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Affordable Housing

13. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): If he will revise planning guidance to allow local authorities to require that all housing developments in their area include at least 50 per cent. of homes at affordable cost for members of their local community. [128412]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): Planning policy guidance note 3 "Housing" and circular 6/98 "Planning and Affordable Housing" recognise a community's need for affordable housing as a material planning consideration, and allow local authorities to require an appropriate percentage of such housing on suitable sites, where a local need exists. We have no plans at present to revise the guidance.

Mr. Hughes: That is an unsatisfactory answer. I have not seen the minutes of the policy forum in Exeter, but would the Labour party like to think about a slightly radical policy for the next general election? Would it like to allow local councils, which at present are able only to have housing built to meet demand, not need--expensive homes rather than affordable homes--to decide that up to 50 per cent. of the properties in any housing development should be affordable? Can we have homes for people on lower incomes rather than big profits for property developers?

Mr. Raynsford: If the hon. Gentleman bothered to look at reality rather than producing soundbites, he would realise that that is possible under the existing guidance that he ridiculed. The London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has recently agreed a major new private development with a 50 per cent. element of affordable housing. If it can do it in London, so can other authorities. The hon. Gentleman, who represents a London constituency, should check his facts in future before mouthing soundbites.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): Is my hon. Friend aware that the increasing demand for affordable housing is making it difficult in Hertfordshire, and especially in my

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constituency, to recruit teachers, nurses and many other public sector or lower-paid employees to work? What advice and hope can he give to those communities that the Government will introduce measures to assist local councils and housing associations to provide affordable accommodation and thereby ensure that we can fill those important jobs within the public sector?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. She will know that in the housing Green Paper that we published two months ago, we set out a number of proposals for tackling precisely those needs. Those proposals include the starter home initiative, which is designed to help precisely the categories that she mentions--teachers and nurses--who need accommodation to enable them to work in the area in which they live. She will also be aware of our concern to introduce more effective measures to ensure a good supply of affordable housing provided through both the Housing Corporation-funded programme and planning agreements such as the one to which I referred in my reply to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): But why are the Government building fewer affordable houses than the previous Government? Surely if the previous Government could do it, this Government ought to be able to do it.

Mr. Raynsford: Before the hon. Gentleman asks such a question, he ought to do a bit of homework. He would then know that the programme that we inherited from the previous Government involved a dramatic and damaging decline year on year--1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997. We have stopped the decline. We have guaranteed the funding for the Housing Corporation. The hon. Gentleman will obviously have to wait until after the spending review to see plans for the future.

Green Belt

14. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): What plans he has to give additional protection to the green belt. [128413]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Government remain firmly committed to the protection of green belts. Planning policy guidance note 2 contains a presumption against inappropriate development in designated green belts.

Mr. Clappison: Earlier the Secretary of State spoke about obtaining more information about brownfield sites, but is he aware that in authorities such as Hertsmere, the planners have already done their homework and, in that borough as in many others in the south-east of England, there are precious few brownfield sites left in the sense of previously developed sites, let alone derelict or damaged sites? Is he aware that the greater the housing targets required of boroughs, the greater the incursion will be into the green belt, at the expense of the countryside, the environment and quality of life? Will he consider real

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policies to strengthen the green belt, rather than concreting over huge swaths of countryside, and will he listen to the views of Serplan?

Mr. Raynsford: As a former Minister in the Department that we have succeeded, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the very considerable range of policy development that has taken place in the three years since we took over responsibility from him and his

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colleagues. He will know about PPG3; he will know about the sequential approach; and he will know about the proposals on increasing densities. They are all designed to ensure that we make better use of brownfield sites, that we provide for the housing needs of our country and that we do so while taking no more greenfield land than would otherwise have been required. That is practical, sensible politics, designed to balance a responsible attitude to the environment with a responsible attitude towards meeting housing needs.

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Type 45 Destroyers

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Madam Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the procurement of the first type 45 destroyers.

The strategic defence review set out the Government's firm commitment to a modern and effective destroyer and frigate force for the Royal Navy, including substantial investment in new ships.

I am pleased to be able to announce today that we have decided to procure the first type 45 destroyers, part of a planned class of up to 12 ships. The type 45s will be the largest and most powerful air defence destroyers ever ordered for the Royal Navy.

Subject to the satisfactory completion of negotiations, a contract will be placed later this year with BAE Systems for the construction of the first three of these ships, and certain large items such as the propulsion plant for a further three, at a total cost of about £1 billion. The first ship will enter operational service in 2007. 1 expect a contract for the second batch of ships to be placed in about 2004.

These ships represent a huge improvement in capability over the type 42 destroyers that they will replace. Their key weapon system will be the highly advanced and capable principal anti-air missile system--PAAMS--already being procured in collaboration with France and Italy.

The type 45s equipped with PAAMS will defend other ships against the most dangerous supersonic sea-skimming missiles as well as enemy aircraft. In this role, the type 45 will protect a wide range of our maritime assets, from aircraft carriers to logistics vessels. In addition, the type 45 will be a highly potent, multi-role platform capable of operations across the spectrum of tasks from peace support to high-intensity warfare.

The design will be capable of evolutionary improvement over the life of the class, through an incremental acquisition plan--a key feature of smart procurement. Its size, at about 7,200 tonnes, will ensure that space is available to allow for both additional and enhanced capabilities to meet this plan.

Our procurement strategy for the build phase has been developed with the maximum participation of the prime contractor, in line with smart procurement principles. This has allowed a rapid recovery following the demise last year of the tri-national Horizon programme--a programme which had been running since 1994 to meet the Navy's need for a new area air defence ship. Under the control of the prime contractor, a single design definition is being developed involving the two shipbuilders, Vosper Thornycroft and BAE Systems Marine, in a risk-sharing design team. This means that from the outset we have a design that can be efficiently constructed by either company.

Our intention to place a first-build contract for three ships is a further break from the traditional way of contracting for destroyers and frigates. Previously we would have ordered only a single first of class. This approach means better, cheaper procurement.

Our approach in this programme will ensure that experience in type 45 construction is spread between BAE Systems Marine and Vosper Thornycroft. That will assist future competition for follow-on ships.

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Radical modular construction techniques will also assist competition. We will invite bids from both traditional shipyards and from wider industry for the manufacture of modules. These might be a section of the ship from keel to main deck, with equipment and systems already installed.

This method of construction represents a revolution for warship building in this country. Although it has been successfully employed in the commercial shipbuilding sector and overseas, we have never before used it for Royal Navy ships. It will permit more efficient construction of the warships and provide a basis for effective competition from a wider industrial base.

Provided that satisfactory arrangements can be agreed between the prime contractor and the two shipbuilders, we intend that the first and third ships will be assembled by BAE Systems Marine and the second ship by Vosper Thornycroft. Both companies will be able to compete independently for the assembly of batches of follow-on ships.

The type 45 programme will sustain up to 3,000 jobs directly in the shipyards over the next 10 years, and it will sustain or create almost as many elsewhere in the defence industry. It is part of the largest programme of warship construction in this country since the second world war. The first of class is expected to be launched from the BAE Systems Marine Scotstoun yard on the Clyde. I understand that Vosper Thornycroft is examining the possibility of building type 45s at Portsmouth as an alternative to Woolston.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that the class is to be named the D class. Her Majesty the Queen has graciously agreed to the first of class being named HMS Daring, and the second HMS Dauntless. This revives two famous names that have served the Royal Navy well since the early 1800s. As the seventh ship to bear the name, Daring's most recent predecessors were destroyers from 1932 to 1940 and from 1952 to 1974. It will be the sixth time that the name Dauntless has been used; the last warship of that name was a cruiser from 1918 to 1946.

Today's announcement clearly demonstrates the Government's commitment to maintaining the shipbuilding industry in this country, and our determination to procure military equipment faster, more cheaply and better than we have in the past. It is good news for Britain and Britain's shipbuilding industry, and it is good news for the Royal Navy. I commend these proposals to the House.

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