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Development Control: Circular 22/80

Volume 416: debated on Wednesday 14 January 1981

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2.54 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make it clear that the statements in paragraph 8 of Department of the Environment Circular 22/80 on Development Control that "delay should never be used as a means of applying pressure to an applicant" and in paragraph 19 that "Planning authorities should recognise that aesthetics is an extremely subjective matter. They should not therefore impose their taste on developers" are not to be taken to mean that in the event of some delay due to failure to reach agreement, the aesthetic tastes of developers should necessarily prevail.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, there is no direct link between the two statements which are taken from separate parts of the circular. The circular makes it clear that there can be circumstances where it is appropriate for a planning authority to refuse permission on aesthetic grounds.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. May I also thank him for sending me a copy of Circular 22? Is he aware that the effect of this circular on planning authorities has been most unfortunate, that the impression created by the circular taken as a whole is that the developer is almost always right, and that the morale of the professional people employed by the authorities is now extremely low?

My Lords, I am certainly not aware that that is the case. The circular, so far as it refers to the aesthetic aspects, has been welcomed by architects. I do not know at all that there has been the disadvantageous impact upon planning authorities to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, while it is absolutely right that planning authorities should be warned not to try to impose their tastes upon the developers, will the Government make it clear that it is none the less the duty of planning authorities to ensure as far as possible that the design of new buildings should pay due respect to the character of their surroundings, particularly in areas of architectural and historic interest?

My Lords, I can do no better than to quote from paragraph 20, which I think answers my noble friend, I hope to his satisfaction. It says:

"Control of external appearances can be important especially for instance in environmentally sensitive areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas and areas where the quality of the environment is of a particularly high standard. Local planning authorities should reject obviously poor designs which are out of scale or character with their surroundings".

My Lords, would the noble Lord see that this interpretation that he puts on the circular is made known to the local authorities? May I also ask whether he is aware that there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that appeals that go to inspectors now are accepted almost as a matter of course—not on merit but simply because they appear to be implementing the new gospel that the developer is mostly right?

My Lords, I do not know that that is the case. I hear what the noble Lord says and will make inquiries. As to interpretation, the circular is there for everyone to see. If there have been any doubts about it, then hopefully what I have said today will help clear them up.

My Lords, the Minister rightly drew attention to national parks and such places. Will he bear in mind that most development is not there, and that most development of the kind to which this Question refers occurs in the streets and the cities? Is it not important that the matter my noble friend raised be borne in mind there, as well as in the national parks and elsewhere?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right, but the same principles apply. The purpose of the circular is to ensure that applications are speeded up and that there is no delay. Delay causes great concern. Nevertheless, I agree with the point the noble Lord made regarding other areas.