HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc21-2W
Dr. Jack Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he proposes to consult on procedures for involving Parliament in speeding up the processing of major infrastructure projects in the planning system. [23909]

Mr. Byers

In July I announced a package of measures to streamline the handling in the planning system of major infrastructure projects, such as new airports, runways, rail links and roads. The objective was to speed up the decision-making process so as to cut the delay, cost and uncertainty of the present process, while making sure that people continue to be properly involved and have the opportunity to make their views known.

The package comprised: up-to-date statements of Government policy before major infrastructure projects are considered in the planning system to help reduce inquiry time spent on debating the policy; an improved regional framework which will assist consideration of individual projects (e.g. through the revised arrangements for Regional Planning Guidance); new procedures to give Parliament the opportunity to approve projects in principle before consideration of the details at inquiry; improved inquiry procedures for major infrastructure projects; improved arrangements for compulsory purchase and compensation.

We are today publishing a consultation paper setting out our detailed proposals for new parliamentary procedures. Copies are being laid before both Houses. The deadline for comment is 22 March 2002.

It is right that Parliament should have the opportunity to consider infrastructure projects of major importance to the country and to the economy. Parliament's involvement will add weight and accountability to the process without reducing the opportunities for people to have their say. Parliament's endorsement of the principle of, need for and location of a project will speed up the decision-making process by removing the necessity for the subsequent planning inquiry to look at these issues. We propose to underpin this with new powers for Planning Inspectors to focus discussion at the inquiry, which will just look at the details of implementing the project on the ground. The final decision on a project will rest with the Secretary of State.

Our proposals give people a clear opportunity to make their views known before Parliament debates the issues. They provide a mechanism for people to make objections or other representations about a proposed project. Parliament would have copies of all of them and a summary. In addition, the parliamentary stage would be preceded by development of a statement of Government policy, on the content of which there would normally be prior public consultation, and people can express their views at a subsequent inquiry on the detailed aspects of the scheme.

These opportunities for people to be involved at three key stages of the process would be over and above the consultations between developers and local people on proposed projects before an application for planning consent is submitted. We want local people to be involved as early as possible in shaping proposals affecting them and the areas in which they live.

Introducing the new procedures would require primary legislation. This will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.

Mr. Paterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if the planning Green Paper will propose that spatial development strategies no longer be decided at county council level. [22391]

Ms Keeble

I refer the hon. Member to chapter 4 of our consultation paper entitled "Planning: delivering a fundamental change".