David Wright: I rise to provoke a debate on amendment No. 27, which I tabled. The amendment relates to local housing strategies and was prompted by my discussions with the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing. I appreciate that the amendment has arrived on the scene somewhat late, but it is worthy of discussion. I should declare an interest as a full member of the Chartered Institute of Housing. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) said yesterday that, rather than receiving any money from such bodies, he paid them. Similarly, rather than receiving any resources from the Chartered Institute of Housing, it takes money off meI draw no financial benefit from it at all. Both the institute and the National Housing Federation are excellent organisations that contribute to the wider debate on housing and planning in the UK.
I want to discuss the broad parameters of the link between housing and planning, although I do not intend to take up too much of the House's time. The amendment is an attempt to join up local housing and planning strategies, so that better planned housing that matches local economic, social and environmental needs can be delivered. It would ensure that the local housing strategy was explicitly included in the list of considerations to which local development documents must have regard.
Before I came into the House, I spent a long time working as a housing strategy manager. I tried to integrate the workings of a large local authority's planning and housing departmentsit was quite a struggle at times. Documents such as local housing strategies were often produced completely independently of local planning documentation. Local
For many years, local housing strategies were framed by local authorities' ownership of large amounts of municipal stock. In the 1980s, the then Government rightly promoted the establishment of an enabling authoritythe right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was involved in that. Local authorities' strategic housing functions are extremely important because they need to be integrated effectively and coherently with local plans.
I have made the case for better integration. Strategies are often inconsistent and conflict with each other. Many local authorities have housing strategies that promote the growth of affordable housing, but local planning documents often do not take any account of that, which means that sites do not become available for new housing developments. There is often a deep conflict between the actions of local authority departments. We need to put that right, which is why amendment No. 27 would provide that local housing strategies must be considered as a key component of the development of local planning documentation.
The amendment would create a strong incentive for authorities to reconcile planning and housing policies. It would provide for greater clarity and decrease the number of disputes involving authorities and their stakeholders, especially on planning applications for housing developments. Perhaps most important, it would create a culture of positive planning for housing by reinforcing the mutual importance of planning and housing in achieving sustainable development.
Why should we co-ordinate the strategies? It is no longer appropriate to think about the housing market and affordable housing separately. We must ensure that areas have a single perspective on the housing market because people move across sectors and tenures to find suitable housing. We need a comprehensive analysis that covers all elements of the housing market in a local area, so planning documentation requires a comprehensive understanding of the way in which the housing market operates. We need to promote a good mix of housing typeshouses for affordable rent, shared ownership and owner-occupationbecause that creates more stable and sustainable neighbourhoods. We must integrate our housing approach with authorities' wider planning strategies, because factors such as transport, communication and proximity to community facilities are important.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I agree with the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. The importance of what he is saying is shown by the fact that developers may currently say, "Okay, we'll do 20 or 30 per cent. affordable housing," yet design two estates with a wall through the middle, so that social and
David Wright: The hon. Gentleman is right. We need to develop what could perhaps be called "tenure-blind estates", in which people could walk down a road without being able to tell which properties were rented, owner-occupied or in shared ownership. We need a process to integrate tenures throughout a neighbourhood and to ensure that all facilities are consistent for everyone living there. That is how balance may be achieved and sustainable communities built.
Another key point about the co-ordination of strategies for housing is that the delivery of affordable housing is being hampered because of inconsistencies in local plans and housing strategies. That provides an opportunity for appeals against decisions. Local housing authorities need to do much more to understand their housing markets and they should integrate the results of housing need and housing market surveys into their planning strategies. Developers often challenge authorities because they are not confident that their housing market analysis is correct. Such authorities tend to back off because they are not sure that they can win the case. We need a strong and consistent approach between authorities' housing and planning departments to ensure that, if cases are taken to appeal, housing officers will have a commitment from their planning colleagues that the assessments will be defended.
Government policy is starting to tackle failing housing markets but I wonder whether planning practice is responding to that. When we develop comprehensive regeneration strategies for areas in consultation with communities, we need to ensure that our planning colleaguesif I may say that as an ex-housing strategy officerrespond to them positively and plan estates coherently and effectively.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Amendment No. 27 recognises that the Local Government Act 1992 requires local authorities to draw up a housing plan. They are also required to draw up a homelessness plan under the Homelessness Act 2002 and a sustainability plan under this Bill. The Opposition are keen that all the plans should mesh together; otherwise local authorities will drown under the weight of drawing up separate plans with separate provisions.
David Wright: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's commentsthat is why my probing amendment was tabled. I want to hear what the Minister has to say about how the new structure will integrate the variety of strategies that local authorities are required to produce. In particular, it will be interesting to hear what guidance will be issued to local authorities on the integration of housing strategy with planning policy.
Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): In tabling the new clauses and attached amendments, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has given us an opportunity to discuss the scheme at the heart of the plan. Once again, he has produced a revised alternative scheme.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: But is that not what Parliament is all aboutdebating matters until a consensus is reached? The Government approach things with a sledgehammer, using their huge majority to vote out any sensible proposals from wherever they emerge.
David Wright: Does the hon. Gentleman think that it was a good idea to carry the Bill over into this Session? That gave us even more time to consider it and allowed the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) enough time to prepare his notes.
Matthew Green: The extra time, perhaps unintentionally on the part of the Government back in January, has been valuable for a huge number of reasons. The hon. Gentleman may have touched on one of them.
A consensus is building around the idea of a flexible scheme. Before the Minister claims the phrase as his own, I think I originally referred to a filing cabinet or box file comprising a series of folders. He pinched my words and used them around the country, and I am delighted to have given him such assistance. After our deliberations in Committee, the hon. Member for Cotswold has moved on to similar ground. There is an understanding that we need a flexible scheme.
A local example highlights why such a scheme is needed. It concerns an application for an eco-business park on the edge of Ludlow, currently before the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is the planning Minister for the west midlands. South Shropshire district council realised that it was running out of business development land. It is revising its local plan, but its implementation is probably about 18 months to two years away. The council will run out of business development land before the plan is likely to come into force.
Almost two years ago, the council entered into a process of considering where future business development land might be. It is a controversial process, because no one wants to be next to such land. The council held an inquiry in public, although it cannot be called a public inquiry, over two days. All sorts of organisations were able to give evidence, and possible sites became clear. The council committee made a decision on them and adopted their development as part of council policy. They are included in the new draft local plan but are obviously not in the current plan.
An application has been made, which the council accepted, but it has been called in because it is not in the current plan. The difficulty is that the process has been gone into in great detail locally. In fact, the Audit Commission holds it up as an excellent example of open local government. A more flexible scheme would have allowed South Shropshire district council to make changes to the local development document. The application would not have encountered the same difficulties and Government officials would not be clawing all over it. So greater flexibility is important.
As the hon. Member for Cotswold said, new clause 19 is the key clause. However, it is deficient. He is trying hard to produce something so that he does not have to agree with the Government's scheme, although his proposals are close to it.