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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Does my hon. Friend agree that my constituency is an

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excellent example of precisely the good planning that he has described? Was it not unfortunate that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who is on record as being extremely rude about my constituency, did not see fit to give way to allow him to put that right on the record?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the considerable qualities of Milton Keynes. There are many good things in her area and she is right to condemn unthinking, ill-informed attacks by people who probably have little or no practical knowledge of that part of the country.

We shall make it clear in our new guidance that new developments should help to make places safe and attractive and should be built to design standards that will endure. We shall not beat about the bush. When applying for planning permission, housebuilders will have to show how they have taken the need for good design into account. Planning authorities will be expected to reject poor design, particularly when their decisions are supported by clear planning policies and design guidance. We shall support them on appeal.

Mr. Steen: The Minister talks about good design, which is important, but does he agree that it is equally important to have sewers and schools in place when new homes are built? There must be enough facilities so that people already living in an area are not prejudiced. How will PPG3 ensure that people who already live in the countryside do not have their lives ruined because there is insufficient infrastructure for new homes?

Mr. Raynsford: I say to the hon. Gentleman, who always enlivens our proceedings, that design is more than aesthetics; it is about creating the correct environment and ensuring that places are safe for people to lead pleasant lives without fear of the undesirable consequences that he described.

The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee recently produced a welcome report on planning for housing and I say to the Chairman and its members that I shall respond to the report and that PPG3 will be published very shortly. The Committee will know that planning guidance has quasi-legal status and takes time to prepare. An enormous number of responses have been made to the consultation, including one from the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), and we are taking them seriously. The document is a key plank in countering the irresponsible development policies that were pursued for more than a decade in the early years of the previous Administration and which threatened the green belt and gobbled up the countryside.

We take no lessons from the Opposition. On the profligate use of greenfield sites, hon. Members should look at what they did on out-of-town shopping. During their 18 years in office, nearly 13 million sq m of out-of-town shopping floor space was developed in shopping centres, retail parks and superstores. Superstores alone added 5 million sq m and half all out-of-town shopping--much of it in the south-east--was approved and built under the previous Administration in seven ruinous years from 1986-92.

The disastrous consequences have been recognised and policies changed. To his credit, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)--I am delighted that he

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is present--began that process, and we have tightened further the restrictions on inappropriate out-of-town developments with the clear support of the Select Committee's recent report. In the same way that the tide has been turned against a proliferation of out-of-town shopping centres that damage our town centres, so, too, the tide is turning in favour of housing development in our towns and on brownfield sites. We are promoting a sequential approach to delivering land for new homes, which will prioritise the re-use of brownfield sites.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): May we take it that the Government prefer building on brownfield sites and that they will rescind the permission to build 10,000 houses on the green belt in my constituency? That is the largest approval ever given for housebuilding on the green belt.

Mr. Raynsford: The right hon. Gentleman knows from previous debates in the House that the decision to proceed with that designation was taken by the local authority, quite properly, and it decided to proceed because of a perception--for which there is considerable support from people who have looked at the matter carefully, including planning professionals--that it is better to concentrate development in an area close to transport linkages and other facilities rather than allow a proliferation of development throughout the wider surrounding rural area. I know that that is a difficult issue and that there are different points of view, but he knows only too well that the decision was properly taken by the local authority. It would be quite improper for the Government to intervene belatedly in the way that he suggests.

Ms Ward: Does my hon. Friend agree that developments such as the west of Stevenage development are important to achieving a balance? Although the majority of houses should be built on urban redeveloped land, some are necessary in areas where a new town can be constructed. If it were not for the west of Stevenage development, areas of Stevenage and Watford would experience more building and the amenities available to the people who already live in the town centres would be decreased. They have little green space around them so they want to protect some of it.

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend rightly articulates the concerns of many people in urban areas who do not want urban green spaces to be built on. We support that. Our policy priority is to secure development, wherever possible, on brownfield sites. When that is not possible--we recognise that it is not always--it is essential that sustainability principles apply. I described them in response to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).

Mr. Blizzard: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raynsford: Once more, but then I must make progress because this is a brief debate. I have given way to my hon. Friend already.

Mr. Blizzard: Before my hon. Friend moves on from brownfield sites, may I draw his attention to a large £3 million redevelopment that is under way on a derelict

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brownfield site in Lowestoft? It was funded by the East of England development agency, and that may be of interest to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior).

Mr. Raynsford: I thought that my hon. Friend was about to come in with a useful and apposite reference that responded well to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior).

As I have made clear, we are also committed to a 60 per cent. target for recycling land. We believe that that is tough, but achievable, and Lord Rogers' urban task force agrees. That is not only a question of maximising the use of recycled land. We must end the profligate waste of land through the type of low-density greenfield development that characterised the Tory years. The facts speak for themselves: between 1989 and 1997, 58 per cent. of all new housing developments in the south-east were at densities of less than 20 houses per hectare. That was the previous Government's legacy, and it has to change. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, "We've got to stop wasting land." We want local authorities to look critically at the standards that they apply to new development.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): On wasting existing brownfield sites, will my hon. Friend ensure that local authorities have powers to act when private landlords price town centre sites unreasonably and make sure that developers are not able to use them to enhance housing and urban regeneration? There are real difficulties as many such sites are derelict. Will he consider bringing them back into use?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the difficulty of land assembly in many urban areas. As he will probably know, we have commissioned a detailed study of compulsory purchase practice and are looking at ways of improving the procedures to ensure that it is possible for land assembly to take place while the interests of all parties are respected. A delicate balance has to be achieved, but we are seeking a way forward.

Raising densities does not represent either a pipe dream or a return to the high-rise developments of the 1960s and 1970s. I want better-quality housing design that includes modern variations on popular traditional-style layouts to improve the quality of life in our towns and cities and reduce development in the countryside. It can be done, and it has been done, as developments such as Poundbury in Dorset and Coin street in London have clearly demonstrated. We can achieve better-quality housing and use less land with a popular mix of housing. Even on suburban sites, net development densities of about 50 dwellings per hectare can be achieved with a mix of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses with gardens. Few would quibble with the Government's wish to see quality places that people will cherish.

We will soon announce the conclusions that we shall reach on regional planning guidance for the south-east and eastern regions. As all Members know, we cannot and will not pre-empt that announcement. Let me make this crystal clear, however: our response, and our approach to the future development needs of both regions--and, indeed, others--will be firmly based on the principles that

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I have set out today, and our commitment both to encouraging an urban renaissance and to the protection of our countryside.

In contrast to the previous Government, who presided over a profligate and unsustainable development bonanza that gobbled up millions of hectares of greenfield land, the present Government have developed what is probably the most co-ordinated, thoughtful and realistic approach to planning and regeneration that we have seen for many decades. A number of the new policies are already in place; others will follow in the near future. They will, of course, take a little time to work--there is a lot of damage to make good--but what I have described is a joined-up, long-term programme, with clear objectives in mind and with huge benefits for all our country, urban and rural, north and south. What a contrast that is with the piecemeal, knee-jerk attempt by a non-credible Opposition to grab headlines by distorting a few selectively chosen statistics.

We care about the countryside. We care about our towns, and we care about our cities. We care about all our regions. We are the party of one nation--one Britain. I commend the amendment warmly to the House.

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