HL Deb 11 March 1981 vol 418 cc371-4

9.1 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Local Government Planning and Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, a draft of which was laid before the House on 29th January 1981, be approved. The draft order contains proposals corresponding to some of the provisions in the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980. Because of the different system of central and local administration in Northern Ireland very few of the proposals are of relevance to Northern Ireland. The provisions in the order corresponding to those in the Great Britain Act relate to rating valuation and planning matters and to new town land disposal. There is also a provision which seeks to increase maximum fines for certain planning offences and a provision which would confer functions on Belfast City Council in relation to two industrial estates in that city.

I now propose to outline briefly the matters with which the order deals. Presently in Northern Ireland the amount of rates recoverable pending determination of an application for revision of a new valuation list and any subsequent appeal is limited to the amount last levied plus half the difference between that amount and the amount of the new charge. Article 3 will confer power on the Department of Finance to vary the amount by order, thus making it possible to reduce the considerable sums left outstanding during lengthy appeal procedures.

Allowances to owners who are obliged to pay rates on property occupied by others, or who do so by agreement, are presently fixed by statute. Article 4 confers power on the Department of Finance to vary the percentage allowances by order as a means of recognising the role played by such owners in collecting the rates.

The application of domestic rate relief to private garages and private storage premises which are physically separate from dwellings and form separate hereditaments does not presently apply in Northern Ireland. Article 5 extends domestic rate relief to such hereditaments. The statutory right to pay rates by instalments is presently in Northern Ireland restricted to occupiers of dwelling-houses. Article 6 will extend that right to non-domestic ratepayers whose property has a rateable value between lower and upper limits to be prescribed by order and will give statutory force to some administrative arrangements already in use.

Article 7 will enable the Department of Finance to prescribe by order a reference date to which values assessed in future general revaluations will relate. It will also confer power to prescribe in relation to specified or unspecified classes of property the methods by which net annual values are to be arrived at. This could relieve the Valuation Office of much oppressive and, of course, expensive fieldwork.

Article 8 will relieve the Commissioner of Valuation of the obligation under current legislation to publish a new valuation list every five years and will instead give power to have general revaluations at dates to be prescribed by order.

Article 9 provides that occupiers of fish farms shall be exempt from liability to pay rates, on the same general basis as occupiers of agricultural land. Existing legislation does not recognise the importance of this new and growing industry.

The order also contains some planning provisions. Article 10 gives the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland the same powers to make regulations to prescribe planning fees as have been provided for Great Britain under the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980. The fees are intended to meet part of the cost of the development control system to help reduce spending from the public purse. A consultation paper has been issued proposing a scale of fees for Northern Ireland in line with the charges for England set out in regulations now laid before Parliament. Fees will be charged for applications for planning permission and for consent to display advertisements. The new charges will not apply to appeals or to applications for listed building consent. Article 11 increases the maximum fine for certain planning offences to give parity with similar increases in Great Britain made by the Criminal Law Act 1977.

Provisions relating to disposal of land in Northern Ireland's new town areas of Antrim, Ballymena, Craigavon and Londonderry and contained in Article 12 will empower the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland to dispose of new town land for purposes other than the development of the new town. Presently power of disposal is limited to purposes connected with the development of the new town and this precludes disposal of surplus new town land. The Crichel Down principles will be observed in all such cases.

Finally, Article 13 would confirm Belfast City Council as the owner of lands which at 1st October 1973 comprised the Balmoral and Duncrue Street Industrial Estate in Belfast. It would also confer on the City Council the power to develop and manage these lands for industrial purposes and also to manage an area of land adjacent to Balmoral Industrial Estate acquired in 1974. These industrial areas have been controlled and operated by the City Council since local government reorganisation in October 1973. This provision is required to remove doubt about the authority of the City Council to develop and manage these estates which were acquired under a variety of powers. It is not intended to extend these powers to other district councils. I commend the draft order to your Lordships and I beg, to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on the 29th January be approved.—(Lord Elton).

Lord Blease

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his very full explanation of this complex and detailed order. The Minister has gone into considerable detail in respect of the order and, as I understand it, it is designed to bring the situation in Northern Ireland into line with the position in England and Wales. There is only one matter I should like to ask the Minister to clarify for me. It is on page 6 of the order, paragraph 10, Fees for planning applications 105A.—The Department may by regulations make such provision as it thinks fit for the payment of a fee of the prescribed amount in respect of applications and appeals. Honestly, I think that that is putting a lot of power into the hands of a department. I feel that there ought to be some provision in respect of regulating the fees by some form of order before both Houses.

Also I should like to ask the Minister, in respect of the planning appeal, who or what constitutes the Planning Appeals Commission. Is it outside the department or is it a separate judicial body that may be impartial in such appeals? I feel that a commission set up by the department would not be the correct body before which such an appeal should be heard. Perhaps the Minister may satisfy my reservation on those two questions. With that I would agree that the order should be approved.

Lord Elton

My Lords, perhaps I should apologise for being so extensive in my introduction of the order. It is very difficult to know which bits noble Lords want to look at particularly. I did notice that it took me only four minutes; I see that I am already debited with two minutes of the noble Lord's speech, so I shall run over time again.

As to the question of the charging of fees, may I say first of all that anyone proposing to carry out development can at the outset submit an application for a determination under Article 30 of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 as to whether planning permission is in fact necessary, and that there will be no charge for that type of application. As to how much charges will be—and the point the noble Lord is more interested in, as to how it is arrived at—my honourable friend whose responsibility it is hopes to publish a consultation paper in the near future proposing a scale of planning fees for Northern Ireland. The fees will be in line with those prescribed for England in the regulations laid before the House on 17th February this year. Some of the fees are on a sliding scale subject to a maximum charge, while others are at a flat rate. Outline planning permission for buildings would cost £40 for each one-tenth of a hectare, or just under a quarter of an acre, subject to a maximum of £1,000. Applications for full planning permission or approval of reserved matters, detailed plans for buildings, would be charged at £40 for each new dwelling-house, or in the case of commercial or industrial buildings £40 for each 75 square metres of floor-space, subject to a maximum of £2,000.

As to improvements to private owner occupier property, a consultation paper was recently published setting out proposals to allow householders to extend their homes without planning permission by 15 per cent. or up to 70 cubic metres whichever is the greater; it is very difficult to visualise. If these proposals are implemented, there will be no fee for most house extensions because planning permission would not be needed. If someone wants to extend his house by more than 15 per cent., then where house extensions requiring planning permission are concerned a flat rate charge of £20 is proposed. Nowadays extending a house by over 15 per cent. would cost several thousand pounds and would of course increase the value of the property very considerably. In this context, a planning fee of £20 is perhaps not so significant.

I hope I have said enough to set the noble Lord's mind at rest on this matter, or at least to let him know what it is that he has to be worried about. As to the matter of the location of the appeal, I think I would be well advised to write to the noble Lord, which I will do shortly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.