HL Deb 01 July 1991 vol 530 cc815-7

50 Before Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Status of development plans

'. At the end of Part II of the principal Act there is inserted—

"Chapter III


Status of development plans.

54A. Where, in making any determination under the planning Acts, regard is to be had to the development plan, the determination shall be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise".'.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 50, and in doing so I shall speak also to Commons Amendments Nos. 107, 143 to 149, 166, 255 and 273. All but the first two amendments in this group are technical ones. I should like to focus on Amendments Nos. 50 and 107. These are two new clauses dealing with the status of the development plan in the decision-making process. The first relates to England and Wales and the second makes equivalent provision for Scotland.

Your Lordships will recall that several noble Lords raised this issue during earlier considerations of the Bill in this House. The purpose of the new clauses is to make clear what is meant by having regard to the development plan in all places where the planning Acts require regard to be had to it. For example, in future when a planning authority deals with an application for planning permission the new provisions will mean that the determination will have to be in accordance with the plan unless other considerations indicate otherwise. Thus it will be clear how the authority should go about making the decision. As my honourable friend said in another place, if the development plan has something to say on a particular application the starting point would be that the plan should be followed unless the weight of other considerations tells against it. There would thus be a presumption in favour of the development plan, but it would still allow appropriate weight to be given to all other material considerations.

The new clauses, which have been widely welcomed, reflect our view that the system should be plan-led. It is all the more important, if the development plan is to carry its full weight, that it is up-to-date and consistent with national and regional policies as well as relevant to the proposal concerned. I commend this group of amendments to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 50.—(Baroness Blatch.)

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, obviously we on this side very much welcome the new clause and the consequential amendments. I believe it to be one of the more important amendments to the Bill. I would wish to praise it enthusiastically were I not afraid that in the process the Government might go careering off in the other direction.

What the Minister has said must be right. The amendment finally makes clear, as many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Renton, pressed in Committee and at Report stage, that in future planning and development will be plan-led and therefore not market-led, appeal-led or Secretary of State-whim-led. We have all had examples of those processes in the past. The amendment will also ensure that planning is placed firmly at local level. It will help to clarify the framework within which not just developers but residents, neighbours and local authority members can seek to work. In particular, it will signal to developers that the local plan, subject to it being up-to-date, will no longer be subject to guerrilla warfare or attrition by automatic or simultaneous appeals, as has happened so often in the past. In that sense, it will help to alleviate some of the concerns expressed on this side about the imbalance in favour of developers with unilateral undertakings, twin-trackings and the like. I believe that at the time the Minister said that she hoped that by restating the weight of the local plan some of our objections and worries in that sphere would be met. I think that has been achieved.

One point which I believe should be emphasised —and with which I am sure the Minister will also agree—is that the amendment will mean that in drawing up local and development plans the process of consultation, itself the subject of a series of amendments all round the House both in Committee and at Report stage, will become much more significant because the greater the weight of the development plan the more important it should bear the authority of informed consent. We look to the Minister for support and articulation on that. Given all that, on our side we welcome the amendment very much indeed. Obviously, we recognise that considerations such as an out-of-date plan are relevant, but it will now firmly clarify the weight, status and significance of the development plan in ways we hoped to see.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, I also congratulate the Minister. This amendment does more than any other to demonstrate the Government's commitment to a strong and firm planning system. I would go as far as to say that I believe it to be the most important clause in the Bill. Members of the House may recall that I raised this issue repeatedly during our consideration of the Bill. My concern was that while the Government were doing a great deal to improve the planning system in this country it would be worthless if the development plan was ignored when it came to taking decisions on individual planning applications. The Government repeatedly reassured me that they did not intend the planning system to be firm and plan-led. To honour that intention they have brought forward their own amendment to ensure that planning decisions are made in accordance with the development plan.

The past 10 years have been difficult ones for the planning system. Certain signals from central government coincided with a development which led to the creation of a speculator's paradise in which the planning system was left to try to pick up the pieces. Developers quoted government policy of a presumption in favour of development which led to the most outrageous proposals. Planning authorities were besieged by unprecedented numbers of planning applications and appeals. All of that has now changed, and this amendment confirms the extent of that change.

In their White Paper of September last year, reinforced by the Bill, the Government nailed their colours firmly to the mast of good planning. Their decision to maintain strong county structure plans and provide full coverage of district-wide local plans was welcomed by all consumers of the planning system, conservationists and developers alike. The amendment makes clear that those plans will now be implemented. It has been welcomed by a very wide range of interested parties.

I should like to have clarification from my noble friend on two vitally important matters. First, the new weight to be attached to the development plan needs to be reflected in government guidance on planning matters in the form of planning and policy guidance notes, or PPGs. PPG1 states the Government's previous policy of a presumption in favour of all development. That must now be changed to reflect the new cause in the Bill. Can my noble friend assure me that a revised version of PPG1 will be issued, stating a presumption in favour of development that is in accordance with the development plan? I hope that is so, and that the new guidance will be issued soon.

The second (and more alarming) point is that there is much debate about possible reforms of the structure of local government. Ideas are now being formulated. Although I am by nature an optimist, I do not think the planning system is at the centre of that debate. It ought to be. I cannot believe it is the Government's intent ion to undo all the good things provided by the Bill by reform which throws a strong two-tier planning system out of the window. Can my noble friend reassure me that whatever the Government decide to do the, Planning and Compensation Bill provisions will remain intact?

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I welcome all of the comments which have been made on these amendments. I refer specifically to the two questions. PPG will indeed be updated. All of the points which have been raised by my noble friend will be addressed. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the details, but the points made by my noble friend are certainly noted.

On the question of local government restructuring, I not only hear what my noble friend says but understand the importance of the statement he makes. The panning system and the measures in the Bill will remain central in the Government's thinking as they work towards reform of local government.

On Question, Motion agreed to.