which is very tempting and I personally would be very happy—what would we do about the individual parts of the other amendments? I could make it clear as we went along where the Government stood on some of the other points. I could make that clear because we have certain views now.
Your Lordships will have noticed that as we have proceeded this afternoon we have had two or three lengthy debates in which we have referred to a number of amendments and, as we have gone along and responded to those amendments from the Front Bench we have said that certain amendments are acceptable and certain ones are not acceptable. It might be helpful if we were able to do that if we had a general debate. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee.
I believe that the solution lies in the hands of the Committee itself. If noble Lords were to stick strictly to the point underlying their amendment and try to avoid going to the principle, then we should get to the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part, as quickly as possible.
§ Lord MISHCON
I am in a little doubt as to the will of the Committee. I rather gathered that the noble Lord the Minister was saying that he would not regard as unwelcome a general debate which took in the various amendments and which also went to the principle of the whole question of planning fees—
§ Lord MISHCON
It is very obvious that I have not correctly interpreted the views of at least some members of the Committee. As I have said, all I want to do is not to make an unwelcome speech at an unwelcome stage when my 929 endeavour is to persuade the Committee to my point of view. That seems to me to show a lack of tact for which I should not like to be responsible. If it be a fact that the Minister is now saying—and I should like the noble Minister kindly to direct his attention to this problem—no, he would prefer the individual amendments to be taken, in spite of what I have said, without any general debate taking place on what would normally be the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part, I shall again take my seat and take my turn.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I think that we shall probably have to go that route, but I should think that in doing so, inevitably general views will come out. We shall probably have to go that way. The problem about doing it with a debate on Whether the clause shall stand part is that we shall be debating something and coming to a conclusion upon something which we should have to return to and look at in detail. If we were to have a debate on Whether the clause shall stand part and vote on it, for example, or have it accepted, we could not do so without having taken in the individual amendments that are made. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, so rightly said, appeals and charges are not necessarily the same thing.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
May I ask a question as a preliminary? I should like to know how the Minister interprets the phrase:A fee of the prescribed amount".Could it mean a proportionate fee or different fees in relation to the importance of the planning permission in monetary terms, or what does it mean?
§ Lord BELLWIN
I am not sure where that comes in but, I understand it to mean that there will be different fees for different types of application. Indeed, the actual fees themselves are proposals that are being discussed at present and will presumably continue to be discussed. We have suggestions and proposals, but they are not by any means finally concluded. They will vary, of course—in the case of certain buildings—on a per square foot basis.
§ Lord MISHCON
I think that I have found a way of briefly addressing the Committee and possibly meeting the wishes of all parties concerned. As I understand it, this amendment seeks to extend the orbit of fees for planning applications. I wish to address the Committee, if the Committee will permit me, to beg that there shall be no extension: indeed, one even wonders whether there ought to be any question of planning fees at all. That strikes me as being a relevant speech to make on an amendment which seeks extension.
As has been rightly said by my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, the whole question of the charging of planning fees is an entirely new aspect. I should have thought that one principle which might commend itself to all sections of the Committee is that when an individual owns property he is subject to only one matter in regard to the use of that property so far as the public is concerned, and that is the question of whether or not his use of it or his development of it, be it a building or be it land, is contrary to public interest and public policy. That is a restriction that Parliament has, in its wisdom, very properly laid down and it is generally accepted. But it is a restriction upon a right and therefore, if a citizen applies to an authority to ascertain whether or not certain plans that he has in regard to that property are contrary to the public weal, it is a matter which is for the public weal and ought to be a matter, therefore, of public expenditure and not of private expenditure.
I turn to the next point as to why there should in my view be no extension of the question of planning fees. One ought to look at the whole question of whether planning fees should be payable at all. I point to the discouragement which will often unfortunately be there for citizens who are anxious to know whether what they are proposing to do in regard to their land or property is or is not a contravention of any planning regulation or whether or not it needs permission. Those of us who deal with these matters professionally know that very often an application is made to a planning authority for the sake of safety in order to make absolutely sure that the citizen in carrying out something that he proposes to do is not, in fact, contravening a regulation or indeed that, if he does require permission, he 931 has properly applied for it. In my view that practice will be discouraged if these fees are invoked.
So the Committee is aware of the type of fees about which we are talking—again I am speaking relevantly on the question of an amendment which seeks to extend them. I am looking at a consultation paper which was issued by the Department of the Environment and which is headed, "Charges for planning applications". At the back there is a list of suggested fees. I think that the Committee ought to be aware of what we are talking about in quantum. It lists residential outline at £40 up to a limit of £20,000 that is not the fee, but concerns the question of the value. It then lists residential detailed, £40 per dwelling, house or flat; householder—house extensions and alterations not adding to the number of dwellings—£30 by way of application fee; commercial, industrial and other buildings, plant and machinery £40 per 75 sq. m. We are talking about very substantial amounts indeed. The department is hoping, I believe, that they will reach some £30 million a year towards the expenditure which it estimates at £50 million a year.
My third point is that the very collection of these fees, the very question of deciding about these fees, will, I fear, create a new department in the planning authority—itself I would have thought a rather expensive matter, and therefore one to be taken into account.
In order that one may know that, so far as I am aware, there is not one atom of politics in this—I think I am able to quote them as authority for saying that generally those who are concerned with development, with building, with house ownership and so on are against this measure—may I invoke the Deputy Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, the Director of the Housebuilders Federation, who was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Greenwood, the Director of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the Director-General of the National Federation of Building Trades' Employers and the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects who, together with many others, all joined as signatories in a letter to The Times of 5th August this year. The 932 last sentence of that letter reads, with some passion and plea to your Lordships:Accordingly, we hope that their Lordships will take the opportunity today"—not knowing of our proceedings, they were hoping that the matter would be dealt with in Committee on one day on 5th August—of subjecting this proposal to critical scrutiny, and will in their discussion of the issue reflect the widespread public concern to which it has given rise".I believe that my noble friend Lord Greenwood mentioned some of the bodies which have allied themselves in expressing the view that this is something that Parliament should look at very carefully, and their hope is expressed that Parliament will not permit this unwelcome precedent to be set. I do not propose to read out again the whole list of those organisations. I merely say that I cannot find one organisation connected with planning, with architecture—my own Law Society is one of the organisations which is against this—or with the whole question of building and development to say one word in favour of this imposition of planning charges.
I have made this speech—and I promise not to repeat it on clause stand part—on an amendment which, as I say, seeks to extend the orbit of planning charges. I hope that the Committee will regard it as the individual responsibility of every one of us to be very careful in listening to the arguments that are advanced in this debate, and I hope will decide eventually that the speech which I would have made on clause stand part is one that would find favour with them.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
As chairman of a company that manufactures a necessary material for the building industry, I think that I should declare an interest at this stage. There is no doubt at all that the proposal to charge for planning permissions imposes an additional charge on building and construction, and therefore there is certainly a marginal significance in all this as regards my company. Therefore, in accordance with our normal custom, I declare that interest. But equally, having so declared that interest, as I understand our procedure, I am free to express my own views. I feel considerable apprehension about this 933 proposal, both from the point of view of principle and from a practical point of view.
From the point of view of principle, as I think a noble Lord opposite said a few moments ago, to impose a charge of this kind is rather unfair upon the person on whom it is imposed. After all, the existence of planning law—the need to obtain planning permission—is a general public interest. So far from being the particular interest of, say, a property owner or an industrialist, it is probably contrary to their interests, which means that there is an inhibition on what they would otherwise do, and from their direct and practical point of view they would be better off if we were back in the 1930s when there was literally no planning law. It is the interests of the community as a whole—of the environment—which has caused successive Governments to impose the elaborate planning codes which we now have.
This is, therefore, a system designed for the general public interest and is perhaps even more in the interests of those who do not have to apply for planning permission than those who do. It would seem, therefore, that this charge is in principle a very dubious one. It follows a very bad precedent. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, is not here because she would certainly have made the point that it follows the thoroughly bad principle indulged in a little time ago of imposing security charges on airport travellers; that is, imposing a charge for a service which it is the basic duty of the state to provide—that is, protection of the citizen against violence and outrage. It follows that bad principle.
From a practical point of view, leaving the principle aside, it is of course an attack upon initiative and upon development. The person who does not wish to extend his factory or his house or to develop his land does not pay it. The person who indulges in inertia, who just sits on whatever he has, does not pay it. But it is an impost that falls directly on the person who is trying to get ahead; he is trying to do exactly what the Government are urging us—and rightly urging us—to do the whole time: to develop, to expand, to build, to start new processes and to get ahead in a progressive way with new enterprises.
934 Yet it is proposed to impose this kind of selective tax just on the very people who are showing enterprise and trying to develop. Therefore, this again seems to me to be quite contrary to what the Government are suggesting. I do not know—perhaps my noble friend will tell us—how much the Government expect to raise by this impost. I do not know whether or not it is a large sum. If it is a large sum, then the damaging effect upon enterprise will be pro tanto the greater. If it is not a large sum, I should be interested to know whether calculation has been made of the cost of collection, and whether the noble Lord opposite is right in suggesting that we would have to add a finance officer to every local planning authority.
If there is to be this elaborate scale of fees, which has been suggested, presumably some administrative work would be required in assessing them, and perhaps there would be a system of appealing against the level of fees demanded. I do not know. But certainly if it is a fairly moderate charge, there must be some offsetting administrative expense. Again I hope that my noble friend will tell us whether the Government have in fact worked out how much the cost of collection would be. As your Lordships know, there are many taxes and imposts of one sort or another which some of us would like to see imposed but which do not make sense because the cost of collection would be too high a proportion of the product. It may well be so in this case. I think that my noble friend is a little impaled on Morton's Fork. Either the anticipated yield is large, in which case the tax on enterprise is quite serious, or it is small, in which case net of the cost of collection it may be very doubtful whether it is worth collecting at all.
Therefore, I indicate that I share the doubts which have been expressed not only by noble Lords in this Committee but, as has been said, by almost all the bodies concerned with industry and with building outside. My noble friend will be as aware as anyone of the concern which this has caused, and it is certainly the case as far as I know that no convincing case has yet been made against the quite weighty considerations which have been stated this afternoon, as to why this should be imposed. I always listen to 935 my noble friend with profound interest, but on this occasion my interest will be deeper still.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I wonder whether it might be helpful if I were to speak at this time. This is a Committee stage and we can all come back again if we have to. I think that it would be helpful if I were to make a few general observations to try to cover some of the points which my noble friend has mentioned and, of course, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred.
Forceful arguments have been made against the principle of the charges, and in the case of some aspects of this whole matter—and we are talking also of appeals as well as charges—we have accepted certain points. I think that we shall show as we go along that they will in fact no longer be at issue. Let me say straight away, to give a figure to put everything else I am saying into context, that the anticipated figure of receipts is about £30 million. Quite on which side of the Fork that leaves me—
§ Lord BELLWIN
I would have hoped in the middle because then I steer clear of both sides. That is in fact the anticipated figure. What all the argument comes down to is one argument of principle and one argument of practicality. The principle is: is it fair that the applicant for planning permission should pay for his application? The practicality, will charges be a financial burden, as my noble friend suggested, a deterrent to development or even a drag on the economy?
If the principle is wrong the proposal cannot be justified whatever the practicality. But as to the point of principle, it has been argued that development control and to get planning permission takes away from the individual his property rights, and we are proposing to charge the individual for the privilege of seeking to have his rights restored to him. It has been argued that the justification for this inhibition of people's rights is the need to protect the public interest in the environment at large, and from that it is concluded 936 that the public, in the form of the taxpayer, should foot the bill for the process.
My noble friend also referred to the point: would it not stultify or penalise those very people whom the Government above all are anxious to encourage? The argument is not quite as watertight as it might seem. I am sure that no one is arguing that the individual—and for this purpose that includes a company whatever its size—should be allowed to do whatever it likes wherever it happens to buy some land. It is clear that on a highly-populated island like ours the only way to preserve any kind of quality of life in the countryside, towns, and cities is for there to be an element of control over what can be built and where.
Nor would anyone argue that control can be exercised without cost. Where there is a lot of development there are many cases to consider. Competent staff must be employed and the cost of that is substantial. Nor is this a country where it will be acceptable for such control to be exercised in an arbitrary way just by officials. The control must rest ultimately in the hands of the elected members. They in turn must be under the control of the law. None of these can exclude the rights of the individual to have his say and to appeal, if need be, to a higher authority.
But this process does not come cheaply. Many of your Lordships will be aware that development control costs local authorities about £50 million a year. The question is, who shall pay? The time surely is past when services could be thought of as free, because no service is ever free. Someone must pay the cost. Who shall it be? The ratepayer? The taxpayer? The individual, in his role as ratepayer and taxpayer, has made the position clear in recent years. He will not any more consent to be the unquestionable source of funds for public services.
Planning is a public service, yes; but why ask the individual in his position as taxpayer? Does that mean that taxation should foot the whole of the Bill? Is it not fair that the developer, be he an individual or in other instances a company, should contribute? For example, a driving test is a public service. The applicant does 937 not sit it to assure himself of his own ability. It is not optional. It is for the safety and wellbeing of the public, and yet we see nothing strange in the fact that the applicant pays for his driving test. No great question of principle arises. The issue is simply one of offsetting an item of public expenditure.
But if the principle is acceptable we must still be assured that the practical effects would be reasonable. This proposal does not mean an increase in the burdens on local government. There will not be an increase in local authority expenditure. What we are aiming to do is to transfer part of the funding of this service to the developer. There will not be an increase in spending, and we shall make the necessary adjustments to rate support grant and local authority expenditure targets.
Granted that the individual and business will reap the benefit of this measure through rates and taxes in what, I admit, will be a not easily seen form, then what will be the practical effect on the developer? How much shall we be asking for? My department issued a consultation paper earlier this year setting out the sort of scale of charges we envisage. It will be remembered that we are proposing to increase the size of house extensions which will be permitted without planning permission, the extension to the GDP from 10 to 15 per cent., which in itself will considerably reduce the number of applications of that kind that will need to be made.
For a house extension—which in few cases these days will be under £1,000 and could run to several thousand pounds—there will be a charge of £30. A complete new house costing, say, £25,000 will be charged £40. A factory of, say, £5,000 square feet, worth certainly over £100,000 will pay about £250. I hope your Lordships may agree with me that this sort of charge seems reasonable in relation to the value of the developments to which the charges apply. If I am indeed in the middle of the Fork to which my noble friend referred, I hope it will be in that the individual amounts are not large but the totality of £30 million is not without major significance.
I am not going to go into the whole of more detail that I have here. None of us 938 likes to pay for something that was once free, but we are becoming well aware that in fact nothing is really free and someone has to pay. The debate really concerns, who pays? Who is it right should pay? This is the thrust of the philosophy of the argument. I am interested to hear what your Lordships say because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly said, this really is not in any way at all a party political point. It is, what is it right and proper, in the context of current thinking on this sort of thing, that ought to be done?
The Government are not taking a rigid line. I may go so far as to say—not to save time but because I think it is all part of the one debate, and we can have it again on the amendment—that in terms of the charge for appeals we have considered carefully everything that has come. I hope my noble friend Lord Mottistone will not mind my saying it at this stage.
We believe we should not in fact proceed with the intention to charge for appeals for reasons I shall give in perhaps more detail. I mention it now as I sit down to indicate that we are not rigid at all in this. We feel that what we have suggested is equitable, and that is why we have put it forward.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
Will my noble friend confirm my reading of the clause? Although he has given the Committee the figures of charges now contemplated, should the clause become law the Secretary of State could by regulation increase it almost indefinitely.
§ Lord BELLWIN
That is absolutely right. I was going to say that the final charge will be fixed by regulation. Yes, of course it can. Conversely, it could also be reduced if it was felt that was the thing to do.
§ Lord WIGODER
As no one has spoken yet from these Benches on this matter, perhaps I could briefly say that we on these Benches in the first place are entirely opposed to the concept of charges for planning applications, for the reasons that have been given. If there are to be charges made for planning applications, then it seems to us essential that provision should be made for the little man who wishes to make a small improvement to his own small property. It is for that 939 reason that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, and I have tabled Amendment No. 200, which excludes the small man from the general provisions relating to charges for planning applications. I say no more about that at this stage.
The other matter I wish to refer to briefly is the associated question of charges that are proposed for appeals. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong but, so far as I have been able to find out, this is the first time that a statute has sought to provide that a citizen wishing to exercise his statutory right of appeal should have to pay a charge for the privilege. This seems to us extremely undesirable as a matter of principle. It will be a precedent that will be extended to tribunals in all directions if we allow this particular proposal to go through.
§ Lord MISHCON
Would the noble Lord give way to save the time of the Committee? The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I had an amendment down to try to do away with the right of charging on appeal. When he was speaking just now, I thought I understood the Minister to say that that amendment had been conceded. If that is so, I thought I might save the time of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the Committee.
§ Lord WIGODER
I apologise in that case for making an observation which was entirely unnecessary; I fear that I missed that particular concession. Among so many what is one more? In the circumstances, I must tell the Minister how grateful we are that the point has been conceded and that the principle is recognised as being one of importance.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
Can anybody tell me how we now stand in regard to my Amendment No. 201A? That is concerned with those making an application where the firm is getting help under the Inner Urban Area Act 1978.
§ Baroness DENINGTON
While I do not wish to detain the Committee, there is 940 a case which has not been raised. I support entirely as a matter of principle that if a man owns his own house and wishes to put forward an application, he should do so without payment. I would apply the same principle to a person who owns his own factory or his own piece of ground with nothing on it. In such cases there should be no payment. However, I have been for years a member of the planning committee of Greater London and, before that, of the LCC, and I can assure the Committee that there have been thousands of hours and millions of pounds worth of officer time taken up considering applications involving big and important sites. Consider, for example, the Coin Street or Green Giant sites. People come along who do not even own the sites.
In some instances the real owners do not even know what they are doing. They come to County Hall with a scheme and the officers deal with it. Some of them are very complicated schemes involving central London sites. Sometimes the matter even reaches the committee to see if it would be inclined to approve that type of scheme. Height, bulk, residential, commercial—all sorts of considerations are involved and an enormous amount of time must be spent on such schemes. As I say, the man or concern putting it forward may not own the site or have any interest in it, apart of course from trying to get planning permission which he will then hawk round to see how much he can sell it for. That sort of person should have to pay, and pay heavily, so that that sort of exercise is restricted, but how we deal with it I do not know.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
A couple of points have not been mentioned, one of them a philosophical point. My noble friend spoke about a service being paid for, but I think there is a confusion of thought here. What is being paid for is a right which was previously taken away by the public service, but that does not mean they are paying for a service. Even if we were to agree that there should be payment for that right, what happens if the right is refused? Does the charge still stand? Why should it?
§ Lord MONSON
Perhaps I should intervene briefly because I was one of the few noble Lords on Second Reading to come out in favour of these charges and, 941 in other words, support of the Government. My reasoning was based on the proposition that successful applicants stood to make a great deal of money if planning permission were granted and that these charges represented a drop in the ocean compared with the capital gains that could be made. That, with a qualification to which I shall come, remains my view today; I think, rather against the general feeling of the Committee.
My view was reinforced by an article in the Daily Telegraph on 8th October which revealed that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Heseltine, was thinking of abolishing the large-scale Ordnance Survey plans, as opposed to the ordinary Ordnance Survey maps, on the grounds that the maintenance of the large-scale plans was costing the country £20 million a year which was excessive in view of the need to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. The Daily Telegraph rightly echoed the view of the Serpell Review Committee that the large-scale plans were part of our national heritage whose maintenance was essential, and the paper went on to suggest that a proportion of the planning fees provided for by the clause which we are now discussing be diverted towards the maintenance of the large-scale plans on the grounds I have already mentioned—the capital gains to be made by successful applicants, and because the developments and changes which follow the grant of planning permission necessitate alterations to Ordnance Survey plans.
Having said that, I must admit that on Second Reading, when the Bill had only just emerged from the other place, giving us very little time to study it, I was under the impression that the fees would be charged on the grant of planning permission—in other words, that an unsuccessful application would attract no charge—but subsequently it has become evident that that is not the case and that fees are to be payable on application. That is how I understand it. That to my mind puts a very different complexion on the matter. I think it is absolutely right that fees should be payable on the grant of permission, but not that unsuccessful applicants should have to pay, and I should therefore be hesitant to vote for the provision unless the Government modify the clause in this respect.
§ Lord BELLWIN
I suggest that the Committee must make progress, and it might therefore help if I said a little about the amendment which we are discussing, and perhaps we can then reach some conclusion on the matter. This amendment is one of a number on what is a very broad subject dealing with consultations about, in effect, deemed consents, a task which is equivalent to considering and determining planning applications. Without going into the detail which is before me, perhaps I can just say that it becomes apparent that if we move too far in this direction we shall lose sight of the whole purpose of the charges, which is to offset public expenditure involved in development control. I wonder whether, in the light of other points that have been made generally, my noble friend may feel able, at least for the time being, to withdraw the amendment on the basis that he will have a chance to do something else with it later, should he wish to do so. That would enable us to move on into the generality of the whole subject.
§ Lord BELLWIN
No; I was asking my noble friend if he would be good enough to withdraw it at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord SANDYS
At this stage the Committee might find it convenient if I were to move that the House do now resume. We could then take the remaining business on the Order Paper, returning to this Bill at 8 o'clock. Therefore I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.