§ Mr. Whittingdale
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to review the exemption of Crown bodies from town and country planning legislation; and if he will make a statement.
§ Sir George Young
Yes. A public consultation paper will be issued in a few weeks' time, embodying detailed proposals by my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. With the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the proposals will also apply to Crown exemption under Scottish planning legislation.
The usual constitutional position is that the Crown is exempt from all statutory provisions, unless they state to the contrary. For this purpose, the Crown includes the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Crown Estate, Government Departments and Parliament itself. Crown bodies are not entirely exempt from planning legislation; they may, for example, apply for planning permission in anticipation of disposal of their land under section 299 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
But most Crown development, with the exception of trunk roads which are subject to the provisions of the Highways Act 1980, in Scotland the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, is undertaken under non-statutory arrangements set out in part IV of DOE circular 18/84, Welsh Office 37/84. All Crown bodies have agreed to these arrangements, whereby a Crown body that wishes to develop land, obtain listed building consent or acquire hazardous substances consent, serves a notice of proposed development on the local planning authority. Where they and the authority fail to reach agreement, the development proposal is referred to the Secretary of State for decision, if necessary following a non-statutory public local inquiry.
The citizens charter White Paper noted the progressive removal of immunities that shelter Government Departments and Crown bodies from regulations, inspection and enforcement requirements placed on others. My right hon. and learned Friend believes that it is now appropriate to bring Crown exemption under the planning system largely to an end. He proposes that all Crown bodies should be required to apply to the local planning authority for planning permission, listed building consent and hazardous substances consent in the normal way. There will be limited exceptions to this, principally where national or prison security is involved, or for trunk roads proposals, which are already subject to statutory procedures equivalent to town and country planning procedures. One consequence of this proposal will be that Crown developers will be legally required to undertake environmental impact assessments of their proposals, as required by EC directive 85/337, in the same way as other developers, replacing the non-statutory arrangements in DOE circular 15/88—Welsh Office 23/88.203W
My right hon. and learned Friend also proposes that any Crown development allegedly in breach of planning control should be subject to the enforcement provisions of part VII of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990; and the statutory regimes in part VIII of that Act for outdoor advertisement control and tree protection should apply to Crown land, with any necessary modifications.
My right hon. and learned Friend intends to embody these proposals in legislation when a suitable opportunity arises.