§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Lewis Silkin moved the Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 21 years ago this week. Thanks to that signal beginning, we can say that modern land use planning in this country has now come of age.
By providing a complete system of control over new development in England and Wales, and by requiring each planning authority, through its development plan, to take a long term look at the future of its area, the 1947 Act made it possible for planning authorities to check the sprawling development that spoilt so much of the countryside between the wars and, at the same time, to promote urban redevelopment. The New Towns Act, 1946, the 1947 Act, and the National Parks Act, 1949, taken together, did a very great deal to improve the general quality of life in Britain. But the time has come to move ahead again. This is what we are doing with the Countryside Bill, and with the Town and Country Planning Bill which the Secretary of State for Wales and I are now presenting to the House.
We have, of course, had quite a number of Town and Country Planning Acts since 1947. They dealt mainly with compensation, and left the development control and development plan system virtually untouched. By contrast, this Bill brings the system itself up-to-date. It is not concerned with compensation: the adjustments it makes in that field are purely incidental.
The problem now is not to establish a new system of control, but to make it more relevant to current needs and techniques, and more sensitive to modern thought and current pressures for change. For example, it must take account of regional planning, and must respond to the call for decentralising decisions where these can be taken locally. The range of planning is now broader. The uses of 1362 land must be looked at alongside the problems of the movement they generate. There is a growing realisation, too, that plans must be able to stand up to economic and financial scrutiny; and that what happens in the area of one planning authority may have a profound effect on another. We are now seeking to bring these matters together; we can no longer risk having them handled in separate compartments. We must also speed up the system and make it more positive.
I have four aims in mind.
I want quicker decisions. The Bill provides for alterations in levels of responsibility which will speed things up, as well as a number of other changes which will cut red tape. I want the system made more effective, so that we get from it the quality of results we all want. In various ways, the Bill takes in a little slack, notably on enforcement and historic buildings. And the new development plan system, when it is in full operation, will lead to a real improvement in the quality of planning which will show increasingly positive results as the years go by.
These improvements, however desirable, would not be of much use if the system were to lose its fairness. I have been concerned throughout to see that there are proper safeguards for those affected by planning proposals.
Above all, I am determined that there shall be more real public participation in planning. I want people to have a much better chance of being involved in the planning of the area they live in and of influencing it. Planning is for people and about their activities, not just about areas. Bringing people into planning means a good deal more than the "right" to inspect plans and object to them. I want to make sure that people can get to know what the planning authority is proposing to include in its plans before attitudes harden. The Bill provides for this in Clauses 3(1) and 5(8).
But there is a good deal more to it than a provision in a statute. In some places, attitudes have got to change: we must get rid of the idea that the planners and the planned are on different sides of the fence, and we must study ways of getting them talking together. Some authorities, perhaps, will 1363 need advice on this. As I announced to the House just before Christmas, I am, in association with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales, setting up a committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). This will make recommendations as to the ways in which we can bring people into the planning process.
These then are my main purposes. I doubt whether there are many hon. Members who would quarrel with them.
I turn now to the main contents of the Bill. I shall try not to give a clause by clause account, but to review the things which are most important—I hope with brevity. We have, after all, published the report of the Planning Advisory Group, to whose work I should like to repeat my tributes; a White Paper whose contents have, I am glad to say, been generally welcomed; and also the recent Management Study on Development Control by Local Authorities.
Part I provides for the new development plan system.
Clauses 1 and 2 bring out very plainly the increased breadth of subject matter of the new plans. The development of wider planning concepts, the increasing importance of road traffic, and the overriding need to prepare realistic plans which we can afford, all make it necessary to set about plan-making in a radically different way.
Town planning is no longer concerned with the town as a static pattern of uses, but as a dynamic piece of machinery, which must work as efficiently and as economically as possible. I do not think I can emphasise too strongly— and the Minister of Transport is in complete agreement with me on this—the need for complete integration into the planning process of land use, transport and investment programming; and for an integrated approach to the examination and approval of plans.
The other big change is the division of the development plan into two parts.
First comes the structure plan, for approval by the Minister. The structure plan will be a written statement with 1364 diagrammatic illustrations. It will not allocate particular bits of land for precise uses. Instead, it will deal with broad policies for the use of land, for making the town a living entity, and for making it a worth while place to live in, work in and relax in. It will relate the effect of these policies to movement and will set out in general terms proposals for "action areas" where concentrated change by development, redevelopment or improvement is expected to start within ten years.
Thereafter will come the local plans. These will normally be for the planning authority itself to consider and, after proper publicity and due consideration of objections, to adopt formally. Perhaps the most important will be the action area plans for the areas where the authority propose concentrated change. These action area plans will escape from the present rigid, two-dimensional treatment of comprehensive development areas, which—as we have learnt over the years—offer only the most limited idea of what changes are really going to involve.
Local plans will also cover small and medium sized towns of up to 50,000 people. They will also include district plans, illustrating more fully planning policies in particular parts of a town, and putting the action areas in a wider context. Local plans, too, will be used for countryside and recreational policies. This is a town and country planning Bill.
There are two related questions which my right hon. Friend and I examined with great care before deciding" to go ahead with these changes—whether they should be made in advance of local government reorganisation and, if so, whether local planning authorities should be left, in normal circumstances, to adopt formally their own local plans.
On the first of these questions we concluded that it would be right to move forward into the new system, but to do so progressively. A number of the most forward-looking planning authorities, administering areas with urgent planning problems and responsible for the conditions in which millions of people live, are able to make the change and ready to do so. They should not be held back—or penalised—by the inadequacies of the present system during the years which must inevitably pass 1365 before the Government's conclusions on the Royal Commission's report, are translated first into legislation, and later into new units of local government. I thought that The Times leader this morning was very wise in that respect.
The Bill therefore permits (as can be seen from Clause 2(1), which should be read with Clause 80(3)) the phased introduction of the new development plan system. I shall use this power to bring the system into operation at the outset only in selected areas. The Bill itself in Schedule 1 provides for an early start in London.
I think I should outline to the House how the Secretary of State for Wales and I will set about the selection of authorities in England and Wales to prepare the first wave of structure plans. We shall not say some authorities are suitable and some are not. The first wave will consist of a comparatively small number of authorities. From them we shall gain useful experience for the later operation of the new system on a countrywide basis. We do not want to repeat the situation of the early 1950s, when the submission of development plans by every planning authority, more or less at the same time, caused a monumental log-jam in Whitehall. Moreover, we do not want to force the new system on any authorities who may feel that they are not ready for it, some possibly because they have recently reviewed their plan under the old system or are conscious of staffing difficulties at the present time.
Subject to these qualifications, we shall try to bring together groups of authorities, working together voluntarily, whose areas taken together will provide a better basis for planning than their areas taken in isolation. And, of course, any groupings of this sort are entirely without prejudice to the conclusions of the Royal Commission.
The authorities concerned must be staffed and organised to do the job; and special consideration will be given to those with pressing problems that can best be tackled through the new techniques. Above all, the new system is only for those authorities who are really prepared to accept their new responsibilities. We shal want to be satisfied that they take public participation seriously 1366 and will have proper regard to objectors to their plans.
The first wave, therefore—in addition to Greater London—might consist of a maximum of about eight groups of planning authorities—20-30 authorities in total—whose entry to the new system might be spread over a period of time. No formal steps towards the selection of authorities can be taken until this Bill has passed into law; but I hope to start discussions with potential candidates in the summer. Meanwhile, if any planning authority is in doubt whether it should proceed with a development plan review under the present system, the Secretary of State or I will be glad to offer them informal advice.
The power of a local planning authority to deal with its own local plans has given rise to a good deal of comment, some of it rather emotional. Those who argue that doubts on this point should be resolved by making these local plans subject to ministerial approval are, I believe, failing to realise the character of the change that is being made. And those who say that the Bill is making the planning authorities "judge and jury in their own cause" are using an easy catch-phrase, but misunderstanding the function of the planning authorities. That function is basically administrative rather than judicial—to prepare plans in the interests of the area and of all the people living in it. The critics are also ignoring the safeguards for the public. These are an integral feature of the Bill and will be spelt out further in the regulations which Clause 11 provides for.
The distinction between structure and local plans is not just a parcelling out of different types of subject into different documents for the sake of convenience. It reflects a radical change of approach. This hiving off of local detail is the only workable way of unclogging the machine and doing away with the intolerable delays—often a matter of years—which will be with us permanently if central government is going to have to continue to deal with the objections that may be made to any line drawn on any map for any part of the country.
And behind all this is the principle of devolution or decentralisation, which seems to me so important. We have got 1367 to be clear about the matters with which Ministers should concern themselves and the matters for which local democracy should answer. The new structure plans will identify the issues for central government—the questions that have regional or even national significance. A few local plans will bring up issues of this kind; they will be exceptional, and the Bill covers this by providing powers for the Minister to gain jurisdiction over them under Clause 7(2). Most local plans are essentially matters for local government; and as long as they are dealt with openly, and in accordance with fair procedures—and the Bill provides for both these things—we believe they should be handled locally.
I can see no reason why an authority should not, in the ordinary way, take a fair and balanced view of the ideas put forward by objectors to local plans. There must, of course, be proper precautions against unfair pressures in the exceptional case, so the Bill provides an elaborate safety net. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will deal with the safeguards in detail later; but let me just mention them briefly. The Bill keeps all the normal rights of objection and hearing. It gives the Minister the power to intervene in any local plan at any stage. There can be recourse to the courts. And the Council on Tribunals is given jurisdiction over inquiries held into local plans—that is Clause 6(b).
I have dealt with development plans at some length because they occupy a central place in the planning system, and I shall deal with the rest of the Bill more briefly, so that hon. Members may have as much time as possible to express their views.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Can my right hon. Friend say why there is no express provision in Part I of the Bill for consultation at the formulation stage by local planning authorities with regional planning councils and regional planning boards? To give an example, it will be impossible to implement a recommendation in the South-East Study without the closest co-operation, at the formulation stage, of authorities preparing structure plans.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this, because it is 1368 important. We have not included it in the Bill, but it will be our intention to give advice to local authorities, emphasising the need for consultation with regional economic planning councils. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having reminded me of that.
I turn, now, to development control. Development plans deal with the strategy of planning: development control looks after the day-to-day decisions. Here, too, our aim has been to provide speedier procedures, more effective control, and fair treatment for those affected.
On planning appeals—there were about 10,000 last year—slow decisions mean inconvenience, hardship, and even injustice. For years now my predecessors and I have been trying to get them settled more quickly. Many of them relate to development on a small scale. For example, in the last quarter of 1967, 33 per cent. concerned a single house, and a further 10 per cent. groups of not more than ten dwellings. These, together with a whole range of different kinds of minor development, account for 60 per cent.-70 per cent. of all the appeals made to the Minister.
These appeals are very important to the people immediately concerned; but very few of them indeed raise issues of ministerial policy. Over the last five years or so, the decision has followed the Inspector's recommendation in more than 97 per cent. of planning appeals, large and small, which have gone to a local inquiry. In all those thousands of cases the three months occupied in preparing a decision in the Minister's name have added nothing of substance. The Franks Committee saw the folly of this ten years ago, and it recommended in paragraph 392 of its Report that decisions on some appeals should be taken by Inspectors.
The proposal put forward in Part III of the Bill is that in these minor cases the responsibility for giving the decision should be the Inspector's, and not the Minister's, whether the decision follows a local inquiry, or an exchange of correspondence between the parties. I believe that this change will be welcomed, and that most appellants will prefer a quick decision from the man who has himself seen the land, and heard the arguments at first hand.
1369 Of course there are, and always will be, cases on which the decision must be ministerial. The division of appeals into Minister's cases, and Inspector's cases, is to be tackled in three stages. First. the Bill, in Clause 17(2), limits the range of cases that may go to Inspectors for decision. These include the normal planning appeals under Section 23 of the 1962 Act: appeals concerning trees and listed buildings; and enforcement appeals. Secondly, regulations made under Clause 17(1) will prescribe the classes of appeal to go to Inspectors for decision. Thirdly, there may be exceptional cases, within those prescribed classes, where the jurisdiction should be the Minister's because a wider national issue is involved. In these cases the Minister can, as it were, recover jurisdiction by issuing a direction.
In the first set of regulations I do not intend to go beyond ordinary appeals against refusal of planning permission. The first instalment will include appeals concerning single houses. By this one step jurisdiction will be transferred on about 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of all appeals. I should also like to transfer jurisdiction at the earliest possible date on those other minor cases that I have mentioned, which would bring the total up to about 60 per cent. or 70 per cent.
In our view these are changes which deserve the support of the House. They will make for simplicity—one-stage decisions instead of two-stage—directness, and speed, without forfeiting quality in decision.
In two further aspects of development control there is a clear need for more effective provisions—enforcement, and the protection of buildings of historic and architectural importance.
On enforcement, I shall mention the two most important changes. The Bill will abolish the rule which has prevented local planning authorities from taking action against contravening development which has not come to their notice within four years. It also introduces a new'; stop notice "which will enable them to bring building operations to a halt while an enforcement notice is being dealt with. This will enable the Minister or the Secretary of State to come to a decision on the merits of the enforcement notice without having their hand forced by the completion of the building meanwhile.
1370 On buildings listed for their architectural or historic importance, the Bill telescopes existing procedures. At present there has to be a building preservation order if we are to protect a listed building. Under Clause 33, "listing" itself will confer protection, and express consent will be required for the demolition of any listed building or for alterations or extensions which would affect its character. The owner will retain his normal rights of appeal.
The Bill also removes the financial incentive which sometimes tempts developers to buy such buildings and leave them to decay so that the planning authority is forced to allow demolition and so provide scope for profitable redevelopment. Clause 45 enables the planning authority to buy a listed building compulsorily at a price which disregards the prospects of profits from rebuilding if it can show thatthe building has been deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair for the purpose of justifying its demolition and the development or redevelopment of the site.There are, I should stress, plenty of safeguards for the bona fide owner.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
It seems unfair to expect local authorities to follow the terms of Clause 45 about the compulsory purchase of a listed building unless they are given money with which to do it. They cannot afford to pay large sums of ratepayers' money for compulsory purchase.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think the hon. Gentleman knows that there are grant provisions in the Bill, but I would not at this stage want to commit my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to encouraging any extention of public expenditure. Perhaps this is something that we might discuss in Committee.
Part VI of the Bill includes various simplifications and improvements in the law on development control. For example, Clause 51, which will enable local authorities to delegate simpler planning decisions to their officers, will be in the interests of speed and efficiency.
Clauses 52 to 54 provide that a planning permission should be acted on within a fixed period—normally five years. This will encourage people to get on with development instead of holding on to land, and will prevent the planning machine 1371 becoming clogged-up with unused permissions. as has happened in some areas.
The biggest and most important change in Part VI is in Clauses 48–50. These provide for the setting up of planning inquiry commissions to deal with what the White Paper described ascases that raise wide or novel issues of more than local significance.The essential difficulty is that the local inquiry method is not suitable for these big and complex cases. The inquiries tend to develop into gladiatorial struggles, with counsel for the promoters arguing that the scheme put forward is the only right and possible one and counsel for the objectors arguing that the scheme will be a disaster—unless it is carried out in the next county but one.
The ability of the inspector to probe the underlying questions and to reach conclusions is very limited in these circumstances; and there may be important considerations of a national or regional character which it is at present nobody's business to bring forward. Consequently, when the Minister gets the report of the inquiry he may find that crucial questions are only partially answered.
The solution put forward in the Bill is the provision of a strong team of qualified investigators in place of a single inspector; wider terms of reference, and a procedure which will enable them to investigate in depth and not just to hear representations.
Clauses 48 and 49 therefore empower the Minister to set up planning inquiry commissions to investigate planning appeals and applications, including proposals by statutory undertakers that may receive deemed planning consent from their sponsoring Minister, and proposals for development by Government Departments—the first time that such development has been made subject to statutory procedures.
A commission will have three to five members and will be constituted expressly for the matter referred to it, so its members, between them, will have the special knowledge required. They must be able to talk on level terms with the experts of the organisation promoting the development and be able to form their own views on the validity of the 1372 arguments governing the siting of the project.
A planning inspector will normally be a member of a commission, to provide knowledge of planning policies and procedures and to conduct, for the commission, the local inquiry that will form part of its proceedings.
The commission's work will be in two stages. It will start by considering the broad background to the proposal, on the basis of evidence provided by the promoters of the scheme, the local planning authority, Government Departments and interested individuals and organisations, including the amenity societies. At this stage its procedure will be similar to that of a Royal Commission or public committee.
I should regard it as unnecessary—and, indeed, wrong—for the parties to try to present their case at this stage through legal representatives. It must be for the commission to decide which are the issues that it wants to probe at this stage and to carry out the investigation itself. Any examination of witnesses will be in public, unless issues of national security come up. Copies of the evidence received by the commission and transcripts of the examination of witnesses will be made available to the public to assist at the next stage.
The second stage of the investigation will be a local inquiry, following the usual pattern, into the scheme and the objections to it. At this stage the promoters or their representatives will be expected to deploy their case and will be subject to cross-examination. Anybody or any organisation with something relevant to say may attend or be represented, and will be heard.
The commission will prepare its report after it has completed both stages of its work. This will bring together all the evidence of a general nature collected at the first stage of its proceedings and the further evidence from the local inquiry. In its report it will also be able to deal with the question of alternative sites. The Minister may invite its special attention to this as a general point—that is dealt with in Clause 49(4)—and may refer more than one application for concurrent consideration by the same commission.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether 1373 this wholly admirable new procedure can be applied to the siting of the third London Airport?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I rather expected that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) would raise that point. We must be careful not to become too involved in this matter. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware, consideration of the question of a third London Airport was conducted by a non-statutory inquiry. But the new procedure is relevant to this extent I think: that it would be for the Government or the Airports Authority to decide in principle about a third London Airport, and it would then be for the Airports Authority to put in an application, or a number of applications, for planning permission, after which it would be for a planning inquiry commission to consider the applications.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
Is that right? The third London Airport procedure is under Section 14 of the Town and Country Planning Act. I do not find that there is any jurisdiction for a planning inquiry commission under Clause 49, in respect of matters arising under Section 14 of the 1962 Act.
§ Mr. Greenwood
The inquiry that I was referring to was a non-statutory inquiry, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman—whom I remember was one of the few surviving participants in our discussions on the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act—takes that view I hope that we shall have an opportunity of considering it further in Committee.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is some diffidence on the part of the public, in that when the Government talk about consultation it is like volunteering in the Army? At what stage in the procedure, if at all, does he expect that the public will be able to bring in the services of the Parliamentary Commissioner?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The Parliamentary Commissioner is not specifically mentioned. Existing rights of appeal remain as they were. I am sure that the hon. Member knows that we have made specific provision for public consultation. We propose to spell that out in Orders 1374 and Regulations which will be issued under the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept our sincerity in wanting to bring in the public to a much greater extent than has ever been attempted before.
I should tell the House that Lord Silkin took two hours and eleven minutes in presenting the 1947 Bill. I am anxious to complete my contribution in a much more limited period.
I had reached the stage of referring to the preparation of the report and had said that the Minister may invite the special attention of the commission to the possibility of alternative sites. This may happen where a choice needs to be made between two rival schemes, or where the promoter of a scheme himself puts forward alternatives for examination.
This is something that I envisage happening more frequently once we get the new procedure going. Developers will know that big schemes may be subject to examination in depth and that putting all their eggs in one basket will become much more risky. Moreover, even where only one site has been put forward in the first place, the opening stage of the commission's work may suggest that other areas ought to be looked at.
In these circumstances the commission may put it to the promoters that they ought to have one, or more, additional applications before them if they are to reach a conclusive result. The Minister would call in any additional applications and refer them to the commission.
In each of these circumstances the commission would hold a local inquiry into each of the applications referred to it, but make a single report on the whole complex of issues. I do not expect that more than a handful of cases in any year will call for this new treatment, but where it is employed it should produce a more satisfactory result for all concerned.
There is one matter of some importance which is not now in the Bill but which will be the subject of new Clauses that I hope to introduce in Committee. The treatment of statutory undertakers under planning law has given rise to criticism in recent months and there has been some rather inaccurate talk about their freedom from planning control.
1375 They are, of course, subject to planning law and require planning permission for their development. For the most part the permissions they are granted by the General Development Order are not out of scale with the permissions similarly given to private industrialists. What causes the difficulty is not the ability to control their development, but the cost of doing so. Statutory undertakers differ from other developers in the very important respect that compensation must be paid if permission is refused for development of their operational land, that is broadly speaking, land which they use or own for the purposes of their statutory functions. Compensation is also payable to them, as to other developers, if they are prevented from exercising a permission which they enjoy under the General Development Order.
The reason why statutory undertakers were originally given this special position was quite simply that they were statutory undertakers. They are under an obligation to provide services to the public and they cannot, like a private firm in planning difficulties go elsewhere, or start another business. They have to go on providing the service, and if the planning authority wanted to put up their costs by restricting their activities, it was thought right in the past that the planning authority should reimburse them.
However valid these arguments were once felt to be, the climate of opinion has changed since. Planning must still pay sensible attention to the need to provide essential public services economically. On the other hand, any modern industrial undertaking must be prepared to conduct its business in a way which minimises ugliness, and to accept reasonable costs to make its buildings, plant and operations acceptable to public opinion.
The conclusion which the Secretary of State and I have reached, in agreement with our colleagues concerned, is that, in those, circumstances where statutory undertakers are entitled to compensation for planning restrictions but private developers are not, the cost of the restriction should be equally shared between them and the planning authority; or, to put it another way, their entitlement to compensation should be reduced to 50 per cent. This reduction in compensation 1376 would apply in two cases: first, where permission is refused for the development of operational land, and, second, where the planning authority takes action to withdraw permission for development authorised by a Private Act or Order. It is some of these authorisations that have proved troublesome recently. In addition, we intend to bring forward certain minor changes that concern the definition of operational land, and the treatment of planning decisions which relate to it.
This is a Bill which deals for the most part with procedures, and procedures are not the most exciting of subjects—but they are procedures which govern the whole quality of our surroundings. I believe that the changes which the Bill makes will lead to a substantial improvement in the quality of planning, and will give the citizen a better deal. I believe, too, that the Bill will bring about improvements of the kind which we. all want— quicker decisions, fair decisions, more effective planning, and a better chance for ordinary people to influence the plans that concern them.
As in so many fields of activity, time is not on our side. The speeding up of the housing programme—four houses for every three built before 1964—the extension of the motorways, the development of regional policies, technological change, all generate new pressures. Those pressures we must turn to advantage. Seventeen years ago, Mr. Clough Williams-Ellis, to whom Britain owes so much, warned us satirically about the pressures which were being generated. He wrote:They flung out a fine new by-passWhen the first was a chock-full street,And the glorious day isn't far awayWhen London and Liverpool meet,And nothing remains of EnglandWhere the country used to beBut a road run straight through a building estateAnd a single specimen tree.In fact, Lord Silkin's Act laid down the principles which gave Britain what is probably the finest planning system in the world, and British planners are at work in every continent. But the dangers which Mr. Williams-Ellis foresaw are still with us and we must equip ourselves to deal with them. That is what we are doing today. This Bill, probably more than any other in this Parliament, will determine what Britain is like at the end 1377 of the century. It provides us with a great opportunity and one which I believe Parliament, the local authorities and the professions are anxious to seize.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
I am glad that, for once, I can give a warmer welcome to the Minister's speech than has sometimes been the case in the past. On this occasion, we are all grateful to him for having introduced, in characteristically urbane fashion, a Measure with those general purposes we agree. He may have claimed rather more for the Bill than it deserves, but no doubt, with our usual good will on both sides, we shall be able to improve it in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman perhaps claimed too much when he suggested that there might be four houses for every three built before 1964. I think that he believes that the 500,000 target by 1970 still stands, although, of course, as we know, the Prime Minister has abandoned that "pledge"—not "lightlygiven promise".
We welcome the Bill in so far as it goes a long way towards fulfilling the recommendations in the Report of the Planning Advisory Group set up by my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and Argyll (Mr. Noble) when respectively Minister of Housing and Secretary of State for Scotland. Whereas the essence of the Barlow Report in 1940 was the need to bring planning machinery under stronger central direction, the principal theme of the Planning Advisory Group's Report was the need to move in the opposite direction, and in so far as the Bill accepts both the principle of decentralisation and the detailed recommendations for achieving it of the Planning Advisory Group, we regard it as an important move in the right direction.
After all, we on this side have repeatedly urged the importance of a drastic reform and simplification of planning procedures. We thought that this should have had priority over, for example, the Land Commission Bill. However, no one can doubt that the present system of approvals of development plans is far too cumbersome or that, as the Planning Advisory Group said, initial development plans are largely 1378 out of date before they are finally approved, and the so-called quinquennial review procedure fell years behind. Therefore, in the context of our present local government structure, the provisions of Part I of the Bill, replacing the present development plan with a new-style plan containing the two elements of the structure plan and the local plan, are soundly based.
I should like to emphasise that one of our main aims in this Bill must be to see that more land for building comes forward at a more sensible and orderly rate. If we are to have—I hope that we will— four houses built for every three before, this is is essential. A rising population, with earlier marriage and an increasing number of separate households, coupled with the pressure from all sides to speed up the replacement of obsolete houses and buildings, means there is bound to be a demand for a speedier release of land. It has been estimated—it must be a vague statistic—that between 50,000 and 60,000 acres of previously undeveloped land will be required each year in the foreseeable future.
Now land prices are rising faster than ever before, of course. They are at a record level. Rather hopefully, the Minister of State mumbled something just now about the Land Commission, but that will not help: it will only interfere with the process which could easily be carried out under existing procedures by the existing local authorities and local planning authorities. The only remedy —whatever view we take of the Land Commission or any other organisation— for the rising land prices is that more land should be made available for development so that the supply can match the demand.
Turning to the Bill's specific provisions, it is probably sufficient that the structure plans, subject to the approval of the Minister, for each county and major town should simply outline the broad pattern of development. Equally, there can be no objection in principle to the local planning authorities being responsible for showing in detail how a structure plan will be implemented and giving guidance about the type of building which will be acceptable.
However, I have two major reservations to make at this stage. The first is that I feel that we must be satisfied— 1379 I am not yet so satisfied—that the provisions of the Bill will be relevant to the substantial reorganisation which will have to be undertaken as speedily as possible after the Report of the Royal Commission is received. We must have in mind all the time the need to fit our planning machinery into the context of regional policies. As the Minister appreciates, we certainly cannot afford to wait for the Report and the subsequent legislation before taking some action, but we must be clear about the direction in which we are going.
The White Paper on Town and Country Planning, Cmnd. 3333, stated:The new planning process must account for evolving regional policies.We all agree with that. Unfortunately, it is still not clear what the regional policies are likely to be or what the Government may have in mind. I welcome the fact that the Bill makes some provision for concerted planning by a group of local authorities. I have much preferred in local government the concept of the joint board or committee or grouping dealing with a problem in which the areas of local government are too small for a particular function, to a Whitehall-appointed body. I would rather that the Minister sought advice from a group of local authorities on planning matters than he sought the advice of the regional economic planning council, which is simply the creature of Whitehall.
The Bill seems to give some effect to the concept of regional planning, but it is an ad hoc arrangement of uncertain duration. Should the Royal Commission on Local Government recommend, and the Government of the day accept, a two-tier system of local government, with the first tier being regional bodies exercising authority over a much more extensive area than the largest of the present local authorities—except, of course, the Greater London Council—then there would be a strong case for integrating a great deal of this new planning machinery into the new local government machinery. That would necessitate the establishment of permanent regional planning authorities.
We on this side have advocated for some time some reform of this kind so that we could have a bigger authority dealing with some of the broader issues 1380 and having extensive delegated powers and responsibilities. As our 1965 policy document—I have noticed from earlier proceedings that hon. Members opposite are now going to Central Office to inform themselves about the way in which we can back Britain—"Putting Britain Right Ahead", stated:We want to see big changes in planning methods and procedures. The system needs to be made quicker. We propose it should be organised on a more regional basis than at present".I am sure that that is right.
The Standing Conference on London Regional Planning and the allocation of functions between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs provided, under Conservative Administration, an indication of the future structure for sensible regional co-ordination, and, in this context, it is a matter for examination in Committee as to why the Bill contains provisions which seem, to me at any rate, to abrogate some of the existing powers and functions of the G.L.C.
My second and perhaps more fundamental reservation about Part I—indeed, it is a weakness found throughout the Bill—is that it fails, in spite of what the Minister said, to provide adequate protection for the individual and the public. Indeed, the Government seem not to have given sufficient attention to many of the representations made to them on this matter.
We have to simplify procedure and speed up the planning process, but we have to do it in a way which preserves —many of us think extends—protection for the public. I very much agree with what the Minister said about the need to extend public participation in the whole planning process. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome his announcement that his hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) is to have some special responsibilities in this field. We know the great feeling he has for this subject, his great knowledge and the confidence he has inspired. That was a very welcome announcement.
It is true that to safeguard the ability of the individual to halt proposed development at the structure plan stage, the Bill requires local authorities to promote as much publicity and open discussion 1381 as possible before a structure plan is submitted to the Minister. However, it is very difficult to see how individuals will find grounds for specific objections to a merely diagrammatic plan. Nor is it easy to see how an individual can easily object to an action area as such. This new concept of an action area, which really is an area of comprehensive development included in a structure plan, is one of the most important features of the Bill.
Equally, it is hard to see how an individual can effectively object to the pattern of the transportation system. The structure plan will provide the basis of the local plan. To protect the public, therefore, it is essential that there shall be full and adequate rights to objection to the local plan, particularly as it does not require Ministerial approval unless he calls it in..The provisions of Clauses 5 to 7 are wholly inadequate and require drastic amendment. More is required than merely letting the local authority take such steps as—in the words of Clause 6(8) "Will in their opinion" secure adequate publicity and give persons who may be expected to have an interest an opportunity to make representations.
It is not clear how the power to make representation under Clause 11 derogate from that discretionary power. We are all in favour of giving local authorities and other bodies the widest possible discretion in financial and administrative matters, but where they act in a quasi judicial capacity there must be the normal safeguards of individual rights. I am particularly opposed to the provision that objections to a local plan are to be heard by an inspector appointed by the local planning authority itself, and only if the Minister so directs by a person appointed by him.
Ultimately the success of all our efforts to achieve effective planning depends on public acceptance and public confidence. I can foresee bitter resentment being felt, and expressed, by many objectors whose representations have been overruled. They certainly would feel, however misguidely, that in some way the planning authority had been judge and jury in its own cause, and this is unfair. This seems to be a matter which could easily be resolved by allowing the inspector to be appointed in some other way.
1382 Of course we have to construct a balance between speed and efficiency and the reasonable right of objection and appeal which is not always an easy thing to do.
When it comes to planning appeals generally, dealt with in Part III of the Bill, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the Minister said. We all know that the whole system of Section 23 appeals against deemed refusal of planning permission has been on the verge of breaking down. The White Paper said that the number of appeals was 12,000 to 14,000 a year. There were only 10,000 last year, but that no doubt was the result of Government policies damping down the rate of growth and development in the country. At present it takes about nine months on average for Whitehall to decide on a planning appeal. This period conceals a spread of three to 18 months more. Yet, as the Minister explained, in less than 3 per cent. of cases is the Minister's actual decision different from that of his inspector.
The Minister also explained that many of these appeals concern individual houses or minor developments. Clearly the case for some delegation is unanswerable, leaving the Minister to call in only those appeals which raise a major principle or issue which it is right that he should consider. I was once in his Department as a Parliamentary Secretary and I do not think it can be any secret that the phrase, "the Minister's decision" is in many cases nothing more than a legal fiction when it comes to the question of determining literally thousands of planning appeals. As we know, and it is quite right, only the more difficult cases find their way to the desk of the Minister or to one of his junior Ministers. It is remarkable how well this has worked in practice and how good the Department has been in selecting those matters which clearly raise some difficulty, political, economic or personal, which the Department thinks the Minister should see. This could have given rise to a real problem sooner or later.
I confess, however, that I am not particularly happy about the proposal to delegate the hearing of appeals to a single inspector who, I understand, will be the employee of the Minister. I should like to go rather more carefully into the status 1383 and answerability of the new-style inspectors in Committee. If they are to have this judicial function the more they are separated from Whitehall machinery and brought within the judicial machinery, the better. I have always favoured the idea of regional tribunals. Although I appreciate that there are difficulties about this, and the Committee on Tribunals and Inquiries accepted the idea of delegation to single inspectors, I am reluctant to abandon my position.
Here again my concern is that we should devise a system which is acceptable to the public and which inspires confidence. The public feel a little happier if at any time they can appear before a panel. We organised this satisfactorily with the Lands Tribunal. From time to time only one member of the Tribunal sits but on other occasions there are a number sitting. There are occasions when it might be wise to have more than one inspector sitting, perhaps with assessors.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm two things? First, would this not increase the number of civil servants? We have heard so much about that from hon. Members opposite. Secondly, is there not a great shortage of inspectors?
§ Mr. Rippon
I realise the difficulties of staffing and that there is a limited number of persons for these jobs. It is essential that we should find a system which is acceptable to the public and which inspires confidence. We have to consider every proposal in terms of cost benefit. That is a factor which is very relevant. I wish hon. Members opposite raised it more often. That would be of tremendous benefit. I may have to accept that argument, but it is very hard to persuade Ministers that it is something they should apply. I am concerned here about protecting the public but, if it is a matter of imposing the power of Whitehall, then, as we heard on Monday, they wait for a sausage factory to close and then they snap up the typists.
While still on the subject of planning inquiries and appeals, I welcome particularly Clauses 48 to 50, which provide for the establishment of planning inquiry commissions on the lines of the proposals in paragraph 29 of the White Paper. It 1384 is true that the present machinery has been quite inadequate to inquire into developments having national or regional importance or being concerned with matters of novel, technical or scientific significance. I think this has been proved by the whole Stansted affair. As I said in the debate on national airport policy on 29th June last year, this is exactly the procedure we were asking to be applied to Stansted. It still remains the only way in which we can determine the merits of alternative sites, particularly of Foulness.
It should be done even at this stage. There is no need to wait for the specific provisions of the Bill now that the Government have indicated their policy. It could be done on a non-statutory basis without going into detail and the legal considerations raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith).
§ Mr. Brian Batsford (Ealing, South)
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Greater London Council recently decided that there should be an entirely new inquiry into the question of the third London airport?
§ Mr. Rippon
I am very much obliged for that intervention. I believe the Greater London Council only yesterday made further representations to the Government on this matter.
Another problem which might not have arisen if we had followed this procedure is the difficulty over the British Museum Library, which was grossly mishandled by the Secretary of State for Education and Science because the Government looked at it in too narrow a context. There the whole scheme had developed into a planning concept which embraced a major portion of London and concerned the university and a number of other matters. We would have been helped by this sort of commission, and this may be true of the future planning of Whitehall and other matters of that kind.
I turn back to Part II of the Bill which deals with the enforcement of planning control. I agree that the existing four-year period within which an enforcement notice can be served is probably too short. I also think it wrong that there should be no limitation period at all. There is a great deal of feeling about 1385 that both in the House and outside. How long a period should be regarded as reasonable must be left for further consideration in Committee. The limitation on the duration of a planning permission in Clause 52 is also open to question. This tightening-up of control over the activities of individuals in the private sector is in marked contrast to the special treatment accorded to public development.
As I said in the address in reply to the Gracious Speech on 1st November when we heard that this Bill was to be laid before us this year:One of the great injustices is that, while present legislation, particularly that introduced by this Government, strictly controls most of the activities of private citizens, public bodies often seem to have quite a different set of rules for themselves. They give themselves planning permission to build houses, roads and bridges when it suits their purposes, and it is a very hard uphill job, especially in these days, for public opinion to divert a public authority from its chosen path."—[OFFICIAL RHPORT, 1st November, 1967; Vol. 753, c. 199.]A notorious example is the fact that if a statutory undertaking is refused the right to develop on its operational land it has been claiming full compensation from the local planning authority for the extra cost of alternative building. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has fought hard and long arid with some well-deserved success in the now notorious case of the Abingdon gasholder. I hope that if he should be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to deal with this aspect of the Bill more fully.
I regret that the Bill makes no attempt at all to place a curb on the planning licence of statutory bodies such as the gas boards which are not subject to local planning authorities. Many local authorities, including the Greater London Council, have made recommendations about the privileged position enjoyed by statutory undertakers in this field of development control. The White Paper stated in paragraph 28 that methods of controlling development by statutory undertakers were being examined but the Bill effects no change in the law in these respects. I. hope that the Minister of State in reply to the debate will tell the House what conclusions have been reached by the Minister and his Department—if any —as a result of this examination.
1386 Finally, I refer to two major matters which are not dealt with in this Bill although they should have been—compensation and planning blight. As the Minister said, compensation is dealt with merely incidentally in the Bill. I think that this is a pity. No one can doubt that there would be far fewer appeals against proposals compulsorily to acquire land, or against proposals which would ultimately involve the acquisition of land, if people believed that the compensation would be fair and, above all, that there would be a quick settlement and prompt payment of what is due to them. I think that the Government's proposals for reforming planning procedure will be found to be inadequate by themselves. They should be accompanied by further proposals to allay the growing dissatisfaction and anger in the public's mind about compensation for compulsory purchase.
We on this side believe that the time has come for a fairly drastic reappraisal of the procedures for the assessment of compensation contained in the Land Compensation Act, 1961 and in the Housing (Slum Clearance Compensation) Act, 1965, and in the method of settling disputes over payment. The Minister has helped with a Circular to local authorities telling them that they must explain to people who are affected what their rights are and their right to have professional aid. This is a help, but clearly it is not enough. This matter must be speeded up. I understand that we can expect some legislation before long on the slum clearance side. I hope that this is true.
It is not simply compensation in respect of slum clearance which needs to be considered. It is disappointing that the Government have been unable to do anything about the compensation that should be paid to traders displaced by development schemes. Redevelopment cannot be accounted a success and, indeed, is perhaps bound to encounter unnecessary opposition from time to time, unless every effort is made to provide satisfactorily for established local interests and to ease the disturbance that they are caused.
As we all acknowledge, planning blight is an exceptionally difficult problem. It sounds like some sort of disease. "Planning blight" can perhaps be defined as any injury suffered by a property 1387 owner such as loss of value, or inability to sell or mortgage his property, as a result of any action by a planning authority or other public body exercising planning power.
It arises—most of us have constituents who have suffered hardships because of it—usually when there is some plan for a new motorway or an airport or other such project. As soon as a proposal is published in any form that shows some lines on a map indicating, for example, that there is to be a new ring road, many householders over quite a wide area suffer a fall in the value of their property. As long as they continue to live in it, that does not matter: it adjusts itself, perhaps, over a period of time. But in the worst cases they find it virtually unsaleable. Consequently, a man may be quite unable to change his job or to move. When the development takes place, property values sometimes rise. However, in the interim period, which may last for many years, very grave cases of hardship arise.
In these circumstances, the House should consider how and when the authority making the development proposal should be called upon to purchase, bearing in mind that it can better afford to wait upon events than an individual owner, that it can often find temporary tenants, and that in due course the value of its purchase will frequently rise. While some blight is unavoidable when plans are made for the future, and although there is sometimes difficulty in determining the respective rights of vendor and purchaser in these matters, further effort should be made to minimise the hardship and loss caused to individuals.
I know that the proposals of Part 8 of the 1962 Act were better than those in the 1947 Act, but they do not go far enough. The mistake that the Government have made is in assuming, as they apparently do, that the 1962 provisions are basically adequate. I will give examples. Under Section 138 of the 1962 Act, when is land "allocated" for the functions of a local authority? When is land "indicated" on a development plan for road works? When can a council be said to have resolved to include land in the limits of a highway?
Equally, the present arrangements for showing certain highway routes diagram- 1388 matically lead to many difficulties, both for local authorities and for landowners. Moreover, some of the provisions in the Bill—for example, those for the provision of structure plans in a diagrammatic form—are likely to increase uncertainties at that stage and so make the problem of planning blight rather more difficult.
§ Mr. Rippon
There are some provisions in the Bill which assume its existence, but they do not touch the major difficulties that arise under the principal Act. They are, like the compensation proposals to which the Minister referred, merely incidental. I hope that we shall be able to take the opportunity to resolve some of the difficulties which experience has shown arise under Part 8 of the 1962 Act.
We welcome much that is in the Bill and hope that we shall have very fruitful discussions on it. It is a weakness that it has missed too many opportunities to resolve the matters that are of the most concern to the public and the individual citizen. Therefore, although I hope that we shall be able to make some progress in resolving some of these issues, I can assure the Minister that everybody inside and outside the House who is deeply concerned to fortify and improve the process of town and country planning has been looking forward to the Bill, knows that it will fulfil a necessary purpose, and we seek only to extend its benefit and value.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I have no intention of disturbing the harmony that reigns between the two Front Benches. In fact, I have never heard the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) being so agreeable.
As the House may know, I have had a hand in the preparation of both the Countryside Bill and this Bill. Naturally enough, I think, it is a good Bill, and, if I have any criticism to make, it will be very muted. Both Bills are complementary and both are substantially derivative.
The Countryside Bill owes much to the Countryside in 1970 Conference. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, 1389 this Bill owes a great deal to the Planning Advisory Group. I know that civil servants enjoy an anonymity in the House which they find generally comforting, but it is; right to say in discussing this Bill that we owe an enormous amount to Mr. Idwal Pugh, who was Chairman of the Group and who got the agreement on which the Bill is based.
I need not deal with the general purposes of the Bill—the structure plan and the delegation of decisions to inspectors. In reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, I thought very hard about tribunals, but I was finally convinced that the solution which is proposed in the Bill is the best one.
My right hon. Friend stressed four points about the Bill. I can simplify the matter by saying that there are two considerations essential to the measures we are discussing. The first, as has been stressed time after time, is the need for wider participation of the public in the processes of planning. The other is the need for speedier decisions, as otherwise development itself is prejudiced. It is important, not only during our discussions on the Bill but all the time, that these two considerations are borne in mind. Participation must not unnecessarily impair efficiency. Equally, those conducting the processes of planning should not unnecessarily sacrifice participation. This is why the Annex to the White Paper is of critical importance.
Equally, to turn to appeals, it is important that we take a balanced view of the somewhat startling figures which have been given about appeals. We have been told that only 3½ per cent. of all planning permission go to appeal. We have been told that 97 per cent. of all cases that go to appeal result in the upholding of the inspector's recommendation. We must be a little hesitant in passing judgment on these figures, because they may be, not, perhaps, a massive tribute to the system of planning, but, rather, an indication that the system is a little too monolithic. Indeed, we can assume that Professor G. D. H. Cole would have said that this revealed that there were not sufficient checks against "a dangerous agglomerative tendency ". We should encourage the checks and feel a little disappointed, I think, that there are not more of them. However, allowing for 1390 all that, I regard the Bill as right because, after all, delay itself is not only prejudicial to development but can be very prejudicial to individuals, too.
It is important to bear in mind that of greater significance than the legislation itself, perhaps, is the administration which carries on the legislation. The need for participation as well as for efficiency should all the time be borne in mind by the planners.
The Bill follows the White Paper, but the White Paper left two questions unanswered. The first was the question of development by statutory undertakers. This is not provided for in the Bill, but I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend said. I emphasise that we are concerned here with a limited problem. Generally, statutory undertakers are subject to development control. I stress also that, if we make the statutory undertakers subject to planning requirements, we shall have to pay in one way or another, as taxpayers, ratepayers or consumers. Nevertheless, allowing for this, I think the course my right hon. Friend is following is right. It follows the pattern, as the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) knows, which was charted in the difficult negotiations and discussions about the Abingdon gasholder and other cases. I join in paying tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the part he played. In my view, when we set the precedent by experience and hard bargaining, it is better to follow it in legislation.
The second question has had a good deal of attention. I refer to the difficulty of cases which raise wide issues of more than local significance, high-lighted, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, by Stansted, and, I may add, to a lesser degree by such cases as Bacton and Pegwell Bay. When I was at the Ministry, we thought of three wise men coming to help us to get our decisions right. The language is now less picturesque, and the three wise men have become the Planning Inquiry Commission.
This is an extremely difficult problem, much more difficult than appears superficially and much more difficult than has been generally admitted so far. It is easy to say that we should take the advice of wise counsellors, but these 1391 exceptional cases almost invariably contain a political element, that is, an element of Government responsibility. As the White Paper says, there may be issues of national or regional policy, and this is incorporated in Clause 49.
It will be extremely difficult to isolate the policy element from the question on which the Commission is asked to advise. On the question of policy, I have always taken the view that the Government should be responsible and be clearly seen to be responsible. There is always a danger in divorcing power from responsibility. I still feel that it might, perhaps, have been better to be rather more pragmatic about it, to deal with cases ad hoc and then to build on experience. It was clear from such cases as Stansted that we had to have another way of dealing with these questions. However, the Government have gone the whole hog in setting up the Commission.
I am sure that the Government will find it difficult not to refer cases to the Commission once we have provided for it in the Bill. The Minister spoke of not more than a handful of cases a year. I think that it will turn out to be far more. We are likely to follow the pattern of the Prices and Incomes Board, and the Commission will, before long, establish a fairly wide practice. It is important, therefore, to have a Commission properly manned and staffed, capable of doing the job, and holding the high respect which it ought to attain in order to conduct a job such as this. However, I do not for a moment take issue with the Government about this. They have committed themselves to a Commission. The important thing now is to make a thorough and good job of it.
There are many other points which, no doubt, will be adequately, if not tediously, discussed in Standing Committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned compulsory purchase. There are the inevitable provisions regarding compulsory purchase. I can only repeat what I have said previously. In my view, it is high time we had a committee or commission of inquiry to review generally the provisions regarding compulsory purchase. I am aware of the proposals made by the Chartered Land Society's committee. I shall not discuss their merits because, as the hon. Member 1392 for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) knows, I have repeatedly said that it would be far better for everyone if we allowed an inquiring body to conduct an impartial review of compulsory purchase.
From the Government's point of view, there would be risks in it. Some of the matters on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman touched are matters about which he would be less enthusiastic if he were in office. But this is a subject which demands more than consolidation now. It demands a review.
I am sure that the provision about time-limited planning permissions is right, and, for my part, I regard the five-year period as right. I am not so happy about the element of retrospection. The time-limited planning permission, however, is only a partial approach to the problem which we have in the back of our minds the whole time. If we relied upon that alone, we should have half-hearted and second-rate planning. Moreover, we should find it very costly to those who provide the public services. They would provide the public services and then inadequate use would be made of them for far too long because the development did not follow.
I absolutely agree when the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that supply should match demand. I have always conceded that this is crucial in relation to the price of land. It is not only crucial to planning; it is crucial to land prices as well. We must do something more constructive about it, and, whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman likes it or not, we now have the Land Commission. One of the two objectives in setting up the Land Commission was to secure that the right land is available at the right time.
I am a little worried about this. I am not worried by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am worried about some of my colleagues. I had much more vigorous opposition from some of my colleagues in the Government than I ever had from Her Majesty's Official Opposition. But we have the Land Commission now, and I have a question or two to ask about it. What use are we making of it? Are we now determined to see that the Land Commission plays its part in bringing land forward for development, particularly private development? If 1393 we are concerned about development overall—this is why I mentioned the public services—we must recognise that private development has a substantial part to play in the overall picture. Clearly, if planning is to be effective, we must be able to ensure that the suitable land is there for development at the right time.
We now have the machinery to ensure this. More than that, if we are talking, as we are today, in a planning context, every planner knows that in many cases one has to have the land there in advance of development. Again, the Land Commission ought to ensure this. This is not only a question of open land. I was delighted when I found that the chairman of the Land Commission shared the view I have expressed about the twilight areas. It is not only a question of urban land. As I have constantly argued, the Land Commission has an equal part to play in the countryside in trying to avoid pepperpot development, concentrating development, and saving the countryside.
I welcome the Bill. It brings up to date the Silkin legislation of 20 years ago. But we ought not to expect too much from this legislation alone. The pattern of the Bill is of disengagement, of devolution. It is not a complete solution because we are not providing that the planning authorities will be able to bear the weight of that devolution. We are still waiting for Godot—the Royal Commission. The Government are right to go ahead with this, quite a lot can be done meanwhile but we must recognise that this is just another field in which we must face up to the reorganisation of local government.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and as the White Paper says, the new planning processes must take account of the evolving regional policies. I agree that these policies are evolving too slowly, too hesitantly—in fact, in some cases without observable evolvement at all. At the same time, there is a good deal of improvisation. The South-East was mentioned, and a good deal has been done there against real difficulties.
But fundamentally we face the basic problem. We must get the planning authorities right in order to carry out the job of planning. Things are little better in central government. In 1964, to face the brave new world, to pro- 1394 vide a fresh impetus, new Ministries were set up. There was the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Economic Affairs. The Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was dissolved, and the Department of Economic Affairs is not playing the role we hoped that it would when we set it up in 1964. We must recognise this, because the processes of decision-making and policy formulation are crucial and vital.
We must get these things right. It is not good enough to say that we are back to where we began. We are talking about planning, and basically planning in its widest sense is an expression of the will to shape our own destiny; in this country in particular to make the fullest use of our very limited resources. The plain truth we must all face is that we are still not good enough planners.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
The Minister was good enough to refer to me as one of the very few survivors of those who contributed to the discussion on the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. I realise that his remark is open to two interpretations. It might be a tribute to my perseverance, but it might be an implied reflection that I am past my Parliamentary prime. I decided that the first is the more probable interpretation, not only because it is more agreeable and fits in better with the right hon. Gentleman's nature, but for the practical reason that he and I entered Parliament on the same day.
I well remember the speech of Lord Silkin, as he now is, which lasted two hours and 11 minutes, on the Second Reading of that Act. Inevitably, with the complexities of that Measure, it came to be said of Lord Silkin, in adaptation of Robert Browning's famous phrase, that only Lewis Silkin had known what the Bill was intended to mean, and he had unfortunately forgotten.
During the many years I have been concerned with these questions, I have been struck with the somewhat melancholy and inescapable paradox that whereas the principle of town and country planning is simple the law seeking to give effect to it is very complex. In principle, faced as we are with the conflict of land use in this small and crowded 1395 island, we seek to achieve the highest common factor of what is at once socially and aesthetically desirable and economically practical. But in seeking to translate those simple principles into practice we have filled the Statute Book with brain-teasing complexities.
Every fresh effort that I can recall to place town and country planning Measures on the Statute Book has been made in good faith and with beneficent intention, but even after all these years, none has suceeded in producing a really satisfactory and viable system. The first system tried was under the 1932 Act, which was not long enough in operation for us to know how it would have worked out. Of the 1947 Act it was fashionable in circles concerned with these matters to say that its financial provisions were mistaken, because of the effort to levy betterment at 100 per cent., but that the planning control and development plan provisions were a success.
I think that that is only a half-truth. The system of planning of land use by development plan and the control of development was unexceptionable in theory but the mechanics have creaked considerably in practice, because of two main, inter-related difficulties. The first was the insufficiency of accurate statistical information on which a prognosis could be based, the indispensable foundation of any form of planning, whether of land use or anything else. The second was the too-slow procedure for the evolution of development plans, so that in practice the planning of land use for the future under the 1947 Act was too often guided by conditions that were already past when the plan came into operation. For example, post-war town planning was based on the assumption that there would be a falling, or, at best, static population. Nature decreed otherwise; it falsified the assumption and with it most of the contents of the first development plans under the 1947 Act.
The mechanics of development plans failed signally to approximate to the contemplated parliamentary timetable, which was that there would be rapid development plans and quinquennial reviews. All this has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance, because right from the start the timetable has 1396 fallen behind. It is against that background of experience that we need to judge the measures now put forward, the changes and innovations by which it is sought to improve the procedures.
I accept the Minister's four tests and the two tests of the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). Curiously enough, I had written down three tests, but they amount to much the same thing—whether the measures will make planning more effective, speedier and fair and democratic.
Applying those tests to the main provisions of the Bill in Part I, one sees that they are clearly designed to make the planning of land use speedier and more effective, and consequently better able to reflect contemporary needs. They are an effort to get away from the sort of planning which, in the economic sphere, was described in a previous Parliament as looking up one's trains in last year's Bradshaw. Those parts of the Bill should undoubtedly make for an improvement.
However, I have a reservation on the third test concerning the democratic participation. There are provisions in the Bill for the promulgation of information which I welcome. I know that their aim is participation on a democratic basis. My reservation is that the new method separates the main broad sweep of town planning—the structure plan—from the local plan, which is the one which will have direct and immediate effect on the individual property rights of citizens. The proposed structure plan will be so drawn as to set out the principles, without spelling out their effect on individual property owners. Therefore, there will be less incentive for individual property owners to participate at that stage, certainly less incentive for them to instruct experienced town planners, surveyors and the like to give their consideration to the plan.
At the stage when the local plan is formulated and spells out the effect of the structure plan on individual properties, the structure plan will already have been approved; and it will be too late to direct criticism at the matters of general principle with which it is concerned. So we may, I fear, get in practice the position that, at the stage where individual citizens have the right to influence town planning by representation and participation in inquiries into 1397 the structure plans, they may not avail themselves of the opportunity because of lack of incentive; and, at the stage where they would be prepared to contribute—in the consideration of local plans—they will not have the opportunity because questions of principle will by then have been decided. If this did come about, it would lead, contrary to the intention of the Bill, to less democratic participation and less contribution by the citizen and, to that extent, to a greater bureaucratisation of this important aspect of our national life.
In the same way I give a welcome, but not wholly unqualified, to the other two main attempts in the Bill to streamline town planning procedures and make them more contemporary and relevant to the solution of our problems. First, there is the planning inquiry commission proposed in Part VI. The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North said that in his day at the Ministry they were thinking in terms of three wise men. That put me in mind of Philip Guedalla's remark that committees tend to be composed of three wise men and a statutory woman. The right hon. Gentleman's three wise men in this case have now become a planning inquiry commission.
In so far as the principal purpose is to produce a broad-based objective, uncommitted, simultaneous consideration of alternative sites for important projects of kind use, I wholly applaud it because it is a course which I have long advocated. But I would be less than frank if I did not say that the warmth of my welcome is somewhat cooled by the failure to extend this procedure to the Stansted type of case. As I see it, the Stansted type of case is doubly excluded, for the reasons I gave in an intervention—because special development orders under Section 14 of the 1962 Act are not included and because the British Airports Authority does not come within the definition of a statutory undertaker in Section 221 of the Act.
The other main omission is the failure to deal with the compensation points which arose in the Abingdon gasholder case. As I understand it from the Minister, however, there is to be a new Clause, which we have not yet seen but which may repair that omission, or at any rate to some extent.
1398 I welcome the extension of powers of inspectors to decide certain matters, but I add the caveat that it would be unfortunate if this meant that all the best and most experienced inspectors were put on to the very small cases simply because there they will have to make a judgment, and were withdrawn from consideration of the large and complex cases where they will continue to have the duty of report and recommendation.
I endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the inspectors. I have always taken the view that it would be better if they were carried on some central panel outside the Ministry, and I renew the plea that at an appropriate time—and I realise that the present is probably not appropriate—the emoluments and status of these gentlemen doing this important work should be increased.
I have three points of criticism to make in conclusion. The first is in regard to the enforcement notice procedure. Part II of the Bill continues the present procedure, save for the abolition of the four-year limitation for breaches after 20th December, 1963. I doubt the wisdom both of continuing the general procedure and of making this specific change. In regard to the limitation period, I do not sentimentalise about people who are benefiting from these breaches of the law, but the basic consideration here is one of practicality.
Prescriptive right has always over the years been a necessary ingredient to introduce certainty into the title to property and the conveyance of property. I suggest that a 12-year period would be appropriate—the same as the period for prescription by what is known as adverse possession or, more popularly, squatter's rights prescription. That period should, I think, combine a sufficient deterrent to the evader with a reasonable certainty in land transactions.
The general procedure of enforcement notices used to be split between the magistrates' courts and the Minister, and is now wholly the Minister's. These sort of cases raise in themselves matters of planning judgment as well as questions of law and disputed fact and these are difficult to be judged by people who are not trained in them. When they come to be reviewed in the Ministry, there is the disadvantage that the witnesses have not 1399 been seen. There is a case for considering whether this jurisdiction should not go to the county court, with technical assessors sitting with the judge for the aspects of planning judgment.
My second point of criticism concerns Clauses 52 to 55. I think that there is no case in equity for automatic lapse of planning permissions after five years. It assumes, wrongly, that all delayed implementation of planning permissions is due to the developer, and this is not so. For example, in London, planning permissions have been held up by the Control of Offices and Industrial Development Act, 1965, the Building Control Act, 1966, the squeeze and freeze and so on. Under the present law, a condition can be imposed limiting duration in proper cases and that is enough. I do not think that this new proposal is good, and it should be removed or altered.
My last point of criticism concerns Part V and the treatment of listed buildings. The effect is to put an automatic building preservation order on every building which is listed under Section 32 of the 1962 Act. However well intentioned this may be, it is probably wrong and inequitable, at any rate under present procedure for listing under the 1962 Act, which gives no appeal or right of representation to an owner whose property is listed. The first he knows about it is the receipt of a note of its inclusion in the list under Section 32(4) of the Act. To introduce this automatic building preservation order together with the minimum compensation provisions of Clauses 44 and 45 is unjust. I yield to no one in my desire that we should preserve our building of architectural and historic interest. We should not do it on the basis of perpetrating an inequity upon those who own them.
This Bill, like every other town and country Measure that I have known, is something of a curate's egg—it is good in parts and less good in others. There is a duty upon Parliament to seek to improve it in the remaining stages, and a duty on the Minister, which I hope he will discharge, to be receptive to suggestions made with that end in view.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I am particularly pleased that 1400 I should have the opportunity of catching your eye, Sir, at this moment because the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) first whetted my appetite for planning procedure. He may well recall attending a public inquiry at Erith representing an objector. It was from that inquiry that I first started to take a more active interest in these matters.
There are one or two general observations which it is necessary to make about this Bill. I agree with the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) on the possible effects of a structure plan related to diagrammatic maps. The difficulty is that it will in my opinion, and the opinion of many town planners to whom I have spoken, have a tendency to increase planning blight rather than decrease it. This is a matter of which the Minister must take account. If he could define some manner in which the diagrammatic plans could be related, perhaps to an Ordnance Survey map, rather than just as lines on an imaginary piece of paper, then it might cut down planning blight. At the moment it will have the reverse effect.
I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the slowness and care with which he will introduce these new procedures, giving powers to local planning authorities. He will need to exercise great care, because there is a desperate shortage of planning staff throughout the country. It would be quite wrong to give these powers to a local planning authority if it did not have the qualified staff to operate them properly. On this question of planning staff and officers, I should be grateful if the Minister could say a few words about the implication and interpretation he is putting on Clause 51 where it says that a local authority may indemnify a planning officer if that planning officer believed that the act complained of had been done in good faith for it. This is a Clause which is causing some concern among local planning officers, and if it could be cleared up it would be most useful.
The other point that concerns me is that part of the Bill dealing with the keeping of a planning register by a local planning authority. Where there are several thousand small planning applications going through, and one has to keep 1401 a register, it will be necessary to have a number of registers in order to have not only the planning permission but the outline plan and the drawings in the register as well. I would have thought that a much better way of dealing with this would be to confer upon local authorities the simple power to produce and show plans to people who inquire at their offices.
At the moment they do not have this power and if they show a plan to a member of the public they would, as I understand it, be acting without the sanction of the law and could be subject to certain civil action. If my suggestion could be adopted it might be a much simpler way of ensuring access by the general public to planning applications, instead of the elaborate procedure of registers and all the rest.
So far the debate has dealt with the technicians', the barristers' and the planners' attitude to town and country planning. I want to look at it from the other end, the attitude of the public. What does the ordinary man in the street expect from a new town and country planning Measure? I have listed three points which I believe the general public expect, and are entitled to receive. First, any planning legislation needs to ensure that there should be full and early disclosure of plans—all types of plans—and there must be greater participation and public awareness of what is happening.
Secondly, local planning authorities must take proper and impartial views in considering the representations that they receive from the general public. Thirdly, and this is not really dealt with in the Bill but it was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, there is the paying of compensation. The one thing that brings planning into complete disrepute in the eyes of the general public is the scandalous system of compensation which has existed even before 1947. No one has dealt with this adequately.
There must be fair and prompt payment of adequate compensation. This can be exercised as a compulsory power only when the public interest has been clearly shown to override the private interest. This Bill aims to meet two of the three basic requirements that I have listed. I give a welcome to those pro- 1402 visions in the Bill providing for greater public participation. I have doubts as to how this will work in practice. I was delighted to hear the Minister announce that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) will head a Commission to inquire into this public participation.
All I know from my own experience under the existing legislation, is that it is very difficult to get public participation, and the Regulations issued by various Ministers have not done a great deal to reassure me. I can recall attempting to appear at a public inquiry into a very large development taking place in my constituency, the Thamesmead development, and the difficulties that I had there.
There were particularly unfortunate things taking place in respect of the unauthorised delivery by the Minister to the Greater London Council of the objections that had been sent to the Minister, in his impartial capacity, by objectors. This was something that had been applied from time immemorial, as a matter of custom and practice, and was not supported or debarred by any legislation.
I thought it pretty rotten that an ordinary citizen, objecting to a plan by a massive authority, could have his objection sent to the local planning authority, so that it could review it and have all its legal brains deal with it, but the poor ordinary objector did not even receive the courtesy of having the written submissions by the planning authority sent to him. The objections were being sent to the planning authority but it was thought unnecessary to show the same degree of impartiality towards the objector by sending him the planning authority's written submissions.
I was horrified to find that even my Ministers were continuing this sort of procedure, which is grossly unjust and improper. I hope that the Minister with ensure, when we have public participation, that it will be the fullest possible, and that there will be adequate and public disclosure. In addition, I hope that when he makes the Regulations that will arise under this Measure, he will iron out some of these injustices and stupidities that have been allowed to go on for too long.
1403 I have found that "local public inquiry" does not always mean what a layman might consider it to mean. It can often mean, as I have found in the case of the Thamesmead local public inquiry, that it is held 13 miles away, across heavy London traffic. This meant that any local person involved in the scheme had to spend an hour and a half to two hours, travelling across London to reach this local public inquiry. I said at the inquiry that I thought that it was scandalous, and I consider that the Minister's decision to hold it at County Hall was scandalous.
I want to say a few words about the fair and prompt payment of compensation. I regret that the Bill does not deal with this most important matter, and I hope that, before long, another Bill will be presented by the Government to put compensation on a proper basis.
Everyone realises that, if progress is to be made, the public interest has to take precedence over private interests. If we are to have hospitals, schools, new housing estates, roads and bridges, that principle must be accepted. What is in dispute is that progress should be at the expense of the ordinary citizen and the dispossesed. There are people in my constituency in that position, as I am sure there are in those of other hon. Members. A man of 50 may be buying a house, only to find that it is to be acquired compulsorily. He will be paid fair market compensation, but, unless he wants to live in a council house, he will have to try to get another mortgage, because he will not be able to find another house in his locality for, say, £2,000. He has to take out another mortgage late in life, because he has not received adequate compensation for his first house.
Fair compensation should be replacement value of the property of which he is dispossessed as a result of a proposed redevelopment. I have a file of examples where there have been gross injustices in the payment of adequate compensation because it has not been based on replacement value rather than market value.
I hope that the Bill and the fact that we are now to have greater public participation will have the effect of bringing 1404 the planners down to earth from their ivory towers, and that they will become aware of what their wonderful schemes mean when translated into reality at grass roots level in areas where demolition and dispossession are proposed. It is not progress if it is to be done on the basis of disruption and hardship to existing occupiers.
In my constituency, the proposals for Thamesmead involve a massive development with 60,000 people moving in. Roads have to be built which will necessitate a flyover. Rather than put it across open space land, which according to the planners would involve it passing over a 12th century ruined abbey, which they say would be sacrilege, they intend to knock down 25 homes of ordinary citizens. After all, the flyover could afford some protection for the ancient ruin if it was built over it. The ruin would still be available for people to see, and there would be no further deterioration of the stones. I join with local people in protesting about the present plan, because in my opinion that is far more sacrilegious.
I am particularly pleased about the provision in the Bill dealing with enforcement notices and doing away with the limitation of time. I welcome the extra powers which are to be conferred on local authorities in respect of stop notices. Once a development has taken place and existed for a number of years, it becomes an established fact. An example which comes to my mind is that of a monstrous wall which has been built and which completely dominates a quiet residential close in my constituency. My fear is that the builder, on whom an enforcement notice has been served, will sell the houses which he is currently developing on the hill above the retaining wall and transfer responsibility for the notice to the new occupiers. If local authorities had power to serve stop notices, action could have been taken immediately and my constituents would not have been put at risk.
I join in the general welcome to the Bill. It is a step forward in the right direction. However, I am sure that a great many hon. Members will not be satisfied until it has been followed by a Measure dealing with the great bone of contention which is the proper payment of adequate compensation.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The House was glad to hear the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) give the ordinary citizen's point of view, especially on questions of public participation and compensation. However, if he will forgive me, I will not comment on what he said.
I was not in the Chamber when the Minister referred to statutory undertakings, but he has been kind enough to tell me what he said about them, and I want to say how welcome his words are to those of us who went through the battle of Abingdon last year. It is a very necessary change in the law, and I am glad that Clauses will be moved at a later stage.
As I understand it, they will refer to the position of statutory undertakings, including those acting under Orders or Private Acts of Parliament. This was very important in the case of Abingdon, which I will deal with in a moment. Secondly, they will provide that the compensation should be shared fifty-fifty, and presumably that involves some amendment to Section 171 of the 1962 Act. I give a rather guarded welcome to that provision, because the local authority associations have different points of view. A very expensive settlement for the Berkshire County Council and Abingdon was arived at on that basis.
However, before coming to that, I ought publicly to thank the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for their intervention in the battle with the Southern Gas Board and their own colleagues at the Ministry of Power against the proposal to erect a monster gas holder. Had they not intervened, a settlement would have been much more difficult. Abingdon and Berkshire County Council have had to pay two-fifths of what they might have been liable for had the right hon. Gentleman not intervened. It is only fair that I should say that. This happened in the.summer of last year.
As regards the general position of the law on nationalised undertakings and statutory bodies, the Minister was right to say that the climate of opinion has changed and that the present law is outmoded. We know that they have services to perform to the community, but they should not have too privileged a position, 1406 especially where the private citizen is concerned.
The present position is somewhat clumsy in that they can only be subject to planning in certain cases, where they act under a Private Act of Parliament or an Order, if the Minister confirms an Article 4 Direction under the 1962 Act. That is a very clumsy procedure, and it is what had to happen in the Abingdon case, where the Minister had to intervene and confirm the Order made by the Berkshire County Council. I hope that that cumbrous procedure will be abolished by the proposed Amendments.
The facts of the case are well known to the House, and I have discussed them before. The point arose because of the Oxford Gas Order of 1930 which, with the 1962 Act, permitted the Southern Gas Board to use operational land for any purpose it wished. It proposed to build a gas holder 128 ft. high and 126 ft. wide. Under Section 171 of the 1962 Act, the Southern Gas Board demanded £250,000 compensation if planning permission was refused.
Abingdon is a relatively small town. I mention that because it may be that the proposal of a fifty-fifty sharing is rather too inflexible, in the case of small local authorities. It is a matter which ought to be discussed in Committee, though one should be grateful for what concessions are made. However, the fact remains that local authorities still might be liable for considerable sums, even taking into account the reduction of 50 per cent. which the Minister has just announced. It was a costly victory for a small town and for the county ratepayers and, as I said, it amounted to £110,000, two-fifths of what might otherwise have been paid.
The Town Clerk of Abingdon has written an excellent article on this case in the Local Government Chronicle of 27th January. In that article he makes die point, first of all, that any legislation must include those bodies which act under Orders. Also, he queries whether the fifty-fifty formula is equitable in all cases and whether it will not be too rigid. It is known in Abingdon as the "Freeson Formula"—with no disrespect to the Parliamentary Secretary, but it was he who established this formula in the negotiations which took place. That formula could be too rigid. It may be that in principle—this point has been 1407 made in The Times—there should be some payment for saving amenities. While not disagreeing with that principle one might find oneself, in certain cases, with too inflexible a system. The local authority associations feel that Abingdon's case should not be a precedent so far as the payment of compensation is concerned and that they should never be liable for compensation.
There are two other points arising out of this Abingdon case. As planning legislation exists at the moment the Minister can call in the application and he can, therefore, make the local planning authority liable for compensation even if it is not responsible for the decision which gives rise to it. This is a point made by the Town Clerk of Abingdon in the article I referred to. The Minister can call in the application under the present Act, can then make the decision, and then compensation would have to be paid by the local planning authority to the statutory undertaking although it has not made the decision. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman sees the point. It could be very unfair, and he ought to look at the wording of the 1962 legislation in that respect, as indeed I am sure he will.
In conclusion, the way the Southern Gas Board behaved in this case was really quite frightening, in that any public body could behave in such a threatening way towards a small local authority. I was very glad indeed to have the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman's right hon. Friend in this matter. Had the right hon Gentleman not intervened Berkshire County Council would probably have had to pay the £250,000 under the present legislation. So a certain amount of good came out of this case.
I certainly welcome these proposals, with certain reservations about whether the fifty-fifty idea could be too rigid.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)
I hope the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) will forgive me if I do not follow him altogether, although I should like to, because Abingdon is a very historic city, and by good fortune I myself have lived there. I am sure that the gasholder would have destroyed the historical amenities of the town.
1408 I think that already a conscensus is emerging, both on the parts of the Bill most people agree with and also on the criticisms. The general principles of any planning legislation must provide a square deal for the citizen, and any new planning legislation ought to provide a better deal for the citizen under the planning. Let us take the example which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) raised, planning blight. It has become something of a modern nightmare. One cannot exaggerate the hardship which it can cause.
To take one illustration, there is a person in my constituency at this moment who is in very deep distress along with a number of residents. A Cardiff architect landed himself a fine new job in Durham, and agreed to sell his house and to exchange the contracts on the day that the county discussed planning proposals in the area; overnight the contract was broken and the sale was called off. He lost his opportunity for a fine promotion, and he and many other residents in the area now find themselves prisoners in their own homes. I feel that this sort of hardship caused in these cases makes "planning" a dirty word.
I am pleased that this Bill, by Clause 28, begins to tackle this. However, I think it is far too restrictive. Surely it would have been possible to include provision that the individual should be able to serve a purchase notice and as soon as the structure plan is proposed, and not, as Clause 28 suggests, as soon as the plan is in force. I think that would go some way to helping us over the difficult problem of planning blight and the effect it has on individuals.
It should not be thought that people are against planning or against progress. I always find it surprising how remarkably willing people are to accept even the destruction of their own homes in order to give way to progress as long as the conditions in which they give way to progress are fair and reasonable.
We have had mention of compensation, and I should like to add my voice to the strong call made this afternoon to have a real and thorough review of the compensation terms, particularly for those people who live in very old properties. In these cases they get compensation which is only a fraction of the 1409 mortgage they are trying to pay off. I feel we cannot leave that injustice standing very much longer.
Equally important as compensation and the financial provisions in any planning legislation is, as everybody has mentioned, the need to ensure the confidence and co-operation of the community, of individuals and groups, representative organisations, residents' associations. People must know what is going on. I think that that is the key phrase. They must know what is going on in the planning, department, know what is to happen to their properties in their area, and know, indeed as quickly as possible. I fear that all too often local planning authorities hide behind a veil of secrecy. We must lift the veil of secrecy, and make sure that the planning authority is compelled to publicise in detail its plans affecting the community as a whole and the individual in particular.
Clause 3 attempts to impose this principle, but I find it a little ambiguous and confusing, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will clarify the wording when he winds up the debate. I am not quite certain whether the local planning authority is now to be compelled to publicise its plans and involve the public in both the structure plan and the local plan before it itself approves the plans. I am not certain, but subsection (2) seems to suggest that copies should be made available of the structure plan not later than the submission of the plan to the Minister. Surely, they should be made available the moment the plan is drafted, before, indeed, the planning authority itself has given final approval—otherwise what does citizen participation mean? It surely should mean that before the final decision is taken by the planning authority the people of the community could be given advance notice so that discussions can go on in the community about the plan from the very earliest possible moment.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Niall MacDermot)
May I intervene to clear up that point? It may help forward the debate. Subsection (1) and subsection (2) of clause 3 deals with two different stages. Subsection (1) deals with publicity during the formulation stage, before the authority finds itself committed to the plan. Subsection (2) deals with the stage 1410 where it has provisionally, as it were, made its decision, and then the subsection requires that not later than the submission of the plan to the Minister the local planning authority must formally deposit the plan to give people a chance to make formal objections.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I thank the Minister for clearing up that point. I should have thought we might put into the subsection the words "draft structure plan", because it is a little confusing as it is. I gratefully accept my hon. and learned Friend's explanation.
We should go further than merely compel local authorities to publicise their draft or structure plans. There is a £80 million redevelopment scheme for Cardiff, the largest which any local planning authority has embarked upon, and it is not only the plan in general but the financial provisions attached to the plan which are of interest. The contracts and agreements made between a local planning authority and, say, a major property development company are equally important in shaping the priorities and deciding how the city centre should be developed.
I should like to see provision made in the Bill for publicity, advance notice and information to be given to the public about say contract or heads of agreement which a local authority proposes and arranges with a major property company. Next week, I shall be going to Cardiff and enjoying a nice buffet lunch party at which we shall celebrate an agreement between the city authority and a major property company. The agreement was made in complete secrecy behind closed doors. It was made without the public appreciating or understanding what was involved. People not on the council who might have been able to contribute to the discussion on the agreement from outside have not had the opportunity of scrutinising the proposals. The citizens have not had the chance to scrutinise one of the most important decisions which Cardiff will take for generations. Such scrutiny should be possible and local authorities should be compelled to allow it. The planning of the community's future environment must not be a cloak and dagger operation. It is the community's money and assets, which are being used.
1411 Today, we have discussed almost entirely the problems and questions of publicity relating to the great matters— Stansted and major redevelopments of our towns and city centres. But publicity and advance notice of planning applications which affect individual citizens should include not only great matters of structure and local plans but individual planning applications—for example, applications to build garages which affect neighbours' light or a petrol filling station or restaurant in a residential area which affects perhaps not individual properties but streets and districts. A great deal of anguish, bitterness and anger is caused because people do not find out about these things until it is too late.
There is no provision in the Bill at this simple level for the majority of residents and people locally who find themselves involved with planning. I should not have thought that it was too difficult to devise provisions to cover this. Why not make it the legal responsibility of an applicant submitting an application for a garage or addition to his house to notify the neighbours who might be involved, thus devolving the responsibility properly to the individual, and avoiding placing administrative burdens on the local authority? When a planning decision involves a restaurant in a residential area or a petrol-filling station, the local planning authority should have the legal responsibility of advertising the application on or near the site where the development is to take place. I do not see the terrible difficulties which I have heard people say there are in doing this.
So far my remarks have suggested a certain lack of fairness in the way in which the local authorities sometimes behave in relation to individual citizens. No doubt it is the experience of large numbers of people that local planning authorities occasionally ride roughshod over the individual's interests and opinions. I should like to quote one illustration to prove this point which was brought to my notice very recently. The residents of an area on the fringe of a city were desperately worried about a proposal to build some houses on an open space which affected their property. Last March, like any decent residents' association would do, the residents' association 1412 wrote to the city council requesting an opportunity to make representations. On 9th March the clerk of the county council replied:The application will not be before the county planning committee at their meeting on 17th March and as the next meeting will not take place until 20th April… "—and so on. Relieved by this assurance, the association prepared to fight another day, but to its utter astonishment and contrary to the assurance given in writing by the council, the council received and approved a planning application on 17th March and the local residents have had no recourse or opportunity to reply. The council had a clear moral obligation in this case. I believe that it should have had a legal obligation to notify residents of this sort of change of plan. We should outlaw this sort of behaviour.
When we see this sort of thing taking place and the planning problems facing individuals, I agree with much of the criticism made about the provision that objections to local plans should remain more or less entirely the responsibility of the local authority. We could at least provide that on all occasions the inspector should be appointed by the Minister and not by the local authority. But why should we not compromise on an issue which will be contentious in Committee and agree that the local inspector should submit his report to the local authority, which would then resolve on each objection, and that only when the local authority refuses to accept the inspector's report should the matter go to the Minister? This would provide the necessary remedy required by any individual who is faced by the fact that the people judging his objections prepared the plan in the first place.
§ Mr. Costain
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to objections on one particular planning appeal, or a section of the appeal?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am referring to the local plan. I gather that objections to the local plan will be heard by a local inspector who will report on his conclusions to the local authority which drew up the plan in the first place. I suggest that the local authority should resolve on each of them but that only when the local authority rejects the inspector's report should the matter go to the Minister. This could be a very reasonable 1413 compromise. I believe that the Minister will make a rod for his own back if he pursues this part of the Bill. He will rue the day when he agreed to give such power to planning authorities against the rights of the citizen.
Generally speaking, I have concentrated on aspects of the Bill which have not been discussed. We all agree that the main section of the Bill—the structure plan—has many merits. Our sole criterion on which to judge whether the Bill is a good Bill will be the way in which it operates and works in practice and the way in which it helps to create a better environment and to redevelop our town and city centres in a better fashion. But the Bill will fail, as the last one failed, to create a better environment for our citizens and communities in the towns and cities if the Minister does not recognise the real forces which shape our towns and cities. These are not the formal planning procedures.
The real force is described in an excellent study recently published by Mr. Oliver Marriott, Financial Editor of The Times Business News called "The Property Boom ". As he shows, the real force in planning, is not planning procedures but the property developer. The property developer who in the past has developed our towns and cities is solely concerned with making the maximum profit from a town centre. He has been backed by the financial might of the insurance companies and he has employed architects whose function was not to do with design but to hoodwink the local planning authority to approve plans. On top of this the developer has had an all too eager ally in the local authority itself, desperate to increase rateable value in town centres and anxious to keep up with the Jones's in the neighbouring towns.
Despite all our wonderful planning systems and provisions, what has been the result? Not the provision of the community amenities such as concert halls, theatres, homes in the centres of our towns and so on. We have had a rash of shopping centres, half of them languishing empty or under-used for years. There is London's Elephant and Castle, not far from here; Birmingham's Bull Ring; Doncaster, Margate, Manchester, Shrewsbury and Ipswich. I have 1414 walked round them all. I have done a special study of this aspect. All these towns have been struck down by what Marriott in his book calls "white elephantitis"—empty shopping centres. These property developers have changed our environment, not the planning legislation under which we have been operating in the last 20 years.
Can we be certain if we pass this Bill that the citizens of our towns and cities will have a better deal and will be provided with a better environment than the property developer, or the combination of the property developer and the local authority, has given us so far? These cases are an indictment of our planning system. They are a catalogue of waste. This is waste in a more frightening form than one can imagine. This is not the failure of a business man who made too many nuts and bolts or pins and needles and could not sell them. In these cases it is the failure of people wasting land in the hearts of our towns and cities.
Will this Bill ensure that these mistakes will not happen again? Unless the Minister is prepared, ironically contrary to the spirit of the Bill, to reassert the central authority and establish criteria for estimating what the community really requires this Bill will fail just as the last one failed.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
It was always a pleasure in the Standing Committee on the Leasehold Reform Bill to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), and it is a pleasure to follow him today. His speech was absolutely excellent. He made his points with feeling, and some were good practical points. If I do not follow him immediately I am sure he will forgive me. Many of the things on which he touched I will be touching upon later.
Like everyone else who has spoken today, I give a general welcome to the provisions of the Bill. However, it must be clear to the Minister of State already that there will be a fruitful ground for Amendments. From what hon. Members have said today, these will be forthcoming in great numbers.
The emphasis this afternoon has been on the failure of previous planning legislation in two main respects. First, its failure to make available enough land 1415 for building houses at the right time and in the right place. I have seen much of this happening in my own constituency. I have seen planning authorities putting land on to the market for building or giving the permission which will bring it on to the market in small packets—a few acres here and there. This has kept up the price of land, because the planning has not been sufficiently bold and the planners have underestimated the demand for houses. In particular, they have under-estimated the demand in the places that people choose to want to build. I hope that this new legislation will help to bring about a more speedy release of land in sufficiently large quantities to help to stabilise the price. It seems clear to me that had we had more land available the Land Commission may not have become necessary. The Land Commission Act, as it was put over to us—I think genuinely believed by hon. Gentlemen opposite— was that this would help to bring down the price of land to the man to whom it mattered—the house buyer.
I felt at the time, and still do, that the bringing forward of land in that way would be more potent, but I can only tell the House my own experience within my own constituency and immediately outside from talking to people there. At the moment the vendor is merely adding the price of the levy to the sale price. The builders are willing to pay that, because they in turn pass it on to the ultimate buyer of the completed house. So the Treasury is doing all right out of the betterment levy. It is getting its 40 per cent., but in reality the tendency is that land prices are rising because of the Land Commission. This is contrary to the intention that the Government had for the Land Commission. However, in fairness to ourselves, we said this in Committee on many occasions. We were told that the Land Commission would have the power to drag land forward on to the market and if it saw these malpractices going on a builder could say, "Will you step in and buy it for me? "
These operations are on such a big scale that even the ultimate target of £70 million, which it has, will not be sufficient to enable the Land Commission to intervene to stabilise the market, let alone bring down the price of land. My per- 1416 sonal hope is that these new procedures will help to bring land forward on to the market in sufficient quantities and at the right time. But it depends on the boldness of the planners. Without boldness we shall just fail in all that we try to do.
There is another aspect of planning which I hope these procedures will help. Planning in the past has been too negative; It has not been positive. For example, we know that in the country as a whole there is a tremendous demand for caravan sites. We also know that the planners as a whole dislike them because of the damage that they do to visual amenities. I have seen some of the coastline of this country, and the damage done by caravans is appalling. I am happy to say that the Lancashire coastline is pretty well free of them. However, in parts of North Wales and parts of the South, almost irreparable damage has been done. Nevertheless, there is a demand. But how has the old planning procedure left the demand to be met? It has left the developer to smell out possible sites and have a bang at putting them up for permission in the hope that he will get it. If he gets it, it is well worth while financially.
In place of this negative attitude, I would prefer the planning authorities to say that the people of this country want caravan sites of two kinds. They want some permanent ones—perhaps to solve the gipsy problem in some parts of the country—and they want transient caravan sites so that people on holiday can find places to put their caravans at night. Therefore, the planning authorities should be looking and saying, "Here is a site which will be good for this because it is sheltered by woodland or it is in a vale". I am certain that there are many sites today that active planners could find for themselves to include in their plans so that people can take advantage of them.
So far I have been talking about the quantitative side of planning. I was glad that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North touched on the qualitative side, and in this connection I should like to quote from the P.A.G. Report:While the town maps may present a reasonably clear picture of land use, they do not convey any impression of how the land will in fact be developed or redeveloped, or what other action may be taken in the area 1417 to change its character or to improve the environment.The hon. Gentleman was right when he spoke about dull town centres. Once the shopping community has left, they are dead. They are like empty canyons. There is no life or community about them. One sees great office blocks, very often unoccupied, and shops that are dead once the lights have gone out. There may be an isolated cinema, but that is all there is to the centre of many towns.
§ Mr. Clegg
No. It is a good job that the Government occupy some of these offices. They have kept some people from going bankrupt by taking leases on them.
The contribution so far made by the planning generation to the future is quite appalling. The heritage that we are handing on, compared with what we inherited from some of the better periods of English architecture, is pretty grim. I hope that when we get these action plans the local planners will have more influence on what they want so that it will not be left -to the developer to say what he wants. We must take a more positive line. I think that this is the Government's attitude, and this is perhaps one of the brighter aspects of the Bill. These measures will, however, cost more money. It may take longer in some towns to get what we really want, to wait until we can afford to pay for it, but in some cases this may be well worth while.
The provisions about enforcement and abolition of the four-year rule come at a time when members of my profession are scared to death by the pronouncements in the Court of Appeal about delays in bringing forward actions for trial. people are looking at their insurance policies to make sure that they are covered. I fail to see why, when the State insists that its citizens should comply with a limitation period, as they have to do under the Limitation Acts on questions of tort or contract, and when, under the doctrine of laches, unnecessary delay means that one loses one's action, it should seek to rid itself of the same burden. It strikes me as unfair. I think that four years is too short, and I would go some way to meet my right hon. and 1418 learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) who suggested possibly 12 years. This needs to be reconsidered. It is not that we want to encourage people to use land wrongly, but, as a practical conveyancer, it fills me with horror that there is to be no end to it.
I find it difficult to decide whether I agree with the appeal procedure. I was swayed by two things. First, I want people to be satisfied that they have had justice. Secondly, I wonder whether the title "inspector" is the right one. I have had practical experience of appearing before inspectors. At all times I have found them courteous, full of integrity and tremendously able, and they always give each party a fair right of hearing. I have heard complaints from the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) about some of the procedure, but, generally, I have found the inspectors a good tribunal before whom to appear. Although one may disagree with their findings, one would not feel one had had a raw deal.
What worries me—and I think that it has worried everyone—is that these inspectors are the servants of the Executive. In Committee I should like to find some way of divorcing them from it. I do not think that they can be as independent as a high court judge, but there may be some way of giving them the independence which will make people trust them more when they appear before them. They are trustworthy now, but justice has to be seen to be done, and my proposal would convince people that they were independent of the Executive.
I think that "inspector" is all right as a term, but I do not think that it conveys a judicial function. I have thought of one expression which might fit the bill, although I hesitate to add to existing officialese. He might be called a "judicial inspector" to show that he has a judicial as well as an administrative function.
I turn, now, to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with compulsory acquisition. I can add little to what has been said so movingly from both sides of the House about the difficulty of small people, and even those who are quite wealthy, in dealing with the issue of acquisition. I am worried about the 15-year notice which a local authority can serve. This is not 1419 a long time, especially if during that time the owner of the land wants substantially to alter the building on it, or to knock it down and rebuild. Because of die high cost of alterations, it might not be possible for the job to be done in this time and enable him to get his money back. If he is not able to get his money back, and get a reasonable profit out of it, he will not redevelop.
There is one other aspect of die planning blight which I do not think has been stressed. When an area is blighted, it begins to look seedy and goes downhill very fast. The owners of the property do not care to maintain it properly. It looks tatty, and the tattier it looks, the worse it is for the community, and the worse it is for compensation when the owner eventually gets it. This is another matter which we might perhaps consider in Committee.
I should like to say something about the duration of planning permission. On the face of it, I can see why the Minister has put this provision into the Bill. He wants to make sure that land is not sterilised, and that plans are not frustrated by developers holding on to the land for too long, but there are other aspects to this problem. It may not be the fault of the person who is holding the land. It may be due to something outside his control.
We know that some builders hold land in stock. They buy ahead of requirements so that they can get a long flow of work. This is good planning, and five years with outline permission is not an over-long way ahead to buy, because if builders can hold land in stock they can afford to buy expensive machines to do the work. I am thinking of expensive cranes, and so on, which would be uneconomical to buy unless they had a good run of work. By buying these expensive machines, they reduce the cost of development. I think that this period of five years ought to be reconsidered.
I would like to see a right of appeal written into the Bill. At the moment there does not seem to be any. An unscrupulous local authority could do considerable damage through its rights under this Clause to cancel planning permission. I think that a right of appeal to the judicial inspector would safeguard the rights of those who have bought land 1420 and paid a good price for it on the basis that planning permission would last not for five years, but virtually for ever. We have to look after the rights of those people.
Those are some points that will arise. One could literally talk on the Bill—and on almost every Clause—for the whole night, but I do not propose to do that. I end as I began, by saying that I generally welcome the Bill. I think that it will be a better Bill when it has been through Committee. I hope so.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). Earlier in our proceedings two right hon. Gentlemen were congratulating each other on having entered Parliament on the same day. I understand that that was some time ago. The hon. Member for North Fylde and I also entered Parliament on the same day, although much more recently. It is a pleasure for me to be able to agree heartily with what the hon. Member said about the need for local authorities to provide caravan sites.
Perhaps, however, I may venture to disagree with the hon. Member's criticisms about the proposal that there shall be no time limit to the enforcement procedure. In my experience the danger that we have to face is of somebody putting an old tin can in a field, leaving it there and then claiming to have deemed planning permission for a sheet metal works. It is quite possible for things to go on unobtrusively and then, before anybody knows where he is, for the situation to have got out of control.
I welcome the Bill, but before dealing with the points that I wish to make in respect of it I want to comment on some remarks on the question of compensation and planning blight which has been referred to by several hon. Members. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) referred to it, and I agree that it is a very serious and difficult problem. I understood him to intimate, however, that he might introduce new Clauses or Amendments in Committee designed to solve the problem by increasing the compensation payable. In my view, in that kind of situation there would be a real danger that a local planning authority would be tempted to hold 1421 up the publication of its development plan.
This is a danger that we must guard against. In my view development plans should be published at the earliest opportunity, and I would hate to see authorities held up because of the fear that they would be faced with immediate large demands for compensation.
That leads me on to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), who also talked about compensation. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-lord wanted to increase compensation by basing it on replacement values, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North wanted the immediate serving of purchase notices in respect of properties as soon as development plans are published. I can see some disastrous consequences following from those suggestions.
They would inhibit local authorities from putting forward development plans, and there is a real possibility that development might stop. I realise that a problem exists here, and we are right I o look carefully into the ways of solving it, but we shall not solve it by approaching it on the basis that all local authorities have bottomless purses out of which they can pour unlimited and increasing quantities of compensation when development plans are put forward.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am sure that my hon. Friend is not suggesting that local authorities should be encouraged to propose development plans which merely bring about pain and suffering to ratepayers without any consideration of their feelings. Perhaps he will clarify his argument.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. If I gave that impression I must correct it. It is proper for us to be solicitous of the rights of individual citizens. But I am putting the other point of view, which nobody has put forward so far, namely, that local authorities do not have bottomless purses. I am saying that it would have a deleterious effect on rates if we tried to solve this difficult problem simply by 1422 increasing the amount of compensation payable.
I heartily welcome the Bill, and have only a few small criticisms of its provisions. I welcome Part I. Some criticism of local authorities has been voiced in the debate, and I want to put the opposite view. I should declare an interest in the matter because I am a member of a local authority. It seems to me only just and proper that local authorities should be in a position to determine their own local plans, and that citizens should have ample opportunity to be made aware of those plans before they have become fixed, and should be able to make representations.
The Bill provides proper opportunities for those representations to be made, and I deprecate the assumption that seems to be creeping in that in everything they do local authorities must be supervised by the Big Brother of Central Government. It is right that Central Government should supervise the structure plans but it would be a mistake to allow them to probe into every nook and cranny of every local plan. In my view the Bill has struck the right balance from that point of view.
I also give a sincere welcome to Part II. Local authorities and residents' associations will bless the day when that Part becomes law. The present enforcement procedure is a mockery. On many occasions a development takes place which appears to be contrary to planning regulations, and local citizens and ratepayers protest. The local authority asks the developer to stop. He takes no notice. The authority serves an enforcement notice. If the developer is an unscrupulous man—I do not suggest that they all are—he can wait until the last moment and then submit a planning application. A cunning man can spin things out by putting in insufficent or inadequate plans.
Exentually, the application is turned down. The developer then appeals and, as we have heard this evening, an appeal by inquiry can take as much as nine months. The man can spin out the process further by appealing for a postponement on the ground that he is not ready, and so on. Eventually, let us hope, his appeal is turned down—although there is always a possibility that in a moment of aberration the Minister will allow it. 1423 But even then we are not at the end of the matter. We are back to the enforcement notice, and the offender can appeal against that. All this is going on while the development is there. The ratepayers protest, and they cannot understand why the local authority does not take action. The council, the concept of town planning and the whole process of law is brought into disrepute.
I welcome the suggestion of a stop notice which will bring an end to that ridiculous rigmarole.
§ Mr. Rippon
We are listening to the hon. Member with much interest, and I agree that there is great force in what he says. Does he agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), however, that there should be some limitation period of, perhaps, 12 years? Surely it is not right that citizens, including subsequent purchasers, should be exposed for ever to the possibility of enforcement proceedings?
§ Mr. Macdonald
I noted that remark in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). It seems to me, however, that even after a long period when some development is found by a local authority to have been unauthorised there is nothing to stop the developer or owner of the property from submitting a planning appeal. This is quite a usual procedure. It is possible—although I concede that there is something in the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman— that this will go some way towards dealing with the difficulty.
My right hon. Friend might suspect that this panegyric of mine is leading up to some criticism. I hope that he does not think that my welcome of the Bill is insincere. I do welcome it, but have one or two criticisms of Part III of the Bill and Clause 51. One of the basic concepts of the Bill is the need for speed, because planning procedures are long and cumbersome and delay much-needed housing and factory development while money is locked up fruitlessly. I recognise the force of the argument for more speed, but we must decide whether the price asked is too great. I submit that it is possible that, in Part III and Clause 51, the price is too great.
1424 Clause 51 permissively allows local authorities to delegate to their officers the duty of determining applications. I see that this will be faster and I have often suspected—although I am a member of a town planning committee myself— that decisions by officers might be more rational. But they would not be more democratic. Undoubtedly, ordinary citizens want planning applications affecting their area determined by their elected representatives and not by council officers, however wise. Perhaps we might consider inserting in Committee some proviso to allow a request that an application which would otherwise be determined by an officer should be determined by the committee. That would have to be done before the officer had decided, of course, but some such arrangement would be desirable.
The same consideration applies to Part III. This proposal is that, in a number of cases, the determination of an appeal shall be taken by the inspector and not the Minister. I can see that speed is an argument here too, and can see the common sense of a decision being taken by someone who has heard the arguments, but is this a democratic procedure? We are saying that the decisions of the elected local authority can be overthrown by an appointed inspector, presumably a civil servant.
I know that, at present, the phrase "determined by the Minister" is a euphemism, but it does preserve a faint and tenuous thread of contact with the democratic procedure which would be entirely snapped if the inspector determined these cases. Could we not introduce another proviso, under which appellants or the local authority could, before the inspector's determination, request that the appeal be determined by the Minister instead? That also can be discussed in more detail in Committee.
I should be grateful if the Minister would consider whether the conduct of inquiries by an inspector will be subject to the activities of the Parliamentary Commissioner. The Minister's conduct of inquiries is so subject—not in the sense of a court of appeal, of course, but so far as his conduct of the inquiry goes. Is the inspector similarly subject?
Something which is not in the Bill but which I would like in it was raised by 1425 my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North. It must have astonished anyone who has ever served on a town planning committee that there is no statutory duty to notify people in an area of an application affecting the area. The first they know of it is when development begins, and when they ring the town hall, they are told that it is too late, that planning permission has been given and there is nothing they can do. This is very frustrating.
One instance in my constituency concerned two semi-detached houses. Planning permission was given for development at the rear and to one side, and to get access it was necessary to demolish one of the houses. I was amazed to find that there was no statutory duty on anyone to notify the man living in the other half that half his house would be torn down. The local authority in fact notified him, but only as an act of charity and common sense and I would prefer it to be obligatory.
My proposal would be for a notice board on every site for which there had been a planning application simply bearing the letters PAITH, which would stand for "Planning Application In Town Hall". I am not wedded to that—some one else has suggested DEOTS, standing for "Development Expected On This Site"—but it should be a simple message about which people could inquire, and not a close typescript—
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
Is my hon. Friend aware that, when an application goes to appeal at the moment this is the procedure, that a board is put up outside the property and the local residents thereby informed of their rights?
§ Mr. Macdonald
I am grateful for that. That is the procedure, but the wording on the notice is normally a typescript which cannot be read by passers-by. This also can be discussed further in Committee. I am aware that there is a large number—about 400,000 —of planning applications, but this is not an objection to my proposal, because local ratepayers would probably consider this expenditure fully justified.
The principle behind my suggestion relates to the fact that we are a much-regulated nation. I approve of that, because public affairs should be regu- 1426 lated, but an essential precondition is that the ordinary citizen should know in advance of any regulations and have a reasonable chance to express his view. It is on that basis that I make this suggestion.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)
The hon. Member for Chisle-hurst (Mr. Macdonald) spoke about compensation in cases of planning blight. I prefer the view of the hon. Members for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) and Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). It may be true that the local authority does not have a bottomless purse, but it has a duty to ensure that those personally affected by its plans and suggested plans are not harmed. A compensating factor is that a local authority which is forced to take property affected by a blight, should it decide to change its plans, can always sell the property back, perhaps at a profit. Thus there is no unreasonable burden on the local authority.
There seems to be most agreement tonight on the points which are least the concern of private Members and individuals in a town. That is to say, we all approve the provisions on the broad issues like the structure plan, but we are increasingly concerned that the Bill does not cover the small matters adequately. There are two aspects of this. The details of redevelopment which a local authority wishes to carry out in the general plan will be covered by the local plans and will thus be subject to a great deal of public notice, but these plans will impinge on most people only as they creep towards their own houses.
We should be concerned with two important matters. One is the planning blight and the other is the question of the need for comprehensive development at all. The White Paper describes the action areas as requiring… development, redevelopment, improvement or a mixture … in the ensuing ten years.Does the Minister feel that local authorities have enough powers, not for comprehensive development which requires them to buy the property, but to include in the local plans schemes for compulsory improvement requiring residents to improve property without total 1427 redevelopment? Local authorities could do more along these lines.
The second matter in which I am particularly interested—because, in my brief term as a Member of Parliament, it keeps cropping up, as I am sure it does for others—is the rights of third parties in planning applications. The local authority does not have the same interests, necessarily, as the person affected. In a case in my constituency at the moment, the local authority has notified someone concerned largely because she came to me. If she had not approached me or a councillor, she would have known nothing about it. The authority was happy to proceed.
The case concerns the use of oxy-acetylene cutting equipment next to someone's back window, which can be disturbing. The property is a redevelopment area anyway, and it is all coming down, so there is no need for the authority to take action. For the people in the house, however, it is an immediate problem and one in which they seem to have no power. They would have known nothing of the application, which is going through at the moment.
The suggestion has been made that we should place on an applicant the obligation to inform his neighbours and to attach to his application evidence that he has done so. This is the very minimum that we could require. It is a pity that it is not in the bill, but perhaps it will be.
The advantage of raising matters on the bill of this kind is that it is an attempt to get rid of some of the problems which are "bugging" planning and of certain injustices.
One which might be considered and on which I would like the Minister's view is as follows. I understand the present position is that if a local authority makes a planning decision and changes it, the person involved can appeal. In the case I have in mind the local authority changed its mind and varied planning permission. The person concerned won his appeal, but there is no means whereby such a person can obtain compensation from the local authority.
He cannot do so by going to the Minister because the Minister will refer him back to the local authority. He will 1428 tell the person concerned that he can get compensation for loss sustained provided the local authority makes a case, through him, to the district auditor. The trouble is that the local authority will then be acting as judge in its own cause. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister finds that this has cropped up in more cases than the one which has come to my notice and, if it is therefore of general interest, whether it is possible to do something about it in the Bill.
Where through inadequacies the local authority has used planning procedures without complete wisdom and a person has suffered loss as a result, he should be able to claim compensation from either the Minister or some other source and not necessarily have to rely on the good offices of the council.
§ Mr. Macdonald
A very similar case arose recently in the authority of which I am a member. The difficulty I see, and which I should like the hon. Member to deal with, is that if compensation were payable how would any local authority ever dare to refuse a planning permission when it believed that it would be faced with a claim for money?
§ Mr. Silvester
In this case the local authority did not refuse outright. I understand that in the situation suggested by the hon. Member the authority would be liable to pay money, to give some sort of compensation. In some cases an authority is liable to pay compensation for not granting planning permission. In this case the authority made a decision and varied it. The person concerned was forced to make changes as a result of the variations. Since he had started work on the first planning permission and his loss arose through the variation, he should have had some means of redress. This is not a very large matter but it should be dealt with.
The points I have raised are largely concerned with matters which are not in the Bill but which I should like to see dealt with in the Bill. They might encourage the Minister in Committee to introduce new Clauses referring to them.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
The speech of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) has encouraged us to believe that the impression we formed when he made his maiden 1429 speech that he would be a welcome contributor to our debates was not misjudged. Like him, I join in giving a general welcome to this Bill. In doing so, I apologise to the hon. Member for saying that I do not want to follow him in his arguments, because I want to make a fairly brief intervention and to draw attention to a particular problem. It has already been given some airing by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) and my lion. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald). That is the question of publicity about public inquiries under the planning procedure.
Before doing so I would be failing in my duty if I did not reinforce what has been said by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House about their concern over planning blight. I draw attention particularly to an obnoxious form of it which exists at present. We have a multiplying number of potential motorways in London. Every time there is the possibility of one of these motorways being constructed, the Greater London Council declares what is known as a "corridor of opportunity". This may bear only the very roughest relationship to the line of the motorway when eventually it is built. It may cover a much wider area than the actual surface of the motorway. Nevertheless, even though the motorway has in no way been agreed in line by the council, a corridor of opportunity is drawn on the map right across the face of London.
Within those corridors development is rigidly controlled. If a potential purchaser of a house finds that the house on which he has set his eyes is within one of the corridors of opportunity, he tends to turn away from it. Such corridors of opportunity may be laid down and later the G.L.C. may decide, as it has done, that another site for the motorway is better than the original one. This business of planning blight may go on for many years. Although from the point of view of the Greater London Council these corridors may be corridors of opportunity from the point of view of the unfortunate residents within them they can rapidly become corridors of despair.
The social problems which arise from any form of planning blight have already been drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and 1430 Local Government during this debate. I do not propose to go into that here save to say that they have not been exaggerated in any degree. The Minister ought to keep a very close watch on this unfortunate development in London and see what he can do to control it and limit the rather profligate way in which the conception of corridors of opportunity is being used. I am glad to have the opportunity of intervening in this debate because my main point follows the line of one of the Minister's main themes. He said that he wanted the public to be closely associated with planning authority and not made to believe, as they have been in the past, that they are planning fodder and that people are more planned against than planning.
We are to have a new procedure for planning appeals. It will be much shorter and streamlined and will save a great deal of money. I therefore hope that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will not accuse me of wishing to increase the rate of growth in the bureaucracy and the expenditure of public funds when I put forward the suggestion that if we are to save a certain amount of public time and money by this more streamlined procedure we might reclaim some of it by filling a gap in the Bill and ensuring that public inquiries on planning matters shall have much fuller publicity than they have at present.
The point has been made that public inquiries, particularly in regard to individual cases, the bread and butter of day to day planning, do not receive full publicity. I draw particular attention to what one might call the medium-sized problem. The Abingdon gasholder and Stansted generate their own heat and attract public attention, but there are medium-sized problems, particularly those connected with the preservation of buildings of historical and architectural importance which are quasi-political problems and problems of public taste. The general public develop very powerful views about these issues, yet we often find that public inquiries held to settle the issues pass completely unnoticed, especially in larger towns and cities which are developing a certain amount of anonymity.
To illustrate what I have in mind I must draw on experience in my constituency. There there is a row of Georgian 1431 hotels which is very much cherished by the people who live near. Some years ago the L.C.C. was asked to place a preservation order upon those hotels. A public inquiry was duly held and there is no doubt that the local preservation society was represented and made a good case. The inspector sent his report to the Minister and only at that stage in the proceedings did the public in the area wake up to what could happen to those buildings which they so cherished. A petition bearing about 4,000 signatures was collected, but this was too late and none of this was contained in the report which the inspector made to the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Leeds. North-East (Sir K. Joseph). The right hon. Gentleman then refused to confirm the preservation order.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, is not now present. He rather despaired about the particular example he quoted. I busied myself about this matter and, after the election I am glad to say, because of the change of regime and the appearance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) as the Minister, then my right hon. Friend the present Minister and his noble Friend, we made considerable progress. We discovered some new evidence. Now I have every confidence that a preservation order will be placed on the row of hotels and they will survive for many years to give pleasure to everyone who sees them.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from this. The community of which I speak possesses among its ranks much higher professional levels of articulation and awareness than is the normal run. It is a community swarming with journalists, public relations officers, solicitors, barristers, and what-have-you. Yet, until the matter was decided, the fact that there was a public inquiry about those properties completely escaped everyone's notice. Something should be done to improve publicity in these cases. At the moment the requirement is for a notice to be placed in the London Gazette and on one occasion in one or more local newspaper circulating in the area. That is not sufficient. A much greater degree of publicity should be mobilised on these occasions.
1432 Local authorities ought to keep a list of preservation and amenity societies in their areas and should write to them to tell them that this sort of public inquiry is to take place. There should be notices in all the local newspapers for at least three successive weeks. This would not be an unreasonable demand to make on these occasions. Notices should not be in the very dreary, wordy format of those which now appear in the newspapers. Local authorities often have public relations departments. Perhaps someone could look at the problem of devising advertisements in better type and that sort of thing so that they could be more attractive.
If we can mobilise the public to take an interest in these questions even when a decision goes against the public they will realise that they have had an opportunity of a full say in the matter and they will be much more satisfied than if they wake up one morning to find some cherished possession or amenity is to go to the architectural equivalent of the knacker's yard because they have not had an opportunity to state their objections. In this way the public would not feel that they are planning fodder. They would feel that they have a part to play especially in those issues of public taste which to an ever-increasing degree are exciting the public in these days.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
The Bill covers so large a canvas that it is almost impossible to debate it unless one restricts oneself to painting one's own square. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) will forgive me if I merely say that I agree with him for the most part and then move on to my square.
The Bill is generally welcomed. In so far as I seek to criticise anything, it is only because what little time one has is better spent in criticism than in praise. I am delighted that there is so much cross-bench support for the Bill and that we are not mainly divided on party lines. My own chief cause for congratulating the Minister is on his efforts to speed up decisions on appeal. Delays have occurred in my constituency which have caused a monstrous denial of justice, decisions in appeals having taken anything from 12–14 months.
1433 My attitude to the Bill—and indeed, going further back, to planning as a whole—has always been one of welcome and enthusiasm for what I would call strategic planning, by which I mean the larger issues that fall to be decided. I have always been critical, and I shall continue to be critical, of what I would call the tactical side of planning. Here I have particularly in mind the small man, especially the small man in the countryside, who has a grievance and who is faced with legislation which he does not understand and which he frequently resents, sometimes with good cause.
I do not share the view of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends that inspectors appointed by the Ministry should have any substantial judicial function. The whole function of a judge is, and must be, to interpret the law. The function of an inspector is quite different. An inspector hearing an appeal has no statute law to look to and, often, not much precedent to look to. He is interpreting a policy. Therefore, the concept of making the inspector a judicial functionary is unworkable. If the concept were to be worked, the Minister would lose control of planning. I take the view that this is something that the Minister,should not do.
I want to ask some questions about these inspectors, because there is to be a substantial change of procedure, in that the Minister will not now directly control their decisions. I would like the Minister to tell me, first, how the inspectors will now be controlled. For example, will the Ministry issue circulars giving guidance to the inspectors? Most important of all, perhaps, are the decisions of the inspectors to be capable of being questioned in the House? If the inspectors are to implement a policy, it should clearly fall to the House of Commons to know just what policy they are implementing. I believe that one should regard these inspectors as implementing a policy and not as judicial functionaries.
I turn to the proposed Amendment of the four-year rule. This proposal is not only disastrous but also unworkable, which is perhaps even worse than being disastrous. Stretching back over centuries, in almost every law there is a limitation as to time—usually seven years. This limitation was not imposed merely 1434 because somebody thought that it was a good thing to do. It was imposed because this was the only way in which law could be made workable. There must be some limit in time beyond which one cannot possibly go back.
I would take it further. If the rule is amended as proposed, the conveyancing of property will be made a risky operation. House buying will become difficult and hazardous if no one can be sure that the house to be purchased has permission to be a place of residence. Sometimes a house is divided into a flat upstairs and a sweet shop below. People buy in good faith. Are hon. Members opposite seriously suggesting that for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years afterwards anyone can say that there is no planning consent for the shop and that it must be taken away? Business transactions will be made impossible. It would be quite another matter if it were argued that the four years should be extended to five years. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter, because it is an unwise proposal and in practice it will be found to be unworkable.
That leads me to my main point. I want to take up the question of the small man in the countryside. I am doing this deliberately because I cannot discuss the whole of the Bill. I take the view—I am here speaking only of small and minor improvements, not of vast development plans, on which quite different issues arise—that the assumption should always be that a man seeking to alter his house, to add a garage to it, or to make a small change such as knocking out a window or erecting a bathroom, should have the right to do so unless it interferes with his neighbour's enjoyment. I do net take the contrary view which is taken by some people, that everyone should be stopped from doing anything unless there is some reason why he should do it.
Prima facie, going back to the four-year rule, there cannot be much wrong with anything which has been done if for four solid years no one has objected and no official has even noticed it. Most local authorities and most officials do the best they can, but we must also remember that almost all departments in local authorities seek wherever possible to increase their sphere of influence. This is certainly true of planning authorities. I 1435 do not speak altogether without know-ledge. For a Short while I was chairman of a planning authority in a big city, and I have had other experience of this in the Ministry. For three years it fell to me, in the main, to give verdicts on the appeals which came to the Ministry.
In most local planning authorities there are two contrary desires. First, it will almost always be said that they are short of staff and they must have more. Secondly, it will also almost always be found that they will seek to extend their work, although they say that they have not sufficient staff. This is a never-ending process.
Because of this desire to extend, my experience is that local planning officers are increasingly looking for tiny contraventions of detail which are far better ignored. One of the odd things about the whole of planning law is that in many ways there is no sphere of Operations in which greater authoritarianism exists. Whatever the theory is, in practice when a small man has made a small alteration it is not merely a matter of what the law is; it is a matter of whether a particular planning officer desires to enforce the rule, which he probably has a right to enforce, or whether he does not. This varies widely from authority to authority and from planning officer to planning officer.
I remember well that I went to a planning authority seeking information about a change which clearly required planning consent. The planning officer said to me, "It is too small. I do not want to hear about it. Do not let me see it". That was a very wise reply. I wish more planning officers would take the same view. The published statistics show that there are enormous variations from one county to another.
Change of use is one of the most difficult of all subjects. This morning a secretary was typing in my house 300 yards from here. Was that an office? I do not think so. What would be the position if two secretaries, or three, or four, were typing there? At what point does it be-come an office? It would be perfectly within the competence of a planning officer then to say that I was changing the use of the house and required consent.
1436 Let me cite the example of farms in Dorset which have disused farm buildings. There are many such farms in Dorset. One year the farmer might want to make use of a barn for residential accommodation for gipsies who are helping with the harvest in the summer. Next it may house motor cars. A third year, he may use it for mixing fertiliser, or let it to someone else for some other semi-industrial purpose. At any point, the planning officer can say that it is a change of use, and a planning application may or may not be accepted.
There is a great danger of making the really valuable parts of planning—I return here to what I call Strategic planning—desperately unpopular because of the resentment aroused in the mind of the small man whose liberty is interfered with in a way which does not seem sensible to him, and does not seem sensible to many other people, either.
It is no good my saying that unless, at the same time, I suggest ways in which matters can be remedied. There are ways. First, I should like the Minister to revise the rules regarding what is called permitted development. I should like development to be permitted much more freely in the small matters which I have sought to describe, removing them altogether from the requirement to obtain permission, at least unless a neighbour objects. Second, I hope that there will be strong resistance to increases in the planning staff of local authorities. That is one of the surest ways of seeing that the staff who are there do the valuable and important job which it is their function to do. Third, now that he is handing over greater power to inspectors, I hope that the Minister will give them guidance on the lines of the decisions they ought to take, and I hope that he will bring out in this connection some of the points which I have made.
As I said at the outset, one of the difficulties in speaking to this Bill is that it is so wide that one inevitably has to cover only a tiny fraction. I have dealt with one fraction critically because it raises a matter on which I happen to feel deeply. There is too much needless and petty persecution. But I regard the Bill as a whole as of great value. It will certainly have my co-operation and 1437 support, and I wish the Minister well with it.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
In one way, I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King). I well remember the time when he was at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, a long time ago, when we had Lord Silkin's Measure. I am very pleased now that there is not the same Opposition to planning as there was then. The Opposition at that time may have come because of the development Charge. I am very glad that the same approach has not been adopted in today's debate.
I join the hon. Gentleman in what he said about inspectors. One of his hon. Friends said that we ought to have a judicial inspector. I hope that this never comes. In Wales, we always have a suspicion of anything to do with courts of law, policemen, lawyers or solicitors. I hope, therefore, that the inspectors will remain inspectors. It will be much better if they do.
I welcome the Bill, and I much appreciated what the Minister had to say in introducing it. I was glad to hear the Opposition Front Bench spokesman as well, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He and my right hon. Friend agreed on so many points. The Minister explained the Bill in a simple manner. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardio, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) said that he hoped that the Bill would be better than the last one. with respect to him, if he knows about the effects of the Industrial Revolution in South Wales, he ought gladly to welcome anything done with regard to planning. A great deal of ribbon development, also, went on before the last war, but now, I am glad to say, planning has slopped that.
We are considering here not just planning but town and country planning, and I hope that I may be regarded as a small man from the countryside who can say something about planning in the countryside. Experience over the last 20 years has shown how vital it is to have plans to shape our towns and villages and that they should be properly carried out. This is the whole object of planning. I notice that in the White Paper there is a reference to the growth of population and 1438 traffic. Figures were given for England and Wales, and I know something about the expected growth of population and traffic in Wales itself. I am glad to se the Secretary of State for Wales and the Under-Secretary of State here when am speaking—never mind about the others—because I have a point to put to them on this matter. It is important that they should have regard not only; to an increasing population but also to depopulation in the areas about which they know so much.
As has been said several times, ordinary Citizens regard planning as some thing of a frustration. I have never thought that, but, as a chairman of a planning committee, I know that people feel that way. The chairman of a planning committee comes in for a lot o criticism, and the unfortunate planning officer gets it worse still. Nevertheless in the country generally today, planning is regarded as an essential function of the local authorities.
Now, the question of structure plans Is it intended that the action areas will be selected in advance of local government reorganisation in Wales? Reorganisation has been mentioned on both side of the House, but no one has ventured to say that reorganisation has actually started in Wales and legislation will be with us within the next eighteen month or two years. We want to know before hand, not wait for the reorganisation in England, whether the action areas will come into effect. In my view, the; should.
In the action areas, there should be co-ordination with the Mid-Wales Indus trial Development Association, the Rural Development Board and the New Town Corporation. Incidentally, I am glad that a former Member of the House has this week been appointed as the first chair man of the New Town Corporation. Mr Emrys Roberts, Q.C., who used to sit on the Liberal Bench, a Welsh-speaking Welshman, will be an admirable man to be consulted and to advise on planning matters in Mid-Wales.
The structure plans should not be con fined to counties. They should have a larger basis. It is quite easy to have; structure plan, even for a county, but in Mid-Wales—we are not sure what will happen, whether three counties will be amalgamated—there will be a larger basis 1439 for a structure plan. In this way, other counties which have similar social Problems will know something of what is going on.
It is essential that all plans are financially realistic. The proposal in the Bill for the transfer of responsibility to local decision is welcome. I do not agree with those of my hon. Friends who have said that they do not like the appointment of inspectors. I do. I am sure that it will be a great advance in the matter of devolution itself. However, I have one query. At present, there is a variety of planning methods. In Breconshire, where I live, there is delegation of planning to the district Councils. The neighbouring county, Radnorshire, does not do that. But everyone says that where there is delegation a better job is done. For one thing, the public come into it right from the start, from the application itself. When there is not that kind of delegation, the ordinary Citizen does not have a look-in.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales, whatever he does about planning locally, will ensure that there is uniformity in all the new areas under the reoganisation scheme. This is vital. I hope, also, that the expansion of towns in Mid-Wales will come into the business of structure plans. In this connection, I am glad that, since the Rhayader scheme, there has been co-operation between the authorities concerned and the Roads Division over the expansion plans. I do not know why there is a difference between the Roads Division in Wales and those concerned with planning.
For some years now, under the last Government and under this, when a planning application affects a trunk road, a direction comes from the Ministry of Transport, as it used to be—now the Welsh Roads Division—to say that no attempt must be made to develop at all. In one area, from Cross Gates to the Montgomeryshire border, over 20 applications to develop have been turned down by direction of the Road Division in Cardiff. It cannot be local planning if there are directions from above. If the applicant can afford it, he automatically appeals, and I do not like that aspect of the matter.
Since we have had a Welsh Department and Secretary of State for Wales, there 1440 has been a great speeding up of decisions. The number of appeals has been reduced, perhaps because people have greater confidence than when that part of the administration was in Whitehall. In 1964 there were 782 appeals and in 1966 there were 746. The number of decisions in 1964 was 413 and in 1966 it was 503. At the end of 1966 there were 435 appeals requiring to be decided upon. I hope that impetus will be given to shortening the time taken for appeals in the future.
I am glad that local inspectors will be appointed. As a Welsh-speaking Welsh-man, I hope that if an inspector must decide a local inquiry in a locality where the larger proportion of the people speak Welsh we may have an assurance that he will speak Welsh. It is not a laughing matter, because if my mother gave evidence at a local inquiry she would not be able to do so in English. Therefore, the inspector must be able to understand Welsh, and that is why I seek the assurance—although I do not suppose that my mother would go, because she is 92!
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes)
Wherever this is possible we shall arrange for a Welsh-speaking inspector to be present. If that is not possible, we shall ensure the Services of an interpreter are provided.
§ Mr. Watkins
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for that assurance. I shall sleep better tonight for having it.
I agree that we should not have judicial inspectors, and I pay tribute to the inspectors we have. I do not believe that a single hon. Member for a Welsh constituency, except perhaps those in the Ministries, has read so many inspectors' reports as I have. They cover all sorts of subjects. The inspectors are very fair and the conduct of the inquiry is very good. But some Q.C.s are rather intolerant if there is an ethical principle involved, such as having motor racing circuits in use on Sundays. They should be more tolerant, but that is my only criticism.
I am very glad that the Minister suggested the appointment of a commission to be presided over by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. As chairman of a planning committee, I find that people do not know enough about what is going 1441 on in planning. We must be careful, because every procedure we add means a delay to applicants. I find that if there is a dispute involving third parties the best thing is to get them on the site at the beginning and negotiate. The decision is then made right away.
The Bill says that the planning authorities must satisfy the Minister that there are safeguards for the ordinary Citizen to be heard and to be present at the sites. I went to Sochi on the Black Sea about four years ago, and saw some-thing of planning arrangements in the Soviet Union. There was a large housing development scheme there which involved the planting of trees and so on. The Russians had three ways of Consulting the Citizen. Elected councillors— I would not want to query how they were eiected—had a chance to take the model and details of the scheme back to the electorate; the trade union representative took them to his branch; and the Communist Party representative also played a part, although I should not like planning decisions to be made by political parties in this country. They had three bites at the cherry, but I do not know how long they spent in making the final decision. All three representatives were making suggestions about planting more trees and so on, and that greatly commended itself to me.
I am very glad that important principles are incorporated in the Bill. I hive been greatly impressed by what has been said in the debate about compensation. What the Bill says about enforcement will satisfy a great deal of public opinion, for some people deliberately disregard planning decisions or do not wait for them but go ahead and build a garage, shed or something of that kind.
I am also very pleased that there will be a planning inquiry commission. Will it cover England and Wales, or will there be a separate one for Wales? This is important for us, because we should get as much devolution as we can in the Principality.
We must have a realisation among our planning staffs that the country wants the nation to be proud of its planning generally. We must recruit the best staff possible, and I am sure that we shall. Parliament should be vigilant once the Bill becomes law, when I hope that the 1442 devolution of which I have spoken and the quicker procedures will immediately work satisfactorily.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
Many parts of the Bill will receive widespread support on both sides of the House. But it seems to me that there are two omissions, and one of them is very serious as it concerns my constituency.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have already mentioned the lack of a need for statutory notification of one's neighbours when one is putting in a planning application that will affect them. I know that one does not purchase the view when one purchases a house, but in practice one hears astonishing cases of the serious effect on people of a planning application of which they did not know anything until the day the foundations were being dug and they saw something growing up quite close to them. Had they known and put in an objection, planning consent might well not have been given.
I still do not see why the military authorities should not have to comply with normal planning consent procedure when they want to do something which is not of military importance. If it concerns the defence of the country, that is quite different. But where houses are being built for Service men to live in it would be right and proper for the military authorities to have to go through the same planning procedures as individuals in the same circumstances.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Circular 100 procedure, by which those exempt from having to get planning permission are meant to consult, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government is meant to hold the ring? The Bill does not seem to do anything to improve that procedure?
§ Mr. Mitchell
In practice, consultation may mean one thing to a Minister and a very different thing to those concerned. I have an instance in mind where a fortnight was given as the time for objection to a planning proposal by military authorities. I do not believe that that is the fair consultation which we have in mind.
1443 The main purpose of my rising tonight is because there seems to be a major Omission in this Bill in conection with the loss of compensation for compulsory purchase in an expanded town. I appreciate that in some measure this is slightly specialised, but I urge the Minister to consider the case that I am about to put to him very carefully and to extend the Bill to cover the matters to which I will draw his attention.
In my constituency we have Basing-stoke and Andover as expanded towns taking London overspill and doing a task of major importance. This necessarily involves a considerable amount of compulsory purchase and the basis of compensation, when compulsory purchase takes place, is on what would have been the value if the town had not been expanded. I can see that in the case of a new town this is perfectly fair and reason-able, that when one comes to open land one does not want the farmer to get the value for that land which, by its designation as a new town, has suddenly quadrupled or more in value. One does not want the farmer to get an unsolicited bonus.
What happens with an expanded town is a very different and much more serious matter. It results in grave injustice, particularly to "over-shop" people who are driven out of business and especially the householder who is given, in compensation, a sum with which it is totally impossible for him to rehouse himself and his family in the town. In Basingstoke we have the disadvantage to which I have previously drawn attention in this House, of a particularly tough district valuer. It would be wrong for me to go into this now——
§ Mr. MacDermot
Like any other district valuer the valuer to which the hon. Member is referring is subject to appeal to the Lands Tribunal and to Single out one official and say that he is particularly tough, when he is only applying the law, is I suggest, most unfair.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks, but this is not essential to the argument that I am about to put. Since he has made that point I would point out that of nearly 50 per cent. of the cases which have gone to 1444 appeal, the district valuer concerned has not been agreed with by the tribunal.
I am particularly concerned with the small man who cannot afford to go before the tribunal. I have case after case in my constituency, in Basingstoke, where the professional adviser to the constituents says: "I do not believe that you are getting fair play but I cannot recommend you to go to appeal because the total sum involved is £2,000 or £2,500, for you to get £300 to £500. It is not worth the risk of losing it on appeal." I cannot say that those professional advisers are wrong.
§ Mr. Mitchell
To take up that point, all I can say is that where the case has gone to the Lands Tribunal, the district valuer of Basingstoke has been found wrong in about 50 per cent. of the cases. This gives me some cause for concern as to whether the small cases to which I have referred are getting a fair deal. My argument tonight is quite simply that the law is unfair, regardless of how it may be administered by a district valuer in one town or another. What happens is that if one gives sufficient compensation to enable a man to purchase another house, were the town not an expanded town, it would not mean that he would have to move away from that district to some other part of the country to buy a replacement property.
My case is simply that for someone who has bought a house, particularly an elderly person, to be told that they have to go is bad enough, but to be told that the compensation which they will receive will only be sufficient for them to buy an alternative house if they move out of the area where values are inflated by town expansion is a most dreadful thing. It means that a man has to uproot himself from his family, his friends and neighbours. I have a case of someone who is going blind who had to move to an area where they were not familiar with the layout, where no one knew them and it meant serious personal hardship.
We have had one disastrous and terribly unhappy constituency case where a man committed suicide. We have other cases of elderly smallholders and people of this sort who are being driven 1445 almost desperate trying to discover in what, and how they are to live in their old age I have a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Elston, living in Basingstoke, who are being compensated. They have tried to find an equivalent property but cannot do so anywhere in the neighbourhood.
They are having to live in a Caravan now, instead of spending their old age in a well situated bungalow with rather nice views over the countryside. The hardship here is very serious and I beg the Minister to recognise that it is genuine and calls for consideration. I hope that, since Basingstoke is to some extent further advanced than other towns in seeing the practical application of compensation, he will look at this. I would be very ready to see him and give him concrete examples if these will help.
I have a Suggestion to make. It will rot cost a lot of money but it would be fair. I can see the answer that the Minister would give if I were to suggest that the extra compensation should be paid just like that. He would say that it was wrong that a man should be getting the extra value, inflated value by reason of town development and that when he died his estate would inherit this extra money. I accept that, but it would be possible, in a case of this sort, to give an interest-free loan to make up the difference, so that a person can continue to live for the rest of his life, and his widow when he dies, in the district where they had previously lived.
That would enable him to go on living as he had done, without the hardships and terrible personal problems which we are now finding. It would not cost very much. Indeed, since the basis on which expanded towns are financed is that the local authorities buy cheap, on the values before expansion and sell and lease properties at high values, as a result of town expansion, the local authority would have quite sufficient funds to do what I am suggesting. In this way one would get the Fairness that the Minister seeks and increases in personal wealth would not be created as a result of town expansion. It would be particularly fair to the smaller householder and older people who are suffering hardship to a degree which I do not believe has yet been widely recognised in this House or the country. I beg the Minister to 1446 consider this plea in the course of examining the Bill.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Conway)
I would like to join hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House in the overall approval which they have given to this Bill. It will certainly ease planning application procedure and it introduces a new concept of planning. I want to refer briefly to one or two deficiencies. First, there is the question of the lack of Publicity given to ordinary individual planning applications. This need not be a very great problem, because in many cases a new application for a development would clearly not affect anyone at all. It could be very much up to the local authority to decide what application should be given publicity and the kind of steps which have been discussed could be taken to give that publicity.
I am somewhat concerned about the appointment of inspectors for the review of local plans. The Bill says:… the local planning authority may…cause a local inquiry or other hearing to be held by a person appointed by them …I find this quite iniquitous. Some other process could have been adopted for the selection of inspectors rather than appointment by the body whose local planning is under review by the inspector. I feel that justice should more evidently be seen to be done here.
However, my great pleasure in the Bill is that, for the first time, it enables planning authorities to look at wider issues than merely the physical aspects of planning and land use. The great problem at present is that local authorities are con-fined by existing legislation and are not able to look at the more general features of an area such as population, traffic and long-term economic growth. Often, they are forced into making decisions which are to the detriment of the area.
My constituency lies in a tourist area, with beautiful mountain and seaside scenery, and its amenities give rise to problems in planning applications. Clearly it is necessary to conserve the natural amenities. However, one finds very often that projects are refused planning permission which would be greatly to the advantage of the development of tourism in the area. 1447 Recently the Caernarvonshire County Council saw fit to turn down proposals for a motel at Penmaenmawr at the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. The argument was that the view from the main road was affected. In my opinion, however, the effect would have been only marginal, since there is already some industry, a camping site and housing in the area. A motel would have been of tremendous advantage to that part of North Wales.
An even worse case occurred in the town of Llandudno which, as hon. Members will know, is somewhat removed from the North Wales coast, being on a promontory. At the end of the promontory is the Great Orme. Recently, planning application was sought for the installation of a cable car on the Great Orme. The proposal had the full support of the Llandudno Urban District Council, the Llandudno Town Improvement Association and the Hotels and Restaurants Association. It was turned down and, in the refusal, the application for a cable car was described as one for a "chair lift". That, in my opinion, indicates that the right kind of attention was not given to the details of the proposal.
A short time ago, I was in Southern Italy, where I looked at the development of agriculture, tourism and industry in the Mezzogiorno. The important feature there is that a single developing Organisation, the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno has been responsible overall for economic planning, physical planning and capital investment in the area.
Under the Bill, although county authorities will have more liberty to take economic factors and the general needs of an area into account, nonetheless they are responsible for fairly small areas, and economic planning has to be carried on over much wider areas than those for which they have responsibility. Very soon some amalgamation of the counties in Wales will occur. I hope that in North Wales one county will take the place of the present five. That will make more sense in terms of economic planning and the deployment of resources than do existing county areas.
In the final resort, economic planning in Wales is carried out by the Regional Economic Planning Council. I hope that 1448 we shall be told the extent to which planning authorities will be involved in the overall plans of regional planning bodies. According to Clause l(3,e), planning authorities will be expected to look at "such other matters as may be prescribed or as the Minister may in a particular case direct." This is the point at which there can be co-ordination between the work of the Economic Planning Councils and the more detailed work which the planning authorities are to carry out. Nonetheless, we shall still have a Situation where there is a divorce between overall economic planning and physical land use planning. In my opinion, both functions should be carried out by the same body.
In the recent White Paper on Local Government in Wales, I had hoped to find recommendations for an elected Council in the Principality. I still have hopes that it will come in the foreseeable future. An elected regional Council could undertake the two functions of the general direction of economic policy in Wales and the general control of town and country planning; in other words. the functions being performed in Southern Italy by a Single body deciding that one area will be for tourism and one for industrial development, etc. It would make sense if the regional body was responsible for bringing out the kinds of structure plans which, under the Bill, will be in the hands of county councils
I hope that the Minister will tell us that there is to be close co-operation between Economic Planning Councils and county planning authorities or that he views this as an interim Measure and foresees, after the findings of the Royal Commission in England are known, a different pattern for the future, where there will be close co-ordination between economic and physical planning.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
During a Session in which we are having a number of Bills of a controversial and doctrinaire nature which do much to affect our economy, it is a breath of fresh air to have a Bill before us which on the whole will help the economy. On these occasions, one sees the House at its best. We have listened to some very interesting speeches, with hon. Members putting forward their own views of the Situation.
1449 I must declare an interest, because I am a builder and an estate developer. My brother's name is mentioned in a book about the property boom. He was also the chairman of a new town corporation. In addition, I have had the usual constituency problems, and I think that I can say that I see them from all aspects. In this, as in so many other things in life, the more one can see of the case the less do the colours come out black and white, and instead there is a number of shades of grey.
But there is one thing not to be for-gotten. I have said this before and I want to make the point again because:it is so true about any planning approval and about the whole process of planning. For every person to get a house for himself is the most important thing in his life. Having got the house for himself it appears to be a matter of very great concern to him that nobody gets a house which spoils his view. That is one of the problems of how to adjudicate on planning approval. This Bill makes some effort towards solving that problem, but it has a weakness about which I want to speak.
I took careful note of what my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said, because I approach the problem very much in the way he does, that planning basically is right. Planning is necessary. My group operates in all parts of the world and in some where planning is not always worked, and one sees the advantages of planning. The basic weakness about our planning approach it that it is negative. It is not positive. Even this Bill does not say that the planning authority should be told that the population of this country is growing, that the number of newly marrieds is increasing, and that it is necessary for all local authorities in all areas to make Provision for different—and initial—housing.
I should like to see the basis of each planning authority being, not so much a ration, but an indication of what its share is of the total land available. In other words, there should be a bonus, even if it is only a pat on the back from the Minister for the local authority because it got private land for planning. One of the problems about the price of land is simply that the land we have is artificially controlled. As with all artificially controlled commodities, its extrinsic value 1450 increases. Therefore, we must counter-act that, not by means of a Land Commission, which only puts up the price of land, but in a way which encourages local authorities to make more land available. So in the first place I say that we ought to have proposals which encourage more release of land. We must have re-lease of land quicker.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) has some constituency points which he wants to bring up, and so I shall be as brief as I possibly can at this late hour, but there are one or two points I want to put to the Minister, and I hope he will take them as practical.
A point in the Bill I take exception to is that the proposals for planning approval are to last only for five years and then are automatically cancelled. I have talked about this with many builders. Some of them like it. Some of them like it because they think it will release land, that it will stop landowners holding on to their land. On that, I go along with them. That is good. For really good development of large estates five years is indeed a very short time. My own group at one time virtually produced a new town, and we built our own railway Station to develop that land, but it takes time to carry out a comprehensive scheme of that sort. It takes about two years to excite the railway people enough even to consider building a railway Station. If one knows that at the end of five years all one's efforts will have been of no avail because then the chopper comes down, one cannot plan properly a really comprehensive scheme.
I would suggest to the Minister that the right time for this, as has been suggested by other hon. Members, is probably 12 years, because that gives sufficient time for development and yet it is a short enough time to stop anybody from hanging on to his land for appreciation of its value. I know of one estate in the North of England—it is known to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)— where there has been planning permission from time immemorial, and the family who own it sell parts of it only when they want cash. That cannot be good planning for that sort of estate. If the Minister cannot accept 12 years, which I suggest would be the right period, the 1451 next best thing for him to do is to make an Amendment to the Bill to allow extending the short, five-year period. Where a developer says "This is a long-term scheme and I cannot do it in five years". the Minister should be able to say, "Take another five years".
§ Mr. Costain
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman. I had not appreciated that. That meets that point.
Another important point which gives me a good deal of concern is one which has been discussed by hon. Members on both sides, the question of Clause 52. I think it was the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) who made the point that if somebody put an old tin can on a site and left it there long enough it would become an authorised building site. That part of the argument is extremely good. Those things should be stopped. But it is so much like all Socialists' proposals. In order to catch the bad boy, they produce an extraordinary net which pulls in everybody and costs the country millions of pounds.
If this proposal goes through in its present form, it will cost every house purchaser serious sums of money. Before a person can get a mortgage, the building society must be absolutely certain of title. No director of a building society will grant a mortgage, rightly, unless the security is good. Nobody disagrees with that. Who will give a clearance that the building is clean, if I may use that word? The conveyancing solicitor—and I have met a group of them—will not say to a client, "This is all right". He will say, "As far as my inquiries go, I think that it is all right, but I cannot guarantee it. The right thing for you to do, Mr. Purchaser, is to take out an insurance policy".
§ Mr. Macdonald
Surely what happens is that the purchaser's solicitor makes inquiries at the town hall to discover what planning permissions exist. What will stop him doing that in future, just as he does it now?
§ Mr. Costain
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the town hall says that it is all right the Bill will not apply? As I read it, the property is never clear of every possible problem. If the Minister of State says that I have read the Bill incorrectly, I should be grateful if he would say so, because this is a matter which is causing extreme concern. How will any director of a building society lend money on a property the title of which is in doubt? He would be guilty of carelessness if he did so. I cannot believe that the Minister realised that.
I come now to the question of Starts and completions. There is some doubt in my mind as to what constitutes a Start under the Bill. If a trench is dug on a 1,000 acre estate, is that a start under the Bill? In other parts of the world the matter is dealt with by sections.
The other problem about which we have heard a great deal from hon. Members on both sides today is planning blight. The correct expression is "planning shadow": it is the shadow of development to come. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde put forward an argument, with which I did not agree, about the length of time. The longer the time, the greater the disadvantage which can accrue to the owner. The hon. Member for Chislehurst said that the local authority's purse is not bottomless. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) gave a very good example of an owner whose pocket was far from bottomless and whose whole life and future happiness depended on obtaining a house to replace the house already occupied. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that development should take place over the bare bones of somebody like that. This is the problem which we face.
My hon. Friend put forward the very logical idea that in a case of that sort, when property is compulsorily purchased and the owner-occupier—and it should only be the owner-occupier—cannot get equivalent accommodation, he should have an interest-free loan. That might cause some complication after his death. Possibly another way to deal with this would be to give him almost a grace and favour residence for his lifetime. However, I am sure that the Minister must be appraised of the Situation. He has had this point put to him from both sides.
1453 I started by saying that the problem was getting people in residence there to know what is about to be built so that they have an opportunity to complain or to appeal. The hon. Member for Chislehurst made the Suggestion that they should put boards up with some extra-ordinary letters on the top. From my own experience I can say that boards of that sort are generally looked upon as church bazaars. The best way to make people realise what is happening is to send a load of bricks. The moment anybody sees a load of bricks on a site, the whole road goes into instant action. That is better than any notice. They can read bricks but they do not always read notices.
I remember in my very early days when we were having difficulty selling houses —believe it or not, there was a time when it was difficult to sell houses—the one thing to do was to get people to buy a plot of land to build houses and deliver bricks, because if they got instant action they knew something was happening. There was no need to go through any complicated procedure.
The problem was raised about the right of the individual. The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that development could spoil their view. People cannot buy views. If we all had views we would have to have our own private islands. However, it is essential that people should have every opportunity of satisfying themselves that the development that is taking place is development that they can reason-ably expect. If someone buys a house in an undeveloped road he cannot expect that for all time nobody else will live in that road.
I have a constituency case which is a sort of miniature Stansted. It concerns Lydd airport where they are putting down a new concrete runway for greater safety. The local parish Council is very upset. I have had correspondence with it and members of the parish Council have been to see me because they felt they were not consulted. A local parish Council is not a planning authority. Although it is the nearest to the problem, it is the least able to deal with it from a local authority point of view. I was interested to see that one of my hon. Friends was introducing a Private Member's Bill which would cover this point. There ought to be; some Obligation that local parish Coun- 1454 cils, or any non-planning authority for that matter, should have the opportunity of discussing this problem. They should have the minutes of those meetings read and appreciated by the members of the planning committee. That would give some indication at least that their ideas and thoughts were properly appreciated. That would do a great deal.
The question of planning and planning authorities is the old story that people are aggrieved. They always are when anybody builds. But the great thing one has to show is that there has been an dement of justice in the decision. That is why I welcome my hon. Friend's Suggestion that there should be a new name for inspector—for example, ad-judicator. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) looking rather worried, so with those few remarks I will give way.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
I hope that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument. Like every other hon. Member who has spoken, I welcome this Bill. I welcome the White Paper which preceded it, in particular the acknowledgment in paragraph 4 to the fact,… there has been inadequate participation by the individual Citizen in the planning process and insufficient regard to his interests.The further point was made,… the System has been better as a negative control on undesirable development than as a positive Stimulus to the creation of a good environment.I agree with that, but I must add one note of regret. I do not see that the Bill before us will bring about any positive Stimulus to the creation of a good environment. I think that in its nature it will still be negative. Nevertheless, I welcome the Statement in the White Paper—and it was reiterated this after-noon by the Minister—that people must be able to participate fully in the planning process, and their rights must be safeguarded. It is on this question that I would like to address the House.
I draw the Minister's attention to planning procedures abroad. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Tudor Watkins) suggested that we might usefully look at the Situation in the Soviet 1455 Union. I suggest that we should consider the Situation in the United States of America. I do not set myself up as an authority on planning procedures, but I know a little about them in Southern California, and perhaps I might give the House a little information about what happens there.
The point made in paragraph 10 of the White Paper is recognised by the city planners in Los Angeles. There is a great desire on the part of the planning department to involve the man and woman in the street in the planning process. It has sent out a document setting out certain aims, in which it says:… every Citizen in Southern California will be involved in the review of the suggested goals and policies …The program will be announced and explained via various news media and posters, and local discussion points called 'Centers for Choice' will be established at convenient locations throughout the metropolis.
Information relating to the Goals Program will be provided by exhibits, literature and subsequent official reports, while a group of Citizen volunteers will be organized and trained in the program to provide information and assistance to visitors in the Centres of Choice'. Citizens who are interested will be encouraged to submit their opinions in relation to goals and planning."
I am sure that some hon. Members will not be familiar with the term "goals". It is a sociological term, and one which has been imported from the United States. The reference to goals means the desire of members of the local Community with regard to education, transport Systems, amenity areas, and so on.
The planning department has produced an excellent brief setting out various areas of the problem. It has been prepared as a discussion pamphlet and circulated widely throughout the County of Los Angeles, and the City. It is available in libraries and other public places, and has been sent to many local voluntary organisations, such as the Y.W.C.A., the League for Women Voters, and so on. It has been widely discussed, and the results of these discussions have been fed into the planning process.
We do not consult people enough. I had hoped to give two examples, but in view of the time I shall restrict myself to one, to show why I think that this is important. There are two areas of plan- 1456 ning which are giving rise to a great deal of concern. First, there is the whole problem of high density living. Those who read the architectural Journals know that a recent issue of the Architectural Review carried an article devoted to the problem of high density living.
I am not very happy about some of the conclusions drawn in it. This area is ripe for examination. If we accept high density living, we minimise to a great extent the problems of travelling to work. I do not see any examples of any planners getting down to the grass roots and Consulting the individual about whether he would like to live in the suburbs, in a low density area and spend an hour or an hour and a half travelling to work each day, or whether he would prefer a shorter journey, which would mean living in a high density area. This planning process which is taking place in Los Angeles will give planners an indication of the kind of Community preferences that exist.
The other problem concerns the Provision of amenity areas on the one hand and gardens or—as I shall call them, emotively—postage stamps on the other. Planners presume that the Community in general wants gardens. That is not my impression. I agree that people want a feeling of spaciousness, but this does not necessarily mean that they want gardens. If we have more gardens we have fewer public open Spaces. I suggest that this is a matter for public examination. These are the questions which should be put to the committee which I was de-lighted to hear the Minister announce.
I know that the Minister is aware of the existence of civic societies. The civic amenity movement is now ten years old. In my constituency, which is a rural one. I have the good fortune to have five civic societies. We have them in small communities of no more than 4,000 people. These societies are appropriate bodies for consultation, and I hope that when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary undertakes his inquiry he will have extensive consultations with the Civic Trust and individual civic societies to see whether they can be brought into the decision-making process.
I speak feelingly on this point because I have had some experience of it. I could spell out in detail the relationship that one of my civic societies has with 1457 its local authority. I do not wish to name the authority, but it seems to regard the civic society as a group of busybodies, which is regrettable. The intellectual life and the effort which goes into the work of this society is much greater than that which has gone into electing the group of councillors who now make the decisions, yet the councillors set themselves up as representing the Community on a minority vote, and claim that it is right for them to ignore the views of the society.
I hope that we shall be able to find a rôle for our civic societies to play. I understand that they are co-opted on to various committees in some Councils, and I hope that they will be co-opted on to planning committees and housing committees.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) referred to the question of planning procedure. I do not need to spell out the new procedure, We are to have a structural map which is to be published in diagrammatic form. Both hon. Members expressed some disquiet about this procedure, and I echo all that they have said.
I have suggested to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that this matter should be reconsidered. I am specially concerned about it because I represent a constituency which contains part of the Peak District National Park. If the structural plan appears in diagrammatic form certain areas of the Park and a certain part of the green belt around Sheffield could be eroded. I am anxious that the new structural plan should appear on an Ordnance Survey map. I wrote to my hon. Friend when I read the terms of the Bill and made this point to him, and in reply he said:The disadvantage of this is that it would tend to impart an air of precision to the whole plan.I cannot follow this. Either our green belts, national parks and S.S.H.I.s are sacrosanct or they are not. This answer suggested that the planners and the Minister were prepared to see some erosion of these features and other areas which should be designated. I hope that the Government will maintain some flexibility of mind here. I greatly welcome Part V. I want to see many 1458 Amendments and I hope that I am selected as a member of the Committee since it is there that we will deal with these matters.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I would add my brief welcome to the Bill, expressing only my concern that it may add further work, during the present local government reorganisation to the Shoulders of our planning staffs. I am a member of my county planning authority and one is always concerned with the difficulties of the staffs, particularly if they have to adopt these new procedures. I welcome the procedures and the attempt to give more Publicity to planning applications because nothing could give greater satisfaction to the public.
As a lover of all ancient buildings, I welcome Part V. But our misfortune is that we have so many that we are not sufficiently selective. I appreciate here the feelings of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) about the case in his constituency. In spite of everything in this Part, however, there are still gaps. For example, there is nothing to prevent people not keeping buildings in repair, perhaps because they cannot afford or do not want to. I had the traumatic experience recently of seeing the owner of a fine, although not large, Jacobean house built by an ancestor of mine of the same name in 1607 being given by the local planning authority permission for demolition. That may be right, because the country may have too many, but it shows that we have not yet completed a code for our historic buildings.
I welcome Part VI and the Planning Inquiry Commission proposals. How far could these be retrospective, in view of certain difficult cases which we face in my county?
I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) about the real problems, particularly in the cities. He was good enough to quote from a book called "The Property Boom" by Oliver Marriott. I was glad of this, first, because I thought it was a very good book, and, second, because the author happens to be my godson. That book brought home the fact that three classes of people have been involved in these developments—developers who 1459 know their business, developers who do not know their business and the local authorities, hardly any of which knows its business. The result has been some ghastly consequences.
The hon. Member mentioned my county capital, Shrewsbury, which is a case history of how not to deal with an ancient historic town. This has been the Joint achievement of two local authorities, the county Council, to which I belong, and the borough Council, to which I do not. They have been substantially aided by British Railways, which built a large building for its head offices and then decided to have the head offices in Chester; that building remains empty. The Minister's predecessor took into his protective custody five of our historic cities some years ago as a special case study. If the right hon. Gentleman is short of work in his Ministry, I would ask him to consider a sixth candidate, namely, Shrewsbury.
With these few halting words, I add my welcome to the Bill, which will ease the path of the planners of this country.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill, which streamlines planning procedure. I welcome the Provision for the new structure plan, which will provide flexibility and a positive approach. It will lay down what a Council should try to do with its plan instead of the old zoning procedure which usually decided only what may not be done instead of what should be done. Although this is so, my local authority has expressed anxiety about its effect on its present plans. I should like the Minister's assurance on this.
Would it hold up present plans? I gather that, in the first place, the structure plan will be applied to only a few local authorities, but can present planning and development go on side by side with its preparation, with the new local plans proceeding after the structure plan is completed? There is a plan in Birmingham for the next few years involving 30,000 houses and schools, factories and other buildings around about. How will this be affected?
I should also like to raise the question, which others have mentioned, of com- 1460 pensation. There is no new provision in the Bill. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that compensation will be reviewed. Already the review of compensation for unfit houses is proceeding, but this is not enough. There are two large road schemes in my constituency affecting thousands of houses and not only the present occupiers but the people affected by planning blights are in a serious position. A person whose house is to be taken over by the local authority or the Ministry generally does not do badly, although his problem is that he may not be able to afford a replacement of his house.
One of the problems frequently put to me is that of a man who owns a house within the immediate vicinity of a road scheme but will still be faced with the giant viaduct, the roar of traffic, per-haps less than 100 yards from his property, the value of which deteriorates. If he wants to move, he may not get the price for his house which will enable him to afford a replacement. The same applies to a shopkeeper who, when there is clearance or a transport scheme, finds that, although his shop may remain, his customers and his livelihood disappear. He also wants his claim for compensation considered. I have been in communication with the Minister of State about this. He said that it was one of the incidents of business. Sometimes things happen which are good for business and sometimes they are bad for business. That argument is of little assistance to me when I am dealing with constituents whose livelihood is not only diminished but may be taken away entirely by this development.
People who benefit from the activities of the Community obtain the benefit of betterment, or at any rate 60 per cent. of it, even after the levy has been taken. It seems wrong that in this sort of gamble some should benefit and some should lose. I believe that more than 40 per cent. should be taken for betterment. If that amount is increased it should be possible to divert a portion of the increased levy to assist people who suffer from development schemes. Governments have funked this issue in the past. I know that it is a difficult and complicated matter. It is not easy to assess the loss that a person suffers from development blight. The Minister tells 1461 us that we are dealing with these matters as human problems making provisions for decent civilised living and leisure which will affect ordinary people. These are also important human problems affecting ordinary people which I hope the Minister will consider and which, if I am appointed to the Committee, I shall raise at that stage.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Up to this stage of the debate we have had exceptionally well-informed and constructive speeches which have set an extremely high Standard for the Minister of State and me to follow. We have even heard about how town planning works in Southern California. To try to pretend that I have as much experience as those who have already spoken, I had better declare an interest. Apart from being engaged in this sort of business professionally, I am a director of a building society, a housing society and a property development Company.
What has emerged from the debate is that this is a Bill of lost opportunities. It has not really tackled the main problem. The need for reform of planning law is undisputed not only because, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said, it has become so complex, but because the machinery is creaking. The need is urgent, but, like so many actions by this Government, the Programme and timing of this reform is bad.
It is bad in two respects. First, we ought not to have been asked to consider the reform of town planning law before we have before us the reform of local government structure. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Tudor Watkins) said that they are well advanced in Wales on this. Apparently in Wales they can get on with it, but in England, I agree with the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who said that we must get the planning authorities right or this Bill will not work. However, since the Government chose to postpone local government reform by appointing the Royal Commission, we must do the best we can with the Bill that is before us.
As the Minister said, he is forced to undertake ad hoc grouping. That is all 1462 right as a pilot scheme, but I make the same proviso as was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) that the Bill should intelligently anticipate the Report of the Royal Commission and it should not install built-in barriers to the development of a System of planning based on democratic regional government, which I think we can confidently expect will come out of the Report of the Royal Commission.
The second reason why I say that this is bad timing for this Bill is that we ought not to be asked to consider the reform of planning law in isolation from the reform of the law relating to compensation. This has been said again and again by hon. and right hon. Members in this debate. It has been referred to again by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). It was developed very thoroughly by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). Compensation is not merely incidental to planning. It was suggested by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North that we should have a Commission to review planning law. If that would delay reform of that law I would not wish to have a Commission. I should have thought that the House now knows how to reform it after the many debates we have had on this subject.
The modern conception of town and country planning gives the planning authority such immense power to take or break that the whole planning System can continue to work in a democracy only if the Community compensates the individual for the sacrifice which he makes for the Community as a whole. We need, not only the reform of the general law of compensation, but also action in relation to special cases such as those referred to so movingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell)—the hardships which arise from the present law of compensation.
I said that there is an urgent need for reform of planning law, but the Government have to some extent in the Bill misinterpreted that need and have therefore lost some great opportunities. The need for reform does not arise from legal obstructions to planning authorities. There may, perhaps, be one or two items of procedure which hamper efficient 1463 administration of planning, but I do not have constituents, not even town Clerks, saying to me, "What a pity that we cannot get on with the development of our city centre because of the planning System. What a pity it is that we cannot develop our roads. We are obstructed by planning. What a pity it is that we cannot house the people. It is all to do with planning". I do not get complaints such as that.
What I do get from constituents, and what I am sure that every right hon. and hon. Member gets, is a bitter set of complaints, first about what I would call the enterprise-shattering slowness of the process of planning applications and planning appeals; secondly, about the terrible blight, which many hon. Members have mentioned, which descends upon property the moment that anyone talks of development anywhere near it; thirdly, about the irrecoverable damage to property by adjacent development, whether it is actual or expected development; and, fourthly, about the Stagnation of considerable areas of land by our present planning system. This was well put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), who gave experiences from his own constituency, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain).
These are the sorts of complaints which I find that the public are making about the planning system. Heaven forbid that we should legislate by reference to our postbags. The postal majorities are probably the vocal minorities. However, these are the sorts of things in the present planning system that are worrying the people we meet. I am left with no doubt that this is the impact which the planning system is having at present. Those are the points which people associate with planning—its slowness, the blight, the damage by development anywhere near property, and the Stagnation of land so that it is not brought forward for development.
I may be told by the Minister of State that the Bill was never intended to deal with that, that I must be content for the present with the compass of the Bill as it is drafted, and that the Bill deals with important matters other than those which have an immediate impact and effect upon the public. I accept that, 1464 but the Bill as a whole must be judged against public opinion as it is shown in those complaints about planning frustrations, planning blight, and planning damage.
Part I of the Bill makes an effort to set out a new procedure for deciding how our towns and countryside should be planned for the future—the structure plans, the local plans and the action areas. From this side of the House, we welcome the new process of planning in that form. As my hon. Friends the Members for North Fylde and for Folkestone and Hythe said, we hope that it will produce positive rather than negative planning in future, and, as the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies) said, we hope that planning authorities will be able as a result to look at the wider issues of planning. But the public must be given confidence in the new system, and I fear that there will be no confidence unless at least three amendments are made to Part I.
First, we must ensure that there is real opportunity for public participation at the formative stages of plans. The Minister of State intervened on this matter and said that it was intended that there should be this public participation in the formulation stages of plans, but in the relevant Clauses—I am thinking of Clauses 3(1,b) and 4(8,b)—it is not clear enough yet to give the public the confidence that that will happen. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East doubted that, under this scheme, we should have participation from the public. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford put some practical points about it, and the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) questioned the timing of the preparation of plans and the participation of the public. Undoubtedly, it is the wish of those who have spoken in the debate that we should ensure and make plain in the Bill itself that this is the intention, that we want the public in at the early stage to help to build the future of our towns and countryside.
Another amendment required in Part I —unles it is made, we shall not gain the confidence of the public for the new process—is to Clause 6, dealing with the person who is to hold the inquiry upon a local plan. The public will not be satisfied if the inquirer is an official of the 1465 Council or if he is appointed by the Council and it is not seen that he is an independent person. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham said, he will be acting in a quasi judicial capacity, and he should be free and apart from the local authority which will be concerned in the inquiry itself as a party. Incidentally, on this point— I do not know whether the Minister of State can clear it up tonight—we shall want to know what the Jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner will be in connection with this type of official. Perhaps we can either explore that now or deal with it in Committee.
Those are two of the amendments to Part I which, if we make them properly, may gain the confidence of the public in the System. The third is that it must be recognised that the structure plans, the action areas and the local plans will blight properties, and Provision should be made for purchase notice procedure. There is some Provision for this in Clause 28, but it should be made much clearer. We must give recognition to the fact that this process of planning will cause blight and we must provide for compensation for it.
In the whole of Part I, we are presented with two supposed conflicts, conflicts which always arise in a discussion of planning. One is a conflict between secrecy in the formulation of plans, so as not to devalue property too early, and early and full publicity, with the resulting blight which may occur. The other conflict is between speed in planning and protection of individual interests. I do not believe that these need be matters of conflict. I believe that we can devise reforms in planning law to meet both extremes.
If I had to choose between publicity and blight I should plump for publicity every time, certainly after today's debate, when it has been extraordinary how many hon. Members have asked for greater publicity. I made a note that the hon. Members for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) and Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle), my hon. Friends for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) and Basingstoke, and the hon. Members for Conway and Cardiff, North all asked for greater publicity. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) even said that the best way to 1466 get it was to drop bricks on the site. There must be publicity, and we must realise that if we are to have it we shall cause blight. Therefore, we must make full provision for those who suffer from that publicity.
I am sure that there can be both speed of planning and protection of individual interests. There is certainly no protection for the individual in the present length of time taken in reaching planing decisions. There is no protection for him when his application is sitting in the tray at the town hall or the Minister's pending tray in Whitehall. That is where the delay occurs now, and if we can cut it out we shall not be cutting out any of the individual's rights or infringing the liberty of the subject.
From the very title of Part II, Enforcement of Planning Control, we see that to a great extent it must be in favour of authority against the individual. But the abolition of the four years' rule is folly. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) said that it was disastrous. I hope that the Minister of State will listen to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, who put the conveyancing point. I do not know that I go all the way with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East who would assimilate it to the squatter's title of 12 years, but I would make it six years, similar to the limitation in contract. Four years may be not enough but some limitation period is necessary to make planning administratively possible. There will be chaos inside and outside the planning authorities if there is no limitation period.
I am also a little doubtful about appeals to the Minister against enforcement notices. This is a new form, and I wonder whether it will work satisfactorily. I am more than doubtful about the stop notices. But these are matters to which we shall return in Committee.
Part III deals with appeals, and here we come directly to the cause of exaspera-tion—what I would call the Minister's pending tray—between the inquiry and the decision. It has been a cause not only of exasperation but of suspicion and distrust of the whole planning System. One goes before an inspector, pours out one's soul —or, at least, facts and legal arguments 1467 —to him, and for six months nothing hap-pens about the matter. Then the Minister perhaps comes out with a decision other than the inspector's. It is true that that happens in only a few cases, but there is always the feeling that something may have happened behind the scenes in that six months. The Bill tries to tackle this by giving the inspector a right of final decision in some cases. But I do not think that we can judge this part of the Bill until we know a lot more about the prescribed cases. We shall have to thrash out the question of the right cases in which the inspector can give the final decision.
This part of the Bill creates a rather ironical Situation. It was interestingly probed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South. In the past some of us have advocated that for many types of appeal there should be some form of independent tribunal, and they should not go before the Minister. They could be decided, even perhaps by the ordinary courts. I know that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor would not agree with me, because he said "keep the law out of it altogether". The answer. as he said, has been that these are political decisions, not judicial decisions, and they must, we have been told, remain with the Minister.
The Bill discards that theory but it retains a sort of ministerial iudge—what my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde called a judicial inspector. In this one surely gets the worst of both worlds. There is a Government official trying a judicial case, and it seems a mixture un-likely to work, however trustworthy and able the present inspectors are, and we all agree that they are the most able men. We must consider, and again this is a matter upon which to deliberate in Committee, the transfer of this appeal Jurisdiction, possibly to some form of panel or something like the Lands Tribunal or even, it has been suggested, to the county courts. At least we must ensure that the inspectors. given this power of judicial decision, do have qualifications for judging.
In Part IV dealing, with the acquisition and disposal of land, the Government appear to say that planning can be made more efficient by cutting out some of the 1468 rights of the individual. Government can always be made more efficient by becoming a dictatorship, but this is not what we want in planning law. Part IV first dangerously extends the occasions of compulsory purchase, secondly applies a confiscatory form to acquisition by any local authority and thirdly gives with one hand an apparent extension of relief for blight, but with, the other hand it takes back more than it has given.
I find Part IV almost wholly objectionable and merely fanning the blaze of indignation which there is against the present planning law. Let me give an example of how I think part of Part IV works. A local authority thinks that it needs one's propertyin the interests of the proper planning of an area.That is all that it need say, it need give no other purpose. It can then make a compulsory purchase order without any previous warning to the owner.
It announces the compulsory purchase order in that part of the local paper which is never read, and if it cannot find the owner it can give notice by sticking the notice on a conspicuous part of the property. It can then get the compulsory purchase order confirmed by the Minister. All this can be done in a matter of four to five weeks. The local authority can then enter, at short notice, and proceed after certain other notices, which can incidentally be stuck on the property, in the same way as the first one, to convey the property to itself by general vesting declaration. True it will take about three months to get that general vesting declaration through, but the owner of the property is not helped by that, because all he can do after the compulsory purchase order is made is to stand back helplessly and watch the machine grind on.
This process is unnecessary to planning and it is not a humane way of doing things. I see absolutely no need what-ever to lift out of the Land Commission Act the general vesting declaration and give it to local authorities. This is the wrong way to go to work.
Part V deals with buildings of architectural and historic interest. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More), I welcome the reforms, but we shall have to look again in Committee 1469 at the automatic preservation order which is put on property by listing it, without any possibility of the owner making representations at that stage. There should be representations at the listing stage; the automatic preservation order will have unfortunate effects.
We welcome Part VI, with its planning inquiry commission. It seems to be a sound scheme. As the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North pointed out, government should be seen to be responsible in this type of scheme and as I read the Bill, the Minister remains responsible. The commission reports to the Minister, and he can be questioned about the inquiry in the House.
Clause 51 is a doubtful one. It is a sad reflection on local councillors, but persons concerned with planning applications whom I have questioned about the Clause seem to prefer to abide by the official's decision rather than go before the councillors in committee. It may work well, but there may be the odd case where there is an officious official, and the right of the applicant to go to the committee ought to be preserved.
The rest of the Bill contains many other useful miscellaneous reforms, and no doubt we shall add a lot more during later stages. In particular, the Minister his informed us that he intends to bring in a new Clause relating to statutory undertakers. I would call that a triumph for my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). The House was grateful to him for his speech today, in which he briefed us on how to examine the new Clause when it comes before us. I was particularly impressed with what he said about difficulties which might arise if the 50/50 principle is rigid. Small local authorities will be put in great difficulty if they have to meet such large sums as 50 per cent. of the compensation.
I come back to the comment which I made at the beginning. This is a Bill of lost opportunities. It could have been much more valuable. Until we have had a good go at amending it, it will not restore public confidence in planning. There is a lot to be done beyond what is included in it. Ostensibly, it is a Bill to improve planning procedure—apart from a few vicious sidekicks at compulsory acquisition and enforcement of planning. But I do not think that the Gov- 1470 ernment have been bold enough. The Bill is a dipping of the toe in the water before taking the plunge. I would have preferred to see the plunge taken by, for example, laying down firm timetables for both sides in the planning procedure. I would have liked to see the Bill dispel all the mystery and mystique about planning and ensure that justice is seen to be done so that the public knows what is happening and will participate in it knowing that those injured by planning for the benefit of the Community will be properly and promptly compensated.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Niall MacDermot)
I should like to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the general welcome they have given to this Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) managed to temper his enthusiasm by preserving his critical faculties in most of what he had to say, but I gathered that he also in general welcomed the Bill. I have been asked a great number of points and I have very little time left, so I hope the House will forgive me if I do not succeed in answering them all, but I have certainly taken on board the questions put to me, and I am looking forward to what obviously will be a most interesting, stimulating, and very well-informed Committee on the Bill. I will without further ado proceed to try to answer as many of the questions as I can.
First, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), in stating his welcome to the Bill, did express a reservation whether it would be relevant to the substantial reorganisation of local government. Indeed, his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby went further and said that we ought to have held up the Bill till the reorganisation took place. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said in opening, we considered this carefully, but thought it right to bring forward the Bill—and I think it has generally been agreed that that was right —but it has had an important influence on the form of the Bill. As hon. Members will have seen, the new System is extremely flexible in its structure, and it is so for the obvious reason that we want to try to set up a broad framework which 1471 can be adapted to whatever type of local government structure will emerge from the local government reforms to which people generally are looking forward. That is why so much of the detail has deliberately been left to Regulations. I hope I shall satisfy hon. Members on a number of points of the general way in which the new System will work, and that it is more constructive, more positive, than may, perhaps, appear from a bare reading of the Bill itself.
One point about which a number of hon. Members asked me was the question of co-ordination of land use planning with the work of the economic planning Councils. Of course, we envisage that in the formulation of the new structure plans there will be the closest consultation between the planning authorities and the economic planning Councils—again, at the formative stage, which is where it matters. Of course, one of the main purposes of this new type of structure plan, as opposed to local plans, is to arrive at a structure plan which will deal with the broad movement and changes which are anticipated, looking ahead to the future, to increase of development, to investment policy, population changes, and changes in transport, which are bound to affect land use planning; without considering these no really sensible and flexible land use planning System can be devised.
I wish briefly to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) that I can give him the assurance which he asked for, that the phasing in of the new System will not hold up planning under the present system, and I repeat the request, that if any authority is still in doubt about its Position and will approach our Ministry, we will seek to give it all the informal advice we can the stage comes for more formal consultation.
I turn to one of the major questions which has exercised a number of hon. Members, and it has, indeed, provoked comment outside the House, and that is the question of local planning authorities settling their own local plans without the need for confirmation by the Minister. We are not dealing here with any question of an appeal system, of appeals against refusal of planning permission. The question is, who should settle the local 1472 plan? One of the main objects of the Bill is to get some real devolution, to avoid our Ministry being cluttered with a mass of local detail. We believe that this is the way to speed up the planning process, and to enable us to reduce staff in the Ministry or release them for more useful and important work, and to make a reality of local responsibility in local matters. It is impossible, we believe, for us to achieve this if we are to give way on this point about the local authorities settling their own plans.
People who talk loosely in terms of making the local authorities judges in their own cause, though they may not realise it to be so, are, in fact, challenging the whole principle of the Bill. If we were to accede to their criticism we would be back in square one. If our Ministry was to be àble to decide upon objections, even in the way suggested by my hon. Friend, with a sort of filter stage first by local authorities, and then objections going to the Ministry, the Ministry could not decide on them rationally without going into the whole detail of the plan. We would have to study the local authority's plan, what the objections to it are, what its purposes are, and then judge; and then we should be back where we are now. Our Ministry would have to be equipped with the officials and experts to go into that mass of detail; that is what we want to get rid of.
People who express fears about this base their fears and judgment on the practice of the less good authorities they know. But we do not propose to confer this power at once on all and sundry. Local authorities, like ourselves, vary enormously. I suppose that some of us are better than others of us. We propose to introduce this new system only in those areas where local authorities have suitable scope, size, staffs, and area and the willingness which has been emphasised in the debate to consult the public. We propose to give these powers only to those local authorities which we believe will operate them responsibly. This is what we all want—more responsibility and more responsible attitudes at local authority level. I know of only one way to make people responsible, and that is to give them the responsibility and to expose their actions to Publicity and public criticism and to enable people who have an interest in 1473 these matters to participate in them, to be consulted, and to make their representations. This is the framework of what we propose.
May I briefly remind the House of the safeguards. First, there is the safeguard of the selection of authorities to which the Bill will apply. Secondly, the first stage will be the approval of the structure plan. The local authority will then' be operating within the framework of the approved structure plan and must conform with its principles.
Thirdly, there is public participation in the formative stages. May I say how delighted I was to hear the almost unanimous agreement in the House on this issue. I believe that the Press has a very important role to play. In the article to which the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) referred, the role of the Oxford Mail in the Abingdon case was rightly and highly praised. It is through the local Press that both sides of the argument can be put, that the local authority can present its case, and the people who have criticisms of the plans can put their case. This is one way to arouse public interest and public participation. We shall have representatives of the Press and of the local Press on the Committee of which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be the chairman and which has been generally welcomed. I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham for his generous remarks on that subject.
The fourth safeguard is that the whole of the normal statutory procedure will apply for the deposit of plans, objections, hearings, inquiries by an independent inspector and publication of his report. We propose by regulations to require the local planning authority to resolve separately on each recommendation made by the inspector and, if it disagrees with the recommendation, to give its reasons, and then will come the adoption of the plan by the Council.
The fear behind all that has been said on the question of inspectors for inquiries into local plans is that the local authorities will appoint a local stooge as the inspector. I take it that that is the fear—that the inspector will not be genuinely independent. If it is not, then I do not know what the fear is.
§ Mr. Rippon
The fear is not that the inspector will not be genuinely independent, but that the public will have the anxiety that there has not been a really fair hearing unless we devise a way of having a panel of inspectors independently nominated.
§ Mr. MacDermot
We do not want, and we do not believe that it is practicable or desirable, to try to maintain a central panel of inspectors from our Ministry, bearing in mind that it must cover the whole country. There will be an enormous variety of local plans. Some of them will be very big, important plans for town centre redevelopments. Others will be small plans dealing with the expansion and development of perhaps a village.
We shall, by Regulation, first, lay down the professional qualifications required for these inspectors. We will ensure that they are genuinely independent, that they do not have any connection, either past or present, with the local authority, and that they will not be members or officials. We will also retain the power of call-in. My right hon. Friends will also have the power to appoint one of our own Departmental inspectors, if they think there is good reason to do it, or nominate someone else to be the inspector.
Inquiries will be subject to the procedures we will lay down, and the whole of the activities of the inspectors will be subject to the Council on Tribunals and the supervisory Jurisdiction of the courts. This is how we propose to Start off. As far as the Bill is concerned, this is absolutely flexible. If what is proposed does not work we have the power if the Bill is enacted as it is, to introduce a System of a central panel of inspectors managed from the Ministry. As far as the Legislation is concerned, it is quite open and we can do whatever is necessary. But I suggest we should Start off in the way we have advocated. We will have an opportunity for gaining experience from the early stages.
§ Mr. Costainrose—
§ Mr. MacDermot
I cannot give way. I have so many other points to cover, I feel in duty bound to try to answer as many as I can.
Turning to the delegation of planning appeals to our inspectorate, this generally 1475 has been welcomed. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) that this will be subject to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act, 1967, referred to in Clause 22(2). It has been suggested that we should try to make the inspectorate more independent of the Ministry. Some have suggested tribunals. We considered these matters. Tribunals would be much more expensive in terms of scarce personnel, apart from their supporting staff; the cost would be 25 to 50 per cent. more than the present system, and this is a serious factor.
Another point I should make to the House is that although inspectors are quasi judicial, they are only quasi judicial. They are performing an administrative function, because it is through the procedure of this System of appeals that the Minister's policy is implemented. It is a difficult rôle, but the system works very harmoniously in the Ministry and has done so under all Administrations. We are careful to see that, on the one hand, there is a system for giving guidance to the inspectors about the policy they are expected to apply, but, on the other hand, that they are left completely independent in the actual handling of particular cases with no interference from officials, Ministers, or anyone else. We want to maintain this system. The further one removes them from the Ministry and gives them some quasi independent Status, the more difficult it becomes for them to have that proper rapport with the Minister and with the Department on policy.
I leave it there, but we can return to it in Committee.
Concerning delegation to local officers, I think generally that has been welcomed. I have not been asked any specific question on that that I can recall.
I turn now to enforcement—the four-year rule. This has been much criticised and I will certainly study carefully all that has been said on this with my right hon. Friends. I will tell the House the problem with which we are trying to deal. It may be that other people have better solutions to propose; I do not know. The problem is concerned with user rather than development in the sense of putting up some building. The prob- 1476 lem is created by the person who carries on, without authority, surreptitiously and on a small scale, some user which, after it had been going for the requisite period of time—at present four years—and in that way secures the freedom from planning control, then proceeds to intensify the user in a way that is most obnoxious to his neighbours and detrimental to good planning. One knows of examples of this—the person who Starts dismantling a few old abandoned cars behind a hedge or in a wood and turns it into a full-blown scrap metal business after the four years are up. It may be a garage which is originally used for light repairs, or light engineering, but which later turns into a car repair business. Desultory and minor use of land for caravans turns into use of the land as a full-scale caravan site. We do not feel that a Solution to this problem is to be found in merely extending the period, nor, at the end of the day will it make its Solution any easier, because the crucial date on which one has to decide the use is that much further back in time. I appreciate that there are problems here. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) raised them, particularly those for purchasers to whom such land is being conveyed. But, having stated the problem, may I suggest that we discuss the Solution further in Committee.
I turn, next, to the question of planning blight. I do not think that hon. Members have fully appreciated or given credit for the extent to which, in the Bill, we have moved in favour of the person who may be subject to blight. There is much argument about whether the new system of structure plans will increase planning blight or reduce it. I believe the answer is that it will do both. In some cases it will increase it, while in others it will reduce it. Which way the balance will tip is hard to predict. Because structure plans are more general, and do not have the precision about detailed land use which present plans have, a proposal may have a more widespread effect because the area of uncertainty will be greater. To this extent it may increase blight, but, equally, there will not be a lot of the blight caused by detailed precise identification on the plan; for example, if a primary school is not to be built for years, but the siting of it is stated now 1477 on the land use plan that causes blight. That kind of blighting will not take place in future at the structure plan stage. It will not be until the stage of the local plan is reached that this kind of blighting will occur. We decided that it was right and fair to attach the rights which are given under the existing law at the structure plan stage, and this we have done.
We have also given the planning authority the right of 15-year counter notice. The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) expressed anxiety about the period not being very long. We appreciate this, but there would not be much point in making it too long. Appreciating this difficulty, we have extended the cases in which a local authority has power to grant a mortgage when it has served a 15-year counter notice. We have done this to help the landowner.
§ Mr. E. Rowlands
Will the structure plan stage be when the structure plan has been approved by the Ministry, or perhaps by the planning authority?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I remember the point raised by my hon. Friend. It is at the point where it has been confirmed. It is difficult to say that people should have power to serve notice on a local authority to acquire land in respect of a plan which has not been confirmed.
What I think hon. Members have not noticed is that in Clause 31(1) we are proposing, in these blight cases, that the purchase price may include compensation for severance and disturbance, as well as the actual value of the land. This meets an important part of the complaints about the inadequacy of the compensation in such cases. Many hon. Members raised the much wider question of the law of compensation for compulsory purchase. We cannot deal with this in a Measure of this kind.
A number of hon. Members referred to the thoroughly documented papers produced by the Chartered Land Societies. We have received this in the Ministry, and are studying it with great care. It has enormous implications for virtually all Government Departments and local authorities. Hon. Members and the societies themselves will realise that it is not a matter on which I can suddenly give a snap answer. We are studying it 1478 with care, and our deliberations upon it are bound to take some time. I have also received a deputation from a property owners' Organisation dealing with very similar matters, and I have had representations from other quarters.
I turn quickly to the question of historic buildings. I thank hon. Members for the general welcome given to the provisions covering them. I want to deal with the point raised about there being no appeal against listing. This is a practical consideration. There are 100,000 listed buildings, and the process of listing is not over. We would bring the procedure to a full stop if we were suddenly to allow appeals. Instead of this, we have given a right of appeal at the time when the restriction is felt, namely, when a person has been refused permission either to demolish or to alter one of his buildings. One of the grounds on which he can appeal is that the building should never have been listed. We feel that this provides a measure of real protection. Anybody who feels that a certain building ought not to have been listed at the time he receives the notice can make representations immediately, and in some cases this has led to a removal from the list. There is no need for a person to wait until the formal appeal.
I am grateful for the general welcome given to the proposal to set up planning inquiry commissions. One or two hon. Members said that they had not followed the explanation. The proposal is to have ad hoc commissions—a different commission in relation to each case which is thought to deserve treatment under this procedure. We do not envisage a permanent body. Each commission will need to be tailor-made to the problems with which it will be concerned. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Airports Authority is a statutory undertaker and would have to apply for planning permission in the ordinary way. If we had another Stansted it would be subject to this procedure. We can argue about that later. Planning inquiry commissions in Wales will be appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
A number of criticisms were made about the time limit on planning permission. The purpose is to avoid clogging up the planning machine and to help meet the point made by the hon. Member 1479 for Folkestone and Hythe, namely, the need to bring into better balance the supply of land and the demand for it. The planning officer for Cornwall has pointed out that on the coastal sector of Cornwall alone there are over 2,000 outstanding unused planning permissions for residential development. How can there be rational planning unless a time limit is imposed in respect of planning permissions? If this were not done we should be perpetually saddled with this problem.
There are plenty of safeguards. The period is flexible. A planning authority can grant a longer or a shorter period, and there is a right of appeal against any condition that is imposed. If, for reasons beyond a person's control, a permission expires without development taking place he can put in an application for fresh planning permission and if he has a good case it will be granted. In some cases—where, for instance, a big development is to take place— a longer period than five years might be justified and would be granted from the outset.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on his success. Today seems to be a red letter day for him. He seems to have scored a double, according to the evening newspaper.
Another point concerns third party rights. This, again, is something that we must defer to the Committee stage. There is a real problem here. It is a question how to decide when an ordinary planning application should be notified to other people who might be concerned. It is not practicable to try to lay down a rigid procedure which will apply to all cases. There must be common sense in administration.
I cannot claim any paternity for the Bill. I took over at a late stage. But I look forward with great interest to our discussions in Committee. I think that it is a good Bill, and I hope that it will emerge an even better one.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).