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Volume 706: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they ensure that images submitted as part of planning applications for building developments are accurate.

My Lords, the Government’s guidance to local authorities on the validation of planning applications, published in December 2007, provides advice on the information that may be required to accompany planning applications. This can include the provision of photographs or photomontages. If there is any question over accuracy, local planning authorities have the right to request additional information.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s reply, because it indicates slight movement since my previous exchange with her. Is she aware that computer-generated images of building or wind farm proposals superimposed on to wide-angle landscape photographs can give a misleading impression by minimising the apparent bulk, scale and height of developments, making them seem further away than they would be in reality? Why will the Government not insist that these images should at least comply with the Landscape Institute’s 2002 guidelines and show developments as the human eye sees them?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We have tried in recent years, in simplifying the planning system and making it more accessible, to get a balance between being too prescriptive and enabling local authorities to take control of shaping local places. We have in recent months had the key recommendations from the Killian Pretty review, which looked at the process of planning as a whole, including information requirements, and made recommendations for improving information processes. As we put together our response, I propose to ensure that we address that question. In doing that, we will look at the Landscape Institute’s recommendations. That is the best answer that I can give my noble friend, but I will certainly keep him informed.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that an even more serious problem, in my view, is that of people ignoring the plan and building what they like? I have personal experience of that in both Oxfordshire and London, where the property being constructed pretty well on top of me has been built not in accordance with the plan. When I phoned the council to say so, it said, “That is perfectly all right. It is being built the right way”. Then, 18 months later, the council says, “It did not accord with the plans but, as it is now finished, we should not put people to the cost of redoing it”, so it grants retrospective permission. Is that not even worse than the false impression that might be created by digital drawings?

Yes, my Lords, I think that that is worse and I do not understand quite how it is happening. I cannot comment on individual applications, but the planning system is there to prevent such things and to regulate the process. If the noble Baroness gives me details, I will think about whether we can address it in other ways.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, was welcome but, following the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is not the problem that the planning authority that approves the plans has no duty to ensure that those plans are carried out accurately when the development takes place? It has no duty to inspect automatically and routinely, but does so only after there have been complaints. Would it not be a good idea to give the local planning authority a duty to inspect developments as they are taking place to ensure that they are in accordance with approved plans?

My Lords, of course building regulations enable that element of planning to be accurately delivered, but the noble Lord raises an important point.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that more information, including accurate and meaningful images, would give local authorities much-needed confidence to turn down bad schemes, as well as to approve good ones? How can she further this in general?

My Lords, the planning system has become more robust and transparent in recent years, so that people can find out what is planned. Having worked through the Planning Bill with me, my noble friend will know that we put in place much stronger provision for local planning authorities to have to consult on what they plan to do. Indeed, to give people more purchase on the system, we have a planning portal, which provides accessible and clear information about how the system works. That is extremely popular and is being well used. We require local authorities to have pre-application discussions with developers, so that they have better information about how the application will be processed and what the development will look like. The Killian Pretty review put forward a whole range of recommendations about how the system can engage better with local communities, statutory consultees and developers. So we are moving in the right direction.

My Lords, is not the Government’s failure to include a requirement for accurate images in the December 2007 guidance in breach of the law, given the Government’s obligation under the European Landscape Convention to integrate landscape matters fully into planning policies? Is not such a breach of the law enforceable by interested parties against individual planning authorities and the Government?

My Lords, we take our obligations under the European Landscape Convention very seriously. Although I agree with the noble Lord, I do not think that putting this into guidance is necessary or would satisfy any requirement that we are bound to. However, when we come to review the Killian Pretty recommendations and how we can address issues of images, we will look at the noble Lord’s question in the context of the Landscape Institute’s guidelines

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that abuse of the system, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is fairly widespread? For example, in a number of national parks, planning permission is given but not monitored or enforced. Will she consider notifying the national parks in particular that they have a responsibility to make sure that the conditions attaching to planning permission that is granted are maintained and enforced?

My Lords, no one knows better than the noble Lord how the requirements relating to national parks are specific and different. If he would like to draw examples to my attention, I will look at them. He raises an important point, which I will discuss with the chief planner.