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Mr. Don Foster (Bath): How can we have confidence that the Deputy Prime Minister has carefully weighed the two options before him, when it appears that he has merely split the difference between them? How can we have confidence that his statement is not another example of centralised planning, when he proposes 142,000 more homes than experts on the ground in the region believe are necessary? Does he agree that we should talk more about creating new homes than about building new houses? In the south-east, excluding London, there are 130,000 empty homes. Why are we not taking tougher action to bring those empty homes back into use? Why are we not taking tougher action to make better use of existing housing stock? Is it not crazy that we charge VAT on the renovation of buildings but there is no VAT on new build?

Finally, is not the Deputy Prime Minister just whistling in the wind in believing that most of these new houses will be built on brownfield sites? He must be prepared to take the tough action that is needed to ensure that most are built on brownfield sites. He must give support for brownfield site development, and also tax any developments on greenfield sites.

Mr. Prescott: Tax matters will be settled by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the hon. Gentleman will know. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] All Ministers have to give that answer sometimes, especially before Budgets. It is the proper answer to give, although that is not to say that Ministers and Chancellors do not discuss such matters. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but such decisions are made by Chancellors.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I think that the housing targets can be achieved. I believe that they can, and without a greater land take than that suggested by Serplan. One has to make judgments about densities. I believe that more people will want to live in cities if those cities are good enough to live in. I do not think that we have achieved that yet, but that has more to do with the many other factors involved in community living, such as crime, education and the environment. That is why the planning guidance makes clear the need to achieve sustainable communities.

The argument over density or land take is very important. It was discussed by Lord Rogers in his report on "Urban Renaissance", and he made it clear that the density levels that have been set out would be possible.

In Europe, those levels are normal. In the United Kingdom in general--and in the south-east in particular--density levels are very low. No one would say that a village such as Poundbury was heavily built up, but 40 houses per hectare is the average there. The millennium village that we are planning will have 80 homes or households per hectare. That is the density range that can be adopted, and achieving it represents a challenge to builders, architects and communities alike. I believe that it is possible, and the regional planning guidance makes it clear that we should achieve that.

As for achieving the proposed density levels on brownfield sites, I have made it clear that local authorities and housing authorities will have to use brownfield sites

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in preference to greenfield sites. However, even if the target is for densities of 50 or 60 per cent. on brownfield sites, we all agree that that will mean that we end up with 40 or 50 per cent. on other sites, or on sites where there is existing accommodation.

I believe that we can achieve that target, which I set some time ago. Since the Government came to power, there has been an increase of 2 per cent. in the number of homes being built on brownfield sites. We have set the target for 2008, and I think that we will achieve it.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. I am now looking for very brisk questions to the Secretary of State. Hon. Members should ask him only one, very brisk question, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will oblige with his responses.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): Is it possible for the map of brownfield sites in the south-east to be published? Also, many houses in my constituency--

Madam Speaker: Order. Given that so many hon. Members want to question the Secretary of State, I can allow only one question at a time. The entire House is getting to its feet to catch my eye, and I must safeguard the rest of the day's business.

Mr. Prescott: If it will help, Madam Speaker, I shall answer only one question at a time, even if more than one is asked.

Madam Speaker: That is very kind. Then you can select the question that you want to answer.

Mr. Prescott: That had dawned on me when I offered my co-operation, Madam Speaker.

The registration of brownfield land is an important matter. That is why we established the national land-use data bank. We hope to publish the information shortly, so that people can see where the brownfield sites are. I hope that that will help people to increase the pressure to build on those pieces of land in their areas.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The Deputy Prime Minister has fingered my constituency of Ashford for large-scale growth--an act of environmental vandalism that will cause justifiable anger. Does he acknowledge that any large development in that area will inevitably be on greenfield sites? Will not his rhetoric today about brownfield sites first and greenfield sites second seem like only so much hot air unless he agrees to drop the proposals?

Mr. Prescott: I think that I made it clear that, although the priority is for brownfield sites, we envisage that there will be new developments as well. In that context, I mentioned Milton Keynes and Ashford. The recommendation regarding Ashford does not come only from me. The Kent structure plans of 1984 and 1996 both suggested that Ashford was an important area for economic development. I agree with them.

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Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): May I tell my right hon. Friend that there are areas in the south-east, north of Hastings, where substantial housing could be built subject only to construction of a bypass? Will he consider, when the report comes out, allowing a bypass so that it can be used effectively for the building of houses?

Mr. Prescott: It is an important question. We made it clear in the White Paper on transport and in the plans that we hope to bring before the House shortly that bypasses can play an important part in economic regeneration as well as environmental considerations and housing. I made that clear in statements to the House as well. Bypasses are an essential part of what we call the sustainable communities.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): If Elmbridge borough council in Surrey does not think that it can meet the targets originally set by Serplan, how on earth can it meet the targets set by the Deputy Prime Minister today, when there are no brownfield sites left in the borough?

Mr. Prescott: I hope that after what it has heard today the council will look at my proposals. I will be discussing the implications with local authorities, but that takes me back to density. Their concern was that they did not have enough land. These proposals for households are greater than those proposed by Serplan covering the whole of the south-east, but by using higher densities local authorities can achieve the building of more households without taking more land. As to whether we can force them, the previous Administration was pretty good at forcing local authorities to accept their housing projections, even though they were against them.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of Labour Members on a very skilful performance on the tightrope? Will he confirm that not building sufficient houses will lead to house price inflation, with a disastrous effect on the country's economy, while building too many will ruin our green fields? Will he also confirm that high-density housing will be provided with services so that we do not make the mistakes made in the 1960s, resulting in high-density housing and poor services for the people living in it?

Mr. Prescott: I record my appreciation to my hon. Friend for the work done by the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. We have responded to his Committee's report today, and it was helpful in arriving at some of these deliberations. Anybody reading the Committee's report will know that many of the issues that I have mentioned today were debated in that Committee, and very often supported by its members. I am grateful for that.

House pricing is a matter of great concern which needs a great deal of attention. It is also associated with the shortage of available houses. There are a number of reasons, but that is one of them. For the life of me, I cannot accept the Tories' proposal that the decision should be made by local authorities. A local authority has only to say that it believes in housing but that it should be built in another authority's area. If they all refuse to have any housing development in their areas, that will

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result in a phenomenal increase in house prices and do very little to meet the needs of ordinary people trying to secure homes.

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