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4. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What his policy is on building on and around areas of outstanding natural beauty in Sussex. 
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): Planning policies and development control decisions affecting areas of outstanding natural beauty should favour conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape. In all cases, the environmental effects of new proposals will be a major consideration, although it will also be appropriate to have regard to the economic and social well-being of the areas and their communities, including the provision of adequate housing to meet identified local needs.
Tim Loughton : As the Minister knows, building land for houses in the coastal strip of Sussex is in short supply, wedged as we are between the sea and the downs. Many speculative development proposals are going through on appeal for building on the ribbon of land right up to the downs, adjacent to AONB land. Is he aware that the position will be made worse if the national park designation of the south downs goes through, and the AONB status of areas that fall just outside the national park boundary is revoked? What will he do to make sure that those vulnerable green areas are not concreted over in short order?
Keith Hill: I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the matter, but I hope to be able to reassure him. The national park will become the planning authority, should the proposal go through, and it will acquire jurisdiction over planning applications from the local planning authorities whose areas include areas of outstanding natural beauty. Of
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): The right hon. Gentleman knows well the difficulties that exist in West Sussex, with the number of new houses that have been imposed on the county by the Deputy Prime Minister. Will the Minister reconsider the extraordinary number of new houses that West Sussex is being asked to accept, and will he have regard to the fact that these developments are wholly unsustainable by his own definition of sustainability? What will he do to reduce the number?
Keith Hill: The Government are in regular discussion and negotiation with local authorities on these matters, but the hon. Gentleman must bear it in mind that London and the wider south-east constitute the motor of the economy. The housing growth that the Government anticipate responds very much to indigenous growth in housing demand, as well as inward migration factors.
5. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): If he will make a statement on the role of local government in tackling domestic violence. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope): The Government are wholly committed to tackling domestic violence. Such violence is first and foremost a crime, and stopping it and bringing perpetrators to justice are the overriding priority. Local government has a critical role in tackling domestic violence through the delivery of housing and social services, community safety and crime reduction partnerships.
Kali Mountford : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, in which he pointed out the role of local government in partnership with other organisations. Will he do all that he can to encourage local authorities to invest more in security in the home so that families and children can stay safe in the communities and schools that they are used to, rather than having to be moved on, away from the violent perpetrator of a dreadful crime?
Phil Hope: I place on record our appreciation and recognition of my hon. Friend's tremendous work in championing the interests of victims of domestic violence. She is right that domestic violence can be a significant cause of homelessness, and we need better co-ordination between local agencies so that women can safely stay in their own homes if they undergo such experiences. This year, the Government published our strategy on domestic violence, which emphasises the importance of preventing such violence, supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice. I am pleased to
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The Minister may have seen a disturbing report on television late last night about children being forced by the courts to visit perpetrators of domestic violence after divorce has taken place. Will he assure the House that the Government will look into this problem and advise the family courts accordingly?
Phil Hope: The hon. Lady raises a difficult and sensitive issue in family relationships. We have a problem in that domestic violence affects not only women, the main victims, but children in those households. The Green Paper recently published by my right hon. Friend spells out a range of measures to provide greater protection for children to secure their safety inside and outside the home and to ensure that local agencies work together much more closely through new agencies such as children's trusts to make sure that children receive the support and help that they need if they ever experience such tragic events.
Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): May I invite my hon. Friend to the annual general meeting on domestic violence this afternoon? I impress on him the fact that several hundred people will be there. Will he explain more fully the support services provided for children in particular? I suggest to him that they are lacking for children in domestic violence situations either in the home or in hostels, where very little support is provided. The Green Paper also lacks a voice on that issue.
Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is well known in the House for championing the cause of children and giving them support. She is right to point out the physical, emotional and psychological impact on children of growing up and living in a family where there is domestic violence. I shall try to get to this afternoon's conference, diary permitting. What we need to do through the Green Paper is identify specific action that the Government and local agencies can take through the new children's trusts to ensure that children's needs are paramount and are put first when we make decisions on resources and needs.
6. Bob Spink (Castle Point): If he will make a statement on using pathfinders in providing housing. 
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): Nine market renewal pathfinders have been set up in the north and the midlands to tackle the problem of low demand and abandonment. The pathfinders will rebuild thriving housing markets in those areas, and we have allocated £500 million over the next three years to fund this ambitious programme.
Bob Spink: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's intentions in respect of pathfinders. The initiative should help to reduce the pressure to build more and more houses in the south-east, which he is forcing on
The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right: through the pathfinders, we are doing a great deal in the north to deal with areas that are in massive decline. But I believe that people in the south have a right to live there if they so wish, and that there are sufficient resources, such as land, to provide for that. We have already established a programme to deal with antisocial behaviour. Is he saying that the £96 million that we have just awarded to south-east Essex and to his own constituency is unacceptable? [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I should point out that it is far too noisy in the Chamber. It is unfair.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Is my right hon. Friend aware that one tenth of all properties in east Lancashire are empty or abandoned, that there are properties in my area that cannot be given away, and that last year, 2,500 properties were sold for less than £20,000, which is more than in any other pathfinder? What we in east Lancashire want is not endless strategies but the resources that we need to do something about a housing problem that has been festering for decades.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly do not disagree with my hon. Friend's analysis, but the £500 million that we are giving to pathfinder areas is a unique sum that should be welcomed. It doubtless will not meet all the problems in all such areas, but we are attempting to find new solutions to these different and difficult problems. We are on the way, and several pathfinders have already been developed. They are being turned from strategies into reality, and my hon. Friend should perhaps welcome that.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): May I say to the right hon. Gentleman how flattered I am that such an early reference was made to my speeches? I should hate him to waste civil service or political adviser time; if he would simply like to get in touch with me, I will make sure that he gets them free, gratis and for nothing.
The pathfinders are good projects run by good people, but it is necessary to ensure that there is effective private sector investment. This is not just a housing programme; it is housing-led. In east Lancashire, employers have walked away. What joined-up government are we going to get to make sure that we bring back employment and economic opportunities, so that housing projects are part of a broad strategy of regeneration and do not simply hang on their own?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new job as shadow Secretary of State for his new cabinet. Apparently, there are seven shadow Secretaries of State within his own group, which seems to be another shadow phantom cabinet, in addition to the one designed by the Leader of the Opposition. I
To be serious, the right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and we are addressing that issue. The programmes are not just housing programmes; they recognise that there must be a partnership with the private sector. Increasing the value of the houses in that area is an important change that we need to make, working with the public and private sectors. Creating a sustainable community means dealing with jobs as well. We are putting those two elements together, and having some success.
Mr. Curry: When the hapless and unhappy Minister for Sport and Tourism introduced the Bill on regional development agencies, he said that the Government would be judged by whether there was a closing of the regional economic imbalance. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that the communities plan in the south-east, however necessary, will contribute to closing the economic balance between the south-east and the northern regions, or to widening it?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Regional development agencies are important in developing prosperity in all regions; that is why, unlike the previous Administration, we did not limit them to certain regions. We said that all regions need RDAs to develop their indigenous assets and increase prosperity. Since we increased the number of RDAs, there has been a considerable increase in prosperity in northern areas. I recognise that there is a growing differential, but all areas are far better off. Unless he is prepared to change his proposal to abolish RDAs, things will get worse.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know from his visits to Burnley that the problem of empty houses in Burnley in east Lancashire is, in percentage terms, worse than in any of the other district councils. He will know that Elevate is putting together its bid under the housing renewal pathfinder project. He will also know that, to regenerate those areas and to make them attractive areas in which to live, that bid addresses not only the need to demolish houses but the key problems to which he has referred. Will he assure me that he will give a positive answer to that, so that work on the ground can commence at the earliest possible date?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. We certainly are doing that. I have visited his area where houses were being sold for about £1,000 each. It is the collapse of the private market that has created great difficulties for us. We are trying to regenerate the area, the houses and the communities. In some cases, we will have to demolish but in others we can rebuild. Different experiments and changes are under way.