Notice of Dissatisfaction with the Finance Minister’s Intention to Make the Scarweather Sands Offshore Wind Farm Order 2004The Deputy Presiding Officer: Before I call Alun Cairns to propose the motion, I will make a statement.
It may be for the convenience of Members that I outline in advance how I will interpret the rule of relevancy under Standing Order No. 7.7 (iii) in today’s debate on the motion of dissatisfaction with the proposal that the Minister should make the Scarweather Sands Offshore Wind Farm Order 2004.
The motion is essentially an opportunity to decide a procedural question: that is, whether the Minister should make the Order, or whether the Order should be subject to our normal legislative procedures under Standing Order Nos. 24.6 to 24.25. The debate is not about the merits of the Order, but the procedure that should apply to its making. I will therefore expect Members to speak only on the procedure that the Order should follow. They should not address the question of whether the Order should or should not be made.
Although the Order is made under the Transport and Works Act 1992, there are elements of planning involved also. Members will be aware of the strict rules that govern the making of planning decisions. Members are, of course, responsible for their own words in the Chamber, but they may also wish to consider whether they might prejudice their ability to participate in any future proceedings, should these arise, if they attempt to speak to the merits of the proposal.
Alun Cairns: I propose the following motion in my name and the names of David Melding, Jonathan Morgan, William Graham, Mark Isherwood, Nick Bourne, Glyn Davies, Lisa Francis, Laura Anne Jones and Peter Black. I propose that the National Assembly for Wales, acting under Standing Order No. 28.3:
1. expresses its dissatisfaction with the Finance Minister’s proposal, e-mailed to Assembly Members on 21 September 2004, to make ‘The Scarweather Sands Offshore Wind Farm Order 2004’; and
2. resolves that Standing Orders Nos. 24.6 to 24.25 shall apply to the making of this Order. (NDM2108)
I understand that this is the first time that such a motion has been proposed in the Assembly. Therefore, as you stated, Dirprwy Lywydd, we are in uncharted waters. I am grateful for the guidance that you issued to all Assembly Members, which states that you will treat the debate as a technical motion on the Order, rather than a wider debate on the merits of the windfarm, wind energy in general, or even the Welsh Assembly Government’s renewable energy target. That highlights what I ask Members to support. Whatever their views on windfarms, wind energy or any other aspect of renewable energy—whether they are broadly in favour, against, or even without a strong view either way—I ask Members for the right to debate this issue in the Chamber. I understand that, because this is the first time that this has happened, some Ministers have mentioned that the loophole may well be closed in the future, but this process is available to us now, and this is the process that opponents of the windfarm have worked to. The fact that this is the first time that such a motion has been used, or that it is unexpected, are not strong enough reasons to reject the motion—we cannot change the rules of the game halfway through the match.
The background is controversial. After considering all the evidence in favour and against, and the Assembly Government’s policy and stretching renewable energy targets, the independent planning inspector recommended that the Scarweather Sands windfarm application be rejected. Despite the inspector’s professional judgment, the planning decision committee overturned the recommendation for the reasons that we will no doubt hear. However, that is the point. I want to hear the reasons why they overturned the independent planning inspector’s professional judgment.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: You seem to be talking yourself out of a job. Are you arguing that politicians should not take decisions, but should merely accept the decisions of any inspector or any advice received from officials?
Alun Cairns: Absolutely not. I am, however, advocating that all politicians take the decision rather than just four in a closed committee.
The Assembly is often criticised for not having the power to make changes, and its debates are often criticised as being anodyne and even, sometimes, academic. Those criticisms would not apply to this.
Helen Mary Jones: I seek clarification on your point that these decisions should be made by all politicians, and not four in a closed room. Are you suggesting that all contested planning decisions come before the full Assembly? If you are, you, as a Conservative, should consider the issues of commercial confidentiality that might be involved.
Alun Cairns: That is clearly not the suggestion that I made. This application has been made under the Transport and Works Act 1992 which, within its confines and context, gives a right to all Assembly Members to express their views and to debate the issue. That is what I am seeking support for. I clearly stated earlier that the First Minister highlighted an intention—which may well be a debate for us in future—to close this loophole that allows us, under the existing rules and regulations, and under the Transport and Works Act, the right to a debate.
If this Order is allowed to pass, it will change the character of the areas affected. No doubt others will disagree with that, but the least that we can do is to hold the debate. I have been advised of the legal ramifications because the process has not been tested before, and you alluded to that earlier, Dirprwy Lywydd. However, that is not a reason to shy away from this debate because, surely, people have the right to hear the debate and to see the way in which Assembly Members vote.
I have many questions about the claims made by United Utilities, and, no doubt, others will have many questions about claims made by the anti-windfarm group. There were many such groups and organisations, from surfers, walkers, golfers, tourists, residents, swimmers and others opposed to the proposed windfarm. However, the key local group—an umbrella organisation—is SOS Porthcawl. It is made up of ordinary people who care about their town and the tourism economy on which Porthcawl is based. This is a non-political group. Its members have had to fight the multi-million pound resources of United Utilities—I am advised that United Utilities has spent several million pounds on this project so far. In spite of appearances, and in spite of the odds seemingly stacked against SOS Porthcawl, and the other group still won the support of the independent planning inspector. If devolution is to mean anything to these individuals, surely it must at least mean that they have the right to a debate.
At this stage, I am not asking Assembly Members to reject the application; I am asking for the right to make the case for why you should reject it. In doing so, it would give the right for advocates of the windfarm to make their case in favour. For this windfarm application to go forward, United Utilities only has to win one vote. For me, SOS Porthcawl and other parties and individuals involved, to block the application, we must win two votes. I ask for your support today to make devolution relevant to people by holding the debate.
Alun Ffred Jones: The Minister should be allowed to make the Scarweather Sands Offshore Wind Farm Order 2004, since the Assembly’s planning procedures have been followed. The reasons for that decision have been made public. I find it odd that Members declare that this procedure, such as it is, for better or worse, is undemocratic or deficient. I am unaware of anyone having challenged this procedure before, though the committee has, in the past, gone against an inspector’s report.
Alun Cairns: You mentioned that the decision has been made democratically, but do you not accept that this is part of the decision process in order to sanction or reject the application or the Order ultimately?
Alun Ffred Jones: I am sorry, but I did not understand that point. The point is that we have followed Assembly procedures and you have been perfectly happy with those procedures in the past.
You talk about decisions being made behind closed doors. Previously, under the Welsh Office, a single Minister or Secretary of State would have made that decision behind a closed door, usually in a rush, yet the Tories never challenged that. At least this committee is politically balanced, and it is one committee where you dare not enter without reading the report beforehand—that may not apply to all committees.
This motion has nothing to do with planning procedures and everything to do with a Member’s desire to garner votes to go to another place. Such self-serving gesture politics should be rejected.
Leighton Andrews: I speak in support of the motion of dissatisfaction, and I will vote in favour of it.
Some general issues must be considered in relation to this matter. It is relatively unusual, but not unique, for Assembly Members to vote against a planning inspector’s decision. The planning decision committee members need an opportunity to outline the reasons for their decision. Sadly, I did not hear anything in the speech of Alun Ffred, who I understand chaired that committee, as to why he did that—
Alun Ffred Jones: I am not allowed to say.
Leighton Andrews: That is the point that I am making. If we were to go through a proper process, the committee members would have an opportunity to explain the position that they took.
I understand that this is a particular kind of procedure; it exists under transport legislation rather than under planning legislation. Therefore, it is unusual that the Assembly has a vote on the planning decision committee’s decision. As I understand it, that would not happen, in general terms, under planning legislation. However, I suspect that the distinction between the two types of legislation is not widely understood outside this building. As an Assembly, we have to make it clear to people why these little procedures exist, because they will have an impact on future decisions with regard to wind energy and on the attitude taken by groups towards the Assembly in terms of the conduct of future discussions on these issues.
In voting for the motion of dissatisfaction, I am not committing myself to vote one way or the other on the issue of the Scarweather Sands windfarm, because I have not made my mind up on the proposal. Even if I had a view, I could not talk about it today. I want a process whereby these issues are aired more widely and a discussion on the Scarweather issue in the context of wider wind-energy policy, and I hope that this process will allow us to do that.
I want us to consider the arguments for onshore and offshore wind development in that context. I am generally in favour of more offshore wind development, and I am not convinced, for example, by the arguments that Ministers have made to me in relation to technical advice note 8 as to why the offshore targets are so low compared with onshore wind energy targets. Nor am I convinced—and I hope that we can have this discussion in the context of a general consideration around Scarweather—that national parks should be excluded from windfarm developments when Valley communities are not. Pen-pych in my constituency is regarded as one of the six wonders of Wales, according to Post Office stamps, and it matches anything in the Brecon Beacons. The Brecon Beacons are excluded from windfarm developments, but Valleys communities, such as the Rhondda, are not. I hope that we can raise some of these general issues in the context of a discussion on Scarweather, so that we can confront the ins and outs and potential contradictions of the general policy that leads to these decisions. Therefore, I am arguing for a longer timescale so that we can discuss those wider issues more freely.
I will vote in favour of the motion of dissatisfaction, but not because I want to assist anybody’s campaign to be a Member of another place. It is unfortunate for the residents of Bridgend, Porthcawl and other areas, regardless of which side of the argument they are on, that this issue has, to my mind, come to be used, opportunistically and politically to a degree. It would have been a more open process, and I would have regarded it as more genuine, had the balance of those proposing the motion of dissatisfaction not been so loaded from one political party and had they attempted to talk to members of other political parties who might have been sympathetic to this decision. I will therefore vote for the motion of dissatisfaction so that we can have a general debate on the issues of principle concerned.
Jeff Cuthbert: I am mindful that this debate is not about the merits or otherwise of windfarms, or indeed about any form of renewable energy; it is about the process of decision making. The process that we have followed so far is the right one: it involved a cross-party group of Assembly Members, trained for the purpose, sitting to discuss the issue objectively and calmly. This discussion took full account of the inspector’s report, and we gave great weight to his findings and conclusions. As is now public knowledge, the whole planning committee came to a different conclusion on the one key issue of the potential visual impact. Incidentally, two appeals were before us that day and we upheld the inspector’s report in terms of the other appeal.
Lisa Francis: As part of the process that you describe, did you visit Porthcawl to reach your conclusion?
Jeff Cuthbert: We followed the rules that were set before us and we conducted the inquiry in accordance with the rules and procedures that were set down at our meeting.
The process is a fair one. It is a good example of practical democracy in action. It took the issue out of a party political debate—decision making of this kind is not best served by full Plenary debates in which Assembly Members may well decide along party lines rather than on the basis of a considered appraisal of the specific issue. I acknowledge that this is a controversial matter. I have received many messages from Porthcawl residents objecting to my actions, and I understand the strength of feeling. I have also received messages supporting my actions. Several of the objecting messages have called into question the democracy of a four-member panel overturning the inspector’s decision. As I have mentioned, in terms of the other appeal before us, we upheld the inspector’s decision. I understand the passion, but I am equally sure that those same people would have lobbied me to overturn the inspector’s decision had he decided in favour of the development.
We have dealt fairly and objectively with this issue so far. We had no local interest, so we were impartial. In politics we must strive to make the right decision—sometimes that is not the popular decision. For these reasons, I urge Assembly Members to vote against the motion.
Peter Law: We need to take a mature approach to this issue, and realise that this piece of legislation is available to us as political practitioners to use if we wish to try to achieve something that we feel is for the betterment of Wales and the community in general. Therefore, it is not politicised, and I regret that it has been politicised by some people. It is, frankly, an enabling piece of legislation for Assembly Members. I am glad that it exists, particularly if you, like me, want to get to something on the other side.
I therefore support this motion. That does not reflect on the Minister, who is an excellent Minister, and it has nothing to do with the planning decision committee’s decision. I have listened carefully to the Deputy Presiding Officer’s words of wisdom, which I respect. We must stick to this issue and not go over the boundaries and talk about why the decision was made. People are going over those boundaries, which will be detrimental.
We do not want to subvert democracy. We should welcome the opportunity to have a major debate in this Chamber about something that some of us feel that we want to know more about. Whenever I deal with issues regarding the environment, communities or people, that is important to me, as it is to everyone else. Therefore, what do we have to be afraid of here? Nothing. It is reasonable that we should go forward to a fuller debate. That is what this forum of debate is all about; this is a stage of debate for the whole of Wales, and this issue should be debated here. That is my approach—I do not criticise anyone, I just want my right as an Assembly Member to be able to vote for a bigger debate about an important matter for Wales and the community in general. That is my reasoned approach.
When people say to me that if the Order came forward in that way it could take up a great deal of time in committee and a great deal of Ministers’ time, I say that that is what we are paid for, that is why the Assembly was established and why it costs so many millions of pounds a year to run. If we cannot show the people of Wales that we are here to debate these important issues fully, sincerely and seriously, then we are failing in our duty. This does not reflect on anyone, but I want due process to allow me to ask questions on an issue that I am interested in and concerned about. That is why I will support this motion today.
Mick Bates: A few Members have not heeded the Deputy Presiding Officer’s guidelines. We are debating procedure today. As someone who upholds the democratic process, I consider the particular process proposed by the motion of dissatisfaction to be important. It allows for a broad debate, and I will vote for the motion today to ensure that that debate can be held.
As someone who has long promoted the cause of renewable energy in response to the devastating effect of climate change, I will not stand down from the need for a full and open debate on those principles. It is difficult to balance the needs of democracy with the beliefs and principles of individuals. This case places us on the threshold of a major development under technical advice note 8. The debate is wider than Scarweather Sands. However, when we consider the legal implications of today’s motion, there is lack of knowledge and general confusion among many Members as to the implications of any vote taken today. I have struggled to find out from lawyers what the full implications of taking this vote today would be. In the absence of clear legal guidelines on the conflict that is inherent in the motion that I will support, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that the motion will override a clear planning process with my wish to stand up for my belief in openness and transparency. However, in this case, we would be accused of being fearful and of lacking courage if we did not take the opportunity to hold a full debate on the Scarweather Sands Order.
Janet Ryder: On the issue of conflicting advice, does the legal advice that you have been given clearly state that, should the Assembly vote in favour of the Order today, we will have a debate not on simply whether the Order will go through, but a full debate on the merits of wind power, and become a planning committee whose decision would then affect the planning decision that has already been taken?
Mick Bates: You have said it all in one short intervention. That is a great challenge. As I have said, I do not possess the legal advice that would enable me to give you a clear answer on that, and neither, it appears, does any other Member in the Chamber today. I find the process challenging, because we are testing the system and there has been no clear legal advice on the decision that we face today. However, I could not face having protestors outside the building accusing us of failing to take an open and democratic course for debate on the Order. That is the key issue.
David Melding: Do you agree that any accusation that this process is somehow irregular is refuted by the fact that we clearly have the powers in terms of how the Order has been presented, and that, in any event, should the ramifications for any reason be particularly serious, it is for the Executive to make that clear in its response to this motion?
Mick Bates: Thank you for your sound advice. It grieves me that I must sometimes agree with a bunch of opportunists like my neighbours. [Laughter.] However, we will discuss that in a few weeks’ time, I hope.
I urge Members to vote in favour of an open, democratic process by supporting the motion, and to take courage that that debate will be a moment in time when the Government and all Members support clause 121 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which urges us all to act on our duty towards sustainable development. I urge Members to vote in favour of the motion.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: I had not intended to contribute to this debate but, having heard some of the contributions, I must say that we are in danger of questioning a process that has been in place for five years. Some of us have been involved in the process of considering inspectors’ reports during that period. No-one has questioned the process until now. It is being questioned simply because some Members are not particularly happy with the decision taken by the planning decision committee.
David Melding: I think that the Member has failed to apprehend one of the cardinal features of this debate, namely that this is the first time that the mechanism has been used. Therefore, to say that we could somehow have objected before now is fatuous.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: This motion is based on the fact that the committee made a decision. The process has been in place for the last five years and has not been questioned. If we begin to change our processes just because people do not like a decision—
Peter Black: The point is that a normal planning application is not followed by an Order that can be challenged in this way. Given that this has been done under the Transport and Works Act 1992, it is a hybrid application and is followed automatically by an Order. Therefore, this is the first opportunity that we have had to do this.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: I fully understand that point, Peter. However, what I am saying is that we have a process in place to deal with these issues. I take the points that you and David made about the way in which Alun raised the issue. I do not have a problem with that, because Alun is within his rights to raise the issue. I am trying to make the point that because some Members do not like the decision, they are challenging a process that has been in place for five years. Regardless of how it is being challenged, I am saying that the process has never been challenged previously. I have not heard any Member say that our process for considering planning applications, which we have used for over five years, is wrong. I would be uncomfortable with trying to change a process just because Members do not like a decision taken by the committee. The committee considered the issue in detail and decided to overturn the inspector’s decision, and it was perfectly within its rights to do so. We asked Members to make a decision when we elected them to that planning decision committee, as we have asked all Members who, like myself, have served on such committees over the years. If we put Members in that position, then we must respect their decision and give it our support.
William Graham: I am grateful to Members for their contributions. I wish to reiterate Peter Black’s point that this is a hybrid application. Under normal planning law, there would be no opportunity for this to take place. It is taking place because the Order has to be made by the Minister in this case. That is why I want a full debate on the subject. Voting in favour of this motion will show the general public that we care about all matters, and that we do not simply let everything be subsumed into legislation. It will also show that we permit debate, which always has various shades of opinion. The point is that, in a debate, those opinions will be considered, which is why I urge Members to vote in favour of this motion.
Carwyn Jones: I speak as an Assembly Member today, not as the Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside, and my contribution will reflect my personal view, not that of the Government.
I am not opposed to windfarms or to windfarms being located in my constituency, or off Porthcawl, necessarily. My view on this matter is well known, and I have been criticised for that view. I accept this criticism as part of the job I hold. If that is the price of holding a consistent view on a matter, so be it.
As far as this matter is concerned, I cannot vote against the motion. Given my previous views on the matter, which I have held for several years, it would be inconsistent of me to do so. I recognise that some will say ‘the application for the windfarm off Porthcawl is one thing, but what about TAN 8 and my part of the world, and is this not inconsistent?’ I recognise that that is an argument that must be held over the next few months.
It is not quite as easy as saying that we will vote for or against this, and that that will be the end of it. I also speak as the usual Chair of the planning decision committee. I do not accept the criticisms that have been levelled against the committee members who sat on this matter, despite the fact that I was not one of them, and despite the fact that I do not necessarily agree with the committee’s conclusion. We have a system in place whereby planning applications are dealt with by four Members and, normally, their decision is final. It so happens that on this occasion, that is not the case. That is why the debate is about more than whether or not their position should be ratified. However, I am disturbed when I hear suggestions that somehow the planning decision committee system is flawed and that the committee members are biased. To suggest that if the Assembly sat as a whole committee of 60 members that all Assembly Members would come to unbiased conclusions is naive. Having four Members who are trained, who are not whipped by any particular political party, who have no axe to grind and who are disinterested in the planning application, is the best system in terms of determining planning applications. We also need to bear in mind that, as a result of what is effectively a loophole in the legislation governing applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992, the matter has come before the Assembly. It is right that it is being debated by the Assembly today.
We must be careful what we say about the planning decision committee because it sits as a court of law. It tries to objectively determine on the applications before it. It considers evidence, it comes to conclusions with regard to that evidence and progresses from there. We have to be careful in terms of how the matter is taken forward if this debate is successful today. There are two reasons for that. First, the process that we will use will be akin to a court of law making a decision and then that decision being disseminated in Parliament. We must be careful of that and be wary of what we do. Secondly, in terms of visiting a site, courts of law do not visit sites when they come to decisions—they examine the evidence before them. We must be wary of that. We must also be careful not to undermine the planning decision committee process in anything that we do. Although I do not agree with the decision that was made, I do not criticise it and I fully accept that those Members are entitled to come to that decision. That is important and we should bear it in mind.
There are also other difficulties in terms of us considering whether it will be possible to have a full debate on this and whether those of us who have expressed opinions in the past will be able to vote. This has not yet been fully considered by lawyers, and we will need further guidance on this issue from the Presiding Office, should this motion be successful today. Therefore, there are difficulties that the Assembly needs to be aware of if it wishes to support this motion. As I have said, my view is clear. I wish to be consistent. I have said consistently over the past two years that this is not the right site for a windfarm. Alun Cairns has appealed to us today to take a cross-party view on this. You and I have discussed this matter before, Alun, and we have come to the view that this should be an all-party matter, so why on earth did you say what you said yesterday to the BBC? Why on earth go to the BBC and say that the Government has tried to stitch up this debate.
Alun Cairns: I am grateful for the opportunity to clear two issues. First, in relation to comments made by the Assembly Member for Rhondda, I had appealed to Members of all parties to sign this motion, so I did seek to make it on a cross-party basis. Secondly, in respect of the timing of the motion, it has been the most inconvenient, ensuring that nine of the 10 signatories from my party could not be here. Furthermore, there is a gentlemen’s agreement that during the conference weeks, controversial issues are not debated. There were no matters of controversy last week and no such matters the week before that. If that is the case—
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. That is enough of an intervention. It is not a speech.
Carwyn Jones: I trust that the time will be added on, but I wished to give Alun Cairns the opportunity to speak, given the fact that I was referring to him.
We already have an acceptance by the leader of the Welsh Conservatives that the allegation made was incorrect. Why not apologise now and try to build bridges with the people whose support you seek, instead of standing by something you know to be wrong? The exact phrase you used was that there was an attempt by the Government to ‘stitch up’ the debate. I cannot imagine anything so stupid, in terms of political judgment; you are trying to get the support of Members of another party, but on the night before the debate, you criticise them, saying they were to trying stitch up the debate.
It would help immensely if you apologised for what you said, particularly to Karen Sinclair as Business Minister. You should explain why it was so important to get your name in the news last night, and undermine the cross-party support that you were seeking. I warned you not to turn this into a party-political battle. It was always an all-party issue, but I fear, unless Peter Black can save your bacon, that you have shot yourself in the foot with an almighty cannon.
The Finance Minister (Sue Essex): The intention to make the Order that we are debating today was issued by me on 21 September 2004 at the request of the planning decision committee. I understand that some Members will have a different view to the planning decision committee as to whether the Scarweather Sands Order should be made. However, I am not here to argue about the merits or otherwise of the proposals. I will instead concentrate on the decision-making process to date.
On 19 January 2000, the Assembly decided unanimously to establish a new way of determining larger and more complex planning and related cases. The planning decision committee system was introduced after a recommendation of the National Assembly Advisory Group to the effect that those planning decisions which were previously made by the Secretary of State for Wales or the First Secretary subsequent to the Government of Wales Act 1998, should be dealt with by a panel drawn from the relevant Subject Committee. This system is innovative, is unique to Wales and has extended the democratic accountability of the planning system. The alternative to the planning decision committee system is to revert to these decisions being taken by a Minister alone, as happens in other parts of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that Members want that.
The planning decision committee is drawn from a cross-party group of Members who have been trained specifically for participating in planning decisions. That is important—they have been trained to do the job. Assembly Members will have their own views on individual decisions taken by a planning decision committee. They may agree or disagree, but the validity of the planning decision committee has always been recognised by all Members. When coming to a view on a particular application, the planning decision committee does have before it all the material presented at a public inquiry, supplemented by a report from the inspector and information from officers.
Alun Ffred Jones: If this motion succeeds, can the debate that we will then have be on wind energy in general, or on the planning application that has been dealt with?
Sue Essex: I would be advised by the Presiding Officer, but we would have to consider the application that would be the subject of any Order—it would not be about the vices and wrongs, or otherwise, of wind energy. It is important that we remember that. This is an application that has been submitted.
Returning to the planning decision committee, it has before it, therefore, all the facts about the important issues raised by a particular application.
Leanne Wood: I am trying to clarify the answer to Alun Ffred’s question, as I am a bit confused. Are you saying that if this motion is carried today, we will not have a debate on this matter?
Sue Essex: I would be guided by the Presiding Officer on this issue. I have announced—because Carwyn has a constituency interest in this matter—that I will make an Order, following the planning decision committee’s decision to approve the application. Before us today is a notice of dissatisfaction submitted by a number of Members, and it is this issue which we are discussing. I will return to my comments about the planning decision committee system. Those of us who participated in the planning decision committee system know that these issues are discussed at length and in depth before a decision is reached. The system has served the Assembly well. It has never, to my knowledge, been criticised by the Assembly and it is a major democratisation of planning decisions, removing accusations of political bias.
Since it was introduced, the planning decision committees have considered 56 applications and appeals. That includes six separate windfarm cases: some approved, some not. Only one legal challenge to a PDC’s decision went before the courts and that was unsuccessful. The system has been proven to work and to work well.
Most of the cases that came before the PDC—
Jenny Randerson: I am still unclear. Are you saying that if this motion is carried today—and the legal point is important—we become an enlarged planning decision committee and therefore, we would have to be trained and subject to the constraints that apply to a local authority planning committee now, which are that if you make statements about a planning application before it is considered, you cannot vote for it, along with all those other legal restrictions that apply to local authorities?
Sue Essex: I have views on that, but I believe that it would be better if the information that you require came from the Assembly Parliamentary Service because this has not happened before. It is complex. Therefore, rather than say something that is my understanding of the situation, I would prefer to rely on the Assembly Parliamentary Service and on Paul Silk to reach a view. Let us deal with the matter in hand. We must make a decision today, on which we should be guided by the Assembly Parliamentary Service.
The Assembly decided that Orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992 with planning implications should also be considered by a PDC as the issues raised by such applications are similar to those raised by the larger planning applications and appeals. However, as Orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992 are classed as local statutory instruments—and that is the key difference—Standing Orders require Assembly Members to be notified of the PDC’s conclusions, and of the intention to make an Order. I reassure Members that because it was an Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992, the committee would have taken the same approach with the planning application. It would have been considered in depth and, indeed, detailed consideration was made.
Some have argued that it is wrong for a PDC to reach a different view from the inspector. As a general point, I believe that that is flawed. The extension of that argument is that all decisions on called-in planning applications, the larger and more complex appeals and Orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992, should be taken by inspectors. I cannot accept that proposition and believe that there is a role for democratic accountability in such issues.
It has long been accepted that decisions on these important cases require a democratic input. In England, Scotland and Wales prior to 2000, these decisions were taken by Ministers. We have decided that a PDC should consider the cases in Wales. That must be the right approach. I know from my own experience, and from the decisions set out on the Assembly website, that there have been a number of cases where the PDC has disagreed with an inspector’s conclusion. There is, therefore, nothing novel about this case.
To conclude, it is important that the integrity of the PDC process remains intact. On a personal note, I have been involved in planning decisions for more years than I care to recall. More often than not, there are conflicting views, and people often feel passionately for or against a proposal. Therefore, inevitably, some people will be happy with the final decision and others unhappy. That is no reason to turn the process on its head. For five years plus, we have put our trust in a cross-party representative group to make decisions on our behalf. This decision is no different from those of the other 56 decisions made by PDCs—they are all important.
Peter Black: When I voted for establishing the Assembly in 1997, I did so because I believed that it would bring greater transparency and democracy to the process of government. To a large extent, that has been achieved. However, this debate and motion is a milestone and a test of how far we have advanced. We have already heard about the process that got us here—the public inquiry, the inspector’s recommendation and the planning committee’s decision. Most Members will have received a large number of e-mails, letters and phone calls urging them to vote one way or another on this matter. The point is that we have the opportunity to underline our openness by giving those who have strong views on this matter the chance to see the democratic process in action and to ensure that there is a full debate on this Order. My regret, like Carwyn, is that this process has been dragged into party-political mud slinging. I ask Members to put that to one side and consider the issues before us and the need for an open and democratic debate.
I have no problem with the planning process as it is laid down. Like Carwyn, I believe that a planning sub-committee is a good way of dealing with this issue because its members are trained and impartial. However, this application is different to most, as it leads to the making of an Order, whereas other applications do not. In that sense, it is exceptional and the adoption of an exceptional procedure can be justified in determining on it. The planning committee process is democratic, but in this instance, I ask you to vote for democracy plus.
Helen Mary Jones: Peter, you cannot have your cake and eat it. Either you feel that the planning decision committee process was not properly open and democratic, in which case, vote for the motion today, or you believe that it was open and democratic, in which case, oppose it. There is no such animal as democracy plus. Democracy is democracy.
Peter Black: The planning committee process is, by and large, democratic—[Interruption]. This process has taken place in a democratic manner, but in this particular instance, because there are further avenues to explore, there is an opportunity for a further debate. You do not have that opportunity with other planning applications and, in voting for this motion today, you would provide an opportunity for a further democratic and open debate involving all Assembly Members
David Melding: I am sure that the Member has noticed the contradiction from those Members who would deny that this motion advances. They say that the planning decision committee is both open and democratic and also impartial, using trained experts. It cannot be both. A system is either open and democratic, and therefore subject to political considerations, or it is objective. There is a profound contradiction here, and if those Members are saying that it is an objective process, then we must weigh the balance between the inspector’s objective report and their objective judgment, because they are in conflict.
Peter Black: The problem with objective judgment is that one can have a number of judgments on any particular issue. People can draw different conclusions in considering different criteria and even from the same evidence in many instances. It would be advantageous for the Assembly to use the full process that is available to it in this particular case and have a full debate in the Chamber. The Assembly has nothing to worry about in debating this matter. Any legal problems—and they have been referred to—can be dealt with prior to a full debate. A debate will enhance the Assembly’s reputation and show that we are taking the strong views expressed by both sides seriously and it will provide a forum whereby this debate can be concluded. It will enable a full and open discussion of the merits and demerits of this case, and a welcome clarification of the Assembly’s approach to wind power applications.
Leighton Andrews was right when he said that we must have that kind of discussion. By voting for this motion, you are not passing judgment on Scarweather, you are promoting a debate. Please do not shy away from that decision—it is the right one, and it will underline the reason why we are here.Motion (NDM2108): For 16, Abstain 2, Against 34.
Jones, Laura Anne
Thomas, Owen John
Jones, Alun Ffred
Jones, Helen Mary
Jones, Ieuan Wyn
Thomas, Rhodri Glyn
Ymataliodd yr Aelodau canlynol:
The following Members abstained:
Idris Jones, Denise