HL Deb 15 October 1990 vol 522 cc575-8

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to create an organisation with responsibility for strategic planning for London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the Government have no proposals for changing the existing land use planning responsibilities in London. The Secretary of State for the Environment issued strategic planning guidance for London last year and this provides the framework for the boroughs to prepare their new unitary development plans and to deal with individual planning applications.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she not aware that many people from all quarters believe that something is wrong with the government of London? Is she not aware also that it is felt, not surprisingly, that sadly London is beginning to lag behind Paris and some of the other continental capitals? There is no clear, overriding planning authority for London, and in practice responsibility is split between a large number of local authorities, central government, a whole range of ad hoc bodies and myriad committees. Will the Government examine whether or not they have it wrong?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, on behalf of the Government, I do not believe in the premise on which this Question is based—that is, that the plans to abolish the GLC and to put in place other arrangements are wrong. Strategic planning guidance is presented by government. Within that framework of guidance, unitary development plans are prepared by the boroughs. The London Planning Advisory Committee interfaces those two bodies, advises the Government and liaises with boroughs beyond the boundaries of London.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that strategic planning issues affecting London do not stop short at the boundary of Greater London, but can be addressed only in the context of the regional guidance which Secretaries of State for the Environment issue to SERPLAN from time to time? Do the terms of that guidance not demonstrate beyond peradventure that to create separate strategic planning for the City of London and the 32 London boroughs would do little more than add a layer of bureaucracy with no apparent advantage to anyone?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend because he brings us to the nub of the reason that the GLC is not alive and kicking today. This Question is more about the mechanics and not about policies and plans for London. I believe that my noble friend is right that planning does not stop at the borders of London. That is why we have set up a framework which starts with guidance for London but moves out, liaises and co-ordinates with planning well beyond the borders of London.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, setting aside party politics, if that is possible, perhaps I may ask this question. Is it not a fact that London, which I happen to believe is the capital city of the world, should have an authority of its own not only to deal with planning but also other matters such as housing? At present London is fragmented into a large number of boroughs which are politically divided. There is chaos throughout. Will the Minister do something about that and set up a proper authority? It is as simple as that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand that it is the noble Lord's 52nd wedding anniversary today.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Mellish

My Lords, at least one marriage has worked for 53 years!

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, we hope that it continues to work for a long time.

The noble Lord raises housing issues. Those are better dealt with at borough level where there are people who know the locality. In terms of strategy, all the machinery is in place for matters which require a strategic overview to be dealt with within the framework of guidance by government, with the work of the LPAC and the individual work of the boroughs. After all, the LPAC is made up of the 33 London boroughs.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, without mourning the Greater London Council, can it possibly be true that there are between 30 and 40 co-ordinating committees, involving different authorities and different subjects answering to different people with different priorities? Is there not an urgent need to have somebody to co-ordinate the co-ordinators in order to take steps to avoid the congestion and muddle that is beginning to envelop London?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there are not 33 co-ordinating bodies, but 33 London boroughs which happen to be situated in London. Those boroughs are making good progress in their unitary development plans which are carried out in a framework of guidance which pertains to London. Cross-boundary problems are being sorted out. Government departments meet together on London issues. The Department of the Environment gives a leadership on those matters. The DoE liaises with the borough planning officers. Senior staff from the Departments of Transport, the Environment, Employment, Trade and Industry and the training agencies all meet to discuss London issues from time to time.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, did not the Government abolish the GLC because they could not face the possibility of an authority in London whose policies may conflict with theirs? Is it not useless to expect the Government to create such a body unless they intend to bring into being yet another quango on top of all the other quangos so that ultimately they can all be one of us? The Government's policy of centralisation is madness. We know that. But they will not change it because it is a central part of their philosophy. Is that not the case?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I shall take the points in reverse order. The Question concerns devolution. The Government have devolved responsibility to the boroughs, not centralised it. Perhaps I may say that the reason for abolishing the GLC was that it was an ineffectual bureaucratic overlay on London government.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, even though the Government decided in principle against the creation of a new single authority for London, is there not a case for creating a single authority to deal with major specific issues? For example, it could deal with the subject of transport, which has been so often debated in your Lordships' House. Does not such an issue call for greater co-ordination? Waste disposal is another matter which was frequently discussed during the debates on the future of the GLC.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, transport issues for London are dealt with at government level. There is a great deal of liaison among London boroughs on the strategic policy formulation which is produced at government level. Regarding waste management, if the noble Lord will bear with us, a considerable amount of time has been spent on the Environmental Protection Bill to do exactly what he is suggesting; that is, to produce a regional framework of guidance within which waste management is incorporated.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, if everything is going well within the 32 London boroughs regarding strategic planning, how is it that Lady Porter, the chairman of Westminster Council, is calling for an overall strategic plan to be agreed among the 32 London boroughs?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, Lady Porter is among those referred to as one of many people; but I suspect that many more people believe that London government is better served without an overlaying bureaucratic structure. Lady Porter believes that there should be some overall promotion of London, and that is the view of just one person.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can the Minister think of one major city of the importance of London in any other country in the industrialised world which does not have a common administration?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Question was whether the arrangements in place are right for London. We are discussing the mechanics of government, not the proper policies and planning for London. The arrangements in place need time to work. It is my view, and I am confident on behalf of the Government, that they will work.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, does not the Minister in all these replies reveal a blinkered view of what planning is? It is not simply a matter of land use. As other noble Lords have said, it is a matter of traffic and transport, and everybody knows that traffic and transport are in chaos in London. It is also a matter of homelessness and housing, and everybody knows that there are different standards, some of them very low, in different parts of London. It is, in addition, a matter which concerns the social structure of our city. All those considerations are missing from the present arrangements. That is why the city is going downhill.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, strategic planning is dealt with by the Government presenting guidelines. Many of the issues mentioned by the noble Lord—in what I do not believe was a question—are still better dealt with at borough level. The boroughs know their locality best. Housing policy is certainly better dealt with at that level than at what would have been GLC level.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister give us an assurance that if and when any reorganisation of London takes place, London will not be allowed to grab large areas of Essex as it did last time?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is another question on boundaries. If the noble Lord would like to table a Question I shall deal with it at the appropriate time.

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