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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 19/02/2002
NEW PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES FOR PROCESSING MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS



The purpose of this report is to consider the Council’s response to the Government’s consultation paper concerning the consideration of major infrastructure projects.
APPENDIX D

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

ENVIRONMENT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 19TH FEBRUARY 2002

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Title:
NEW PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES FOR PROCESSING MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
[Wards Affected: N/A]
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Summary and Purpose

The purpose of this report is to consider the Council’s response to the Government’s consultation paper concerning the consideration of major infrastructure projects.
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Introduction

1. The Government’s consultation paper sets out its suggested proposals for considering major infrastructure works. It requires comments on the proposals by the 22nd March 2002.

2. Much of the text is taken from the consultation paper. Suggested feedback to the Government is shown in bold italic.

Background and Objectives

3. The present planning system takes too long to process major infrastructure projects, such as new trunk roads, airports and runways, through to a decision. The process is lengthy, unwieldy and expensive for all concerned. Although these projects are relatively infrequent they are essential to our economic future and bring benefits through better services. We need a modern and fair process for making decisions about them.

4. Delay costs money and perpetuates uncertainty. Lengthy inquiries make it difficult and costly for people to be properly involved. The Secretary of State therefore announced on 20 July 2001 a package of measures to streamline the procedures and reduce unnecessary delays, whilst safeguarding public consultation and involvement.

Summary of Proposals

5. In summary, the proposals comprise:

6. The Government believes it is right to give Parliament the opportunity to debate proposals for major infrastructure projects and to approve them (or otherwise) in principle. It is not intended to reduce peoples' involvement in the process as the package of measures on major projects gives people opportunities to make an input at three key stages of the process:
7. These opportunities for people to be involved would be over and above the consultations between developers and local people on proposed projects before a formal application for planning consent is submitted. Parliament’s endorsement of the principle of, and need for, a clearly defined individual project of major importance, within the framework of published national policy, would add weight and accountability to the overall decision-making process and would underpin and facilitate discussion of the detail of the project at the subsequent public inquiry.

The proposals to speed up and create more certainty for major infrastructure projects are welcomed. However, it recommended that policy statements on particular infrastructure should be set within a National and European spatial framework. The consultation paper is silent on this aspect and without such a framework there is a danger of Parliament reacting on an ad hoc basis to infrastructure projects, rather than planning and directing them.

Whilst it is recognised that new regional frameworks will provide a spatial dimension, they will not substitute for a national spatial framework for infrastructure projects of national importance.

Concern is expressed about the effectiveness of public consultation and involvement in the process. Discussion by Parliament is not in itself an inclusive public debate. The Regional Assembly’s are not democratically accountable and in the context that the effectiveness of public examinations before an Inspector of Regional Planning Guidance is uncertain then Waverley remains concerned about the ability of individuals and organisations to influence the national and regional spatial planning agenda.

The streamlining on Public Inquiry Procedures to focus on issues is welcomed subject to maintaining effective representation at a local level.

Parliamentary Procedures

8. There are existing procedures for Parliament’s involvement in the approval of major schemes under section 9 of the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA). The proposed new procedures are improved and strengthened and apply to a broader range of developments. The TWA is limited in scope (to e.g. rail, trams and inland waterways). It is expected that the proposed new procedures will be the primary route for any Parliamentary consideration of such projects, although it is not envisaged that they would be used frequently. Their advantage would be that they offered the opportunity for extensive public involvement and Parliamentary consideration within a carefully defined timeframe. Other Parliamentary mechanisms, such as Hybrid Bills and Special Development Orders (SDOs), would continue to be available for use when necessary.

9. The Secretary of State would have a discretionary power to decide that a major infrastructure project was one to which the new Parliamentary procedures applied. Designating such projects would be on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the specific nature and circumstances of the project concerned.

10. One approach would be to give the Secretary of State a broad and unfettered power to designate projects, as he considered appropriate. This is the current position in relation to designation of projects of national significance under section 9 of the Transport and Works Act 1992. This would give maximum flexibility. Another approach would be to empower the Secretary of State to use his discretion to designate projects falling within a list. This could be set out in the legislation (with a power to add or change entries by Order) or the legislation could provide for the list of project types to which the power applied to be prescribed by Order, with any subsequent changes also made by Order.

11. Examples of major infrastructure projects to which the new procedures could apply include new airports and runways, ports, trunk roads, rail schemes, power stations, radioactive waste disposal, and other forms of infrastructure, such as new reservoirs. A fuller illustrative list of project types is set out in the consultation paper. In addition, the Secretary of State might wish to designate Crown development projects (such as major defence projects), which are not currently subject to statutory procedures.

12. Major infrastructure projects currently fall under a variety of statutory regimes. Indeed, a complex new project might involve a range of approvals under several regimes. It is therefore proposed that the new procedures would apply to projects initiated under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA), the Highways Act 1980, the Harbours Act 1964 and the Electricity Act 1989.

13. It is likely that the Secretary of State would be sparing in his use of the proposed power to designate a major infrastructure project as one to which the new Parliamentary procedures applied. As a general guide, he could be expected to focus on schemes he judged to be of national significance. Judgements would be on a case-by-case basis.

14. A formal process of applying to the Secretary of State for designation could add another layer to the process and delay matters. We do not therefore propose a process of applying to the Secretary of State for designation. It would be for the Secretary of State to decide whether to designate a project which he considered would benefit from the procedures. The Secretary of State would generally be aware of projects in prospect, either because he is promoting the development or because developers have to apply to him for consent or because he has exercised his powers to call in a planning application for his own determination. If a project had not already been called in, designation under the procedures would automatically include calling in the project.

15. It is not envisaged that the Secretary of State would consult on whether to exercise his powers. Consistent with the streamlining objective of these proposals, the Secretary of State would make a decision to designate, and thereby trigger the procedures as rapidly as possible.

16. The proposed parliamentary procedures are set out at Annexe 1.

In terms of the options to designate major infrastructure projects Waverley Borough Council is in favour of designating projects through an Order. This is likely to give greater certainty to the development industry and the public about the likely procedures applicable to a project and the scope of information necessary to accompany it.

Terms of Reference

17. Parliament would consider the principle of, the need for and location of a project. The precise terms on which Parliament’s approval was sought would be determined by the Secretary of State case-by-case on the basis of the specific proposals concerned. The terms of the approval sought would be included in a draft affirmative Order that would be debated in both Houses.

18. Parliament’s approval in principle would not itself confer planning permission (or give any other consents needed). That would be for the Secretary of State following a public inquiry. In other words, the terms of Parliamentary approval in principle would reflect the fact that the final decision rested with the Secretary of State following consideration of the detail at inquiry.

19. Given the overall objective of the new procedures, it is essential that the subsequent inquiry, and the Inspector conducting it, takes as read the principle of, need for, and location of, the project and focuses on detailed issues of its implementation on the ground. These issues would include, for example, the precise alignment and layout of the proposal, landtake, mitigation measures, conditions and legal agreements. It follows that there would need to be provision to preclude the Inspector from recommending against the principle of the project, as set out by the terms of Parliament’s approval. This would need to be followed through to the precise terms of reference set by the Secretary of State for particular inquiries. It is proposed to give the Inspector powers to refuse to hear evidence on matters, which he or she considers have been addressed by Parliament’s consideration of the issues and fall outside the terms of reference of the inquiry.

20. After the inquiry, the Secretary of State would consider the Inspector’s report and recommendations, in reaching a decision on the project. The Secretary of State would make his decision as quickly as possible. As noted above, designation would entail calling in a planning application if the Secretary of State had not already done so. The Government’s Planning Green Paper indicates that we shall consider whether to set statutory targets for decisions on call-ins and recovered appeals, subject to exception arrangements for the most difficult cases. Notwithstanding Parliament’s approval in principle, it is considered that the Secretary of State should have the flexibility to decide, in the light of the Inspector’s report and recommendations, whether or not a project should proceed. It is envisaged that the Secretary of State would only reject a proposal approved by Parliament in exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, despite the proposed tightness of the inquiry terms of reference, the decision-making process needs to cater for the possibility that problems may be identified that cannot simply be rectified through imposition of conditions, for example, and cast doubt on the wisdom of proceeding with the project as proposed.

21. Parliament’s approval of the principle of a project would thus be sought on the basis that the Secretary of State had the final say in the light of the Inspector’s report. The Secretary of State will inform Parliament of his decisions and the reasons for them.

Given the apparent significant weight to be given to Parliament’s in principle decision to approve a project there is a danger that this will be seen as a fait accompli. Any public inquiry may only serve to be a source of frustration to local people who are most affected directly by the project.

Human Rights Implications

22. Waverley is concerned that Parliament should have regard to Human Right principles when formulating the proposed system and procedures for determining major Infrastructure projects.

Community Safety/"Opportunities for All" Implications

23. There are no community safety or "Opportunities for All" implications.

Resource/environmental implications

24. There are no direct resource or environmental implications arising from this report.

Conclusion

25. The broad proposals to speed up and create more certainty about major infrastructure projects are welcomed. However there are concerns about the effectiveness of the consultation processes and the necessity to safeguard human rights. There is also need to develop a National Spatial framework in addition to policy statements.

Recommendation

That the report be referred to the Executive for consideration, together with any comments or amendments suggested by this Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

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Background Papers (DoPD)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298
E-mail: jaanderson@waverley.gov.uk