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Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) rose--

Mr. Paterson rose--

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Redwood rose--

Mr. Raynsford: I shall give way, but I suggest that the right hon. Member for Wokingham, who is getting a little excited, restrains himself for a moment. I accept that he had other things on his mind, but despite his attempt to seize the high prize of the leadership of the Conservative party, could he not have spared a moment to look after the interests of the countryside in his own county of Berkshire, which he now pretends to champion? Could he not have issued one press release to match the confetti of press releases that he is now issuing on the subject? No. He did not care; he did not lift a finger to stop local decision making being overruled by the Conservative Government. He did not lift a finger to save Berkshire

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greenfield sites from development when the Conservative Government were in power and it is nonsense for him to masquerade as the defender of greenfield sites and local democracy.

Mr. Redwood: The Minister is misleading the House over this. He should remember that before 1997 those green fields were not in my constituency: they were in that of a colleague. He should also know that I was extremely critical of overdevelopment on the green fields throughout that period, but I still regarded the main problem as the Labour-Liberal council, which decided to lump all the houses together and build them on green fields instead of on reclaimed land in places such as Slough and Reading. I recommended building on brownfield sites in Slough and Reading and he should check the record.

Mr. Raynsford: In a moment I shall refer the right hon. Gentleman to the record, which will compound his discomfort. He has revealed that he does not understand the system. It does not matter that the particular site against the background of which he was filmed was not in his constituency; it was in Berkshire. The key decision was that of the previous Conservative Government to direct Berkshire county council to provide additional homes. The right hon. Gentleman did nothing about that, and made no representations.

As and when the right hon. Gentleman eventually stirred himself, no doubt having recovered from the disappointment of his failed leadership bid, he raised the issue with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, asking:


That was the view he took then; he did not want to save greenfield sites and was a free marketeer. His whole case has collapsed because his record has been revealed as fundamentally in conflict with everything he has said this afternoon. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is not renowned for consistency or principle. He is reduced to promoting short-termism without responsibility and pandering to the populist views characteristic of an Opposition who will say anything to get votes today and deny homes tomorrow.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): On the matter of homes in Berkshire, the right hon. Gentleman says that he was very concerned to emphasise that those houses should not be built in his constituency, but in Slough. May I inform my hon. Friend the Minister of the relative population densities of Slough and Wokingham? In Slough, there are more than 4,100 people per square kilometre. There is almost no land left. The Crow report has worrying implications for my constituency. We must try to ensure that we do not have a system in which, because of the unitary authorities in Berkshire area, an attempt is made to press all that development into Slough. The only land

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it has left is green belt. I would be reassured if the real problems in Slough, which, under the previous Conservative Government--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Minister has been extremely generous with interventions, but they should not extend to mini speeches.

Mr. Raynsford: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend raises a perfectly valid point about the procedure involved in considering the Serplan proposals and the panel inquiry report. I shall deal with that in my speech.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Raynsford: I undertook to give way and I shall do so in a moment, but I must first make progress.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham made a number of references to the panel report into the regional planning guidance for the south-east. He seeks to confuse everyone about both the facts and the process. Contrary to the impression conveyed by the Opposition, the various figures for new housing in the south-east, which are under discussion, are not the Government's figures, and they are not additional to those put forward previously. Indeed, they subsume the existing figures in the current regional planning guidance, which was issued by the previous Government. To talk in terms of five cities the size of Southampton is nonsense rather than common sense.

The draft regional planning guidance was prepared by the local authorities in the south-east acting together. They suggested that some 700,000 new dwellings--about three and a half Southamptons--should be provided over the period 1996-2016. That draft RPG was considered at a public examination, held over six weeks in spring by an independent panel. A large amount of evidence was presented by local authorities, conservation interests, business organisations and others in an open and transparent process. The independent panel report, published on 8 October, reflects the panel's findings on the evidence presented. Among other things, it proposed that any development in the south-east over the next 20 years should be done in a co-ordinated way, as in "Priority Areas for Economic Regeneration" and in areas where development is needed, such as the Thames gateway, rather than in an unco-ordinated, unsustainable, piecemeal way spread across the region.

I shall not say tonight what the Government's response will be to the panel's report. As with all such planning matters, the Secretary of State will have to consider carefully what the panel has had to say and all the evidence presented before he makes up his mind. Under the new more open procedures, the Government will in due course publish proposed changes to the draft RPG for further consultation, and I hope that that will happen early in the new year. It would be wrong of me to speculate now on what the Secretary of State may decide in this case. However, we shall consider what the panel has said within the context of our stated policies of promoting

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sustainable development and an urban renaissance, and our clearly stated policy that 60 per cent. of all new development should be on brownfield sites.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): May I bring the Minister back to the way in which the policy operates now, and take him away from the south-east towards the south-west and Somerset? I have in my hand some structure plan review modifications, which I received today. When he considers the final result of that review, will the Secretary of State take into account the most up-to-date figures and the latest planning advice, or will he consider the matters that were considered by the examination-in-public panel? That makes an enormous difference to the conclusions reached by the local authorities and, I hope, by the Secretary of State in reducing housing numbers in Somerset.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He will know from my response to an earlier question from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that the process of changing from the old system to the new one is incremental. One cannot throw out the position that one has reached, so one cannot reject the conclusions of the examination in public, but gradually the new arrangements are added. The new PPG 3 comes into the equation as and when it is published. It will therefore be open to the local authority to consider the need in the south-west in the context of the previous structure plan proposals and the emerging Government guidance.

Mr. Tom King: As the Minister will have noticed, I sought to intervene when I thought that the whole debate was going to degenerate into the scoring of cheap party political points against my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I do not believe that the Minister honestly does not recognise the real concerns throughout the country about the development of the policy. If I may take the south-east--the south-west has the same problem--it is not just a question of 1.1 million more houses and that is the end of it. It is 1.1 million until the end of 2016 and then, as far as people know, it will be the same all over again. The policy is unsustainable. Two thirds of the rise in the population in Somerset is due to inward migration from the north and other places by people wishing to take advantage of better job opportunities and other factors. That is causing urban deprivation, inner-city disaster and rural sprawl, and it is a major challenge for the whole country.


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