HC Deb 06 July 1994 vol 246 cc244-5W
Mr. Clappison

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how the draft Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations would amend planning legislation.

Mr. Curry

The planning aspects of the draft-regulations which were laid before Parliament on 4 July 1994 implement the assessment and decision-making requirements of the habitats directive in respect of the land use planning system in England and Wales and in Scotland.

The main amendments made to planning legislation by the regulations are to:

  1. (a) restrict the granting of planning permission for development which is likely significantly to affect a Special Protection Area (SPA) designated under the Birds Directive or a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to be classified under the Habitats Directive;
  2. (b) require the review of existing planning permissions which have not been fully implemented and which are likely significantly to affect a designated SPA or an SAC when it is classified, and if necessary the taking of appropriate action;
  3. (c) prevent the General Development Order (and the General Permitted Development Order in Scotland) granting permitted development rights which will adversely affect the integrity of an SPA or SAC;
  4. (d) prevent other existing and future development orders, simplified planning zone schemes and enterprise zone schemes from granting permission for development which is likely significantly to affect an SPA or SAC.

The regulations are not a new departure for planning so much as a reinforcement of our existing approach. We have a firm and well-established framework for safeguarding the natural heritage, which has been strengthened significantly in recent years. This framework enables us to protect nationally and internationally important sites in terms that are broadly consistent with the habitats directive. The regulations will ensure that we comply fully with its requirements.

We will provide advice on the regulations in the planning policy guidance note on nature conservation for local planning authorities in England. The PPG will be published after Parliament has approved the regulations. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales will be providing separate advice for local planning authorities in Scotland and in Wales.

Under the provision referred to at (b), it is possible that a local authority might exceptionally need to make an order to modify or revoke a planning permission or discontinue a use of land. We expect any such orders to be rare, because of the protection already afforded to important nature conservation sites, and because an order would be needed only if a development would adversely affect the integrity of the site and a satisfactory planning obligation could not be reached. An order would take effect when served, but would be subject to confirmation by the appropriate Secretary of State. The existing entitlement under planning law to compensation in connection with modification, revocation and discontinuance orders would apply, as would the liability on the local authority to pay it. The Government would, however, consider reimbursing a local authority if the compensation costs were high and the action taken was no more than was necessary to overcome the adverse effects of the planning permission. It would not meet the costs of an authority which unreasonably served an order which was not subsequently confirmed by the Secretary of State.

We are grateful to those who responded to the consultation paper on amending the General Development Order—see (c)—which we issued last year for England and Wales. Copies of their responses have been placed in the Department of the Environment library, and a summary and list of them have been deposited in the Libraries of the House of Commons and House of Lords. The amendments in the draft regulations would mean that permitted development rights would not be available for any development which was likely significantly to affect an SPA or SAC, unless the local authority had decided that it would not adversely affect the integrity of the site. A developer who was uncertain about whether a proposal would be likely to have a significant effect on an SPA or SAC would be able to obtain an opinion from English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales. The consultation paper also covered our proposal to remove permitted development rights for development requiring environmental assessment under the 1988 EA regulations; we will be announcing our decision on this separately.

As well as amending planning legislation, the draft regulations amend highways legislation to achieve similar results to (a) and (b) above for road construction or improvement projects proposed by the Secretary of State. They also amend the Pipe-lines Act 1962, the Electricity Act 1989 and the Transport and Works Act 1992 to make similar provisions in relation to the construction of generating stations and the installation of electric lines above ground; the construction and diversion of pipelines; and the construction of transport systems, inland waterways and works interfering with rights of navigation.