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Planning Applications

Volume 934: debated on Wednesday 29 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what criteria he uses when overruling recommendations of inspectors inquiring into local planning applications.

When taking a decision on a planning application or appeal, whether he agrees with the inspector's recommendation or not, my right hon. Friend has regard to the merits of the case in the light of the provisions of the development plan, if applicable, and of any other material considerations.

Does my hon. Friend realise that there is considerable local anger and dismay at the Secretary of State's decision to uphold the appeal by builders to build on land at Lydiate, despite opposition from three local authorities and the recommendation of his own inspector? On what ground does the Secretary of State believe that his Department's people are in a better position to judge than those three local authorities and the inspector? Will he reconsider this case and overturn the Secretary of State's decision?

I am aware of the feelings of certain groups in the locality but, as I have explained, the reasons for the decision were set out in the letter explaining it. I cannot elaborate, since the Secretary of State has given his decision. He has no further jurisdiction in the matter. There can be no question of reopening the case.

Is there not often a degree of bewilderment among the parties to an inquiry about the reasons for the Secretary of State differing from the inspector, who has heard all the evidence and submissions? Is it not time to give further consideration to the suggestion that I made some years ago that there should be a panel of inspectors to hear these inquiries, to whom should be entrusted the final decision within the parameters of a defined policy, supplied to the inspectors and parties involved before the hearing, in the context of each case?

The right hon. and learned Member has made an interesting suggestion. It is unwise to overestimate the number of cases in which this situation has arisen. I am informed that in less than 5 per cent. of appeals does the Secretary of State disagree with the inspector.