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Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): Surely the plan stems from a planning conference in 1992, when the Conservative party was in control of county hall as well as central Government. I agree with much of what the hon. Lady has said, but she is not going back far enough to find the origins of the plan. I hope that the Minister will impose certain duties on Devon to look at more brown-field sites, which could be done. However, the origins of the plan are not as recent as she is leading us to believe.

Mrs. Browning: I am about to read some correspondence from the previous Administration, as I took the matter up with them as well as making my representations to the Minister this morning.

As I was saying, in November 1996, Wilcon Homes put out literature and held a travelling road show to promote "Clyst Hayes". I had never heard of the place, but I have a leaflet here describing it and Clyst Hayes turns out to be the name that the developers had already given the new town. As is evident, this leaflet is not some cheap piece of literature--it is in full colour and glossy.

The road show went round many towns in east Devon, travelling as far away as Sidmouth and Axminster, which may not mean much to people here, but they are some little way from Broadclyst. Wilcon Homes asked people in neighbouring towns whether they wanted a new town at Broadclyst. Of course, they were told that without it, their own towns and villages would be developed further, so it is not surprising that they ticked the yes box in support. That was presented to the EIP as evidence of local support.

I wrote to the then Minister of State, Department of State for the Environment, who replied on 27 January 1997:

which had yet to take place,

    "the new settlement strategy is retained"--

we are talking broad principles and not specifics--

    "then it would be for the East Devon District Council, as the local planning authority, to consider whether the location proposed by Wilcon Homes is acceptable."

However, the EIP was specific. The land in question--Clyst Hayes, the town named by the developers although they had not gone through the full democratic process--is mainly farm land and stretches from Broadclyst station to the A30, where it meets Exeter airport.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): Is the hon. Lady aware that one of the farmers who could make much money out of this project is the chairman of one of her local parish councils and was a leading light on the recent Countryside march? Does she not think that a little hypocritical?

Mrs. Browning: I am aware, as I was about to get to that point in my speech, that Wilcon Homes had taken

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options on the land some period beforehand and said so at the EIP. So the site was not being discussed in general terms. The EIP was site specific. In fact, it was so much so that technical experts were called to give evidence about the noise of ground testing aircraft engines as the proposed land runs up to the perimeter of Exeter airport, where some companies service engines. Exeter airport falls in my constituency, as the hon. Member for Exeter will know.

When it was revealed that the developers had already secured options on the land, as the hon. Member for Exeter said, and that the democratic process of the EIP was taking evidence from people whose businesses could affect the noise distraction for houses on a specific part of that land, I was extremely suspicious. What price democracy if democratically elected representatives such as myself take the trouble to go through the process of the county structure plan, make written submissions, consult constituents and give up three days in September to give evidence on their behalf, only to find that all that has gone on in the background?

The EIP found in favour of the new town--I was not terribly surprised. Moreover, it recommended that east Devon should accommodate 1,500 houses over and above those proposed in the structure plan. Frankly, I hold out little hope in either county hall or the results of the so-called democratic process of the county structure plan review.

Although I have written to the chief executive, again requesting that a moratorium be placed on the decision to build the new town, I would appreciate--especially in the light of the Government's recent announcement--the Minister's help and support, as I do not think that the democratic process has been properly observed. I believe that my constituents, particularly those who live in the Broadclyst area, deserve better.

12.50 pm

The Minister for London and Construction (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) on securing this Adjournment debate, as I know that she has maintained an interest in this subject for a considerable time--indeed, since Devon county council first proposed its strategy for two new communities to help to provide for the county's housing needs. I noted her comments on both her constituency and the adjacent town of Exeter, which I know well. I entirely endorse her view that it is an extremely attractive town--

Mr. Bradshaw: City.

Mr. Raynsford: It is an extremely attractive city--I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) is present for this debate.

The debate is very timely, following so closely the publication on 23 February of our paper, "Planning for the Communities of the Future", to which the hon. Lady referred. The paper sets out the results of our analysis of the system that we inherited for calculating and providing for the country's housing needs. It sets out our strategy for promoting more sustainable patterns of development and for encouraging urban renewal. We want to ensure

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that, where development is needed outside or adjacent to urban areas, it is sustainable--it must be combined with an active approach to the protection of the countryside.

That differs from the previous system, which has been seen as top-down, inflexible and too rigidly wedded to the principle of predict and provide. Our proposals represent a sustainable, democratic and comprehensive approach to meeting the country's housing needs--which, as the hon. Lady rightly stressed, is an important issue--while respecting the need to protect the countryside.

On the specific subject raised by the hon. Lady, my understanding is that the only proposal currently in the public domain for a new community in east Devon relates to the county council's strategy that was set out in the structure plan. The local planning authority has, as yet, no firm proposal to build a new town at Broadclyst. East Devon district council has not yet progressed its local plan to a point at which specific sites have been identified to accommodate growth in the district to 2011. Moreover, to my knowledge, no application for planning permission to build a new town has yet been submitted to the local planning authority.

I am aware, however, that in 1996, shortly after the Devon structure plan was placed on deposit, Wilcon Homes identified an area of land between Broadclyst railway station and Exeter airport on which it suggested that it would be possible to locate a new settlement of some 3,000 houses to be known as Clyst Hayes. The hon. Lady referred to some of the publicity that was attached to those proposals.

A new community in east Devon is a key element of the county council's strategy for accommodating growth, but the structure plan contains no site-specific locations--indeed, that would not have been appropriate for such a document. All the parties involved in the structure plan process accept that the appropriate place to identify site-specific locations is the local plan, which is to be prepared by the district council.

Mrs. Browning: I hope that the Minister heard even a small portion of the discussions about the site at the EIP.

Mr. Raynsford: I assure the hon. Lady that I shall mention the EIP in a moment.

Proposal N2 of the structure plan states:

The proposal also sets out the general criteria to be met before the community could be permitted. Those criteria provide for the community to be located where it can, first, be assimilated into the landscape of the area; secondly, avoid as far as possible the use of significant areas of the best and most versatile agricultural land; thirdly, be related to, but separate from, existing settlements; fourthly, access the Exeter-Waterloo rail line by means of a new railway station; fifthly, be accessible to the high-quality road network and the local highway system; and, sixthly, be developed without adversely affecting the operation of Exeter airport--it should not be affected by unacceptable levels of aircraft noise.

The county proposed to provide in East Devon district some 9,700 new dwellings, of which some 3,500 should be in the main area of economic activity--about

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5,600 new dwellings were proposed for Exeter. The Exeter main area of economic activity was identified by the county council as a key location for the future development of the county's economy, which was reflected in the provision for 9,100 dwellings in the area between 1995 and 2011.

The county considered that there was insufficient capacity in existing settlements to meet such provision. It found that expansion on the periphery of Exeter was severely restricted by topography, agricultural land and other physical constraints, that opportunities to expand other settlements in the area were limited, and that the scale of such expansion would in any case be such that the character and setting of an expanded settlement could not be retained.

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