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Appeals From Determinations Of Regional Planning Authorities

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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8.23 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 24, after 'authority', insert:

'(1) After subsection (1), there shall be inserted the following subsection—
"(2) Where subsection (5) of section 32 of the Act of 1972 applies to an exercise of power by the regional planning authority under that section, the person appointed by the regional planning authority shall be a person approved by the Secretary of State." (2)'.
This amendment gives effect to a recommendation of the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals which the Government have agreed to accept. Section 179 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 gives a regional planning authority the same powers as the Secretary of State has under Section 32 (1) to (5) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. The regional planning authority may in certain circumstances call in applications made to a district planning authority, and, if either the applicant or district planning authority so desires, it must afford them an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person appointed by it for the purpose. Such a hearing normally takes the form of a public local inquiry.

In holding public local inquiries, the Government observe the principles of openness, fairness and impartiality advocated in 1957 by the Franks Commission and expect other bodies such as regional planning authorities to do likewise. Public confidence in these matters is vitally important, and it is desirable that the reporter holding an inquiry should be seen to be impartial and in no way biased towards the planning authority. We therefore have an administrative arrangement, set out in SDD Circular 76/1975, whereby regional planning authorities approach the Scottish Office and obtain the services of a reporter from the Secretary of State's panel. This arrangement has worked well so far.

The Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals believes that it would be better, however, in order to encourage public confidence in regional planning authorities and their handling of applications, for the requirement that they appoint a Secretary of State-approved reporter to be spelled out in statute. We are content to accept this recommendation and to move the necessary amendment.

I accept what the Minister said, and I am grateful for his explanation.

I must confess that I was puzzled by the amendment since it appeared to me from a reading of the complicated references in three different pieces of legislation that it already had to be a person approved by the Secretary of State. But it is wholly desirable that it should be a person approved by the Secretary of State, and if it makes the position more clear I am in favour of the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.