HC Deb 04 November 1971 vol 825 cc10-2W
Mr. Chichester-Clark

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) when he proposes to bring more local authorities within the Structure Plan system;

(2) how many local planning authorities have now been invited to prepare structure plans whether he is satisfied with the timetable for the preparation of the plans and, that when submitted to him for his approval, they can be dealt with more quickly than previous development plan submissions; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Walker:

A total of 94 local planning authorities in England and Wales have now been invited to prepare structure plans; 55 of these have been so invited since July, 1970.

To avoid duplication of work in the preparation of structure plans, the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill, which is being published today, contains permission for such plans to be prepared jointly by any two or more local planning authorities in England and Wales and provisions for dispensing with borough structure plans in Greater London.

It has become evident that, if as a preliminary to the Secretary of State for the Environment or the Secretary of State for Wales approving structure plans, there is to be a public inquiry, in the traditional form, into detailed objections rather than the basic policies of the plans, then the period of uncertainty and consequently the period during which large areas of property are unnecessarily blighted, is quite unacceptable.

Before submission to the Secretary of State, the structure plans will have been subjected to the statutory requirements for publicity and public participation. After submission, unless the procedure is reformed, neither the examination of the principles of the plans nor the acceleration of bringing them into operation, both of which the 1968 Act was intended to achieve, will in practice take place.

Structure plans under the 1968 Act are designed to meet some of the criticisms of the previous system by enabling the Secretary of State to concentrate his examination of a planning authority's proposals on the major strategy and policy issues which have been subject to statutory arrangements for publicity and public participation as part of the plan- making process. The Secretary of State should no longer become involved in the detail of the planning authorities' proposals; for the structure plans are now but the first in a two tier process in which the preparation and adoption of local plans represents the second and subsequent stage. These local plans, on the familiar map base, are those which show the effect on individual properties and interests, to which the traditional public local inquiry into objections is well suited and will be retained.

The Bill provides, therefore, that for structure plans there will be an examination, in public, of the main issues recognisable from the earlier public participation and identified by the Secretary of State concerned both from the preliminary examination of the submitted plan and from a consideration of objections. Such an examination, whose procedure we would shape in discussion with the interested bodies, might be conducted by a panel with an independent chairman. It would be less formal in procedure than a public inquiry but much broader in its scope. The panel would explore the main issues arising on the plan with the local planning authority and with bodies and individuals known to be opposed to or have views on the authority's proposal. The panel's report to the Secretary of State would be published. Because it will relate to an examination of the key issues rather than to such objections as happen to have been lodged, it will form a much more comprehensive basis on which the Secretary of State can frame his subsequent decision on the plan.

The necessary statutory amendments proposed in the Bill oblige the Secretary of State to hold an examination in public, but remove the present obligation on him to provide all objectors with an opportunity to pursue their objections orally at the structure plan stage.

The traditional public inquiry will continue to be the means by which objections to local plans are heard. There is nothing in the propsals which will take away the right of objection to development plans both at structure and local plan stages; or remove from the Secretary of State the obligation to consider all objections to structure plans. The aim is to design a procedure more relevant to the nature of the 1968 Act structure plans and, whilst safeguarding the rights of the indivdual objector, to speed the process of decision on these plans. This is now absolutely necessary in order to lessen the period of any property blight caused by a delay in the adoption of plans, to ensure the effective working of the new system and to achieve the implementation of regional strategies.