HC Deb 12 January 1987 vol 108 cc41-2W
Mr. Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards applications to build large shopping and leisure centres in the green belt.

Mr. Waldegrave

[pursuant to his reply, 18 December 1986, c. 688]: Policy on green belts remains as set out in DOE circular 14/84. My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that large new shopping and leisure centres do not belong in green belts. When I spoke on 14 October to a conference organised by the Confederation of British Industry, entitled "The Future of Shopping—In or Out of Town?" I said: Hardly a week goes by without our reading in the press of yet another vast shopping centre—or more often a shopping and leisure complex—which it is proposed to build in the middle of the green belt. Any such proposal has, of course, to be considered on its merits and in the light of general policy. Some may come to me on appeal, so I must not name names. There is provision, as there must be, for exceptions to be made in very special circumstances. But by way of general policy I would say that the promoters of some of the wilder schemes have no reason to think that they will succeed in breaching green belt policy. We are certainly not opposed to new methods of retailing and the benefits that modern retail stores can bring to the customer. But they do not belong in the green belt. Let that be understood.

I also announced that we proposed to issue a direction requiring local planning authorities to consult the Department before granting permission for certain large new retail stores.

That direction was issued on Thursday 18 December 1986 as an annex to a circular entitled, "Policy on Major Retail Developments" published by HMSO on behalf of my Department and the Welsh Office. A copy of the circular (21/86, Welsh Office 58/86), which also repeats Government policy on planning and large new retail developments, has been placed in the Library.

The direction which is made under articles 10 and 15(4) of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977, requires local planning authorities to consult my Department, or in Wales, the Welsh Office, before approving any development which consists of or includes gross retail floorspace of 250,000 sq feet (23,325 sq metres) or more. It will apply to all relevant planning applications not determined and for which no appeal against non-determination has been made by 1 January 1987. It will apply also to proposals for which local authorities seek "deemed" planning permission under the general regulations.

The direction also specifies the information which local planning authorities are required to provide to the department when carrying out the necessary consultation and prevents the local authority from granting planning permission on the application (or resolving to carry it out) for 21 days. If at the end of that time they have received no further direction from the Secretary of State restricting permission or requiring reference of the application to him. They may proceed to grant permission. It is, however, open to the authority to turn down such an application without reference to the Department.

The existing directions relating to the handling of applications which represent departures from development plans remain in force. However, the request of the Secretaries of State to be informed by local authorities of planning applications for shopping developments outside existing city, town or district centres, involving gross floorspace of 100,000 sq feet or more, is cancelled by the new circular.

In making the direction, we recognise that some major retail schemes now in the planning stage or in prospect raise very wide planning issues which will have effects far beyond the boundaries of an individual planning authority and which in many cases local authorities may find difficult to deal with. We consider it right that we should have a clear opportunity to consider whether such schemes should be called-in for determination by the Secretary of State, although the decision as to whether call-in is appropriate will be taken in the light of the individual circumstances.