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Mr. Green: As I said, the hon. Lady is welcome to agree with our proposal to ensure that development is

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based on local decisions. I am also glad that Labour Members are now on record as favouring plan-led growth, which is a severe threat to many parts of the country, and not only to the south-east.

We are suspicious of the Secretary of State's motives because, under the Crow proposals, he would be able to make general remarks on development levels. He should reject Crow also because Crow rejects the Government's own policy. The Deputy Prime Minister said that predict and provide is dead, but the Crow report said that household projections

Although the report flatly contradicts the Government's own policy, the Secretary of State cannot bring himself to reject it.

I offer some constructive suggestions for action that the Government could take to protect the land. Ministers should make the planning process more sensitive to the views of local people and more open and transparent. They should scrap rigid central forecasts of housing need and protect the green belt.

Those of us who have some affection for the Deputy Prime Minister's unique relationship with the English language simply smiled when, on 16 April 1999, he said:

The problem is that we were being too kind to him--he really meant it. Now, we have seen a leaked report from the performance and innovation unit, stating a desire to build also on our prime agricultural land. No green field is safe from the Government.

Today, will the Minister at least give us a reassurance that moves to weaken controls on land that is now protected from development will be strongly resisted by the Department?

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): The Conservative motion mentions "limiting greenfield housing construction". Do their arguments apply also to commercial development?

Ms Ward: Or to roads?

Mr. Green: I should love to deal with commercial development and with roads, but, in three minutes, it would be a little ambitious even to try. Everything proposed in the debate by Labour Members entailed increasing the need for cars, and therefore for roads. The Government are being spectacularly incoherent on that issue.

The way to avoid the two Britains that the Government are creating is to regenerate our towns and cities, in both the south and the north. We could do that by setting higher targets for brownfield development; altering planning guidance, to make it easier to build on those brown fields; and taking the Rogers report seriously, not simply filing it away, as the Government have done.

The Government should realise that once Britain's trees, fields and wildlife have gone, they are gone for ever. The Government who are responsible for that destruction will deserve the anger and contempt of future generations for letting it happen.

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The Government are failing the cities and the countryside, and breaking their pre-election promises. They are creating two nations: one that is overbuilt and overcrowded; another that is underdeveloped or under-regenerated. In planning, as in so much else, the Government's claim to the one-nation mantle is a great Labour lie. I commend our motion to the House.

6.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): As we might have expected, this has been a lively debate, with some excellent speeches by my hon. Friends. We have also heard a great deal of outrage, and not a little amnesia, expressed by Conservative Members. Nevertheless, I am glad that they have discovered--albeit belatedly--a new concern about the green belt and about how to marry the competing objectives of enabling economic growth, providing homes and protecting the countryside.

The debate has highlighted the fact that Conservative Members have still not accepted responsibility for their past failures; they still do not understand the complex natures of these issues, and are still floundering to put together an effective policy to deal responsibly with them. It is no surprise that Conservative Members want to forget about the past, but we will not let them, because they are responsible for the current situation.

Let me remind Conservative Members of a few facts. First, the previous Administration regarded planning as an obstacle to free-market economics. They thought that the decisions of the market would be in everybody's best interests and that they should prevail. The greenfield housing estates and out-of-town developments that appear to upset Conservative Members so much have, for the best part of the past two decades, been the result of their Government's "let green fields rip" policy. In every year of the last decade the Conservative party was in power, there was a net loss to the green belt. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) and for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) for outlining the devastation that their constituencies have experienced, and for describing the Conservative Government's abject failure to protect the green belt. Much as we would like to, we cannot reverse the direction of their planning and development system overnight. Planning permissions have five-year lives, and some of the previous Government's legacy is still being felt.

Secondly, although Opposition Members have spent the past few hours rubbishing the system of planning for housing, they invented it and then enforced it for many years. Predict and provide is an inflexible, dictatorial, top-down approach, which ignored local views, although the current Conservative approach is to take them into account. I acknowledge the comments of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on the impact of that system on homelessness and housing, but his suggestion of taxing and spending his way out of those problems is not an option.

Thirdly, none of the Tory speakers acknowledged the run-down of our towns and cities, the failure to help people living in the countryside, the growing gap between regions and the impact of industrial and rural decline under the Tories that caused so much human and economic suffering. Indeed, the right hon. Member for

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South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) chose to ignore the fact that, under her Government, 100,000 farming jobs in the countryside were lost. In stark contrast was the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears), who graphically outlined the impact of Tory policies on her constituency.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning outlined in some detail the radical change of policy on planning that we have instituted, including a real ownership of decision-making through the regional process--a local, transparent system. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) for highlighting a fact that seems to have escaped Conservative Members' notice--that the issues of green belt land and countryside are particularly important for constituents living in the north and in industrial areas.

My hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) gave a considered analysis of the complex set of social, economic, demographic and environmental issues that we face. They referred to the need for a balanced, flexible but robust approach to meet those competing objectives.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) was the one exception on the Tory Benches who made a thoughtful contribution. I do not want to get the hon. Gentleman into trouble, but I am pleased that he supports the Government's emphasis on the importance both of design and of the sequential approach. We have had constructive meetings with Stuart Lipton to take those issues forward.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) raised many detailed questions. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman fully understands the issue, but I can tell him that PPG3 will be published by the end of the year, when it will become effective, and that inspectors will be able to take account of infrastructure in applying the sequential approach.

Conservative Members made a great deal of the issue of migration to the south-east, and of the panel report. Most people looking for housing in the south-east are south-easterners. Pulling up the drawbridge, as the Tories want, will price local people out of the housing market and cause untold misery. It is a shame that the hon. Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) did not listen to my hon. Friend the Minister of State when he said that our response to the panel report is under consideration; it will be a detailed response, and we will give it as soon as we can. In the meantime, those hon. Gentlemen would serve their constituencies better if they stopped talking about fear and time bombs and started thinking constructively about the issues faced by their constituents.

The Tories' so-called common-sense revolution proposes a number of policies. Sustainable and development protecting the green belt--we are doing it; regenerating towns and cities--we are doing it; modernising the planning system--we are doing that too. There is a revolution taking place, and it was started in May 1997 by this Government. Not for the first time, the Tories are behind the times, and I am glad that they are adopting some of our policies now.

Conservative proposals for dismantling our new planning structure at regional level are nothing short of irresponsible. Such proposals would result in essential houses not being available for people in the area who need

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them. What about local need? What about the children of families living in the south and the south-east? What about those who cannot afford to buy a home? What about older people in housing need? The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) would have them all turned out and forced to live somewhere else--presumably in the north, as he puts it. He does not want them on his patch, and most would be completely priced out of the market by the reductions in housing provision that he proposes. [Interruption.] We can always tell when we are touching a nerve. Far from planning for one nation, the right hon. Gentleman's latest proposals would result in two nations--the well-off who could afford to stay in the south, and the rest who would have to fend for themselves.

The hypocrisy of the Tories' new-found deathbed concern about the divide between rich and poor, north and south is truly breathtaking. They shed crocodile tears about the two Britains that their Government did so much to create, but their proposals are nothing more than a thinly veiled version of that well-known Tory tradition--a policy not for the many, but just for the few.

We know all about Tory policy on two Britains. What else would we expect from the party that closed the pits, shut the steelworks, devastated manufacturing, ignored the countryside and left the regions to fend for themselves in the name of the free market? People out there will tell the Tories what they told them in May 1997: "On your bike, and take your nonsensical policy with you."

The Government are repairing the damage done by the Tories. We are safeguarding the countryside, regenerating towns and cities, rebuilding communities and ensuring a sustainable future for all our regions and the whole of the United Kingdom.

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