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Local Authorities (Functions)

Volume 974: debated on Sunday 11 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has completed his review of the functions of Welsh local authorities; and whether he will make a statement.

After consulting the local authority organisations, I have decided that the present arrangements in relation to planning and highways functions should be improved in ways similar to those proposed for England by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services in his statements on 18 July and 23 November.—[Vol. 970, c. 761–3; Vol. 974, c. 383–5.]The responsibility for development control will be placed entirely with district councils except for applications for the development of minerals, including rail aggregate depots, marine aggregate wharves and aggregates processing plants, and applications straddling the boundaries of national parks: these cases will be determined by county councils. Development control arrangements within the national parks will remain as at present. The county councils will have no formal powers of call-in or direction except for highway purposes. Districts will have the following statutory duties: to have regard to the provisions of structure plans; to adhere to prescribed departure procedures; and to consult county councils on strategic applications. Guidance on what should be regarded as strategic matters will be given in a code of practice which is being developed by a joint working party of the local authority associations and Government. We do not propose to change county or district councils' powers to acquire deemed planning permission for their own developments. In Wales, district councils will continue to determine private planning applications for waste disposal sites, since, unlike district councils in England, they are waste disposal authorities.As regards local plans and concurrent planning powers, the Government accept in principle, for Wales as well as for England, the proposals agreed by the local authority associations. We also propose to apply to Wales the same rationalisation of concurrent planning powers as is proposed for England.As regards arrangements for highways and traffic management, we have concluded that there are no grounds for transferring responsibilities to district councils; but we will look for ways of improving the operation of agency agreements between counties and districts, on the basis of the code of practice referred to by my right hon. Friend in his statements.I believe that these changes will result in an improvement in the service that Welsh local authorities give to the public. I am not proposing other changes at this time, because local government now needs a period of stability free from any major upheaval.