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Higher Kenneggy Caravan Site

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 14 February 1984

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will set up an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the granting of planning permission for a camping and caravanning site at Higher Kenneggy, Rosudgeon, Cornwall to the same applicants who received £100,000 as compensation when planning permission for holiday chalets on the adjacent field was earlier revoked.

My Lords, this is a complicated case, in two unlinked parts. The current permission granted by Kerrier District Council in July 1983 is for 60 caravans and/or tents from April to October each year, whereas the permission on the adjacent field on which compensation has been paid was for the permanent siting of 60 holiday chalets. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has no power to hold an inquiry into this, or any other, planning permission granted by a local planning authority.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that, if the revocation, which cost ratepayers £100,000, was intended to inhibit development in this area of outstanding natural beauty, it was a complete waste of public money? Does the Minister not think it curious that the local planning authority, three times in two years, turned down the particular planning application, the last time in June last year, in the light of the report from the inspector? How does the Minister square the decision of the council with the statement made by the inspector that the policy of the council, which was to inhibit development of a caravan and chalet site, was one that had to be supported in order to protect this particular area of outstanding natural beauty?

My Lords, I would first take issue with the noble Lord that revocation was a waste of public money. In fact, whenever revocation (or, as in this case, cancellation) of planning permission is concerned, compensation is always payable. That is what happened in this case. So far as planning permission in the adjacent field for 60 tents and/or caravans is concerned, this went to public inquiry, an inspector was appointed and the report went along the lines that the council's opinion was validated within certain parameters, which particularly pertained to access to the site and access to the beach.

My Lords, may I ask whether the Minister feels that in reaching this decision adequate attention was paid, not only to the question of compensation but to the protracted and controversial planning history of the site of these two fields together, going back over 20 years, to the erratic and inconsistent decisions of the local planning authority and to the national interest, evidence of which was given by the campaign to secure the reversal of the previous planning decision and shown by the widespread interest outside Cornwall in preserving the last undeveloped area of Mount's Bay in what has been recognised officially as an area of outstanding natural beauty?

My Lords, I am aware of the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, in this matter, and I have in front of me a copy of a letter to my right honourable friend from him, and also my right honourable friend's reply. I, too, understand that the site lies in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but, again, it is for the Kerrier District Council to take this into account. They are the responsible elected authority, and are perfectly capable of weighing the issues involved. So far as I can see, in this case they did exactly that.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether, when the £ 100,000 compensation was paid, it was made clear whether it was compensation for no development or compensation for only limited development?

No, my Lords. The compensation was paid for the chalet development not proceeding, and the council obtained a signed agreement with the owners that this should be so.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, when there have been previous instances of a similar character over the past 20 years, governments of both parties have always found it wise in the end to have an inquiry, simply in order to clear the air and to ascertain whether a decision by a local authority is in the national interest? All the nuances, as to whether there was fair play or proper play, are then cleared up, which is to the benefit of all.

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, my right honourable friend has no powers to instigate an inquiry into this case. There has been a call, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, for a new hearing, but my right honourable friend feels that it is only in the most exceptional circumstances, where an authority's decision appears to be so grossly wrong as to damage the wider public interest, that he would be prepared to exercise his default powers of revocation. It does not appear to him that in this case there is any call for that.

My Lords, how can the noble Lord say that local authorities are capable of making decisions for themselves when they are lining the pockets of developers but not when they are trying to do good for the people who elected them?

My Lords, I cannot see the relevance of that to the Question on the Order Paper.

My Lords, can the noble Lord see the relevance of this question: will it be a fact that the developer will use the £100,000 towards the cost of the development he now intends?

My Lords, does the Minister not appreciate that this is not just a question of planning but that the protection of our natural heritage is at stake? What action is open to the Minister and to his colleagues when planning permissions are granted which are directly contrary to the structure plan of the county, a structure plan which the Minister himself has approved? The county planning officer for Cornwall is on record as saying in 1982 that this development was directly and materially opposite to policy. What action, therefore, is open to the Minister? If the Minister says that no powers are open to him except revocation, I would ask him to consider very carefully taking that action. But even if the Minister is not prepared to take that course of action, would he not be prepared to hold an inquiry so that the people in the area can be satisfied that a matter of vital concern, not only to them but also to many other people, has received the closest possible ministerial scrutiny?

My Lords, as far as scrutiny goes, the papers have been in front of me for weeks and I have been examining them, as time permitted, for a considerable period of time. As far as the validity of the current application vis-à-vis the structure plan is concerned, I am informed that it is perfectly within both the law and the practicality of what was set out to be achieved by the structure plan.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a Question of this kind, which seems to require quite long speeches, would better be dealt with by way of an Unstarred Question rather than by a Starred Question at Question Time?