HC Deb 23 November 1979 vol 974 cc383-5W
Mr. Dorrell

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has now reached firm conclusions on his proposals for the redistribution of functions between county and district authorities; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. King

The Government have considered carefully the views put forward by the local authority associations, individual authorities and others following my answer of 18 July to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson).

On development control, I have decided, with two exceptions, to confirm the proposals announced in that answer. Responsibility for development control is therefore to rest with only limited exceptions with district councils. Those excep- tions relate to minerals developments and developments which straddle the boundaries of national parks; both these categories of development are already county matters.

In addition there will be a new county matter, namely private applications for waste disposal sites. The definition of minerals development will include rail aggregate depots, marine aggregate wharves and aggregates processing plant. County planning authorities will lose the power to direct district planning authorities to refuse an application.

District councils will have a statutory duty to consult county councils on planning applications which would have a significant bearing on an important structure plan policy. A working party of my Department and the local authority associations has made good progress in developing the code of practice which will provide districts with guidelines for consulting counties about applications which affect strategic matters.

With the announcement of the Government's decision the way is now clear for the working party to proceed to an agreement. The Government do not propose to change local authorities' powers to acquire deemed planning permission for their own developments.

As announced in my answer on 18 July, the Government have accepted in principle the associations' joint proposals for certain other minor changes in the planning field, where powers are now exercised concurrently by county and district authorities. Detailed legislative proposals are now being discussed with the associations.

I said in my statement on 18 July that the arrangements for highways and traffic management were not working satisfactorily in certain areas and that the Government were convinced that the operation of agency agreements between counties and districts was in urgent need of improvement. A working party of officers of the associations, chaired by the Department of Transport, would draw up a code of practice to provide a proper basis for this improvement. I understand that this working party has now prepared a draft code and that it is at present being considered by the associations.

The Government have examined the scope for further changes and have looked in particular at other powers now held concurrently by counties and districts. However, they have decided against making any further proposals for the reallocation of local authority functions. After a major upheaval of the 1974 reorganisation, a period of stability is essential. Within a stable framework, local authorities will be better able to attend to the provision of effective and efficient services to the public.