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Regional Spatial Strategies

Volume 513: debated on Thursday 15 July 2010

5. What guidance he has issued to local authorities on the procedure for re-examination of the allocation of strategic development areas and major development areas under former regional spatial strategies. (8504)

The Government issued advice to local authorities on 6 July. Following the revocation of the regional spatial strategies, planning for major development areas is for local communities to determine, free from interference from unaccountable regional quangos. If local authorities wish to retain policies on strategic development areas, they are free to do so in their local plans.

I thank the Minister for his answer. As well as freeing local communities to make real decisions for themselves about where they live, will he also ensure that the time-wasting, box-ticking, intrusive and expensive, inspector-led and Government office-led compliance process that went with those central diktats, is also consigned to the dustbin?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and for the benefit of Members, I am today placing in the Library of the House two items. The first is the documents associated with the south-east regional plan, which consists of 3,000 pages and weighs 2 stone. That has been replaced by the second item, which consists of six pages of guidance weighing 1 oz. If anything encapsulates the difference between this Government’s approach and the previous Government’s approach, it is that we are freeing local authorities from that burden.

Does the Minister recognise that under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the local development plan, by which all planning decisions in an area should be determined, is defined as comprising two elements: the local development framework and the regional spatial strategy, which have equal status. Removing one at a stroke, as the Government propose, leaves most people who think about this subject very fearful that the Government are creating a situation in which the local development plans will be unfit for purpose and there will be litigation and protracted delay, all of which will lead to the halting of necessary development. How do the Government justify that?

The right hon. Gentleman is behind the times. The regional spatial strategies have been revoked: they are not about to be revoked, they are no more, they are dead, they no longer exist, they are ex-strategies. When it comes to spatial planning—[Interruption.] The strategies have been revoked under current legislation. It is entirely possible for progressive local authorities to co-operate, as they are, for example, in Essex, Manchester and Worcestershire, to ensure that cross-border issues are properly dealt with. That is exactly what they are doing.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he extend his guidance to planning inspectorates, so that emerging regional spatial strategies that have not yet been adopted, and indeed emerging core strategies that existed merely to comply with RSSs, are considered immaterial by inspectors?

I am pleased to confirm to my hon. Friend that we have indeed done that. It is worth pointing out that because of that great panoply of regulation and imposition, only 18% of authorities had actually adopted a regional strategy, years after they were first required.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware of or concerned about the damage that his changes to planning policies are already causing, but has he had the chance to read a well researched article in the Financial Times at the weekend, which showed that 7,500 houses in various schemes have already been cancelled as a result of those changes? Is it not the case that the Government’s policies are already proving damaging to the house building industry and bad for everyone in desperate need of a home?

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Communities and Local Government Committee, but I do not know where he has been for the past few years. He should know that the number of house completions has been at an historic low—the lowest since the second world war. Our intention is to increase house building by removing the imposition that sets people against development. It is a disastrous situation when people are against developments. By allowing people to create communities in the way that they want and to share in the economic benefits of that, we can take the poison out of the planning system.