HL Deb 16 January 1991 vol 524 cc1164-6

3.1 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware that planning authorities sometimes grant planning permission for developments which spoil the environment, especially by granting it for the development of common lands and other open spaces in urban areas; and what steps they will take to deal with this matter.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, in determining planning applications for new development, local planning authorities will need to take account of all relevant material considerations. The Department of the Environment's draft planning policy guidance on sport and recreation, issued in October last year, makes clear that the need to safeguard valuable public open space will be one such consideration. We hope to issue the new guidance in final form as soon as possible, once we have considered carefully the many responses received to the consultation draft.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very helpful and important reply. Is he aware that our present planning laws are supposed to protect the environment in town and country but that planning authorities frequently make decisions which are disastrous for the environment? There is no appeal against those decisions and little can be done about them. Therefore, will he ask his colleagues to make the maximum use of the legislation now before us in order to overcome this problem?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, yes. I believe that the problem will be solved to a degree by the new Planning and Compensation Bill. That Bill will require all local planning authorities to prepare district-wide local plans for their area. At present many areas do not have a local plan. The preparation of local plans will give the planning authorities a full opportunity to consider the appropriate location of new housing and development. Draft plans will be subject to consultation and public inquiry before being adopted.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount prepared to consider making inquiries into why planning authorities in the London Borough of Ealing have agreed to the daily passage of 500 heavy vehicles containing industrial waste? The borough cannot tell any of the residents in the area what that industrial waste will consist of. It may be asbestos or any other dangerous material. Could there be an inquiry into that matter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I shall look into the matter raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the new Bill to which he referred will deal with the great weakness of planning authorities—that is, the long time which they take to reach a decision? Can something be done to hurry them up?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend has a point. I believe that the process will be quicker because areas will have plans of sites which have been designated. Therefore, there will not be that long-term problem because areas will already be within a local plan.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my question must be addressed to the Government, but perhaps the noble Viscount will be good enough to convey to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, our sincere hope that he will support our amendments to the Planning and Compensation Bill which seek to protect common land and open spaces.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is it not a fact that many of the instances referred to arise where development is carried out without planning permission? Is it not also a fact that one of the difficulties is then for the planning authority to enforce a remedy of the breach as regards common land?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am not aware of any specific instances of that taking place. However, as regards development on common land, the Secretary of State must, if common land is registered, approve any such development.

Lord Moran

My Lords, is it not the case that there is a presumption in favour of development as opposed to conservation under instructions from the Department of the Environment to planning authorities? Would it not be more sensible for sensitive areas such as conservation areas to have the presumption the other way round?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not believe that that is necessarily the case. The Department of the Environment is extremely sensitive about any areas on which there may be an environmental impact.

Lord Wynford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the intention of a local authority in Dorset to allow building work on an SSSI on Canford Heath near Poole, in Dorset? Will he now give a firm undertaking that the proposal will be called in?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I cannot comment upon that specific case as it is before the department at present However, the Government expect local planning authorities to give full weight to nature conservation and the importance of designated SSSIs when considering planning applications. A DoE circular gives advice to the authorities about the treatment of such sites within the land use planning system. That includes advice on sites of international importance, including those identified but not yet formally designated.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, is the noble Viscount not aware that the local authority has already revealed that it is not doing anything sensible with regard to Canford Heath? Is he aware that it is necessary for the Government to intervene or call it in?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I cannot comment on that case, which is before the department at present.

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