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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy

Question agreed to.


Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

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


13 Jun 2002 : Column 1110

Question agreed to.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.


City of Bath

7.15 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I wish to present a non-party political petition that has more than 12,000 signatures from people in my constituency and the support of the local chamber of commerce and many small businesses that are concerned about what they see as the deteriorating state of the city of Bath. It seeks to ensure that Bath, a world heritage site with a mayoralty dating back to 1230, but with an administrative headquarters now based outside the city in Keynsham, is restored to unitary authority status. For more than 1,000 years, Bath was in charge of its own affairs and the petitioners seek to return to that situation.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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13 Jun 2002 : Column 1111

Brownfield Sites (London)

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

7.16 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to bring to the House this Adjournment debate about the change in the use of planning applications for brownfield sites. I am delighted to have secured it not only because of the importance that this matter holds for my constituents, but because I understand that it is the first Adjournment debate of our new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), and his first outing as such in the Chamber. I should like to say how good I think he will be in his position and how important it is for those of us in suburban constituencies, especially in London, to have Ministers who understand the problems that exist in such areas. I am pleased that he is responding to the debate.

The reason why I asked for the debate is that my local authority, the London borough of Merton, has in its unitary development plan a policy suggesting that all employment sites should remain as such. On the face of it, that is not an unreasonable idea. Clearly, it is important in areas where land values are very high to have the opportunity for people to work locally and sustainably. That is the case on the surface, but when we go a bit deeper, we see the problems that the policy creates. I would like the Minister to address the issue of location of the sites and the competing housing needs in these areas.

I come to the debate not as a planner or as somebody who necessarily understands all planning law, but as a constituency Member of Parliament who has had to deal in the past five years with large numbers of complaints from local residents about industrial and employment sites that have been empty for more than five, six or even 12 years and which become magnets for fly tipping, abandoned cars, arson and illegal travellers' sites, generally making local residents miserable while remaining empty and unused because of the council's planning policies.

It strikes me that if a site is designated for employment use, some attention must be given to its location. We must ask whether it is of an appropriate size for work and business or in an area where they will go, about its transport links, and about how close it is to other residential development. In my sort of suburban area, housing is built up around employers and employment and in places where businesses no longer want to go.

Our employment problems are related not necessarily to the number of jobs available, but to the people who are available with the right skills to fill the vacancies that exist. While keeping employment land for this purpose is seen as a sustainable policy—so that one works near where one lives—it has an element of unsustainability. People in south-west London are moving further and further out because there is not enough housing. They push up the price, making it very difficult to pay for housing. We are making people travel further because we are keeping sites empty for the sake of some notion that, in future, they may be used for employment.

That is how I came to the issue. On looking at it further, I discovered a real housing dilemma in Merton's draft UDP. There is an idea that the land allocated for housing

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purposes will meet housing need. Clearly that is not the case, and it is self-evident that the housing department is not talking to the planning department. That may be replicated in boroughs right across London.

The housing department believes that it will need something between 600 and 900 affordable units per year. It is currently developing between 88 and 100, with 60 used by planning gain through the planning process. These figures have not hit the imagination of the planning department, which appears to believe that it is currently meeting all the necessary targets. I am sure that it is meeting current Serplan targets for owner-occupation, but not in terms of the need for social renting or the need for intermediate assistance for key workers. It is alarming that these sites remain empty, yet the draft UDP makes no mention of the need for key worker housing.

This is not an academic subject, and I wish to give the House some idea of sites on which I have worked that led to my alarm about the general policy. The first of these sites, 120-126 Lavender avenue—a mixed-use site of about 637 sq m in a heavily residential area involving social renting and owner-occupation—became empty in 1996. It was a small factory site. No developer or employer would want to go there because the site is long and narrow and would not meet today's IT requirements. There is not good parking, and the public transport situation makes it fairly inaccessible.

The site was allowed to rot for over seven years while people put in numerous planning applications for residential uses that were never allowed because the site was being kept for employment purposes. The vandals got in, the windows were broken and the building was continually set on fire—so much so that, in the end, the council required the developer to erect a fence along the front of the site so that no one could gain access.

Resulting from such antisocial behaviour and destruction are not only the misery of local residents but the hidden costs to the public purse: the costs to the council, the police and the fire service. Who benefits? Now—at last, I am glad to say—the council has finally given in and the Wandle housing association will be developing social housing there. The local residents could have told the planners for rather more than six years that that was the appropriate use for the site, but they would not listen.

The next site is 2-8 Miles road; it is a bigger site of about 3,400 sq m which was a paint factory until 1991, when it was broken up for small business purposes, such as car repairs and small joiners workshops. That site has been the biggest issue in my postbag for the last five years because, for example, of the abandoned and untaxed cars left in the area. As people made more money and improved their homes, they felt bogged down by the street scene, which was appalling. They felt frustrated that their council was not listening to them or meeting them halfway in trying to improve their environment.

I have had three or four site meetings there and have met representatives of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police on one occasion when cars had to be towed away. There are hidden costs that come about as a result of the council's not being prepared to consider—for laudable reasons—changing the use of a site that is now redundant but which no longer fits in with the residential area. However, the council does not have to pick up the pieces or live with the consequences of

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such decisions. Again, it will be a social housing site, together with some business use. Although there will be an employment purpose, it will also be a much better site for local residents.

It is the final site that I want to mention—the UGI Smith Meters site, of which I know the Minister is aware—that prompted me to ask for this Adjournment debate. It is a six acre site on which UGI Smith Meters used to construct gas meters, until it moved production to India. Over several years, the number of employees slowly declined. The area around the factory consists of 1930s, residential, three-bedroom, family-style accommodation in which people like to live.

When the site became empty, it seemed unthinkable that it would be replaced by another factory employing the same number of people. It is inaccessible by public transport, and the nearest train station is Streatham Common, some two miles away. Such a factory simply would not fit in with the residential area that it has become. The site is long and narrow, with a very narrow frontage to the high road. Major access is via Long Thornton road, which is also a residential road.

I have no particular brief in respect of Hanson, the developers; I simply want the best use to be made of what is a very large site for the benefit of local residents. A scheme involving 60 per cent. employment and 40 per cent. residential use was developed, including provision for a nursery—child care facilities are desperately needed in the area—and a shop, which would avoid the need for local residents to travel to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and so on. The scheme, which seemed to strike a fantastic balance, also provided for 12 B1-use units and nine live-work units.

It is clear however that local residents must have their say in the impact on their local environment. I sent out a questionnaire, to which I received 232 replies. I held a tea and coffee morning, which well in excess of 100 residents attended to ask questions. Surprisingly, the vast majority supported the application, and the residents association lobbied on its behalf. That is quite an unusual situation. We normally expect local residents to have a "not in my backyard" attitude to such matters, but they said, "No, we realise that we need some development, and we feel that this best suits what we can achieve for the local area."

In spite of public support and the provision of housing, employment, a nursery and a shop, however, the council turned down the application. Local residents found that very hard to accept, and it continues to surprise me, particularly given that there is another site less than 100 yd away—Marco's, known as 216-218 Rowan road—which comprises 0.75 hectares. That site has been empty for 12 years.

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