HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 c440W
Mr. Singh

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what proposals he is putting in place to improve the delivery of local plans and unitary development plans; and if he will make a statement. [34937]

Mr. Caborn

The statement "Modernising Planning", published on 15 January, set out our policies to improve the operation of the planning system. In accordance with those policies, my Department has today published a consultation paper on proposals for changes to the arrangements for the preparation and adoption by local authorities of Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans. Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Library.

The Government are committed to the plan-led system of development. This provides the essential framework for rational and consistent planning decisions, and plays a vital role in promoting development and growth which respects the environment. But if the plan-led system is to work there must be plans which cover all parts of the country and an effective system to keep those plans up to date.

The previous Government agreed a target date with local authorities for substantial coverage of local plans by the end of 1996. Only 43 per cent. coverage was achieved by that date. The figure is expected to be about 70 per cent. by the end of 1998. We therefore propose to introduce changes to national policy guidance and to procedures aimed at:

  • promoting shorter, clearer plans;
  • securing better targeted consultation;
  • encouraging authorities to announce and be accountable for a target timetable;
  • promoting negotiation on objections in order to reduce the number of issues requiring discussion at the inquiry;
  • making the Inspector's report publicly available within a set time period; and
  • encouraging the prompt adoption of plans.

Improvements in the quality and content of plans have a crucial role in speeding up the development plans' system. The revised guidance draws attention to the scope for authorities to learn from the best practice of others. However, ensuring that efficient procedures are in place is only part of the answer. Much of the success of these proposals depends on the approach adopted by the local authorities in taking them forward. These proposals will improve the system only if used constructively by planning authorities and there is real commitment from them to making the plan led system work.