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Dr. Tonge: Does the Minister agree that a future developer who wished to build houses on a site that had been decontaminated for only supermarket and leisure use

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would be deterred by the cost of further decontamination? If the sites are decontaminated superficially only for the purposes for which they are intended now, those sites will be locked into that use for ever. No future developers will want to meet the cost of decontaminating the sites fully.

Mr. Raynsford: I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I refer her to my earlier comments about the importance of local authorities taking a more proactive role in determining appropriate uses for sites in development plans. If local authorities adopt that approach, there will be an appropriate level of response to the future needs of sites. If a site is not designated for housing purposes in a development plan, it is entirely understandable--under the plan-led system that we operate--that developers who acquire that site in future, anticipating the level of costs associated with decontamination and remediation for non-housing purposes, will say that it is not possible for the site to meet the higher standards required for housing. That is why it is essential that there be the greatest clarity possible in the planning system. Authorities should determine as far as possible in advance what is an appropriate use for a site so that all parties involved are aware of the implications and the associated costs.

Dr. Tonge: The Minister must realise that, although local authorities have district plans, they are not written in stone. We are talking about district plans that may last for 10 or 15 years. Local authorities may set down the uses that they wish for particular sites, but I am thinking about 30 or 40 years hence. I do not see why any developer would want to develop a site if he must first spend millions of pounds on decontamination--which, in the two cases that I mentioned, should have been completed by British Gas before it vacated the sites.

Mr. Raynsford: Two issues arise from the hon. Lady's comments. First, we attach considerable importance to local authorities reviewing and updating their development plans regularly. Plans should not be allowed to remain in force for many years, long after they have ceased to be an accurate and up-to-date reflection of need. Regular updating of plans is essential. Secondly, there is no reason why changing patterns of use will not create new economic circumstances not envisaged previously. After all, we are talking about sites that, 20 or 30 years ago, were considered as being exclusively for industrial use. Planning policies at that time envisaged the maximum separation of residential development from such sites.

As industry has declined, it has become necessary to adopt a different approach and to see whether it is possible to put some such sites to other uses. As I have said, the Government are keen to ensure the re-use of brown-field sites that are no longer required for their former purposes and the re-use of existing premises that are no longer needed and could be put to more beneficial use. The housing use of former warehouses and office buildings is a case in point.

We must not assume that it is possible to lay out at a particular point a strategy that will govern the potential uses of sites for 30 or 40 years or more. Equally, it would be wrong to sterilise sites that may be used in the short

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term by setting an artificially high standard of decontamination and remediation that would deter any development and leave that site blighted and sterilised. We must adopt a pragmatic, step-by-step approach to ensure that, wherever possible, sites are brought back into use. We should not put obstacles in the way of development that might be appropriate and might help to improve the environment.

Local authorities have a major role to play, and will need to involve all the stakeholders. For many town centres, that process is already well under way. Local authorities need to develop a consensus in consultation with property owners, businesses, the local community and others with a stake in the future of the centre. From this, a strategy and an action plan must be produced and a town centre management body must be set up to oversee its implementation. Nearly 200 town centres have got this far already, and more are developing all the time. We encourage that development through support of the Association of Town Centre Management and the Civic Trust. The hon. Lady's constituency has adopted that approach and a town centre manager has been appointed. That is a very positive step.

The Government keep those policies under review, and we shall be prepared to make further changes if problems arise.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West) rose--

Mr. Raynsford: I am sorry, but time is short and I must continue.

The hon. Lady will know from the answer that I gave on 5 December 1997, Official Report, columns 401-02, that we recently clarified the policy further to ensure that proposals for extensions to existing out-of-centre supermarkets are subject to the same tests as other additional retail developments in such locations. That is an important extension of the policy to ensure that there is no scope for subverting its purpose by extending an existing supermarket rather than building a new one. I hope that that gives the hon. Lady an idea of the Government's commitment to keep policies under constant review and to take steps where necessary to ensure that they are effective in defending town centres.

The hon. Lady asked some other questions that I have not yet answered fully--which is why I required more time in which to respond. First, she asked why we permitted out-of-town or edge-of-town centres to be developed at all. The answer is that, in appropriate circumstances where there is no suitable town centre site, an edge-of-centre development may help to enhance the vitality of the town centre--particularly when good communication links are provided. In certain limited circumstances where there is no suitable town centre or edge-of-centre site available, the shopping needs of a community may require the provision of an out-of-town shopping centre. However, I stress that we do not envisage taking up that option when there is an alternative site available in the town centre or on the edge of the centre. In any case, there must be good public transport links in order to avoid undue dependence on the motor car.

Secondly, the hon. Lady asked why supermarkets cannot operate smaller units. That is a matter for the managers of those supermarkets. The hon. Lady correctly

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identified a trend, which is to be encouraged, on the part of some supermarket firms to develop smaller town centre outlets. Such outlets have proved successful, and I hope that others will learn from that experience. We must ensure that there is a wide range of options and choice for the public, as well as action to revitalise town centres. We must encourage trends that are already producing benefits.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked where elderly people will shop if there are no facilities in town centres. In order to meet the needs of the elderly and others who do not have access to cars and who depend on public transport or must walk to the shops, we are emphatic that there must be shopping in town centres. That is why we are so committed to retaining the vitality of town centres and action to support them.

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The policies in PPG6 fit well with our concerns to tackle social exclusion, to develop a more integrated transport strategy than this country has had before, and to regenerate our most deprived areas. We are concerned to see that those policies are implemented consistently across the country.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Scottish Agricultural College Order Confirmation Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

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Oral Answers to Questions

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The Secretary of State was asked--

Reproductive and Sexual Health

1. Jacqui Smith: What initiatives she has taken to promote greater reproductive and sexual health in developing countries. [18421]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The White Paper on international development sets out the Government's commitment to contributing to international development targets. Among them is the goal of ensuring access to basic health care, including reproductive health services for all by 2015. We believe that all people have a right to be able to control their fertility and to raise healthy, educated children.

Jacqui Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for the commitment that she has outlined. Does she agree that one of the most important steps that the Department for International Development can take is to work with the poorest countries to improve sex and health education and information for young people so that they can make informed choices about their families? What can the Department do to facilitate that?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right: getting proper services to young people is crucial if they are to be able to control their future, to prevent disease and to have the number of children that they want. We are focusing on that priority, but we believe that access to reproductive health services should be part of basic health care systems for all. That is the way in which to achieve a universal service and to reach everyone; and that is our priority.


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