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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Criminal Law

Question agreed to.


Sovereign Rights

10.28 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I wish to present the petition of Joan Martin and 3,500 of the citizens of Beaconsfield and elsewhere.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

23 Oct 2001 : Column 254

Housing Development (Hampshire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

10.29 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I am grateful to have this opportunity to raise the issue of housing development in Hampshire. This is a matter of great importance throughout Hampshire, especially in my constituency of Fareham. During this year's election campaign it was the most important local issue. That is not surprising. Fareham used to be a rural constituency. It was a centre for strawberry growing and horticulture, but as a result of housing developments over the past 20 to 30 years, there are few strawberry fields and nurseries left. It is now predominantly a suburban constituency.

The development of Fareham and housing growth in its western wards, where most recent building has occurred, has led to more traffic and ever expanding schools. However, the infrastructure for supporting such large- scale development has lagged behind the actual development. The powers of local councillors to deal with planning matters have recently been eroded. The response to the genuine anxieties of local people about housing development is often that the council's hands are tied because the Government made the decision.

At a time of growing public anxiety about housing development in Hampshire, the power of local councils to deal with local issues has been removed, leaving a vacuum. The source of Hampshire's problems is regional planning guidance note 9, which covers the south-east. The Government said that provision should be made in Hampshire for a net average increase of 6,030 houses a year—more than in any other county in south-east England. Constraints on development in Hampshire mean that a disproportionate share of those additional dwellings will be built in south-east Hampshire, including Fareham.

The Government's guidance on housing development does not stop there. They have become increasingly involved in decisions about the location of houses and housing density. There are two flaws in the Government's approach to housing development. The first is the failure to match infrastructure development with housing development and the second is the Government's desire to micro-manage housing development, which undermines local democratic accountability.

First, let us consider infrastructure. I want to give two examples of the response to past difficulties to illustrate one of the problems at the heart of the Government's approach to planning an infrastructure. Junction 9 of the M27 serves two major development areas: Whiteley and the western wards. More than 20,000 adults live in those areas and many others commute to work there. Development has been well flagged in the borough and county plans for several years. However, there were no traffic infrastructure improvements to deal with the congestion around junction 9. It was clear that building houses and offices in that area would cause traffic problems.

Instead of improving the junction in parallel with housing and commercial development, the council could obtain funding from the Government only when the traffic problems had emerged. Improvements would be considered only when traffic gridlock had occurred,

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even though the need for them was obvious from the development plans. The junction is now properly configured for current flows, but only a third of the development of Whiteley has been completed. When the remainder has happened, we will return to gridlock. Further housing development in Hampshire, especially south-east Hampshire, requires a transport infrastructure to match it. It should parallel the growth in population, and not be an afterthought.

The second infrastructure issue is the provision of school places. The provision of primary school places is less of a problem than that of new secondary schools because the capital costs of a new primary school can be met through capital programmes or developers' contributions. The provision of secondary school places is more difficult.

Brookfield school, which serves part of the western wards, has expanded in 10 years from 1,000 to 1,570 pupils this year. It will take a further 90 pupils when new classrooms are built. However, that does not cater for all the secondary school places that are required for pupils who live in the west of the constituency.

Children from Whiteley have to be sent to the Henry Cort community school in the centre for Fareham because Brookfield, their nearest school, does not have sufficient capacity, despite its rapid expansion, to accommodate them. Travelling to Henry Cort means a journey over the M27 at peak time and down the A27 into Fareham. That is followed by a journey along Highlands road, which is already a rat run for traffic, avoiding Fareham town centre. School buses and parents on the school run clog up already busy roads.

I do not believe that anyone, in retrospect, would design the secondary education of children in the west of Fareham in that way. The sensible approach would be to build a second secondary school to serve the western wards. Sadly, the sensible approach does not feature in the Government's capital programme. The county council cannot obtain Government funding to open a new secondary school.

A new secondary school in Whiteley would serve several rapidly growing local communities in Fareham and neighbouring boroughs—the likely focus for much of the new housing development in Hampshire. A new secondary school would ease the burden on existing schools, reduce the cost of home-to-school travel, and reduce traffic volumes on already congested routes. Rather than the expansion of existing schools, we should have had a new school to cope with the increased demand.

The Government require Hampshire to build more houses, and Fareham to bear a disproportionate share. Will the infrastructure be there to support that growth? On the basis of past experience, the answer will be, "Yes, eventually, but too late, and not configured properly to take account of the needs of local people."

If we are to proceed with large-scale housing developments to meet the Government's housing targets, the Government must provide funds so that the infrastructure is there to meet the needs of new residents. They should take an holistic approach to development. Infrastructure issues will have to be factored into plans, and properly financed. At a time when more and more people are concerned about issues relating to the quality of life, the Government need to support large-scale

23 Oct 2001 : Column 256

development with a capital programme that pre-empts problems, rather than waiting until the problems have been created.

Ministers may respond that this is not a problem for them, and that the local authority should deal with it. But the trend appears to be towards more and more central Government intervention—towards, as I said earlier, micro-managing development. Let me give an example. The Secretary of State's predecessor called in a housing development known as North of Whiteley in August 2000. An inquiry was held into the development of the site in November 2000, the inspector reported in February 2001, but only in July 2001 did the Secretary of State announce that he had not made up his mind. He wanted further evidence on, among other things, the availability of housing land and greenfield sites.

The site was earmarked for development in the Fareham borough local plan review, published in June 2000. The plan had been through the due process: consultations had been received, and an inspector had held an inquiry. In a sense, it was the product of a democratic process. It has the support of local councillors, who are accountable to the people of the borough. In effect, however, by his intervention the Secretary of State has ripped up the part of it that is most important to my constituents—the section on housing development.

If the Secretary of State or, more likely, the Government office of the south-east—GOSE—had bothered to read the plan, he or it would have realised that there are not many brownfield sites in Fareham. That is not surprising, I suppose, in what was once a rural constituency. Ironically, the only large brownfield site identified in the plan was HMS Daedalus, shared by the boroughs of Fareham and Gosport. It was a military base, which the Ministry of Defence in its wisdom has now decided to retain. Large-scale housing development can only happen on greenfield sites in Fareham. If the Secretary of State wishes to decide how much additional housing needs to be built, he will have to accept that the development must take place on greenfield sites.

But it is not just in regard to where houses should be built that the Secretary of State becomes involved; there is also the question of how many houses should be built. Let me give another example. There was a site in Peters road in Warsash, again earmarked for development in the borough plan, and 210 houses were allocated to it. In response to the Secretary of State's guidance, issued last year, that allocation was increased to 249 houses. More than 300 local residents petitioned against the development, calling for more money to be spent on important local services. They rightly feared that higher densities would put more pressure on the local infrastructure.

The development in Peters road is a further example of both aspects of the Government's involvement in housing development to which I object: lack of infrastructure support and, once again, interference by central Government. It has been called in by the Department and is being reviewed by GOSE, which has admitted that it will not be able to deal with it in the required time scale. Government interference is hindering the building of houses that the Government want to build. Above all, there is the power of central Government to dictate the number of houses to be built in a county, which was the starting point of my speech.

23 Oct 2001 : Column 257

The Secretary of State can dictate the number of houses to be built in a county; he can then influence whether they are built on greenfield or brownfield sites, and how many houses are built on a site. All that can be done from luxury offices in Victoria or through the GOSE office in Guildford, with little reference to people on the ground who know what the real issues in Fareham are.

Increasingly, housing development decisions, which should be in the hands of local councillors who are accountable to local residents, are being constrained by a tighter and tighter framework drawn up by the Secretary of State. One advantage of councillor involvement in planning is that it allows local input and accountability. The local councillors understand the problems and needs of the borough and they, not the Secretary of State or his officials, know how much traffic can be absorbed and how much capacity a school has for new pupils.

If councillors lose discretion over housing development, who will be accountable to the people of Fareham for building houses on greenfield or brownfield sites? To whom shall I direct my constituents when they challenge a housing development—a councillor whose hands are tied by the Secretary of State? Will the Secretary of State meet residents' associations to justify building high-density housing in residential areas or will he delegate that to the Minister? More likely, it will be delegated to some anonymous official in the GOSE who will issue bland replies about a particular development.

Local councils' ability to represent their residents, shape their communities and reflect local needs is being eroded by an increasingly interventionist Department that cannot trust local people to make decisions. It is time to move the planning and development debate on. We must move away from predict and provide, which all Governments have used. That approach guides housing development, but not the provision of roads, schools and local services.

I want local authorities to have genuine control over housing development to ensure that borough plans are meaningful, not the window-dressing exercises in participation that the Government seem to think they are. We should require local councils to accommodate the growth of their local population—that is reasonable—but they should decide whether to build to accommodate further economic development. We should not be afraid to let people voice their concerns about development and affect council decisions about the location of that development.

In Hampshire, an increasingly interventionist Government are exercising tighter and tighter control over housing development and acting, in the words of one planning officer, like a shadow development control agency that second- guesses or even overrides democratically elected councils, but does not take responsibility for the infrastructure that large-scale development needs.

We should rebuild the power of local councils so that they can take the decisions that affect the local community and be accountable to local people for them. Housing development would therefore meet both the needs of local people and the capacity of local infrastructure.

23 Oct 2001 : Column 258

10.43 pm

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