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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Hayes: I shall happily give way to the hon. Lady, who is about to defend the attack upon our green fields.

Dr. Starkey: I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I suggest that he does not try to guess what I intend to say. In the title to the debate and in his remarks so far, he has referred to urban sprawl. Would he be so kind as to explain what he means by urban sprawl? His discourse thus far suggests that he regards any extension of urban space to be ipso facto urban sprawl. Is he therefore suggesting that no towns or cities should increase in size at all, and that all development should occur within the existing boundary of an urban space?

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Lady either did not hear what I said or did not listen to what I said. I said that sprawl, defined not by me, but by the architects of the green belt, was the urban area encroaching into the surrounding countryside. I went on to speak about development that was out of scale, out of character and outside the wishes of local people. I should have thought that was pretty plain. I wonder what the hon. Lady would say to her constituents and people close to them when they were faced with developments of the kind that I described—out of scale, out of keeping, out of character, against their wishes and without supporting infrastructure. I wonder whether she would defend her constituents or kowtow to the Government's position. That is a challenge for her, and I know she will meet it with her usual diligence.

Dr. Starkey rose—

Mr. Hayes: I shall briefly give way to the hon. Lady, as a matter of courtesy.

Dr. Starkey: Naturally, I always listen to my constituents, but most of them live in houses built on greenfield land, as virtually the whole of Milton Keynes was, so they understand the balance between the need to protect the countryside and the need to provide affordable housing for young people.

Mr. Hayes: I shall come to affordable housing, but the protection of the countryside requires more than fine words. We had fine words from the Prime Minister before 1997, when in an interview in Country Life he spoke about how much he revered and loved the countryside. It was a passing relationship that he soon got over.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): In pursuit of an attempt to find out where houses might be, were the hon. Gentleman's party ever to come to power,
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I note in the Order Paper the phrase, "town cramming", which presumably the hon. Gentleman does not approve of, and the reference to

with which the hon. Gentleman does not agree either. So where would the houses actually be? Would they be anywhere at all?

Mr. Hayes: There is a difference between town cramming and urban regeneration, but I shall deal with that point later, as I feel that I must make some progress. I know that the situation is uncomfortable for Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman is a very diligent Member of Parliament who takes his work seriously, and he takes a great interest in housing and speaks with great authority about it. I know that he is uncomfortable about some of these issues. If he were not a balanced man, he would not have that discomfort, but he is such a man and he will share my disquiet, as well as a degree of the embarrassment that I think the Minister feels deeply.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned Bedfordshire, in which my constituency is situated. In Luton, we are running out of brownfield sites and using everything that we can, but there are 7,000 families in housing need. Is he telling my constituents that they will not be rehoused, because we are never going to build on greenfield sites outside our town?

Mr. Hayes: No; indeed, I met a delegation of people from Bedfordshire a few weeks ago, and they argued very strongly that there was a need for development, but not of the nature or on the scale that the Government imagine, and not in the way in which the Government choose to do it—outside the consideration of local people, against their interests and with a minimal chance for them to have a say. I suspect that the people in Bedfordshire, rather like people in my constituency in Lincolnshire, want incremental development of a scale and character that are in keeping with what is already there. It is the speed, scale and nature of development, as well as its location, that are fundamental. Like the hon. Gentleman, I accept that we need to build houses—we always have done, and we always will—but where those houses are built, how local communities are involved, the infrastructure to support them and their relationship with the landscape are matters of which everyone in this House should take account, and which Governments in particular have a duty to handle responsibly.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am attracted to my hon. Friend's idea that local opinion should carry more sway. What changes would he like to see in the present planning system to guarantee that that happens?

Mr. Hayes: My right hon. Friend will know that I spoke about these matters at some length on Monday. He was one of the first people to demand a copy of my speech, because he takes a great interest in these things. I said on that occasion that the planning system is typically unresponsive. It is esoteric and it frustrates developers and bemuses members of the general public.
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The Government had an opportunity to do something about that in their Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, but rather than rooting planning in the community and making a transparent system, as the Minister said he wanted to do, by removing power and giving it to remote regions, I suspect that the Bill has made planning all the more esoteric and distant from the people who are affected by the decisions of planning authorities. I share my right hon. Friend's distaste for that attack on local democracy, which has been carried forward in the Minister's name. I am a supporter of local democracy, and I want planning decisions to be taken as locally as possible, as clearly as possible and in a way that is well understood by local people, in line with local wishes; but I shall say a little more about that in a few moments.

The areas where the Government have extended the green belt have been well away from the areas where they should have done so. Indeed, the Library says in precise terms:

That would be bad enough, but the other side of the coin with this Administration is their failure to come clean about brownfield development. Once again, I went to that definitive source of information, the House of Commons Library. You might think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I believed, in my innocence, that brownfield land would include disused factories, empty warehouses and sites that needed redevelopment and would benefit from new initiatives, new housing, bringing in new people and building new buildings. That is in line with comments that were made earlier from the Labour Benches. It has been made clear in various interventions that such development is necessary. It is certainly necessary when what we replace is worse than the new development.

Brownfield land includes not only those sites, but according to my information, any land in the curtilage of an existing structure, which relates to the earlier point about gardens.

A close examination of the statistics shows that a substantial proportion of what the Government claim is brownfield development—brownfield development is hard to measure because the Government do not give precise answers, but I have examined the national land use database statistical record from September 2003—is not built on what would generally be recognised as brownfield land. That developed land consists not of scars on the landscape that should have been built on, but green spaces within urban areas—developments at the bottom of people's gardens. Frankly, that is the other side of the dud coin, and it is a con.

The Government easily met their targets for brownfield development, which is an achievement that the Minister trumpets and discusses with great confidence, because the land that they have developed is not, by any reasonable definition, brownfield land. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is an expert on such matters.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of a case in my constituency, where the council proposed to take away some council tenants'
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gardens in order to meet the Government's targets for building on brownfield land? Given the Government's policy of rebuilding on brownfield land, all council tenants should watch out, because their gardens might be taken away for development.

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