HL Deb 30 April 1985 vol 463 cc175-89

Preparation of strategic plan

1. The London Planning Authority and each Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority—

  1. (a) shall keep under review matters which might be expected to affect the planning and development of its area, and, if it thinks fit, institute a survey or surveys for examining those matters;
  2. (b) shall prepare, and submit to the Secretary of State for his approval, a strategic plan for its area complying with the provisions of sub-paragraph (2) of this paragraph; and
  3. (c) shall keep any approved strategic plan for its area under review and submit to the Secretary of State proposals for such alterations to that plan as from time to time appear to it to be expedient.

2. The strategic plan for any area shall set down matters of general policy and guidance to assist—

  1. (a) each local planning authority in the area to produce a unitary development plan;
  2. (b) each highway authority in the area to formulate policies and proposals for highways and the management of traffic; and
  3. (c) the Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority, or the London Regional Transport Authority as the case may be, to formulate policies and proposals for public transport.

3. When preparing a strategic plan, the London Planning Authority or Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority, as the case may be, shall consult the local planning authorities in its area, the highway authorities in its area, the body responsible for public transport in its area, the local planning authorities of adjoining areas and other bodies and individuals as the London Planning Authority or Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority thinks appropriate, or as may be prescribed, about the general policies and guidance it is proposed to include in the plan.

4. In formulating the general policies and guidance in a strategic plan the London Planning Authority or Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authority shall have regard—

  1. (a) to current policies with respect to the economic planning and development of the region as a whole;
  2. (b) to the resources to be made available; and
  3. (c) to such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct it to take into account.".).

Amendment No. 42: Page 89, line 16, leave out sub-paragraph (1).

Amendment No. 57: Leave out Clause 6 and insert the following new Clause:

("Land reclamation, countryside and intelligence services.

6. From the abolition date this Act shall have effect for transferring functions relating to National Parks, planning, improving and managing the countryside, land reclamation and specialist information, research and intelligence services from the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils to the London Planning Authority and the Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authorities respectively.").

Amendment No. 120: Leave out Clause 27 and insert the following new Clause:

("Metropolitan County Planning and Passenger Transport Authorities

27.—(1) On the appointed day there shall be established for each metropolitan county a body corporate to be known by the name of that county with the addition of the words "Planning and Passenger Transport Authority".

(2) The planning and passenger transport authorities established by this section shall be known as the metropolitan county planning and passenger transport authorities.

(3) Each metropolitan county planning and passenger transport authority shall consist of members of the constituent councils appointed by them to be members of the authority.

(4) The constituent councils in relation to a metropolitan county planning and passenger transport authority shall be the councils of the metropolitan districts comprised in the county.").

In the light of that, I do not know whether the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite might think this the time for an adjournment before we start such a large debate.

Lord Elton

The usual channels are slightly out of reach: but so I think is dinner.

Baroness Stedman

This group of amendments seeks to keep important town planning and environmental services together. Without these amendments the town and country planning responsibilities of the metropolitan authorities would pass either to the Secretary of State, as with the strategic planning guidance, to be fragmented between district and borough councils, as with the unitary plans, or be neglected and probably lost, as with countryside and other environmental work. If they are approved then the county wide town and country planning responsibilities would be placed with passenger and transport authorities in each metropolitan county area and with the London residuary body in Greater London, which is why we are proposing that they should be renamed as the metropolitan county planning and passenger transport authorities and the London Planning Authority.

The bodies we are proposing would also tackle major countryside projects, reclaim eyesores and maintain specialist information services. Because each one would look after a county as a whole, it would be well placed to employ and make good use of the small numbers of specialists needed in such fields. There are just the same problems with planning and control of waste disposal and the extraction of minerals—but in these fields the wider view is essential to enable the employment of specialists and also to balance the localised environmental problems with the wider need to dispose of rubbish in a proper controlled manner or to obtain building stone or other materials.

The amendments before the Committee do not attempt to bring waste disposal or highways responsibility and traffic management into the same arrangements. We wanted to see at this stage if your Lordships would make what we believe to be a very worthwhile improvement over the current proposals in the Bill by retaining the strategic planning services as a unit. I am sure there will be other opportunities over the next three weeks or so to make arrangements for other related services if your Lordships should feel it appropriate. Unless we can persuade the Committee to accept these amendments, the responsibility for strategic town and country planning and environmental improvement will be fragmented and divided between the metropolitan districts and the London boroughs.

If the district and borough unitary development plans—69 in all—were to be prepared without the context now given by the six structure plans and the Greater London development plan then the complexity of the system would be greatly increased. Delay and conflict would inevitably follow the establishment of an almost powerless planning commission in London and non-statutory planning conferences in the metropolitan county areas, while the establishment of joint boards to deal with public transport issues in isolation from other services could lead to many opportunities being lost.

At present the metropolitan counties are able to tie in waste disposal, land reclamation and countryside planning as part of their wider approach to improving the environment. Under this Bill the co-ordination of services county-wide would be less effective with planning, transport, waste disposal and land reclamation being dealt with by a wider range and a greater number of authorities.

We believe that the proposed fragmentation of services would mean that the district councils would be competing for jobs and housing and would make excessive land allocations in their development plans. This would mean that overall priorities would suffer. It would also be difficult to co-ordinate major land use changes with transport investment because of the proposed division of planning and transport responsibilities between small authorities, with district councils able to promote their own pet schemes without any guidance from the wider land use and transport framework. If the Bill is unamended in this respect, I believe that the districts may be over optimistic about what they could achieve. That would lead to a waste of both private and public money.

In our recent discussions on the winding up of the New Town Corporations and again at Second Reading, I referred to the tragedy of breaking up the close-knit specialist teams. The same comments apply to this Bill because individual districts will not be able to retain those skills. The districts will inevitably try to do what the metropolitan counties now do so effectively and efficiently on behalf of all their authorities. There will be duplication of effort and the economies of scale are likely to be lost.

7 p.m.

Without a county-wide direction, many aspects of planning will suffer. I am thinking particularly of land reclamation, of conservation, of countryside planning, of mineral extraction, and of waste disposal. Without overall direction, the urban regions will also lose the specialist experts on economic, social and environmental matters.

There are also the problems associated with more centralization, with the Secretary of State being more involved. It is he who will issue the strategic guidance to districts for their unitary development plans—but there is no provision in this Bill for that guidance to be questioned or challenged in an independent public forum.

The Secretary of State will be the arbiter in any dispute between districts. This will make the Secretary of State more involved in the detailed day-to-day planning of all our major conurbations. He may step in and require plans to be prepared, determine their time-scale, and try to ensure compatibility. En effect, this Bill places the Secretary of State in the position of the present metropolitan county planning authorities—but without the same degree of democratic local control and local accountability. That is why we believe that this group of amendments is so important.

In the metropolitan counties and in London, a different system of planning would be established from that in operation in the shire counties. The metropolitan areas, with their greater scale and intensity of problems, are to lose a vital means of tackling them—and yet strategic planning is to be retained in the shire counties.

What will be the effect of the proposals in this Bill on the shire counties? It is bound to have direct effects on neighbouring shires—especially those adjacent to the metropolitan areas. The Association of County Councils has expressed its concern to me about the vacuum which will exist in strategic functions—and perhaps it is even more concerned about the prospect of that vacuum being filled by increased centralism, especially in the planning field.

The Association of County Councils is not noted for its disapproval of Government measures, but it has voiced its worry about planning to me; it is worry about cross-boundary issues. The association lacks faith in voluntary co-operation between London boroughs, between metropolitan districts with their respective areas and between those authorities collectively and the surrounding authorities on cress-boundary matters. The association lacks faith because it knows that unless the statutory framework for strategic issues is right, and that these matters are in the hands of an authority large enough to have the specialist advice and to take a geographically detached view, then it will be difficult for county councils to establish sound, strategic policies which will enable authorities to come together voluntarily at an even wider cross-county level.

For example, if there is no statutory authority which can take an overall objective view of mineral extraction over a whole metropolitan county, there will be little hope of a voluntary coming together of the surrounding shire counties to formulate a policy for mineral extraction over a whole group of counties.

The Association of County Councils believes that this Bill acknowledges a vacuum, in that Schedule 1 establishes a planning commission in London and provides for strategic guidance for authorities preparing unitary plans in London and in the metropolitan counties. But that also causes the association concern; concern that such new central institutions will be used, that they are largely bureaucratic, and that they are not very accountable.

The association also fears the consequences for the central/local balance in the planning system as a whole if decisions on strategic matters which are at present rightly in the hands of locally-elected people with direct local knowledge pass into the hands of or are dominated by a centralised organisation. It is feared that this concept might eventually extend over the whole country and throughout the shire counties.

The association believes that if there are no longer to be directly-elected authorities responsible for strategic matters over the whole of each metropolitan area, then there should at least be joint boards—either as they stand or with some variation—which would put strategic planning, transport and waste disposal (either collectively or individually) within joint statutory authorities for each of the metropolitan areas.

Many professional bodies associated with planning have expressed their concern, and reference has been made to many of them today. They include the Royal Town Planning Institute, Royal Institute of British Architects, Regional Studies Association, Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Institute of Landscape Architects, and Town and Country Planning Association. All these bodies in the field of planning support the amendments we have tabled, and I recommend them to your Lordships.

Lord Broxbourne

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this impressive fasciculus of amendments moved so cogently by the noble Baroness. I was not successful in making a contribution to the previous debate—a deprivation which your Lordships will no doubt be able to endure with commendable equanimity.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

No, no!

Lord Broxbourne

My noble friend speaks with the kindness of an old friend. Had I been able to speak, I should have been able to explain with voice as well as, subsequently, with vote that I am in favour of the principles and objects of this Bill but that I have certain reservations about the machinery of it; more particularly in the context of town and country planning, with which these amendments are concerned.

Town and country planning is of course a function of local government which has increased in importance over the years. I have long taken an interest in it, mainly in my professional capacity but not exclusively so, and I contributed to debates in another place from time to time. Indeed, I have some hereditary interest, as my father spoke for one and one-quarter hours from the Back-Benches on the Second Reading of the Town & Country Planning Bill 1931—an occasion possibly remembered by my noble friend Lord Molson, who made such an impressive contribution to today's proceedings. I hasten to reassure the Committee that I do not intend to emulate my father in point of time—nor am I in a position to emulate him in point of erudition.

This Bill makes very extensive changes to the machinery of town and country planning. One can refer to the amendments to the principal Act of 1971 listed in paragraph 16 of Schedule 1 and to Clause 3 to see clear evidence of this. We should of course ask ourselves whether those changes constitute an improvement: will they serve better the purposes and practices of town and country planning?

In order to judge that, one must of course identify what those purposes and practices are. They are to be found in a long sequence of legislation from 1909, 1932, 1947, 1968 and 1971—which is now the principal Act embodying the present law in its 295 sections and 25 schedules. That will be of some comfort to those of your Lordships who may think that the Bill we are now considering is a relatively lengthy Bill.

The evolution of our town planning law and practice shows a progress from the more negative concept of detailed control to a more positive concept—the stimulus of desirable land use and development in addition to imposing constraints on undesirable development. There has been a broadening of the scope, with large planning units designed to provide a framework in which policies and decisions can reflect expert professional guidance combined with democratic accountability and popular participation.

This philosophy was behind the new pattern of structure and local plans originating in the 1968 Act and now embodied in the 1971 Act; the broad picture and strategic guidance being in the structure plan and the detailed application in the local plans. The Bill changes that. It substitutes unitary development plans for structure and local plans in Greater London and the metropolitan areas. I must ask the question: does this mean the reversal of this evolutionary trend of which I have been speaking which led to the pattern in the 1971 Act? Does it mean a departure from the philosophy which inspired it?

On the face of it, there is a possibility that this may be so. There is a danger of fragmentation of the machinery of planning at the local end and the difficulty of combining the functions of structure plans and local plans in a single plan for a smaller area. Then, designed as a corrective to these possibilities, there is another innovation: the concentration of planning control at the centre, referred to by several noble Lords in the preceding debate and evidenced by the general powers of guidance given to the Secretary of State in formulating unitary development plans in Schedule 1, through the London Planning Commission which is his instrument and is responsible solely to him.

That these are real apprehensions is evidenced by the joint submission of the professional bodies referred to a moment ago by the noble Baroness. These professional bodies do not confine themselves to criticism. They make a number of constructive suggestions. Their preferred option is a joint authority for metropolitan planning and transport, now reflected in Amendment No. 14 of the noble Baroness which we are discussing. It is not a revolutionary proposal, since there is already provision in Clause 27 for metropolitan county passenger authorities, and the same machinery could readily include strategic planning responsibilities. I should think that prima facie that is sensible, as transport necessarily looms very large in structure planning.

The same machinery already prescribed in Clause 27 and recommended in the White Paper, the appointment of members by constituent councils, could serve for the London Planning Authority proposed in these amendments. I would not want to be dogmatic as to the adoption of particular proposals when the professional bodies list so many. Town and country planning is always a complex and difficult matter. I would not put it in quite the same category as what an eminent lawyer and parliamentarian said about the Rent Acts. He said that anybody is very fortunate if they are ever right about anything about the Rent Acts. The law of town and country planning is, I know, a complex and difficult matter and not one to dogmatise upon.

So, these professional bodies have put forward proposals. I should perhaps tell the Committee that I have an interest to declare, although not in the technical sense. I am an associate of a Royal institution. If I may be pardoned for reminding the noble Baroness, we are the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It is the Royal Institute of British Architects, but the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. However, I have no professional expertise, save in cross-examining these gentlemen. It would be a very unwise person who invited me to take off any bills of quantities or make any valuations. However, I highly respect that body and these other bodies who have made this objective and authoritative suggestion as to the various options open to the Government to improve the machinery for town and country planning in this Bill. I shall await with interest what my noble friend the Minister says in reply. There is certainly a case to answer, and it is a formidable one.

Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister, when he replies, to say that Ministers will have a further look to see whether it is possible, through one or other of the options—either that expressed in Amendment No. 14, or one of the options described by the professional bodies—to improve the machinery of town and country planning without sacrifice of, or prejudice to, the purposes and principles of the Bill.

7.15 p.m.

Viscount Esher

I must confess that I support this group of amendments without any great enthusiasm. One cannot regard them as anything better than an exercise in damage limitation. If the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, had been carried—and it very nearly was—my noble friends and I would have been only too pleased not to have proposed this group of amendments at all.

We are in one of those situations common in political and, I suppose, in personal life when one has to decide whether half a loaf really is better than no bread. Would it be better to let the system proposed by the Bill disintegrate and have to be amended, which it certainly will be, with all the waste of time and money and contention that this will entail? I doubt whether this ever is the right answer.

Therefore, for three reasons I support this group of amendments. My first reason is that it will at least hold together the group of services which, if split apart as the Bill proposes, would throw away all that we have learned over the past 40 years and ignore the advice of all those who work in this field. The Redcliffe-Maud Commission in 1969 wrote in its report: All services connected with the physical environment must be in the hands of one authority"— The commission believed, of course, that these environmental services could be carried out by the large unitary authorities that it proposed.

The commission continued: everywhere except in three extensive and heavily urbanised areas for which we decided the term 'metropolitan' was the best description". Everywhere except in those three metropolitan areas, says the commission, and, in passing, I agree about the three. I think we could have done without Tyne and Wear and South Yorks, but now that they are there I certainly would not destroy them.

If the Bill passes, we shall have across the country exactly the opposite of what the commission—that brilliantly led and authoritative commission—proposed. The arguments for the integrity and the indivisibility of this environmental group of services are very familiar to us all by now. I think that they have been familiar to many of us over the years in which we have built up our experience of them. We first learnt that strategic planning and transportation are indissolubly linked when we saw the expansion of London in the 1920s and 1930s, almost wholly shaped by the decisions of the London Passenger Transport Board. At the other end of the scale we know that the existence or the disappearance of a rural bus service has powerful effects on the location of people in the countryside.

It is equally clear that mineral workings, waste disposal and land reclamation and conservation in both town and country must be dealt with by one authority. They cannot generally be dealt with, as I think noble Lords in this Committee all agree, within the boundaries of a single borough. So the first purpose of this group of amendments is to protect the integrity, the indivisibility, of the planning package, which incidentally would in the case of the metropolitan counties be identical with the package at present operated by the shire counties. I doubt whether am, one could dispute that, even though there will be boundary problems, since the best operational areas for each service will not necessarily coincide.

My second reason for supporting these amendments can be summed up in the word "continuity". We have a tendency in this country to take everything apart every few years, and I think that is one of the things which has most damaged our industrial performance and created an atmosphere of general cynicism among our people. In these last weeks in which we have been considering the Bill many of us, I think in all parties, have become aware, if we were not already, of what confusion ensues if one tries to remove a large part of the machinery of government without adequate investigation and consultation.

The fact is that after 10 years the metropolitan counties—and I wish mainly to speak of them—are a going concern. Over these long hours of debate I have yet to hear or read of any noble Lord finding fault with their performance. We have heard a lot about the GLC; we have heard very little about the metropolitan counties and no criticism of them at all that I can remember. Their structure plans are complete and operational, whereas I may say that half the local plans of the boroughs and districts have not yet even reached the stage of public inquiry. Even if they had, and were statutory, they would not cover the whole of the metropolitan areas, and there would be a nasty patchwork of gaps.

If I may instance one metropolitan county out of the six—Greater Manchester—here are some of the things which it has achieved on the ground in the 10 years of its existence. It has restored, relandscaped and opened to the public nine river valleys, including 11,000 acres of land which it now owns and manages. It has created 11 country parks and 860 smaller schemes. We should remember that that is in Greater Manchester alone. It has restored to productive use 5,000 acres of derelict land and it has plans for another 6,000, if it is allowed to survive. It has planted 10 million trees. It has created a green belt which takes 47 per cent. of the county area. When one thinks of the nature of Greater Manchester that is a remarkable figure. It now has 120 conservation areas and it had only 37 when it was set up. It has attracted £20 million in grants from the EC for environmental work of that kind.

That is how the environmental package, as I have called it, works in practice on the ground in those parts of England which—and I think that we must all agree about that—most need it and which are most subject to urban stress, dereliction and unemployment. I ask noble Lords opposite to protect those activities. So my second point is the point of continuity.

Thirdly, the amendments that I support obviously do least damage to the central purpose of the Bill. Indeed, they reinforce it by making it workable instead of unworkable. Personally, as I said in my speech on Second Reading, I am no believer in joint boards. Nobody could be who has studied the past history of those boards as recorded and researched recently by the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. I think that we know their failings. Nominees from constituent authorities feel obliged to fight their corner, everything becomes politicised and decisions are apt to be feeble compromises emerging from horse-trading.

Obviously as an agency for action in difficult areas the development corporation is infinitely more effective. As we saw after 10 years of comparative inaction in the London docks, we have in the past two or three years seen remarkable progress as a result of the setting up of the development corporation. But I know that to many noble Lords because of its undemocratic nature that solution is ruled out.

But in case there are any noble Lords who still believe that the boroughs and districts as unitary planning authorities could cope with the environmental problems of the conurbations, I should perhaps briefly remind them of what happened when that was tried. Every local authority wants to increase its rateable value. Every authority wants more housing and does not want to be the one which takes the rubbish dump. In the 1920s when that kind of fragmented system operated enough land was zoned for housing to accommodate 350 million people in England alone. In the 1970s the boroughs and districts in Greater Manchester each had their own road programme and, when they were put together, they were costed at £2,000 million. That was the kind of parochial planning that made it necessary to create the LCC in 1888, the GLC in 1965 and finally the metropolitan counties in 1974.

If we have to revert to that kind of situation, we shall find the fringe land taken for housing just as it was in the 1920s, when, I may say, the built-up area of Greater London was doubled for a gain of only one-fifth in the population. We shall not have wastelands in the inner cities reclaimed for housing simply because it is obviously more difficult and less marketable. That, incidentally, is why the conservation and rural interests—the NFU and the CPRE—so strongly oppose the Bill. It is one of the first matters on which they have been wholly united. I find it impossible to believe that the Secretary of State or his officials really want to be involved in bullying all 69 of the metropolitan boroughs and districts and all 32 of the London boroughs into not making that kind of piecemeal mistake and into doing the right thing.

I have mentioned the Redcliffe-Maud Commission. I should like to read one more passage from the report: In modern conditions, where everything is bigger than it used to be—industrial organisation, financial needs, popular demands for services—central Government's increasing power calls for increasingly strong local government, otherwise local government will be swamped by the pressures and the powers of the central authority and a highly centralised form of government will result. To most people in England this is wholly unacceptable but if there is no adequate counterpoise it must come". I ask noble Lords opposite to consider what they would feel if that kind of power was in the wrong hands from their point of view. It is because of the fear of this that members of all parties in the Committee have supported the amendments that have been proposed today. I ask them to support this much more modest one, which will at least hold the fort and will be much better than no amendment at all.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Birk

I rise to support this series of amendments, to which I have added my name. I feel that they have been very well spoken to in the first place by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who moved them, and then by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, who expressed so much better than I can the way I feel about these amendments.

They are inevitably a very far down second best to what we were trying to obtain in the earlier amendments this afternoon. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, put the matter very well and I entirely share his feelings about this. The only reason for supporting these amendments is, as he feels, because it is better than leaving the Bill as it is at the moment. As he put it, these amendments protect the integrity and the indivisibility of certain aspects of planning. His views about joint boards are views which we on these Benches share. It does not give me any pleasure to be able to say "Yah boo!" at them, because it looks as though they will now be in this Bill and create all the trouble and mischief that will go along with the arrangements that are now in the Bill.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, pointed out, the boroughs and districts will neither be able to take it over, nor will they do effectively what is being given to them to do because of the competition between them, the problems that exist and the need in this area. That is in spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville (who is not in his seat), felt on the previous amendment would now be covered for strategic planning.

I turn to what these amendments do. So far as London and the metropolitan counties are concerned, I would say this. There is a difference between them. I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, said about what appeared to be lack of concentration on or interest in the metropolitan counties, when, although we were meant to be debating both amendments and I was addressing myself to both of them, the debate came down very much more upon London.

However, these amendments seek to try to improve the position in one way. It is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, put it, that one either leaves the Bill as it is and says, "A plague on the Bill and the House which produced it and let all the chaos which will come out of it reign", or one tries to do something about it.

In this series of what I agree are modest amendments, we are trying to do something about it. We are trying to correct a fundamental weakness in the Bill in relation to the lack of provision for the preparation of strategic planning. We are trying to deal with the related activities both at London and at metropolitan county level, which would ensure an improvement in the beneficial use of land and of the countryside. We are trying to keep some of the specialist teams, within both the GLC and the metropolitan counties, dealing with minerals planning, waste disposal planning, land reclamation, pollution control and ecology. These could be helped and saved by these provisions, together with those in some of the other amendments which come much further on.

As far as both London and the metropolitan counties are concerned, it would also allow the continuous use of research, which is very important. Some of the skilled staff would be kept together. Furthermore, the Secretary of State would not have to involve himself in local matters as much as he has to under the Bill as it stands at the moment in order to resolve inter-authority disagreements over the production of unitary plans or the provision of refuse disposal sites.

Strategic planning can maintain its role as a guiding hand as to how best to use society's scarce resources in the country's major, yet declining, conurbations. Finally, land use planning would be able to promote policies which are conducive to economical and effective transport operations.

Having said that, I can only repeat that in spite of that there will be fragmentation. There will be complete vacua in what should have been an easygoing system.

It is also true that when the metropolitan counties were first established by the Conservative Government, they were established against the goodwill of and certainly without very much encouragement from the opposition at that time. They were very unloved by almost everybody. However, over the decade that they have been there they have developed skills. They have developed enormously. They have made a niche for themselves. That is why it is such a pity that an alternative has not yet been found that will enable the best of the work that they do to be conserved, or preserved, rather than leaving it as it is at the moment.

Though it is with a rather heavy heart, I support these amendments. As they do not involve any elected assembly, I hope the Government will find it possible to accept them.

Lord Elton

One of my happiest memories, as a Member of Her Majesty's Opposition some years ago, was seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, take her place opposite me and in authority, and listening to her lucid grasp of detail with which she deployed her arguments from the Government's Front Bench as a Member of the Labour Party. I only preface my remarks by saying that now that she is a Member of the Opposition and a Member of the Social Democratic Party, she has lost none of her grasp of detail or, indeed, her perception of the strategic issues.

I should not wish the noble Baroness to be too encouraged by those remarks, because the remainder of what I have to say may be less to her taste. The noble Baroness has brought forward, with the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, and the encouragement of my noble friend, Lord Broxbourne, a very carefully considered and complex group of amendments which strike the Bill in a number of places and in a number of ways.

The group is designed to recreate indirectly elected metropolitan county counties, county planning and passenger transport authorities, and an apparently appointed London planning authority which will be charged with the task of keeping development in its area under review and making a strategic plan to assist each London borough or metropolitan district in producing its unitary development plan. That is the broad gist of what the noble Baroness proposes.

With the agreement of the Committee and of the noble Baroness, I think I ought to concentrate very much on the broad gist of what she proposes, because the important but separate parts to which she and her noble friend and my noble friend have referred all depend for their importance in this debate on the way in which they fit into the overall proposal.

As I say, the overall purpose is to reinstate certain aspects of the GLC and MCC planning functions. I must say at the outset that I agree with my noble friend on one matter at least. That is that town and country planning is an exceedingly complex matter for somebody coming fresh to it to understand. I shall frequently, no doubt, be put right by him and by other noble friends and sometimes, no doubt courteously, by the noble Baroness herself. They have suggested, on the one hand, that in the metropolitan counties, the host for the functions that they propose to transfer should be the passenger transport authorities. My noble friend spoke in favour of that. I can see that there is a certain similarity. Managing a large and complex operation that goes beyond the confines of a particular borough or district and that requires consideration of some planning matters to be held in mind has a certain affinity with what the passenger transport authority does. It is not, however, a great affinity. I am sure that the noble Baroness would agree that giving it this extra function would entirely change the body on to which it had been grafted

As for the London residuary body, which is a boa rd of trustees for a transitional purpose mainly concerned with the payment of debts, the management of property and the disposal of staff, I doubt whether the graft would take very well. But that is not the prime purpose of the amendment. It is merely the way that the noble Baroness has sought to carry out the prune purpose. Our first concern must be the same as hers and that of her noble friends and also the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who ably supported them. It is to consider the broad principle of a metropolitan-wide or London-wide planning authority. I recognise that some exceptions are made. Broadly, however, the effect of the amendments as drafted is to transfer all planning responsibilities of the abolition authorities to these slightly surprising successor bodies.

Before looking at how these proposals would work, we need to be convinced that the things designed to get done need to be done in the first place. If we are to have an upper tier authority that is to interpose itself in the planning process and that will conduct correspondence with the lower tier and necessarily generate a great deal of extra work—this is one of the principal complaints we constantly receive about what we now have—it must surely be needed to take important and far-reaching decisions. It is the work of the abolition authorities that the amendments seek to perpetuate. So let us consider what their work has been.

When we look at this, what do we find? We find that it has always been inevitable that most of the really significant strategic development proposals already come to the Secretary of State for decision. I shall truncate what I could say on this because I have already deployed the examples not only of the M.25 and Stansted, both of which closely affect London and over which London as now constituted had no authority whatever, but also the Mansion House, the National Gallery, the dockland developments, the short take-off and landing airport projected for the London dock area, Vauxhall Cross, Coin Street, and so on.

In the metropolitan districts, I could refer to the industrial technology park proposed next to the National Exhibition Centre and clearly a strategic matter. I am sure that if the noble Baroness had been standing at this Dispatch Box she would have been arguing fiercely for this to be in the hands of the Secretary of State. It is an issue that goes beyond the area of the body she describes. It is not merely such obviously national matters as that. What about the 14 superstore planning applications in Solihull alone? That, again, came to the Secretary of State. I have already reminded your Lordships this evening—the noble Baroness needs no reminding but there are perhaps one or two noble Lords who do—that under Section 25 of the 1971 Town and Country Planning Act the Secretary of State already has the right and indeed needs to use the right to call in all matters of strategic importance.

So the discussion really is where the strategic authority should rest. The first batch of examples I quoted to your Lordships showed clearly that the strategic consideration very often lies outside the area in which the development is taking place, not merely outside the borough or the district but outside the metropolitan county or the Greater London area.

7.45 p.m.

What the noble Baroness proposes would not enable that consideration to be taken in any way other than it is now or in any way other than is proposed in the Bill as drafted. It would go inevitably to the Secretary of State. I have shown in the second batch of examples that I gave that even where the development is within the area, the Secretary of State still has to be involved. My noble friend Lord Colville—I am sorry that he is not here to support me because he would have done so better and more quickly—pointed out conclusively in the debate on the last pair of amendments that there already exists a secure matrix of regional and national planning, strategic planning and strategic information both in the development plans we already have and in the powers and the resources of the Secretary of State which is entirely sufficient and appropriate to keep the unitary plans in accordance one with another.

I used in a brief and perhaps ill-timed intervention earlier the simile of a patchwork quilt, because that is very much how I see it. The unitary plan will be developed in two stages by the local authority. The top half will correspond broadly with the present structural plan and will be held in conformity with its neighbours by the strategic advice of the Secretary of State who will be informed by the processes that I described earlier. The lower part, which is bolted directly on to it, if I may so describe it, will be the local decisions, reached on local issues by people locally elected. That seems to me a preferable system to one that will re-introduce, with the exception, I note, of examinations in public and public inquiries, almost the whole of the elaborate machinery that we now have. This means endless correspondence about parking lots. I could cite examples of hundreds of days lost in such correspondence on trivial matters. Why are these trivial matters advanced by this senior authority? Because all the strategic issues that should be its proper meat and drink, if it were a strategic authority, are already in the hands of the Secretary of State.

I believe that I have said almost enough to cover the main thrust of what the noble Baroness and her noble friends have said. There is much more that I could have said but I should like to leap forward to reassure my noble friend—I am not sure that it will be a reassurance and I do not see my noble friend smiling with anything more than uncertainty at my back as I say this—that I have a view (I have expressed it already) that there is an amendment on the Marshalled List that we would be able to pursue with more profit. It is in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandford. I do not propose, as our soup is cooling on the table, to go into that debate now. I am sure also that my noble friend, although he may have had his soup, may prefer to wait until after the coffee.

Lord Sandford


Lord Elton

Good. That is I think the proper way to proceed. Although therefore I cannot give the undertaking that my noble friend Lord Broxbourne wants me to give—that we regard parts of the noble Baroness's proposal with favour, because I regret to say we do not—I hope that, however disappointed he feels now, he will be a little reasured when we come to amendments after dinner. In the meantime, I regret that I cannot advise your Lordships to accept these amendments.

Baroness Denington

My I ask the noble Lord the Chairman for guidance? Looking at the Clock, are we trying to take a vote now before some of us go for a meal? Or are we going to adjourn and then continue later with the same amendment?

Lord Skelmersdale

It is not in the Government's hands whether or not we have a vote. The procedure is that we shall continue and that I shall seek to resume the House after this amendment has been disposed of.

Baroness Stedman

I am grateful to the noble Lord for the kindly and courteous way in which he expounded. It was rather a long and detailed speech. I should like to read it carefully in Hansard. Some of his arguments make the point to me. There are others that I should like to consider again. If it is with the agreement of my noble friend Lord Esher and of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I should like at this stage to beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Then I can look at the matter again and perhaps have some conversations with the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume. I think it has been agreed through the usual channels that we will not return to this particular Bill until ten minutes to nine o'clock.

House resumed.