Freesteel Blog » We don’t need no Parliament for Planning law

We don’t need no Parliament for Planning law

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 at 1:44 am Written by:

What you missed last month was the vote that National Policy Statements (the official instructions given to the new and unaccountable Infrastructure Planning Commission) shall not be subject to Parliamentary debates or votes.

Instead, the new rules (voted through on 20 May 2009) are to set up new Select Committees for each Statement for the purpose of wasting everyone’s time writing a report that will be ignored if it fails to serve the purpose of selling the policy to the public.

There will be about a dozen National Policy Statements.[1] The duration of draft form before going into force is about six months.[2]

John McDonnell sponsored an amendment suggesting that after one of these reports was produced, there should be a debate and potential vote in Parliament on it. (See Division 138.) If the report was bad, the debate would last 3 hours. If it was positive, it would be 90 minutes.

This amendment was, as usual, voted down because the majority of MPs want Parliament to be utterly irrelevant.

John McDonnell in his speech explained:

I have attended planning inquiry after planning inquiry for years and I do not want to relive my experiences at the terminal 4 inquiry, the terminal 5 inquiry and all the rest. We know how evidence can be presented and shaped effectively by those who are well resourced. Those who may not have the ability to commission a bit of extra research—on respiratory conditions in their area, for example—are swamped by the heavy investment of those promoting a particular project or approach.

… I was offered a place on the Northern Ireland Committee on the basis that I dropped my opposition to the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill. I reported that to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for investigation because I thought it was a bribe.

…The amendment suggests that when the Select Committee process has ended, a report is provided to the House. If it is uncontentious and the Select Committee recommends approval, we have a debate for a maximum of one and a half hours, the Question is put and the statement is agreed or not. If it is contentious, and there are recommendations from the Select Committee not to approve the national policy statement, a debate of up to three hours is held, and then we vote on the matter.

One and a half hours or three hours is not an undue delay in the planning process. It will add legitimacy to any decision on a national policy statement that will influence the IPC’s decision, which will have consequences for decisions on major infrastructure projects affecting our constituents, many of them significantly. If we are not allowed a vote on those matters, that will undermine the legitimacy of the decisions that will eventually arise as a result of IPC considerations and IPC inquiries into individual matters.

Let me give the example of Heathrow in the context of my amendment. Like every hon. Member, I stood for election, knocked on every door in my constituency over the years, and explained my views on particular issues. People voted and I had the honour of being elected to become the voice of my constituents in the House. As a result of a potential planning decision that will come through this process, a number of my constituents will lose their homes. We have debated the matter at length in the House—700 homes could be lost at Sipson, and 2,000 residents could lose their homes. We have another meeting tomorrow night with BAA, and we think the figure is now 4,000 homes, as the Government predicted in the early 1990s, so perhaps 10,000 people will be affected, as well as their homes, schools, churches, the gurdwara and even a road through our cemetery. Those people want to know that they elected an MP not just to go to the House to talk on their behalf, but to participate in this country’s democratic decision-making process that will determine the policy that eventually influences the final decision on whether they lose their homes and communities. That is all my amendment would do. It simply says, “Allow Members to express their views, but then allow them to make the decision.” That is democracy, is it not? Is that not what Parliament is for? Is that not what we all stood for election for?

The technical bits at the end of these standing orders for setting up the Select Committee to report and then do nothing else, are as follows:[3]

  • The Liaison Committee shall have power to appoint a National Policy Statements sub-committee.
  • The National Policy Statements sub-committee shall be composed of members of the Liason Committee who are also members of the Communities and Local Government, Energy and Climate Change, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Transport and Welsh Affairs Committees; and up to two other members of the committee, one of whom shall be appointed chairman of the sub-committee.
  • The National Policy Statements sub-committee shall report to the Liason Committee on the appointment of a National Policy Statement Committee and shall have a quorum of three.

So, to be clear, there are committees of MPs who are originally appointed by the Government who appoint sub-committees from their ranks which then appoint another committee from members of other committees.

That’s probably enough layers of filtering to keep anyone awkward out of the running, and ensure that these National Policy Statements receive the full Parliamentary salespitch that is their due.

Our fake scientists say that eight out of ten cats who expressed a preference chose this dogfood as their favourite.

Where are these National Policy Statements going to come from? Who is going to write them, and to what end? No one ever bothers to ask. Are they going to be written by corporate interests, with their expert legal advice, to appear superficially reasonable, but actually intended to let through a fourth Heathrow runway or a new nuclear weapons dump?

It’s crucial that these National Policy Statement get to the floor of the House, because that’s where law is made.

Once it is there, then any MP can ask the question:

“Minister, does this National Policy Statement permit the location of a wind turbine farm on the Suffolk Downs?”

And if the Minister says: “No,” then that becomes effectively the law, under Pepper v Hart.

Dissent (or spineless lack thereof) must have the opportunity to get on the record.

Not that talking about wind farms is remotely relevant, because the Section 14 of the Planning Act 2008 says:

In this Act “nationally significant infrastructure project” means a project which consists of any of the following-

  • (a) the construction or extension of a generating station;
  • (b) the installation of an electric line above ground;
  • (c) development relating to underground gas storage facilities;
  • (d) the construction or alteration of an LNG facility;
  • (e) the construction or alteration of a gas reception facility;
  • (f) the construction of a pipe-line by a gas transporter;
  • (g) the construction of a pipe-line other than by a gas transporter;
  • (h) highway-related development;
  • (i) airport-related development;
  • (j) the construction or alteration of harbour facilities;
  • (k) the construction or alteration of a railway;
  • (l) the construction or alteration of a rail freight interchange;
  • (m) the construction or alteration of a dam or reservoir;
  • (n) development relating to the transfer of water resources;
  • (o) the construction or alteration of a waste water treatment plant;
  • (p) the construction or alteration of a hazardous waste facility.

I haven’t got time to look for direct questions to the government for whether “generating stations” includes “wind farms” on theyworkforyou, but I think the clue is in the word in that I don’t think you change buses at a farm. There’s a little too much focus on off-shore wind-farms for which, self-evidently, there is relatively little problem.

Last year, of course, when the Planning Act was the Planning Bill, MPs voted against holding votes on National Policy Statements — so at least they’re consistent.

MPs also voted against requiring National Policy Statements to contain “policies that (taken as a whole) contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”. And so did the Lords.

So you can put that into your nuclear power station and smoke it!

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