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That this House notes that development of the Green Belt continues unabated under this Government; believes the Government's Communities Plan will be unsustainable and will damage the quality of life of millions of people in this country by concreting over green fields and destroying rural communities; further notes that the Government's targets for brown field development have actually led to the loss of green spaces in suburban areas through infill development; and further believes that communities through their local authorities, not remote regional bodies, should be able to decide the priorities for local development.
If I may beg your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall start by pointing out my tie. You will notice that it is the tie of the Deepings rugby club, and I am wearing it today to celebrate the success of its under-13 and under-14 teams, their coaches and the staff. I know that the whole House will want to celebrate that success with me.
One reason for the motion is the fact that Conservative Members want to expose the truth. I shall tell some home truthstruths about the homes that should be built on brownfield sites as part of an urban renaissance and truths about the houses that are gobbling up the green belt. In exposing those truths, I shall reveal the Government's trickery, for which I do not blame the Minister for Housing and Planning. He is a good man. I blame the Deputy Prime Minister and the regime under which the Minister is unfortunate enough to work.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Did my hon. Friend notice that the Deputy Prime Minister had hardly come into office when he gave planning permission, later overturned, to build the largest estate on a greenfield and green-belt site almost in Britain's history, near Stevenage, a town that could do with redeveloping from within rather than spreading out across the countryside?
Mr. Hayes: My right hon. Friend's typically apposite intervention gives me the opportunity to explode a myth. We may hear from Labour Membersmy right hon. Friend will be ready for this, as he always isclaims that the Conservatives are against all development. Of course the Conservatives are not against all development, but we believe that development should be in character and keeping with existing settlements. It should be of a scale that is appropriate to those settlements and in line with the wishes of local people.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Members on this side of the Chamber cannot hear the hon. Gentleman because he keeps turning round. That is unfair because the debate should be for all to hear, not just those on one side of the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
I am sure that that is something of which the hon. Gentleman would never be accused. It
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is a fair point. I have had to rule on a number of occasions because Members at the Dispatch Box, on both sides of the House, tend to move around and, generally speaking, it is helpful not to do so. The more that is addressed to the Chair, the more that will be heard and picked up by the microphones.
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): Without wishing to test my hon. Friend's patience, may I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) about the decision on Stevenage, which matters to the people in the immediate area and also sets a dreadful precedent? Does he agree that it sets the tone for the Government, who are blind to the precedent that the Deputy Prime Minister has established? The destruction of the green belt will be remembered for many years when they are long gone.
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is right that that will be the Government's legacy. The whole House and the people of Stevenage and elsewhere will be disappointed that the Deputy Prime Minister is not in the Chamber today, because he stands indicted, as my hon. Friend suggested. He ought to come to the House and explain himself.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Further to the point that my hon. Friend made about the Deputy Prime Minister and the intervention of our right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), did he see the article in The Sunday Telegraph, which said that gardens
"have been officially classified as 'brownfield sites' ripe for redevelopment under planning guidance issued by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister"?
The Government, as I said, have been engaged in trickery. Like all dud coins, their cons have two sides, but we have come to learn that their currency is spin, not substance. This particular con is about the green belt and brownfield development. Like all confidence tricksters, Ministers initially sounded plausible. Greenfield development has increased under this
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Government. I am pleased that the Minister does not dispute that, because in a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who leads for us, he revealed that in 2000, 430 hectares of the green belt was developed, whereas in 1997, only 405 hectares were developed. There has therefore been a steady increase in the volume of green belt developed under the Government.
When challenged on the subject, however, the Government are imprecise and evasive about details. That is not my analysis or judgmentI am not guilty of exaggeration or hyperbole, to both of which I am virtually immunebut the considered view of the House of Commons Library, which says:
"Government replies to PQs asking how much building has taken place on green belt land are normally evasive, mentioning the overall strategy . . . but not precisely answering the questions."
I know that you will be struck by that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as, indeed will all hon. Members, who rely on parliamentary questions for good, accurate information. I have already said that the Minister is a good and straightforward man and, apart from anything else, he will be disappointed in himself.
The Government's claims about the green belt have focused on overall strategy, but they have not given clear details. When challenged, they have claimed that they have increased the green belt in net terms, but their own figures show that the increase from 1997 to 2003 is based on a few limited areas. The increase in England was 24,800 hectares, almost all of which is in four areas. One would expect the pressure for development to be greatest in those areas, and one would expect to find them around London and in the south-east and the south of England. I had a close look at the words of Mr. Duncan Sandysthe Minister will be familiar with his words and, I suspect, reads them in bed every night.
Mr. Duncan Sandys made it clear that the purpose of the green belt was to produce a tight strip of land around urban areas to prevent their encroachment into the surrounding countryside, that it should be a narrow strip of land and that it should be where development pressure was greatest. It was designed, he said, to prevent "urban sprawl".
So where were the areas that the Government added to the green belt? In Tyne and Wear, York, south-west Yorkshire and the north-west. The increases can be attributed to smaller areas within those regions: Blyth Valley, Tynedale, Ryedale, Bolsover, Doncaster, Blackburn and Vale Royal. In fact, 91 per cent.almost all of the increasecan be attributed to Blyth Valley, Tynedale, Bolsover and Blackburn.
What are the areas like where the green belt has been increased? The Tynedale council website which I looked at describes the area as forestry dominated and truly remotenot the area most likely to suffer from urban sprawl, not an area under pressure for development, but an area that describes itself as "truly remote".
The Bolsover website describes the greenbelt area as situated on the north-eastern fringes of Derbyshire bordered by the Peak district and Robin Hood's Sherwood forestelegiac, picturesque; not a place, one imagines, where people are desperate to build vast numbers of new housesthe kind of desperation that is fuelling the development mentioned by my right hon.
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Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in his early intervention, the kind of development so resisted by the people of Bedfordshire, Kent and Northamptonshire, who know what they face in relation to their communities and the supporting infrastructure.
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