§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of the Bill can be simply stated. It is to make the planning system both fairer and more efficient. Essentially our present planning system has existed for over 40 years. Some elements of it go back much further. The system has for the most part served us well. In our densely-populated small island it is essential that we have an effective means of resolving how to use the land that we have available. We need houses, factories, offices, shops, roads, railways, football stadia and tennis courts; we need to regenerate rundown urban areas; to maintain our green belts, and to preserve our many beautiful and scientifically important areas of countryside and coastline and our unique historic towns and buildings. Development decisions must be made with care, taking account of these various conflicting needs and of the needs of people who will be directly affected by development.
By and large the planning system, and the related provisions for compulsory purchase and compensation, ensure an acceptable balance. It is neither a developer's charter nor a preservationist's dream. Each individual decision contributes to the balance between conservation and development. The system must work efficiently and must be seen to operate fairly by the people whom it affects. This Bill addresses the problems which over recent years have become evident in this respect.
Parts I and II of the Bill begin with important measures for strengthening and improving the enforcement provisions in our planning Acts in England and Wales and in Scotland. Clauses 1 to 11 for England and Wales and Clauses 27 to 36 for Scotland are based on the recommendations made by Mr. Robert Carnwath QC, in his report entitled Enforcing Planning Control, which my department published in April 1989.
I should like to pay tribute to Mr. Carnwath's report. It gives a clear and succinct analysis of current enforcement problems. His recommendations provide a sound basis for amending legislation, as befits a distinguished planning barrister. I am also glad to say that the recommendations have been generally welcomed, as a package, in the extensive consultation exercise which followed publication of the report last year. It is as a balanced package of improvements that I commend this part of the Bill to your Lordships.
907 What the Carnwath report showed, and what many of us know from personal experience, is that there is a small minority of people who are determined contravenors of planning regulations. It is those people who bring the system into disrepute; and it is their damaging and unwelcome activities—often making their neighbours' lives intolerable—which the enforcement amendments are intended to deter or, failing that, to remedy through increased penalties; new methods for enforcing planning conditions; and improved powers for local authority officers to enter private land for enforcement purposes. But I should like to emphasise very strongly that these amendments are not directed at the ordinary, law-abiding citizen who makes a planning application to the council, has it approved and carries out the development permitted in accordance with the approved plans. People who follow the proper procedures have absolutely nothing to fear from stronger enforcement powers.
The strengthened enforcement powers are balanced in the Bill—as the Carnwath report recommended—by other provisions which are intended to foster co-operation between people who want to develop their land and local planning authorities. For example, the new planning contravention notice, for which Clauses 1 and 27 provide, is meant to encourage developers and authorities to talk to each other in the early stages of the process; so that instead of formal enforcement action having to be taken when communications fail, there is a real prospect of initiating discussion which results in agreement on how land is to be developed.
The proposals in Clauses 10 and 35 are also based on the Carnwath report's recommendations. Their main purpose is to do away with the present out-dated immunity and replace it with a modern and workable concept. I pay tribute to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Law Society for their part in initiating these revised procedures, which we believe will be generally beneficial to owners of land and to practitioners who have to advise their clients on the difficult question whether actual or proposed development is lawful. Later clauses (Clauses 19, 21, 39 and 41) make some parallel enforcement provisions in respect of tree preservation orders, listed buildings, conservation areas and hazardous substances. My final word on this part of the Bill is that it gives all planning authorities the opportunity to make the planning enforcement process work better than it does at present.
I turn now to the changes relating to development control which are also covered by Parts I and II of the Bill. The provisions in Clause 12 were the subject of a consultation paper about planning agreements issued by the department last year. First, they would enable a developer to enter into a plannng obligation by undertaking unilaterally to carry out works or contribute to infrastructure, as an alternative to a planning agreement with the planning authority. This would enable developers to break the stalemate when local planning authorities play for time or hold out for excessive planning gain. Such undertakings would be 908 enforceable by the local authority concerned but would not require its agreement. They should be particularly useful in clarifying the position at appeal.
Secondly, to ensure that planning obligations need not continue indefinitely where they no longer serve a useful purpose, the clause would enable a person who is bound by a planning obligation to apply for it to be modified or discharged. There would be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
Thirdly, the Government intend to legislate to enable the Crown to enter into planning obligations. I regret that drafting of this technically rather difficult provision is not yet complete but I intend to introduce a suitable amendment in Committee.
Clause 13 and several of the other development control proposals stem from the department's Efficient Planning consultation paper of July 1989. They are designed to streamline the planning system and make it work more effectively—aims which I know have widespread support. They will enable us to simplify the arrangements for publicising and handling applications for bad neighbour development and for notifying owners and other interests about development proposals.
In order to save the system from becoming clogged up by repetitive applications designed to wear down the resistance of local planning authorities and communities, Clauses 14 and 37 would give local planning authorities the power to decline to determine an application on the grounds that a similar one has been refused by the Secretary of State within the preceding two years where there has been no material change in circumstances.
Clauses 15 and 38 would enable the Secretary of State to dismiss an appeal where the appellant delays unreasonably. Under Clause 24 the Secretary of State would be able to require someone who unreasonably insists that his appeal should be heard at a local inquiry or hearing to pay the costs of the other party to the hearing. We will be publishing for consultation the criteria to be used in deciding whether someone's insistence on an inquiry or hearing is unreasonable.
Clause 16 rescinds the present requirement that all applications for county matter planning permissions—that is, minerals and waste development—should first go to the district planning authority. Applications will be submitted direct to the county council, and this should reduce handling times.
Clause 17 provides the statutory framework for reforming the arrangements under which local planning authorities deem themselves planning permission. This was the subject of a consultation paper this year. The clause would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations governing development by local planning authorities or development of land owned by authorities, including arrangements for the discharge of authorities' functions. We intend in these regulations and other secondary legislation to require that all development proposals by local authorities, or on their land, must be fully advertised and decided in public by a committee not responsible for the management of the land concerned. If a proposal 909 conflicts with the development plan, it must be reported to the Secretary of State so that he can consider calling in the proposals for his own decision.
I believe that these are useful reforms. They will increase local authorities' accountability when deeming themselves planning permission, helping to correct for any possible bias which might arise from their direct financial interest; but they should not restrict authorities unnecessarily in carrying out their statutory functions.
Clause 18 and Schedule 1 amend the provisions concerning mines and waste. They will enable aftercare conditions to be imposed on planning permissions and on revocation, discontinuance, prohibition and suspension orders so that better control can be exercised over mineral waste sites which are often unsightly. This will help to bring the tipping of minerals waste up to modern standards. The schedule would also provide for regulations to abate the compensation payable following revocation, discontinuance, prohibition or suspension orders made in respect of mineral waste sites. We believe that minerals planning authorities will then be more likely to take action to improve the operation of these sites.
Schedule 1 would also extend to all waste disposal sites the power for local authorities to impose aftercare conditions in planning permissions and revocation and discontinuance orders—a power already available for mineral working sites, and an important environmental improvement.
Clauses 20 and 40 would remove doubt about whether certain forms of advertisement such as blinds and canopies on shop premises are within the scope of planning authorities' control of advertising.
Clause 41 would enable Scottish local planning authorities to remove or obliterate illegal placards and posters. A similar power in England and Wales already enables authorities to deal with fly-posting.
I turn now to the provisions in Schedules 3 and 4 to the Bill. The development plan provisions in Schedule 3 will end a long period of debate and uncertainty about the future of the planning system in England and Wales. It is almost exactly four years since the Government published their Green Paper on the Future of Development Plans. That was followed up by a White Paper in January 1989. Those proposals were further modified by my right honourable friend's announcement in September of our decision to retain county structure plans.
At the end of this process we have a package on which I believe there is a wide measure of agreement. Given the many pressures on scarce land resources, we need a rational framework for land use planning which can look at the community's requirements in the round and balance development needs against the importance of conserving what is best in our heritage. The problem with the present system is that it is far too slow and cumbersome. For instance, it currently takes my department almost two and a half years on average to approve a county structure plan. Plans may be overtaken by events even before they come into force.
910 The provisions in Schedule 3 address those issues, with the aim of simplifying and streamlining the system. We intend to retain county structure plans as an essential strategic element in the development plan framework. But the Bill will allow counties to adopt their own plans in future, after due public consultation, rather than have to submit them to the Secretary of State. Of course counties will have to have regard to national policies and regional guidance in drawing up their plans. My right honourable friend will retain the power to intervene if they fail to do so; for example, if the county concerned fails to take a realistic view of development needs. But self-adoption will give responsible counties the chance to revise and update their plans much more quickly than they can at present. We shall be requiring all counties to prepare one plan for the whole of their areas and to confine their plans to a prescribed range of key strategic issues.
At the district level, the Bill will require all district councils to prepare local plans for the whole of their areas. At present the preparation of local plans is discretionary and only about 30 per cent. of the country is covered. This is an unsatisfactory situation. It means that in many areas there is no clear framework against which planning applications can be considered. It has also meant that many structure plans have included development control policies on matters which should properly be for local decision. Extending local plan coverage will help to ensure that county structure plans can focus on the key strategic planning issues. Again, there is provision to ensure consistency between national policy, structure plan and local plan, including reserve powers for the Secretary of State to direct modifications should it become necessary.
Our intention is that counties should be asked to revise and update their structure plans in line with the new provisions within two years of their commencement. Districts will be required to prepare local plans for the whole of their areas within five years of commencement. Of course those who already have up-to-date local plans or who are working on them at the moment will be able to make full use of that existing material in producing the new district-wide plans. We shall be tabling appropriate transitional provisions at Committee stage.
Schedule 3 also makes provisions for development plans in national parks. Structure planning arrangments there will be unchanged. But all national park boards and committees will have a new responsibility to prepare a local plan for the whole of the national park. Again present coverage of local plans in the national parks is very patchy. These new provisions will clarify plan-making responsibilities in the parks and put the basis for development control on a firmer footing.
The Bill will require all counties and national park authorities to prepare minerals development plans for their areas. We are consulting at the moment on the possibility of introducing for Committee stage a similar requirement for waste disposal development plans.
911 Finally, Schedules 3 and 4 also include provisions which will simplify procedures for public consultation on both draft development plans and draft schemes for simplified planning zones. That is a brief sketch of the key provisions in these schedules. I believe that they are provisions which will be widely welcomed.
We are proposing a firm timetable for the completion of development plans. Once the system is up and running we believe it will pay large dividends not only for planning authorities but for developers as well and for all who have an interest in the planning system. It will provide a firmer and clearer framework for decisions on individual planning applications avoiding the need for so many appeals.
The last major component of the Bill concerns compulsory purchase and land compensation. Parts III and IV, like the remainder of the Bill, have the objective of improving both the basic fairness of the system and the efficiency with which it operates.
Broadly speaking, compensation is payable when people's rights over land are taken away or damaged under statutory powers or under the threatened use of such powers. For many years now the statutory code governing the assessment of compensation in such circumstances has rested on the central principle that the claimant should be left neither better off nor worse off than he would have been if the question of compulsory purchase had not arisen. Compensation is accordingly calculated by reference to the proper value of the land in the open market, discounting, however, any effect on that value of the actual proposal for which the land is required.
In continuing to uphold the basic structure of the compensation regime we none the less accept the need to give claimants a better deal. That is the main purpose of the provisions in Part III and IV. In particular, we have concluded that further provision is needed in respect of those who lose their homes as a result of compulsory purchase. Such people are of course compensated on the basis of the market value of their interest in the property and will continue also to be reimbursed in respect of their incidental expenses such as professional fees and removal costs. However, compensation purely for financial loss takes no account of the personal distress which can arise when someone is forced to move from his home in these circumstances. The additional home loss payment to which displaced householders are normally entitled helps.
Clauses 47 and 49 provide a fairer approach by modifying the home loss payment rules so that in future owner-occupiers receive a straight percentage of the value of their property. This we propose should be 10 per cent., subject to a minimum of £1,500 and a maximum of £15,000. The payment for non-owner occupiers will remain at a flat rate of £1,500. However, we are reducing the residence qualification for all claimants from five years down to one, which will substantially increase the number of people entitled to payments. We are also broadening the entitlement in a number of other respects—for example, to include those whose homes are acquired under the statutory 912 blight procedure. These changes are so significant that we have provided for them to take effect from 16th November, the day following the Bill's introduction in your Lordships' House.
I shall not at this stage go into detail on the other compensation provisions. They include, for instance, an extension of authorities' powers to purchase properties which are likely to be badly affected by public works and a significant broadening of entitlement to interest on compensation. No doubt we shall have an opportunity to look at these matters more closely when we reach Committee stage. It may be helpful to your Lordships if I say that for that stage we intend to bring forward certain additional provisions on compensation which because of their complexity are unfortunately not yet complete. One of these provisions will provide for additional compensation to owners in cases where the value of land increases as a result of a planning permission granted after compulsory acquisition. This provision, which involves the revival, with some amendments, of Part IV of the Land Compensation Act 1961, will be substantial. We shall ensure that your Lordships are given adequate time to study these provisions and that appropriate briefing notes are made available. I personally undertake to write to noble Lords on all Benches with as early notice as possible of both the amendment and explanatory notes to that amendment.
As I have said, our main aim in the compensation provisions has been to make the system fairer. If these provisions also have the result of making people less inclined to oppose necessary public development projects so that those projects are less subject to delay, that will be an additional justification. Indeed, this is an instance when the interests of fairness and efficiency are not in conflict.
This Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland. I have sought to mention the Scottish clauses along with their counterparts for England and Wales. I have also already briefly described Clause 41, which is the only Scottish provision in the Bill which does not reflect provisions for England and Wales.
On the other hand, I should draw your Lordships' attention to a number of areas in which there are no such parallel Scottish measures. Principal among those are the provisons for streamlining the development plan system, since the framework for that system in Scotland differs from England and Wales. The existing Scottish system works well, with complete structure plan coverage and 80 per cent. of local plans either adopted or already finalised. The time taken in preparing and processing structure plans has been halved in the last five years. We therefore propose to retain the existing regime unamended.
Because the planning framework and planning practice differ in Scotland, we have concluded that no Scottish provision is needed in relation to some of the development control provisions, including those concerning planning obligations, local authorities' own developments, applications relating to county matters and the operation of the award of costs in appeal cases. The Bill also contains no Scottish 913 provision relating to simplified planning zones or to the procedures involved in applications for planning permission. These have been the subject of recent public consultations, the outcome of which I would not want to prejudge.
With the particular exceptions that I have mentioned, our general intention is to have our proposals take effect both north and south of the Border. Where the Bill does not yet achieve this we shall be bringing forward appropriate amendments.
Fairness and efficiency are the themes of the Bill as a whole. We have consulted widely on its provisions and in the light of the responses received to those consultations we believe that our proposals command wide acceptance. Some respondents would have liked us to go further in one direction or another but the Government consider that the proposals in the Bill strike the right balance.
I began this speech by remarking on the value of the planning system as an instrument for resolving difficult questions about land use. This Bill is designed to make the instrument work better. That is something we all want and it is in that spirit I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Blotch.)
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for the lucid way in which she expounded the major provisions of the Bill. It has been widely greeted as an uncontroversial Bill. I suggest to your Lordships that it is as remarkable for what it does not include as for what it does. That which it does not include takes two forms.
First, we are glad that it does not include the widespread attack on land use planning and strategic land use planning which existed in Right-wing circles not many years ago. It was only in the early 1980s that government discouraged local authorities from producing local and structure plans unless they were essential for development purposes. We are pleased to see that the Minister and the Government have recognised the value of strategic land use planning and are now proposing that strategic land use plans and local plans be extended as rapidly as possible to cover the whole country. That is in accordance with the thinking in local authority and economic circles that has existed since the war and in some cases before then. After all, it was Lewis Silkin who in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 set the first framework for planning in this country.
I turn now to the other aspect which is not included in the Bill. It is remarkable that planning legislation has been relatively stable compared with many other aspects of social policy. This Government in particular have found it necessary to bring forward almost annually Bills attacking local government and altering housing legislation. By comparison our planning legislation has been stable. The legislators of the 1968 Act are to be congratulated on the fact that this Bill is the first major revision of that legislation. It also shows that in many respects, which I do not 914 intend to minimise, land use planning is a matter of cross-party agreement on all sides of the House. We are pleased that the Bill does not contain the wilder attacks on strategic planning which have been expressed in some circles in recent years. We are also pleased that in this respect, if in no other, the Government have returned to consensus politics.
There are two possible ways of looking at strategic planning. The first is a concern for development and the efficiency and economy of the process. That concern is paramount in the Government's minds in drafting the Bill. The second is concern for environmental protection. Again I pay tribute to the Government's environmental protection White Paper published in September which made clear that strategic planning is an essential tool of environmental protection. Those two aspects are not necessarily in conflict. However, in looking at the legislation that is required to reform the planning process we should have in mind the needs of the development process and environmental protection.
With the exception of specific occasions, our approach to the Bill will not be to attack its proposals as regards enforcement and compensation. We certainly shall not attack those parts which seek to make enforcement and development control procedures more effective than they are now. However, our approach will be to seek to ensure that environmental considerations come to the forefront of the consideration of planning authorities, developers and all others concerned with the use of the precious land in this country.
In considering environmental protection we shall be dealing with a number of specific points which are not included in the Bill but which must be introduced by way of amendment. For example, the Bill contains no reference to environmental assessment. Noble Lords who are aware of what is happening outside Winchester will know that the proposals put forward by the Department of Transport to drive a road through Twyford Down have gone to Brussels on the grounds that there was inadequate environmental assessment. We do not know the result of the case, but lying behind British law there is a requirement of the European Community that there should be environmental assessment for all major development programmes. The question that we must ask is why the opportunity was not taken to introduce that desirable concept into planning law. This is the first major planning Bill for more than 20 years. Surely it would have been possible to include that concept in the planning procedures and provide in the Bill that planning authorities must take account of their environmental assessment duties.
Secondly, an issue that has come to the fore in recent years has been the need for better public participation in the planning process. Too often our planning process has been seen to be a private duel between local authorities and developers. It is not even a requirement on local authorities to notify the neighbours or surrounding occupiers of land which is the subject of a planning application. However, most local authorities, and all the good authorities, do so as 915 a matter of course. Surely in drafting the Bill the opportunity should have been taken to introduce public participation as a statutory right. Surely, the opportunity should have been taken to ensure that not only notification in advance but participation in the process is available to everyone concerned with the use of the land in the area.
Thirdly, there is the issue of the scope of the planning laws. There are too many exceptions to our existing planning laws. The main exception is agriculture and forestry, but I do not suggest that all changes of use under those headings should be brought under planning control. However, as our agriculture and forestry needs alter, some of those changes should be brought under planning control. The local planning planning authorities should have the opportunity to consider, for example, what happens to agricultural buildings—not merely those of historical interest but those whose existing use is no longer relevant. Therefore, in that respect we shall seek to extend the scope of planning legislation.
We shall seek also to eliminate some of the less justifiable exclusions from the Bill, notably urban development corporations. We shall seek to see to it that proper consideration is given to the specific needs of national parks, of national nature reserves, of the statutory obligations of the National Rivers Authority, of areas of outstanding natural beauty, of sites of special scientific interests and so on. While there is provision in legislation for overall plans by the national parks authorities, we believe that that could be strengthened with advantage.
Therefore, there are many ways in which environmental considerations, in line with the Government's own statement of intent in their September White Paper, could and should be brought within the scope of the Bill.
I want now to deal with some specific problems, not all of which have ready answers. However, they should be debated when considering this Bill. Of course, enforcement occupies a major part of the Bill and we welcome nearly all of the provisions which are made for improved enforcement. There are exceptions which are still unclear but it would not be valuable for me to go into a great deal of detail about those.
As regards the whole issue of planning gain under Section 106, which local authorities still think of as Section 52, we welcome much of the provision made in the Bill and we particularly welcome what the Minister has just said; namely, that an amendment will be introduced to permit involvement of the Crown in those undertakings. However, we are very worried about one particular provision; that is, that developers will be able not only to negotiate planning agreements with local authorities but also to enter into unilateral undertakings which will be a material consideration in any appeal to the Secretary of State.
There are many difficulties about such unilateral undertakings. The first is that local authorities will be excluded in the formulation of those unilateral undertakings. That is what "unilateral" means. 916 However they will not be excluded from their enforcement. Therefore, they will have to enforce undertakings to which they have not been party. Those undertakings are unlikely to pay adequate attention to the land use issues for which local authorities are responsible. They will not pay adequate attention to the complementary provision which may be required from a local authority to take advantage of the undertakings made by developers.
For example, if a developer says, in order to obtain planning permission, that he is prepared to provide land for public open space, that sounds very well but a local authority must maintain that. That will involve expenditure. If he is to provide an access road, that sounds very well but the access road must be maintained by a local authority and the local authority must be sure that the access road is in the right place and is not damaging in other ways. Under the unilateral undertaking proposal, there is no provision for local authorities to perform their real duties in relation to development plans and to the kind of development which will be the subject of the old Section 52 agreement. Therefore, we shall certainly seek major modifications, if not the total elimination of those proposals for unilateral undertakings.
A major cause of anxiety will always be the issue of deemed consent; that is, consent where the local authority owns the land and gives itself permission for some change of use. Some of the more damaging proposals which had been suggested on that subject are not included in the Bill and we are grateful for that. Certainly, the provision that a county council should have to seek consent from the relevant district council where a change of use of county land is proposed, and in particular when the change runs counter to the local plan, is of considerable value.
Again, there is the problem that the restrictions on deemed consent do not apply to urban development corporations. We would wish that anomaly to be removed.
However, there is a particular difficulty as regards metropolitan borough councils and district councils. They are the local planning authorities and have virtually all the powers and responsibilities. They must see to it that what they do with their own land conforms with what their own formulated and published plans provide.
There seem to me to be only two ways to deal with that. The first, by stipulating that any development of that sort must be referred to the Secretary of State or to a third party, would give rise to a quite intolerable degree of centralisation. In effect that would mean that a district council would not be master in its own house.
The other approach, which I prefer and which I think should be provided for in the Bill, is that there should be a measure of self regulation in the use of deemed planning consent. For example, there could be a requirement that the deemed planning consent should be given only after the matter has been considered by committees other than the user committee of the land. It could be a requirement that 917 it should be considered only by the full council so that all interests concerned can be taken into account. It could well be a requirement that there should be particularly stringent requirements for public consultation when deemed planning consent is under consideration. It should certainly be a requirement that there should be a code of practice, possibly even a statutory code of practice, to make sure that there was no abuse of deemed planning consent.
Another issue to which there is no easy answer, although it arises very strongly from the part of the Bill which is concerned with enforcement procedures, is criminalisation. That is a horrible word. However, here we are talking about the difference between making it an offence to carry out a development which is in conflict with planning permission and, as the Bill proposes, making it an offence to be in breach of an enforcement order.
Let there be no mistake that the enforcement order procedure is better than that which we have at present. We believe this to be an improvement on existing provisions and we shall not oppose enforcement procedures. However, the Bill states that a local authority has a discretion as to whether to undertake enforcement. That has led some people, particularly in the town planning profession, to suggest that we do not require a voluntary discretionary enforcement procedure but compulsory enforcement procedures on local authorities. Those people argue—and I see the point—that in the end that would be a better use of local authority resources than the consideration which must be given now as to whether to go in for enforcement orders.
The other approach which has been urged on us by quite a number of people, and which has considerable merit, is to say that it should be the non-conforming development which forms the offence. An analogy is given with building regulations, whereby it immediately becomes an offence to build something which is in conflict with the building regulations. In that case one need not wait for an enforcement order but one can prosecute immediately. I am not sure that the balance of that argument has been fully explored or that we are in a position to come to a conclusion about the matter. However, we can be sure that it will be a subject for debate in Committee and that noble Lords representing particular interests will wish to bring it to the attention of the House.
I referred to the issue of public participation; I do not believe I need go over the ground again. There is still debate regarding compensation. We welcome the provision for increasing home loss payments. We are fully aware of the danger that in going too far along that road we may be damaging development rather than protecting conservation. At the same time, once a development has been agreed it is better that it should be completed quickly and painlessly rather than over a protracted period of time. Therefore we welcome the home loss payments that are proposed.
We question whether the payments go far enough. In France, which has a reputation for sometimes riding roughshod over local opinion but more often for buying local opinion in favour of what it is trying 918 to do, there are compensatory payments of 20 or even 25 per cent. of the market value of the property. That certainly means that matters proceed more quickly. It may mean that there is a saving. Delays in major construction programmes are very expensive. Increased payments however expensive they may be—I note the provision of £50 million for that in the Bill—may be cheaper than unnecessary de lays in carrying out developments already agreed.
Above all we want to examine the whole issue of structure and local plans. I have said how much we on these Benches welcome the Government's determination to see that structure plans and local plans cover the whole of the country as quickly as possible. We believe that at the same time we should be using those plans to better effect. The issue of whether or not a proposed development conforms to a plan should be a major consideration in whether planning procedures are eased or not. For example, whether a development is or is not in conformity with the local structure plan, the two must be in conformity with each other. If the development is in conformity it should go through more quickly and rights of appeal should perhaps be curtailed. Where it is not in conformity with the local plan extra obstacles should be placed upon it.
Rights of appeal should be extended possibly even to the extent of there being a limited right of appeal against planning permission which has been granted; for example, a right of appeal to those who have been statutorily consulted in the planning process. That could include a parish council or town hall community council, the National Rivers Authority, the authorities of national parks or other organisations which must be consulted on the procedure and which, I suggest, should have a right to appeal when their representations are not given adequate consideration. In all those respects the existence of a complete network of plans is to be welcomed. But we must find ways of making those plans more effective than the Bill at present provides.
The final issue which I wish to consider briefly is one which still comes up in the Government's thinking, whether or not they want it. It concerns the tendency towards greater centralisation. I mentioned urban development corporations. It may be that on occasion they have been instituted with the agreement of the local authorities concerned. They perhaps saw no other way of obtaining the money necessary to do the work in their area. Nevertheless, is it not now the case that the exemption from planning control given to urban development corporations has, to say the least, run its time? Perhaps we should now establish a time limit within which we shall get rid of it, making our structure and local plans complete rather than having black holes in them.
Perhaps we should be taking the opportunity in Part I to reduce the role of the Secretary of State in regard to structure and local plans. It is possible that a Secretary of State of ill will—I do not suggest the present Secretary of State is such a person—could limit Part I in such a way that it was concerned only with land use planning and could not be concerned 919 with other issues such as transport energy consumption, the viability of the local economy and so on. Perhaps now is the time for the Secretary of State to abandon the idea of regional planning guidance. Why should there not be encouragement, even, if necessary, enforcement, to see that local authorities get together in regional groups and produce their own regional plans which would be their own responsibility and not subject to the whim of the Secretary of State. It is wrong for such regional planning to come down from Marsham Street rather than being the responsibility of the local authorities in the area.
I have taken up too much of your Lordships' time. There are other examples of centralisation. All I say is that where we find it on the face of the Bill we shall seek to eliminate it. In many ways the Bill, as described by the Minister in her opening speech, is a good Bill. Many parts of it will deserve and receive the support of noble Lords on these Benches. What is sad is the extent to which opportunities have been missed to make it a great Bill.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for her explanation and welcome her indication of further amendments which, on the whole, we look forward to; they appear to be on the right lines. It is a Bill which for the most part appears to command almost universal approval among the various interested bodies. I suspect the Minister must be greatly relieved, following her ordeals with Part VII of the Environmental Protection Act, that this Bill is not so controversial.
Planning at both local and county level is once again in favour, following four or more years of virtual blight during the course of which many experienced local planning officers either moved into the private sector or sought early retirement. While there are, no doubt, many excellent qualified people around—there is a lot of redundancy in the professions at the moment—who could be attracted back into local authority planning departments, the ability of the authorities adequately to finance such appointments and obtain the best people to take them up must be questioned, threatened as they are with charge-capping. That is a serious point.
I know the Minister has great experience of local government. My knowledge of the situation is that it is not always easy to ensure that planning departments are adequately staffed. Too many experienced people have left, completely and utterly worn out and dispirited by what has happened over the past few years. That is just one of the many legacies of the former Secretary of State for the Environment.
If enforcement is to succeed extra manpower will be needed. Of course I want it to succeed. One would have liked the scope of the Bill to be wider, particularly in respect of compulsory acquisition and the current code of practice regarding compensation. As a chartered surveyor practising 16 years ago on an offshore island I cannot claim much personal experience of major road and rail schemes. They were 920 not exactly the order of the day in the Isle of Wight, though that may be about to change. However, I know how bitter some owner occupiers may feel when their home or part of it is injuriously affected or due to be acquired through a compulsory purchase order.
For many years in the other place I was pursued by a freeholder from Kent—nothing whatever to do with the Channel Tunnel scheme—who felt that he had been robbed of his home and his wife; she died during the course of the very protracted negotiations. To add insult to injury his property, having been acquired at a figure he thought was derisory, was not in the end demolished due to a change in the road scheme. The Minister spoke in those terms and I sympathise with what she said.
At that time I initiated some research into what could be done to improve matters. For a Private Member's Bill, it is a far too complicated subject. Although I prepared a short three clause Bill I never had the opportunity to present it, and I do not believe it would have made much progress if I had. However, as the Minister said, in April 1989 the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published a detailed case for simplifying and strengthening the compensation code. One or two of those recommendations, as was rightly indicated, appear in the Bill, particularly the clauses relating to blight. I would, however, be interested to know whether any further changes are envisaged, perhaps in future legislation or amendments to this Bill, following those representations by the RICS and others. They are well thought out and deserve a more serious response than we have had so far.
The additional payment to home owners is very welcome. The fact that these payments will become operative immediately is a helpful and totally just decision. However, should not this concession be extended to all those whose property is compulsorily acquired and not just to home owners? For example, should not business premises be included, with their difficulty in moving staff, travel problems, compensation for people who lose their jobs, and so on? The Bill should be wider than it is but I recognise that the Government have gone a long way in this direction and are therefore to be congratulated.
As one who strongly opposed the whole introduction of charges for planning applications when they were introduced in the other place—I sat on the Committee—I must say that I still feel that they are wrong in principle, more particularly now as they are of a substantial nature in some cases. I am grateful that at least the Government have not come forward with the proposed charges for planning appeals. That proposal has been abandoned, and I am grateful for that.
I also very much agree with the two-year moratorium, but I am not entirely clear on the explanation given. Will it enable an applicant to go back to the local authority within the two years and try his luck again? The authority can say, "No, we are turning this down because it was turned down on appeal so many months ago", but he can come forward again with the application. I suggest that he 921 should not be allowed to come forward with a planning application of any kind on that property while the two-year moratorium exists. To do so would be wasting time.
I have seen cases which have staggered me. In one case a farmer was turned down on a local application for converting a barn into private residences. He failed on appeal but a year later he was selling properties for over £80,000, having gone back again and obtained permission. He must have twisted somebody's arm, but he succeeded. I do not think that he should have been allowed to do that. The local protection societies, the CPRE and other organisations, may possibly have attended the appeal and may even have instructed solicitors or counsel, but they suddenly find that all the arguments that they won on appeal have subsequently failed. Therefore, an amendment to deal with that aspect could be dealt with in Committee. Nevertheless, the moratorium is to be welcomed and it is long overdue. Incidentally, the RSPB would like to see a five-year moratorium.
I am pleased to see that changes are proposed for applications made by local authorities in respect of land in their own ownership. I have never thought that to be right. It is an invitation to create financial resources for all the wrong reasons and should have been dealt with long ago. However, I still believe that the proposed regulations as outlined in the Bill do not appear to be strict enough, so I hope that we shall be able to stiffen up this part of the Bill in Committee.
For my part, as one who supports the introduction of a regional tier of administration for England, I would leave decisions on such matters to such a tier, but I agree that it is a difficult area. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the matter and I have some sympathy for his suggestion that regional structures, with a number of local authorities and counties getting together, might be one way of dealing with the matter. It is not an easy problem.
I hope that I may be pertinent by saying that one of the contenders for the Prime Ministership—I suspect it will be Mr. Heseltine—has some interesting ideas for the future of local government which I totally support. His ideas for a directly elected chief executive is exactly on the right lines. That would give some power back to the towns and counties of this land.
My colleague, my noble friend Lord Hampton, has a Motion down for debate on Wednesday week relating to problems of land use in Britain today. The subject is rightly exercising the minds of many professionals and politicians at present. Incidentally, it is to be featured by the National Housing Forum in National Housing Week next year. I happen to chair that organisation.
In a recent important discussion paper the Town and Country Planning Association reminds us that during the last decade the regional economic planning councils have been abolished and the presumed role of the former metropolitan authorities has been left vacant. Apart from some regional guidance notes, there has been no update in the strategic plans for many parts of the country, including the North West 922 and, for that matter, London and the South East. That is particularly important and pertinent and goes back to 1970.
The RICS has responded to the TCPA paper only this morning, and I have received a copy. The response endorses the concept put forward in the paper, though it makes some corrections. The RICS confirms the view that there needs to be strategic thinking and planning at all levels, including a European dimension, so that planning becomes more than a purely reactive process. It is the form of guidance which gives rise to the problem. Perhaps this is taking us into a field which ought to have been covered in the White Paper on the environment and is beyond the remit of this Bill; though I very much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on the lack of any provision for environmental assessments. I hope that that, even now, might be taken on board.
Nevertheless, the intention of streamlining the county structure plans is a real step in the right direction and we must be grateful at least for that. However, I give notice that we intend to table amendments in Committee covering some of these matters at least in regard to London, the SSSIs and coastal zone planning. Here, I must refer back to some of the issues raised during the passage of the Environmental Protection Act, particularly in regard to SSSIs. I apologise for doing so, but it is an area which could be covered in this Bill.
A brief given to me by the RSPB states that the NCC's 16th annual report is to be published tomorrow and it shows that over 4,000 acres of SSSI land were damaged by developments where planning permission had been granted. Perhaps we can do something in this Bill about that situation. I am told—I have to be very careful when speaking about Scottish matters and I notice that the Minister was also somewhat cautious—that under Scottish planning regulations any unresolved objections by the Nature Conservancy Council relating to planning proposals affecting certain kinds of SSSIs are to be referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The RSPB would welcome an amendment to the Bill which applies the call-in procedure for unresolved objections on any SSSI in the whole of Great Britain. That would enable development proposals affecting an SSSI to be considered in a national and international context.
The report points out—and I know this very well, now that I live in Shropshire—that the NCC has spent some £1.6 million to purchase the Fens and Whixal Mosses SSSI in north Shropshire. In fact, I believe they are mostly in Clwyd in North Wales. That kind of expenditure might not have been needed if we had regulations providing a mechanism for reviewing planning permissions prior to the notification of an SSSI and providing funds to local authorities to enable them to compensate owners following withdrawal of planning permission.
There is a serious case at present in South Wales—whether this Bill will cover it, I do not know—where local residents and small farmers have found that a nationally known minerals company is claiming that it has the right to extract minerals from all over their 923 land arising from a consent given well prior to 1947. The case is going to the High Court and I made a contribution to the appeal made by those who are fighting it. Perhaps that situation could have been dealt with in the Bill. The situation is grossly unfair. The right of extraction did not appear in any of the searches when the people purchased their land. The lawyers and the local authorities are not to blame and it is wrong that the situation should exist.
I also hope to table amendments in regard to coastal zone planning. This matter is of great concern to the country. Again, I understand that the Nature Conservancy Council, before it ceases operations in a Great Britain context, will be publishing a document on the subject, possibly in January. We should like to see a new clause in the Bill which places a duty on local authorities who border coastal and estuarine areas to prepare coastal zone plans to promote the sustainable use of the coasts and foreshores in the area. The pressure in that respect is now off because developers are now rather more cautious about the way they spend their money, but at one time there was an enormous number of applications for marinas, and so on, on our estuaries and coastal areas and there is great concern about the future.
I have some sympathy for Clause 12 regarding planning agreements, but that could be abused with last minute attractive concessions being offered at planning appeals. One can envisage a form of plea bargaining in US terms. I agree that planning gain can produce excellent facilities for local organisations and provide receipts for local government.
There was a case in my old town of Newport, on the Isle of Wight, where we had a brand new football pitch, a marvellous shopping area and about 70 or 80 acres given to the local authority. It worked extremely well and the local authority got what it wanted. However, it had to be properly tied up, which it was. Such schemes must be legally backed and adequate resources made available. That is one of the difficulties of these kinds of bargain. I certainly welcome the amendment which the Minister announced to the effect that Crown land is to be included in these provisions. I realise that in opposition one will always say that a Bill does not go far enough. However, this measure already has 55 clauses and 11 schedules so it is more than a minor Bill. I hope that during the Committee stage we shall make it into a major Bill. I welcome the Bill.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I intend to speak briefly to lay down markers in relation to certain amendments that will be tabled to Clauses 47 and 48, which relate to compensation. I apologise to the House in advance because I may have to leave before the end of the debate. I shall read the noble Baroness's summing-up with care if I have to leave.
In a transaction between a willing buyer and a willing seller a price is agreed on the basis of three factors—the existing use value, the hope value and what the noble Baroness has described as the personal 924 distress value of having to make a sale in certain cases. The main burden of compulsory compensation relates only to existing use value. There are provisions in the Land Compensation Act 1973 for covering the cost of displacement in relation to farms, businesses and other kinds of land. There is no provision for covering the development and hope value of the land under compulsory purchase or for personal distress value, except in so far as happily the Government have agreed to the principle of an increased level of home loss payments.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, has already asked whether there is justification for other kinds of loss payments such as farm loss. I believe that he also mentioned business loss payments. In the case of farms and woodlands there is an attachment which would make a reasonable vendor unwilling in many cases to sell at an existing use value.
There is a more serious injustice than that. Land which is compulsorily purchased is often not entirely used to provide a public service for the use of a statutory undertaker. Often parts of the land are used for commercial activities. We all accept that compulsory purchase is absolutely necessary so that various activities can take place for the public good. Surely it is not intended to give windfall profits to commercial enterprises or that compulsory purchase should be used as a tool for cheating landowners of the benefits of the development value which they could reasonably have anticipated.
Therefore, amendments will be tabled at Committee stage relating to land loss payments along the lines of the home loss payments, which will include an extension to farms and woodlands. Amendments will also be set down relating to land acquired by compulsory purchase order on behalf of a commercial enterprise, the whole or a part of which will be used for such an enterprise, suggesting that the vendor should in some way participate in the added value as well as the existing use value.
Another amendment is being suggested, although it may be overtaken by a government amendment to which the noble Baroness referred, to the effect that within five years of acquisition, if planning permission is granted for certain kinds of development, additional compensation should be payable.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, as one who over the past 30 years has suffered considerable problems with the eccentricities of planning and the resulting delays, I welcome this Bill. In declaring my interest as chairman of English Heritage, I note that the Bill is primarily concerned with mainstream planning and not at all with heritage protection. Therefore, while it does not provide an entirely appropriate home for heritage amendments, there are four points concerning the man-built environment which I wish to raise this afternoon. I also give warning that I intend to introduce amendments at Committee stage which I hope will prove non-controversial and acceptable to all parts of the House and the Government.
925 My first point is to seek to amend the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953, which allows English Heritage to assist financially local authorities and the National Trust to acquire buildings so as to secure their preservation. This has worked reasonably well, but it has become increasingly clear over the past 10 years or more that the main agencies for rescuing derelict historic buildings have been the local and county historic building preservation trusts. Therefore, in appropriate circumstances we would like to assist these excellent bodies to acquire important historic buildings, but as the law stands today we are unable to do so. Without this power our work in rescuing buildings at risk is very severely hampered.
English Heritage would like to be in a position to assist financially any person or body concerned with the acquisition, restoration and preservation of what we regard as a suitable building. It may suffice simply to generalise the relevant section of the 1953 Act by removing the reference to the National Trust and substituting a reference to "any person" or to "any building preservation trust".
My second point concerns enforcement. My proposal would be to amend Section 38 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 which empowers a local planning authority to serve an enforcement notice where damaging works are being or have been carried out on a listed building without listed building consent. This power is used when an owner is removing doors, windows or whatever and thereby destroying the character of a building which is on the Goverment's list of protected buildings.
However, as the law stands, the notice has no effect for 28 days after it has been served. Therefore, for 28 days the owner may legally continue with his destructive activities, and often does. English Heritage feels very strongly that it is essential to amend Section 38 to give immediate effect to the enforcement notice. In view of the irreversible nature of the damage which is likely to be caused to listed buildings by unauthorised works, and sometimes the undoubted advantages to the owner or the developer who wants to destroy a building, we consider that a Section 38 enforcement notice should require that the work to which it relates ceases on the date on which the notice is served and that there should be no right of compensation.
My third proposed amendment is to Section 89 of the same Act which empowers local planning authorities and the Secretary of State to require the occupier of any premises to give information, including the names and addresses of all persons having an interest in the premises, to enable the service of a notice or an order under the provisions of the Act. However, historically such notices are not applicable in London. English Heritage requires this power in order to exercise a range of functions under the Act which have been conferred on it in greater London. We have in mind a simple amendment giving English Heritage Section 89 powers in London so that, for example, when we propose to take action over the 926 state of a particular historic building we may readily discover the names and addresses of the persons we should be pursuing.
Lastly, I shall seek to move an amendment to the National Heritage Act 1983. That is the Act which set up English Heritage. As noble Lords will know, the official title is the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. One of our principal duties, laid down by Parliament, is to secure the preservation of historic buildings and ancient monuments. That fact alone should justify giving power to English Heritage to bring legal proceedings in its own name. When English Heritage was first established, we also assumed that the right to initiate legal proceedings was implicit in the nature of the duties imposed upon us. However, after taking legal advice, we soon discovered that we were wrong in that assumption.
The weapons available to us to defend the built heritage are varied and many; but the absence of this particular weapon from our armoury has proved to be a serious deficiency. What we have in mind is an amendment to Clause 33 giving English Heritage a power to seek injunctions and a general power to prosecute where it appears that unauthorised works have been or are being carried out to a listed building.
Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that such powers are already conferred on local authorities by Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972. English Heritage, for its part, would seek to exercise the powers either jointly in collaboration with a local authority or, as would be necessary on occasions, in default of action by a local authority.
When we reach the Committee stage, I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on these amendments and that the House will support them. The amendments are not fundamental, but they will certainly help English Heritage to do a better job, which I am sure is the wish of the whole House.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, planning legislation is the ultimate expression of any government's attitude towards the environment. If the provisions in legislation are sensible, clear, comprehensive and are supported by strong sanctions against abuse, then it can be assumed that the intentions of the legislators are firm, clear and determined. General statements of intent are all very well, but it is the planning system which has to guide development, settle conflicts and ultimately ensure that we live in a sympathetic environment, whether that be in the town or in the country. In our over-crowded country it is planning control, or lack of it, which will determine our landscape, our supporting infrastructure and even the survival of our wildlife.
The Government's White Paper This Common Inheritance endorses the principle of sustainable development. It is therefore disappointing that the Bill seems more concerned with efficiency in terms of speed of decision making and financial control than with an environmentally sound result. I welcome the measures to simplify and improve the provisions for the enforcement of planning control, as set out in Clauses 927 1 to 11. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said so eloquently, it is in everyone's interest that breaches should be avoided, and the existence of strong powers backed by appropriate sanctions is a useful deterrent. But it must be mandatory on local authorities to take action once a breach is identified, otherwise the sanctions become meaningless.
There is a need to enhance the status of development plans. In 1988–89 37 per cent. of all appeals were successful in overturning local authority decisions. The Bill should identify development plans as the primary material consideration in determining applications and appeals. That view is supported by the Council for the Protection of Rural England. It also believes that there should be a more positive approach to the issue of the awards of costs on planning inquiries. In its briefing the CPRE says that there should be,an expansion of the procedures to allow costs to be awarded against appellants who withdraw before a public inquiry opens. CPRE is greatly concerned by the current imbalance in the costs procedures. Between 1987 and 1990 local authorities were 6.5 times more likely to have costs awarded against them than appellants".The implications of that statement in local authority terms are very clear.
As my noble friend Lord McIntosh said, it is important that structure plans and local plans should not be in conflict. That may appear to be stating the obvious but there have been occasions when local plans were issued with a certificate of compliance when this was clearly incorrect. Procedures for the examination of applications must be improved. There is a need to achieve a stronger and more coherent approach to nature conservation in the production of all development plans. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has recently completed a study of development plans in England and Wales. It analysed 56 county structure plans for nature conservation implications and it uncovered many shortcomings. The report (which I recommend to your Lordships for some weekend reading) reveals unevenness of approach between counties.
Even sites with important designations, such as sites of special scientific interest, special protection areas and RAMSAR sites, were not assured of a consistent level of protection, and very few counties committed themselves to active conservation measures. Clearly there is a need to raise the profile of nature conservation and to try to achieve some equality of approach between authorities. We have been at pains to establish consistent criteria for the designation of important sites. We had long debates on this subject during the passage of Part VII of the Environmental Protection Bill. This effort will be wasted if consistency of planning protection is not available.
I turn finally to marine areas. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned coastal areas. I have been unable to find the relevant provisions in the Bill but I am sure the noble Baroness will tell me where they are. During the Report stage of the Environmental Protection Bill I introduced an 928 amendment (at col. 967 of the Official Report of 17th October 1990) which highlighted the need for coastline local authorities to introduce coastal zone plans. The amendment gained support from all sides of the House and was responded to sympathetically by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who answered for the Government on that occasion. She indicated that a review of existing legislation on the marine environment was to be undertaken. This Bill could provide a vehicle for making a start on the unified approach which seems to be required. The Marine Conservation Society has produced a valuable report on the need to find a coherent way to protect the coast and coastal waters. In Committee I intend to pursue some of its suggestions which I hope will be acceptable to the Government.
The Bill provides a rare opportunity to give substance to the Government's many statements about their concern for environmental conservation. We intend to suggest possible improvements in Committee and I hope that many of them will be acceptable to the Government.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, it is something of a coincidence that I should speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who is a delightful person. My emphasis in regard to the Bill will be different from hers. She has emphasised the need for the Bill to protect the environment. What I look for in a Bill of this kind is the encouragement of investment and development.
The noble Baroness seeks to encourage environmental protection, although we probably do not differ so very much about that. I am anxious that we should use planning legislation to encourage rather than to discourage. Those who should decide on these matters are the district councils and the county councils. They will respond to the desires of their areas. As we hear different views on how towns and the rural economy should develop, we may very well find differing views in some county council and district council areas.
People can now come and go more easily. Over the coming years there will be a tendency for some people to live in areas which encourage development and investment, and for others to live in those areas where there are wide open spaces and where the pace of life is a great deal slower. The people to decide that are, above all, the local authorities for the areas in which those people live, who represent, through elections, what people want to do. So I welcome the first part of this Bill relating to the power of local authorities to make their own decisions, and to those decisions not having to be made by the Minister.
I have been one of those who have been unhappy about strategic structural plans. When I was a member of the Cheshire County Council in the early 1970s, I was involved in the formulation of that strategic structural plan which turned out to be exactly the opposite of what was wanted. That was because no one could tell in the early 1970s how matters would develop over the next 20 years. The effect was that that structural plan was set in aspic, by people who 929 thought they knew what would happen, which caused many problems. So in addition to having structural plans which are the responsibility of the local authority, I hope that the plans will be allowed to ebb and flow as circumstances change, because those plans must not be established in such a way that the local community cannot adapt to what they see as changing circumstances and needs.
The other important aspect of this Bill is the compensatory sector. I have been a strong believer that compensation is something which we ought to encourage very much more. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ross; I agree strongly with them that there is room to improve; to increase the compensatory allowance; and possibly to include some more flexibility, so that people can be encouraged to agree with what a local authority wants to do.
That would reduce the enormous delays that are now brought into our planning and development systems because of a very small minority using every possible nook and cranny to cause a delay about something which the vast majority of people want, and more importantly need, for the development of their area. I also strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Ross, in his suggestion that compensation should be widened to include more land and industrial uses, as well as other sections, because that is equally important.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to agriculture and the need to look at planning in that area. If any changes are made in that area, I should like to see farms understood to be industrial units, so that in the event of a farm having to close—and we shall see a lot of this happening over the coming years —there is an automatic assumption that those buildings can be used for another industrial purpose, though not for housing, in order to maintain the economic viability of an area in one form or another. Only last week we debated the rural economy and the need to develop more wealth-creating opportunities in rural communities. Through this Bill, and flexibility in the use of buildings and existing structures in the countryside, we can ensure that extra wealth and development.
I welcome this Bill; but I should like to emphasise that if we move away from the system of having the Minister approve local plans and county council structure plans, we must make sure that he does not interfere and that counties are allowed to proceed quickly. We must also see that the suggestion that he can still intervene, should he feel it necessary, is not used as another delaying process which allows a small minority group to find excuses and to stop a local community from doing what is needed. I hope that through the compensatory system we can improve matters, and take away a lot of the other reasons for people delaying these activities.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lytton
My Lords, in this Bill, which I warmly welcome, we have a great number of aspects to deal with and I want to concentrate on just a few of them.
So far as it goes, this Bill puts forward some very valuable new measures; but town and country planning must first be seen as a concept of good and efficient administration, and I question whether in all circumstances that is the case today.
First, there are problems with designations of one sort or another: restrictions that are imposed on uses of land. Those are very often imposed without a great deal of cohesion or unity of purpose. They may be for genuine planning reasons, which is to be greatly applauded and strengthened. But equally many noble Lords will know of circumstances where restrictions of one sort or another, under the terms of the various current planning codes, are imposed with quite ulterior motives in mind; perhaps even to disinvent legal uses without compensation. So the system is capable of being adversely manipulated at present.
In many instances there is inadequate provision for appeals to be dealt with against certain types of designation. I should like to quote one example under Section 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act, whereby land can be designated as Section 3 woodland, moorland or foreshore. There is provision for consultation, but there is no provision for any appeal against a designation which a landowner feels is distinctly unfair and incorrect.
There is a tendency these days for there to be creeping preservation, and this Bill adds a certain amount to that. This militates against a fair balance between private proprietorial interests and the undoubted public interest element. Many noble Lords will be aware that there are conflicts of interest which potentially lurk for planning authorities in the discharge of their functions. These can be overcome, and in many ways local authorities strive very hard to avoid them and they do an excellent job. But, with respect, the self-administration of a local planning authority's own planning applications, which is not something that is covered under the terms of this Bill, is something which creates a good deal of public unease.
Local authorities will have to decide whether they are to be impartial promoters of the public good, as indeed they should be, and eschew any suggestion that they should be acting in some way along the lines of a property company. I trust that I do not put it in too uncharitable words if I say that the public perception in many instances is that local authorities in certain areas do exactly that. Forward planning, which I believe this Bill attempts to encourage, is something to be warmly supported, and I welcome the improvements to the structure plan system. But I question a local planning authority's ability to respond, and particularly its resourcing of that aspect of its work.
On planning agreements, a unilateral undertaking, as mentioned in the Bill, is of fairly limited utility. The point behind all this is surely to get this murky 931 business of local planning authorities' shopping lists out of the closet so it can be seen quite clearly that they are for genuine planning purposes and are not being used as some cross-subsidy, some local tax, and therefore something which is not transparent—to use a taxation term. In short, on planning there is a very great deal of anxiety in my mind as to whether public confidence in the fairness with which the system is being administered is being eroded by current practices.
On compensation, there are some extremely good points which will go a long way to alleviate some of the worst injustices that have occurred over many years. I refer to the provisions on home loss payments and the blight provisions in particular. But there are difficulties with the fundamentals of assessing valuations, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Newport, touched on these. The Bill cannot overcome those. There are also some significant gaps in, for instance, the designations and controls (to which I referred earlier in my reference to planning) which can very often be imposed without any compensation being payable. I fear that this may get worse under the terms of the Bill rather than better.
The restrictions may be restrictions on what would otherwise be legitimate, legal activities. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, referred to farming. I agree with him wholeheartedly that one has to accept that there are certain base uses and existing user rights which must be treated as touchstones which trigger compensation if they are infringed. I do not see that happening under the Bill or under any other proposals which have been laid before your Lordships' House.
On the issue which has been already mentioned about the other uses to which land which is compulsory acquired may be put if it is not needed for the original purpose, I have to put down a marker that there is a difference between philanthropic aims directed towards society's need and the commercial aim of selling on land for vast profit. That is an injustice which must be remedied. It is an injustice which I see as being identified under the principles of the Crichel Down code. We should do well to carry forward that principle into the realms of compulsory acquisition and compensation. In short, land should be treated as if there were a perpetual covenant limiting its use to a purpose similar to that for which it was acquired.
In general, the Bill makes some significant advances which I support, but it is a question of balance and obtaining public confidence in the measures placed before your Lordships, which I hope will become part of our statute law. The Bill underestimates the degree of unease felt about the planning and compensation system as a whole. It is a matter of restoring public confidence as well as achieving economic efficiency and the abolition of unfair practices. By that I include those who take the law into their own hands and do things on their land for which they have no planning consent, flout the regulations and run rings around local planning authorities. That is wrong, and I 932 deplore that type of activity. In applying additional restraints, the legitimate aspirations of private and company land ownership must be respected.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, the Bill allows us to look afresh at the planning system—an opportunity that has not arisen for almost 20 years. It confirms the Government's commitment to the planning system as a way of resolving conflicts over development. It will help restore public confidence in a system which often fails to meet their expectations.
We cannot underestimate the importance of the planning system to this crowded island. By providing a secure means of controlling the development and use of that scarcest of resources—land—it will ensure that it is used in the best public interest. Day in, day out, the planning system is working away to resolve conflicts, acting as a hidden quality control mechanism able to protect the countryside and improve the standards of development.
Although I welcome the Bill, I am disappointed by its limited scope. It moves us in the right direction but lacks the positive vision required to match accelerating public concern for the environment.
The planning system is not just about controlling development or protecting the countryside. It is central to what are popularly known as green issues. Through the tens of thousands of decisions the planning system makes each year it is a key mechanism for converting environmental concern into development which is sustainable. Perhaps the single most important aspect of the Bill is its proposal for the mandatory preparation of county structure and district local plans. That I welcome unreservedly. It will give us a complete planning framework for the first time. Only about one quarter of rural England (by population) has an adopted local plan at the moment.
The benefits of 100 per cent. coverage are unquestionable, but, the Bill could do more to ensure that those plans are implemented once prepared. Public confidence in the planning system reaches its lowest ebb when structure and local plans, agreed after extensive public consultation, are seemingly ignored when dealing with individual planning applications or on appeal. Too often they appear to be but one of many considerations, instead of the central guiding framework for decisions. A simple amendment to identify development plans as the primary material consideration when dealing with applications and appeals would ensure that the true benefits of the Bill's proposals could be secured.
I should also like to see a clearer recognition of the special position of national park authorities in the planning system. The Bill restricts them to the preparation of local plans and minerals plans for their area. That is a step forward, but they need to become joint structure plan authorities with their county council if they are to ensure firm protection of their special landscapes, otherwise our national parks will continue to be subject to damaging pressure from road and other developments beyond their boundaries and outside their control.
933 I turn now to the complex matter of enforcement. The Bill is a welcome response to mounting public and professional concern about the problems of enforcing planning control. It will simplify and strengthen the procedures. However, enforcement action remains discretionary, despite the frequent reluctance of local planning authorities to take action where clear breaches of control have occurred. The Bill should reduce that problem, but it does not go far enough.
I believe that the enforcement of planning control should be compulsory. There is nothing more likely to bring the planning system into disrepute than success for those who disregard it. Compulsory enforcement would ensure that local authorities gave the necessary priority to enforcement work and, most importantly, it would reduce the workload on local authorities in the long term because of its deterrent effect. Breaches would he less likely to occur if those committing them knew that they would be tackled firmly by the local authorities, using the new powers being placed at their disposal in the Bill.
I should like to reassure the House that that would not be a draconian measure. Similar requirements already exist under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for the control of litter and the Control of Pollution Act 1974 for the control of nuisances. Moreover, enforcement action need not result in demolition or financial penalties if a retrospective planning application were to resolve the problem. Local authorities faced with a breach of planning control should be able to choose whether to take firm action or to treat the development as if it were a planning application. That would allow them to approve non-damaging developments, but ensure that they passed through the normal planning procedures.
In the simplest case where a house, for instance, is built without planning permission, it is important that the local authority is required to acknowledge that a breach of the planning system has occurred and either to require a planning application or to take necessary enforcement action.
I am afraid that the Bill omits too much. Perhaps it is too conservative. It does not provide the new powers the planning machine needs to meet the environmental challenges of the future. Most important is the missed opportunity for broadening assessment of the environmental impact of development and introducing environmental assessment directly into the planning legislation. It is ironic that the word "environment" is barely mentioned in one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation we have.
I shall be controversial for a moment. It is widely recognised that environmental assessment is one of the most important developments in environmental policy, and we are required by European directive to make it a formal part of our planning system. Would it not be more prudent, however, to introduce and extend those provisions for environmental assessment directly into our own legislation? That would allow us to extend the scope of environmental assessment throughout the United Kingdom and to lead the way in Europe. We could extend it beyond individual 934 projects to examine the environmental impact of structure and local plans and major environmental programmes.
Such a course would allow decisions to be made over future patterns of development with a fuller understanding of their environmental impact. For instance, the relative merits of out-of-town shopping centres versus high street improvements, or new settlements versus development of urban derelict land could be better assessed in terms of energy consumption, landscape impact and the wide range of other environmental implications.
It could also help to provide the integrated decisions over transport infrastructure with proposals for industrial and housing development recommended by the recent House of Commons Select Committee on Transport third special report entitled Roads for the Future. The environment and the location of development could determine necessary road building and not the other way around.
I am also concerned that the Bill falls short in other areas. It has little to say about how the public might be more involved in the planning process. It is extraordinary that there is no requirement for the public to be notified of most of the planning applications which are made. It does not address the problem that the public has no right of appeal against the granting of planning permission, however bad, unpopular or controversial the decision may be.
I must conclude with a note of concern about the continuing loopholes in the planning system through which major changes to the landscape as a result of agriculture and forestry operations can continue outside planning controls. The grubbing up of moorland, the ploughing of ancient meadows and the destruction of landscapes through large-scale afforestation and woodland clearance are each major land use changes, yet they fall outside the very system which is intended to control land use.
Checks are now needed through the planning system to ensure that the public interest in the countryside is fully protected. Of course, there should be substantial permitted development rights granted for any of the development brought within the planning system to allow small-scale changes without the necessity to apply for planning permission. For example, a farmer wishing to plant a small shelter belt would not need to apply for planning permission, just as he would not need to apply to build a small extension to his house.
I have covered a wide range of subjects. This is a reflection of the scope and importance of the planning system and this Bill. New solutions are needed which adjust our lifestyles more closely to the natural resources available to us. This Bill provides an early opportunity to introduce some of them. The planning machinery needs new oil, but it also needs new parts if we are to develop a responsive mechanism for making choices for a sustainable future.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Radnor
My Lords, I shall not keep the House long. With any luck, we shall all be able to go to the environment of the tearoom before tea stops being served. First, I wish to thank my noble friend Lady Blatch for the extraordinarily lucid way in which she put across what is to me a rather complicated Bill. I also wish to express the admiration which I always feel for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on his considerable knowledge of the subject, which, I must admit, I do not possess. My only excuse for rising today is that, like others, I wish to put down a marker for an amendment which I hope to bring forward myself or perhaps with others.
I have no complaint at all about the Bill and what it contains. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, felt that it was an uncontroversial Bill, but I thought that a number of amendments might flow from his pen which could alter our view later in debate in Committee and on Report.
Various clauses please me, ranging over planning obligations and replacing what I call Section 52 with a more flexible provision. As a beginner, I am not good at town planning and I saw that under Clause 10 one could ascertain what was permissible. As one who receives planning decisions, I find the whole process pregnant with doubt and difficulty, and the alteration must be useful to everybody. The extra payment for disturbance to a home must be right. Later I shall follow the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in taking the matter further.
Arising from the debate, I wish to issue a word of warning. People should not get carried away and desire to plan everything. My noble friend who has just left the Chamber veers in that direction, as, with great respect, I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, does.
I agree that if a farm is abandoned, automatically there should be planning permission for the buildings to serve a sensible and useful purpose. However, let us keep planning out of the cultivation of crops, which is a business. That is a dangerous path to travel and I hope we shall not take it. We are near enough to planning trees, and that comes into the Bill. An amusing difficulty arose when a tree preservation order was placed on my land where there were no trees. The bureaucratic process took so long that Dutch elm disease had overtaken the situation, the trees were felled and there was a frightful stink about the matter. I am glad to say that it was happily resolved.
I wish to raise two points, one of which has been mentioned and one of which has not, and I do not think it occurs in the Bill in any form. I have noticed that with planners and planning law practically everything is covered: the duty aspect, the number of people who might wish to live there, whether there should be factories and so on. However, one process which always seems to go wrong is the examination of the water resources available for developments. All over the country rivers may not be disappearing but they carry less and less water. This might be the 936 opportunity to place some control on the planning authority to take care to ensure that rivers have enough water—that there will not just be another borehole in the chalk, thus reducing the flow of another chalk stream.
In my area, water is syphoned off—I do not know whether that is the right word—and goes to Bath, which is a long way away, to the detriment of the River Wylye. I live on a small chalk stream; I fished on it all my life until I had to stop. It now contains only half the water it had in earlier days and it has ceased to be a suitable stream for fish. I am not sure whether to put an amendment down on the subject, but I thought it sensible to bring the matter up because it is not properly covered in the Bill. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell is not here because I am sure that he would have had an answer to the problem—which may or may not have satisfied me.
I wish to bring up a matter which came at the end of the speech of my noble friend Lord Northbourne and which I have brought up already in your Lordships' House in discussions on the Channel Tunnel Bill—the compulsory purchase of land by the Government or the local authority. The land could subsequently be handed over, either through sale or lease, or however it is, with a third party using the asset to make money and profit from it. I brought the matter up and divided your Lordships' House on the subject on the Channel Tunnel Bill. Noble Lords who were there may remember that I received a dusty answer. That was perhaps understandable; it was difficult for me to debate the point at that time because I owned the portal of the tunnel and only three other people were involved. First, I had to declare a more than strong interest.
Fortunately or unfortunately, all four of us were not paupers so we elicited little sympathy. I felt then that the underlying principle was not noticed. However, it is there. It must be wrong for a planning authority or other body to purchase land compulsorily at the value of its existing use and then to sell it or lease it to another concern that is to make money from it. I believe that my noble friend the Leader of the House referred to service stations on a former occasion and said how difficult the position was in that case as exactly the same situation as I have described arose. Why should the owner of a piece of land, who may not be well heeled or a large landowner, not take some advantage from the person who is to run a service station?
I hope I have made my point clearly. That is the marker that I shall put down, or perhaps I shall add my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The noble Lord is a trained surveyor and his amendment would probably be better worded than an amendment of mine. In other respects this is a good Bill. The planning legislation must need amendment now and again. Although this is a bulky document, I view it as a useful amendment to the existing legislation.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, this is a welcome Bill. The House enjoyed a most helpful introduction from the Minister. The planning system in a mechanical sense is somewhat under strain. Despite the deregulation of planning, applications to local authorities increased by 12 per cent. in 1987–88 and by 14 per cent. in 1988–89. This increase may now be easing off, but such a number of applications delays decisions. As a result, only about 50 per cent. of local authority planning decisions are determined within the eight-week period. That is far short of the guidance offered by the Department of the Environment, which suggested that 80 per cent. of decisions should be made within that period.
There has also been a surge in appeals. They have increased by 30 per cent. a year, with consequent pressure on planning inspectors, even though 40 per cent. of those appeals are subsequently withdrawn. This position means that local authority time is spent fighting appeals when it could be better used in determining applications.
Further, the planning system itself comes somewhat into disrepute when local authorities have difficulty in making their local planning decisions "stick". I suggest that this position is due to the "fussiness" of planning law, to use Carnwath's phrase, and to the "fragmentation" of remedies. Carnwath suggests that too many decisions have fallen unreasonably at appeal on technicalities: for example, on the grounds that the local authority's decision to limit a market referred to summer time rather than the summer time as determined by the Summer Time Act 1972. There are grey areas where, for example, intensification of use becomes a material change.
Planning decisions do not "stick" either because of the fragmented remedies. Stop notices, for example, require an enforcement notice but, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said, that process introduces unacceptable delays which may not matter when one is trying to control retailing on an industrial site but clearly matter when a local authority is trying to stop demolition. The status of injunctions so far has been unclear. The fragmented responsibility for enforcement, which is shared at the moment by local authorities, the planning inspectorate and the civil and criminal courts, does not help the position. Further, some developers treat the puny fines that may be imposed as levies rather than as a deterrent. Essentially ordinary people do not see why they should be law-abiding citizens when others are not and get away with it.
However, another reason why planning decisions have not always "stuck" is because they have been overturned by the Secretary of State on appeal. This happens largely because of the inadequacy of local plans. As the Minister herself said, these only cover some 30 per cent. of the population. That fault is reinforced by uncertain procedures and by the predilections of an individual Secretary of State: whether he is concerned with the green belt or out-of-town shopping.
938 This Bill is especially welcome because it addresses all three of the issues I have referred to—namely, the strain that the planning system is under; the inability to make planning decisions "stick" because of the fussiness of the law; and, finally, the role of the Secretary of State. The Bill inhibits repetitive planning applications, and should reduce the number of appeals. It strengthens enforcement procedures broadly along the lines of the Carnwath clauses by introducing planning contravention notices, breach of condition notices, injunctions, fines and the like. One should not exaggerate the problem. Carnwath suggests that of the average 500 alleged contraventions that a local authority will deal with, only 25 are likely not to be negotiated by reason and persuasion. Nonetheless we need the enforcement procedures as a back-up. The Bill is also welcome because it makes mandatory local plans, presumes in their favour and thus reduces to an appropriate and modest role the interventionist role of the Secretary of State. Therefore the Bill makes planning less whimsical and more predictable without losing much needed flexibility. Both local authorities and developers will know where they should stand.
I should also like to add that I agree with the comments made by almost every other speaker today that the proposals on compensation payments are universally welcomed.
However, I was intrigued by the Minister's reference to vendors participating in development gain. I hope she will indicate whether she hopes to reintroduce a development land tax. I am sure also that the House would support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, as chairman of English Heritage, with which, as a commissioner, I associate myself. I hope they will be taken up in Committee.
It is a welcome and much needed Bill. However, I wish to make suggestions on a couple of points and register unease on one or two others. My comments are intended to be helpful. I do not wish to sound churlish as there is so much to support in the Bill. Clauses 1 to 11 are the so-called Carnwath clauses. As regards Clause 1, will the Minister consider whether magistrates should have the power to require compliance with planning contravention notices? Clause 5 concerns enforcement notices. Detailed work may be required on its wording, for example on the naming of owners.
Clause 9 concerns stop notices. We may need some help in clarifying the continued vulnerability of local authorities to compensation procedures. Clause 10 concerns certificates of lawful use, and I believe it will have almost universal support. However, it entails extensive work for local authorities. Carnwath proposed fees. The principle has already been accepted for development applications. I hope that the Minister will address that point.
More profound difficulties arise when we leave Carnwath and move on to the clauses after Clause 11. Clause 12 gives most cause for concern. It deals with planning gain. At present the former Section 52, or the new Section 106, make planning gain a matter of 939 mutual negotiation between a local authority and a developer. The Minister said in her opening remarks that the Government seek to foster co-operation in this matter. I am sure she is entirely right in that, but there is no evidence that the former Section 52 is not working or is not successful.
Clause 12 appears to run alongside the former Section 52 a new power for developers to make a unilateral offer of planning gain on a take it or leave it basis. I am sure that good developers will not go down that track because they recognise that local authorities have a wider perspective on land use, for example, than they themselves can hope to have. Most developers also value the process of negotiation which lies at the heart of local authority work. I suggest, however, that this clause will encourage less enlightened developers in their recalcitrance and undermine the process of negotiation. It repositions the emphasis towards the developer in a way that is against the public interest. I hope the Minister can be persuaded to think again on that issue.
On Clause 16, which concerns mineral workings, I hope we can be given some evidence that the measure is necessary. However, I understand the philosophy behind it. Clause 22 concerns structure plans. Despite the Government's White Paper on the future of development plans, the clause reaffirms and almost reinvents the county planning function. Given the question marks that are currently in the air over local government structure, I wonder whether such heavy reliance is wise.
As every speaker has said, it is obviously sensible to have mandatory district local plans and for those to be in conformity with county structure plans without obligatory scrutiny by the Secretary of State. The streamlining of the procedure in the Bill is welcome, as is the discouragement of structure plans becoming too dense and detailed.
If structure plans are not to be scrutinised by the Secretary of State, it is essential that they are in the domain of public debate. I should be delighted to be corrected on this point by the Minister, but as it stands the examination in public of county plans appears to be a matter of county discretion. The Bill refers throughout to "may" rather than "shall". It is not a matter of public right: and surely it should be. If my reading of the Bill is correct, I hope that the Minister will bring forward amendments at the Committee stage.
Regarding simplified planning zones, my noble friend Lord McIntosh referred to the "black hole" of UDCs. Given the research of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies which shows how vulnerable UDCs are to land and to development recession, I suggest that it is essential to integrate them properly into the planning process.
If one accepts, as many noble Lords have suggested, that planning resolves conflicts and protects landscapes and streetscapes, and if it steers development and improves its quality in a way that enhances the environment, I suggest that the Bill has 940 missed some opportunities. The first is a point of natural justice. As it stands, the Bill does not permit any third party appeals. My noble friend Lord McIntosh referred to other statutory bodies, as did the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. The House may also wish to consider the standing of private individuals and companies in cases when, for example, a neighbour is seriously affected by an adjacent development, whether it be a private householder or a major business. At present recourse is only available through the courts.
Secondly, while what is proposed in relation to planning controls is very welcome I believe that the range should be widened. It would be extremely helpful if we could inhibit the demolition of individual significant buildings which, though not listed and outside a conservation area, are important to streetscape. There is growing concern among local authorities up and down the land that within conservation areas all the buildings, including unlisted buildings, are protected from demolition. Victorian terraced housing, particularly which has significant streetscape value, should be protected from disfiguring alterations. If we as trustees wish to hand on our built heritage, we need additional powers to protect where appropriate, unlisted buildings in conservation areas from alterations and unlisted buildings outside conservation areas from demolition.
It may be opportune to mention that satellite dishes should also be brought within the planning regime until technology makes them transparent or recession makes them redundant.
Thirdly, the Bill does not address the issue of twin-tracking—where an applicant simultaneously submits an application and an appeal on the presumption that the application will be rejected. As the planning inspectors have themselves noted, the same local authority officers try to resolve the application while simultaneously trying to fight the appeal. That puts huge pressure on staff and injects major delay into the determination of applications by other applicants.
Fourthly, the Bill places additional responsibilities on local government. The certificates of lawful use or statutory local plans have resource implications for local authorities, as have the measures debated in previous Sessions of your Lordships' House relating to food, litter and dogs. There is no evidence that those additional duties have been foreseen in the recent local authority financial settlement, which is less than inflation. It is not fair to impose new duties, some of which represent a direct saving to the Secretary of State—some £200,000 will be saved as a result of not having to consider structure plans—without either reimbursing local authorities through RSG or allowing local government to charge appropriate fees. We all want developers to have speedy, sensitive and fair handling of their applications, to which they are entitled. However, that costs money and it is not reasonable that that cost should be borne by the poll tax payer.
Finally, I turn to issues raised very effectively by my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Lord, Lord 941 Norrie, concerning the missed opportunity regarding the wider concept of planning. The Bill reaffirms the belief in planning. It clarifies the processes and calibrates the procedures. That is all highly welcome, but it is still a concept of planning shaped by the attitudes of the 1970s. The material considerations that a local authority can bring to bear upon a planning application that are deemed relevant are too narrowly drawn. Much of the vocabulary of "Common Inheritance" is missing from the Bill. For example, it does not allow local authorities to take proper account of energy considerations, whether in terms of location or of design. There is insufficient consideration of wider transportation issues, or, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh said, of the implications for the local economy. Nor does it permit local authorities in rural areas to have particular regard to low cost, affordable or social housing.
We need a stronger commitment to access for the disabled. Above all, as my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, said, we need a proper environmental assessment built into the Bill. It is not fully green. It does not allow local authorities to consider the no-growth option. It does not properly protect landscape from visually disturbing changes; for example, from pasture to arable or afforestation. In passing, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wade, whether, if agricultural buildings were treated as though they were industrial buildings he would welcome the application of UBR to them.
In conclusion, all Members of the House must surely welcome a Bill of this kind. It has been supported by all the professional associations and by local government. In our view it has one bad clause, Clause 12, other clauses which need strengthening and some significant omissions. However, we give it a warm welcome and hope very much that the Minister will allow us to help her improve the Bill even further.
§ 5.1.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to the Dispatch Box. I believe that it is the first occasion on which she has spoken from the Dispatch Box and I should like to say from this side of the House what an impressive performance it was. We look forward to meeting her across the Dispatch Box on other occasions. I lost count when she reached her fifteenth question. Therefore, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not pick up all of the points in replying to the debate. I shall make sure that answers are given to most of the questions that have been posed during the debate.
This has been a stimulating debate. It has demonstrated yet again the wealth of experience which your Lordships possess on planning matters. I thank all noble Lords for the general welcome which they have given the Bill. I shall address some of the anxieties that have been raised during the course of the debate.
Let me first reiterate what the Bill is about. It is about making the existing planning process more 942 certain, more efficient and fairer. As has been said by many noble Lords, that need has been generally recognised.
When the Bill was published the Council for the Protection of Rural England leapt in with comments to the effect that it was not green enough and more was needed to protect those parts of our environment which are perceived to be at risk. This is a green measure in every respect.
The enforcement provisions will help to deter unauthorised development. That is essential for the protection of environmentally precious areas. Against a background of full coverage by structure and local plans, the provisions on development control will create greater certainty about what development is acceptable after local consultation and debate. The compensation provisions will ensure that where, after proper consideration, people's property has to be acquired for development those people are sufficiently compensated. In other words, the Bill strengthens the framework in which the environmental concerns of organisations like the CPRE can be considered against the competing claims of developers and others. That can only help the proper consideration of environmental issues arising in the context of development needs and proposals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Wade illustrated beautifully the tensions which exist between environmental considerations and considerations of economic development. When my noble friend referred to plans being set in aspic I rather think that he meant set in concrete. My noble friend referred to their lack of flexibility and the need for them to be updated constantly because they should be dynamic documents for an air of realism in their development.
The environment has been a major anxiety. It is argued that there is no case for including provisions on environmental assessment in the Bill. Existing regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972 fully implement the directive and require environmental assessments for projects likely to have significant effects on the environment. We consider that the procedures are generally working satisfactorily. We are also in touch with the House authorities about a new standing order which would require environmental assessments for projects in Private Bills, as proposed by the Joint Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure. That was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross.
The planning system is an instrument for resolving issues and conflicts between development and conservation. How they are resolved depends not upon the law but on the policies applied within it by both central and local government. For example, my department is currently consulting on policy guidance relating to countryside issues. The environmental White Paper also foreshadowed new planning guidance on heritage, wildlife and pollution issues.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to regional guidance. I do not share his anxiety that the county council should be required to prepare regional 943 guidance. It is important that the guidance is seen as an explicit statement of government policy for the region rather than simply an endorsement of material produced by others. The advice prepared by local planning authorities is a crucially important input; but I think it right that the final guidance should come from the Government. We have been giving careful thought to the consultation process leading to the preparation of regional planning guidance. In the South East we propose to hold a conference early next year which will give us the opportunity to hear the views of invited parties before the regional guidance is drafted.
On strategic planning in the national parks—a point raised by my noble friend Lord Norrie—we felt it right that structure plan responsibility should remain with the county councils, but we intend to require those councils to consult the national park authorities in the process of formulating and reviewing their plans. That consultative approach is likely to be more appropriate than elaborate arrangements for joint working. Where there is disagreement on strategic issues, it will be open to the National Parks Authority to seek to have them raised at the public examination of the structure plan. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to direct that specified matters shall be considered at the examination in public.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggested that plans should be given greater weight. It is true that the first material consideration in relation to any planning application (though not the only one) is the development plan. As recent policy guidance has emphasised, the Secretary of State will be guided by up-to-date development plans in his decisions on appeal. But even where a refusal would be in line with the development plan, the authority cannot rely on that fact as a knock-down argument. It is required to take account of all the material planning considerations, and plans cannot be expected to anticipate positively every need or opportunity for economic development that might arise. We need to guard against over-rigidity. One of the strengths of our planning system is that it permits greater flexibility in the individual case than do systems which operate on more rigid zoning principles. For that reason, I am not attracted by the noble Lord's suggestion that the right of appeal should be curtailed where proposals are not in accordance with the plan.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was also anxious about UDCs and their relationship with development plans. There was much criticism of the proposal in the 1989 White Paper that UDCs, which are essentially temporary creations, should be excluded from the development plan framework. In the light of that, we now propose that UDCs should normally be included in plans after appropriate consultation between the planning authority and the corporation. We have dropped the black hole proposition, as the noble Lord and the noble Baroness put it. The power to exclude UDCs from plans is essentially a reserve power to deal 944 with special cases whereby a planning authority is seeking to thwart a UDC. We hope that power will rarely be used.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also spoke about planning and agriculture. We have recently published for consultation proposals for extending prior notification arrangements for farm buildings and increasing the minimum size of holding which qualifies for permitted development rights. We have invited views on the possibility of extending these controls to new farm and forestry roads. If we decide to go ahead with these arrangements, they will be the first major extension of planning controls to agriculture and forestry for over 40 years.
However, the Government are not convinced that new controls for agriculture and forestry operations are needed. That was a point made by my noble friend Lord Radnor. The planning system has to recognise the special operational needs of farming and forestry businesses. All proposals for large-scale afforestation in sensitive areas have been subject to environmental assessment since 1988 under the arrangements introduced by the Forestry Commission to comply with the European directive.
The noble Lord also referred to the re-use of agricultural buildings. When the use is for nonagricultural purposes—for instance, for higher industry—planning permission is already required and the planning authority has an opportunity to consider the appropriateness of the new use.
On compensation, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many other noble Lords, were keen that the principle of compensation could be extended. The principle of a payment on top of market value compensation should apply in all cases, not just those affecting householders. This is not an argument which commends itself to the Government. The concept of the home loss payment is intended to reflect, as I have already said, the particular problems faced by those who are displaced from their own homes.
The law also provides for farm loss and other payments to assist particular cases, and indeed the Bill improves some of these provisions. But we see no justification for a general supplement over and above market value. For this purpose, market value includes hope value. However, it does not include the value of the scheme for which the land is being taken. We consider this to be right whether or not the scheme generates income for the acquiring body. My noble friend's suggestion could result in huge variations in the amount of compensation paid for different sites of similar size, type and location and would thus appear wholly arbitrary from the point of view of owners. In the Government's view the approach already enshrined in the current legislation is inherently a fair one, and we see no case for abandoning it.
My noble friend mentioned a proposal for additional compensation when a developing body obtains a more valuable planning permission after acquiring the land. The amendment that I have foreshadowed will, I believe, achieve this objective.
945 The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and other noble Lords, referred to the French land compensation system. There is a myth in this country that the French pay a vast percentage over market value for all land. The French system is different but not necessarily better. The percentages are usually lower than those quoted. They may in some cases pay as much as 25 per cent.—but on the first 100,000 French francs, which is £10,000. Otherwise, the percentage which varies from case to case is much more like 10 per cent. They do not reimburse many of the costs which are specifically covered by our provisions—for example, lawyers' and surveyors' fees—and they do not pay home loss or farm loss payments. It is by no means clear that the claimants do better in France. While help is given with remedial measures, like double-glazing, no compensation is paid for depreciation as a result of nearby developments, as we do in this country.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, argued that planning restrictions should give rise to compensation rights. The law already provides such protection, and therefore we do not believe there is a need to make such provision in this Bill. Compensation is payable if planning permission is revoked or a use is discontinued by order. That also applies, for example, when permission is refused following an article for direction. The Bill repeals some out-dated compensation provisions in this area, and with these changes we consider that the balance between authorities and developers is about right.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, also referred to the resourcing of local planning authorities' development plan activities. There will be extra demands on authorities as they extend local plan coverage to the whole of their areas, but there is a lot of enthusiasm for this task. I should like to make two practical points. Where up-to-date plans are in existence, it will be open to authorities to build on them and to incorporate them into their new plans rather than having to start from scratch. Secondly, there will be a pay-off for authorities once plans are in place in terms of a much firmer framework for handling planning applications and appeals. That was a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis.
My noble friend Lord Montagu raised a number of matters relating to heritage. On the general point, I am happy to discuss amendments in Committee. However, apart from some technical changes to listed building enforcement procedures consequent to the main provisions on planning enforcement, the Bill is not concerned with matters relating to listed buildings, conservation areas or the powers of English Heritage.
With regard to power for English Heritage to grant-aid persons, bodies or trusts for purposes of acquiring listed buildings in need of restoration, we are broadly sympathetic. But that may not be within the scope of the Bill or of the planning Acts.
His second point related to listed building enforcement notices taking immediate effect, not 28 days after service. Again breach of listed building control is a criminal offence. The noble Lord's proposal would not affect that. His third point referred to powers for English Heritage to require 946 information on ownership of buildings on which it wishes to take enforcement action. The question of how far it is appropriate for English Heritage to have concurrent powers with local planning authorities needs further discussion and thought.
The noble Lord's fourth point related to the power for English Heritage to bring prosecutions or to seek injunctions in its own name. We are sympathetic and hope that, following consultation, it may be possible to give effect to the proposal, if not in the present Bill at least at some convenient future opportunity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to the consistency between structure plans and local plans. The present procedure under which a local plan must be certified by the county before it can be placed on deposit is not a satisfactory arrangement. It can and does cause serious delay to the processing of some local plans. In its place Schedule 3 proposes a new procedure which will allow local plans to go forward on deposit when the district council chooses but will require them to be accompanied by a statement of conformity from the county council. This statement will say whether or not in the county's view the local plan conforms with the structure plan; and, if not, in what respects there is an inconsistency. That process gives the council ample opportunity to highlight inconsistencies without causing delay to the processing of the local plan.
The noble Baroness was also anxious about nature conservation policies in county structure plans. Again we issued guidance last May on the content of structure and local plans in Planning Policy Guidance Note 15. That refers specifically to conservation in town and country as one of the topics for structure plans. It urges authorities to ensure that full account is taken of the environmental effects of their policies. My department will be commissioning research on best practice in the preparation of structure plans. That should enable us to issue guidance later next year on the best way of approaching particular issues in plans; and environmental issues will be one aspect.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross, spoke about stopping applications from being made during the two-year moratorium. We cannot completely stop an applicant from applying. What would be the sanction on presenting the application? However, the Bill provides a simple procedure to throw out repetitive applications without the painstaking and costly care that needs to be given to the first application.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, tacked about the criminalising of unlawful development. "Criminalisation" is a word that neither he nor I like. I realise that a strong tide is flowing, especially among some elected members of planning authorities, in favour of legislating to make unlawful development a criminal offence. It is not a simple issue where all the arguments lead in only one direction. One of the merits of Mr. Robert Carnwath's report on Enforcing Planning Control is that he analysed the issue very thoroughly in Chapter 6, paragraphs 2.1 to 2.17 before concluding that he could not recommend that change. We find his analysis compelling and his conclusion entirely persuasive.
947 Those who support criminalisation do so mainly because they wish to punish people who deliberately and flagrantly carry out development which they know is unlawful without obtaining planning permission required for it. I can sympathise with that aim. However, it is important to note that the flagrant contravenors are a small minority. While it is true that their activities catch the public eye and make members of planning committees despair, the result of criminalisation would be to bring many others—often very innocent people—within the scope of criminal behaviour. That would include, for example, the houseowner who goes ahead with improvements to his house, perhaps on advice that he does not require specific planning permission, only to find that he has exceeded the permitted development rights. If unlawful development becomes an offence, the innocent person who had prima facie carried out technically unlawful development, would be open to prosecution.
Secondly, we must ask whether criminalisation would in practice be an effective deterrent. Unless the maximum penalty were so substantial, it is doubtful whether the flagrant contravenor would be deterred. That would give us the worst of all worlds. That was a point again well made by the noble Baroness.
That is one reason why we have preferred the alternative approach exemplified in Clause 3 of the Bill of a planning injunction to restrain the most serious breaches of control. If an injunction were granted, the eventual penalty for contempt of court is likely to be far more effective than any other remedy.
I know that I have not touched on a number of other points. My noble friend Lord Radnor, made a point about the NRA and planning concerning water. The NRA is consulted by planning authorities where an application affects them. However, I believe that he was referring to planning concerning water. That is a matter for the NRA. Therefore I have no doubt that it will be taking a very close interest in the Bill.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. However, before she moves to her peroration—I appreciate that she has been very fair in dealing with as many points as she can—a number of noble Lords, including myself, raised the issue of unilateral undertakings as opposed to Section 52 agreements. It would be helpful if she could give the Government's response to those matters.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I know that unilateral arrangements cause concern. I suspect that at the end of the Bill's progress through the House we shall find ourselves agreeing to differ about the issue. There are many examples where local authorities continue to negotiate. The noble Baroness pressed me on the point of negotiating for planning gain where negotiations are prolonged to the extent that local authorities hang out for greater benefits under Section 52 or Section 106 as it now is. Those prolong and delay a project to the point where a developer can make the decision to act unilaterally. At the end of the day that is also subject to judicial review. If the developer has acted precipitately, if he has acted unreasonably, there 948 would be a mechanism to ensure that a judgment was made about the reasonableness or unreasonableness of that action.
I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to rest on that explanation. On looking at his face, I believe that he is not entirely satisfied with it. However, I know that we shall be coming back to the matter in much greater detail at Committee stage.
Perhaps I shall be forgiven for passing over many other points that have been raised during the debate. It is a varied Bill, as the range of points with which I have dealt testifies. It is an important Bill in matters of detail on many issues, and especially on compensation. There has been no updating of the law for many years. The twin themes of efficiency and fairness which I have emphasised throughout the debate require that detailed attention be given to legislation from time to time. That does not detract from the importance of the themes. I believe that the Bill will improve both fairness and efficiency, and I commend it to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.