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Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend had briefed me on that additional point. I am always grateful for his expertise and enormous knowledge, which he often displays in the Chamber and in Committee. Once again, he has added an extra charge against the Minister, whose charge sheet grows ever longer, and perhaps the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) will add to it too.
Dr. Whitehead: As the hon. Gentleman says, it is important to get the definition right. Does his definition of brownfield land solely consist of land upon which bricks have physically been placedthe building's footprintand does he define the marginal land around such a site as greenfield land? If a paving stone or some gravel had been placed on land in order to access a building, would he define the site as being in-between greenfield and brownfield land? He claims that the Government definition of brownfield land is vague, but is his definition of brownfield land as vague as that which he is attacking?
Mr. Hayes: Most hon. Members would expect brownfield development first and foremost to take account of those sites that, by their continuation in their current form, are a scar on villages, towns, cities or the landscape. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is well travelled, and he knows that many former commercial or industrial sites, which have not been redesignated for housing and which will never be reborn as industrial or commercial sites, would be appropriate for residential development.If I were lucky enough to be the Minister for Housing and Planningone day, I hope to hold that postI would develop those places and examine the mechanisms that the Government have put in place to bring that about.
We know that the development of contaminated sites poses some problems, but it is not impossible to review the regulations, fiscal arrangements and the law to examine whether we can use more of those sites. In opposition, we are having such discussions with all the interested parties as we develop our thoughts and policies.
Somewhere much further down my list might be the issue of in-fill, but it certainly would not be my top priority. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Conservative Members and, I suspect, Labour Members, too, would want first to have clear information about precisely what has been developed so far. I defy anyone to glean that information in precise terms from answers that Ministers have given or from the tabular information that is available from the Minister's Department. There are indications that a great number of back gardens have been developed. We can all make the calculation in approximate terms, and we all have anecdotal information from our constituencies concerning land that has been developed and is described as brown field, but is in fact nothing of the sort. Will the Minister give a
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commitment to provide better-quality information that breaks down the figures to tell us precisely what kind of land is being developed and called brown field?
The motion refers to the communities plan, which was alluded to in the exchanges that took place during my opening remarks. The Government believe that an extra 200,000 houses should be built in the south-east in addition to the 900,000 new homes that are planned up until 2016. The communities plan is designed to deliver 120,000 houses in the Thames gateway area alone. There are profound concerns about the implications of that for community, sustainability, environment and infrastructure. Yesterday, I was in Northamptonshire. I was engaged in some hard work, but I had the chance to talk to local people and take their view of the communities plan. I have a shocking revelation for the Ministerit was not a positive view. People are extremely worried about its implications for south Northamptonshire. They see it as filling the green space between villages. They believe that it will create commuter areas because communities will be unable to provide the employment or services to make them self-sustaining, so people will have to use those villages and towns as dormitories to travel elsewhere. They feel that their local opinion, although it has been voiced, is not being heard where it mattersat the Minister's desk, on his telephone and in his mailbag. They are frustrated that the considered opinions of local people are being overridden.
We have to look again at the communities plan. I am not sure that it is ever appropriate to override local opinion in this way, but there is another side to it. If development is skewed into four areas in the south of England, where economic activity and employment are already substantial and there is already a disproportionately large portion of the nation's wealth, what does that say to the other parts of England and the kingdom? What does it say to the north-west and the north-east? What does it say to people in my own dear county of Lincolnshire? It says that we are going to build more homes and create more jobs and wealth where homes, jobs and wealth already exist. The other side to the communities plan is about kicking against a proper concern for the different parts of Britain, many of which are desperate for a boost.
Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab):
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the absence of a communities plansuch as the situation that existed under the Conservative Government whom he supportedthe pattern of planning decisions for housing development was characterised by housing estates being tagged on to towns and villages, often on appeal, in an unsustainable way that was disconnected from jobs and local services and increased the amount of car travel? That is what happens when a negative attitude is in the saddle and there is no sustainable communities plan. If the hon.
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Gentleman rejects the sustainable communities approach, does he have revised ideas on how things should be done?
Mr. Hayes: What a good point the hon. Gentleman makes. He is right: much post-war development has been characterised by the sort of unacceptable development that he describes. Housing estates have been tacked on to the end of towns, as he put it. They are often not in keeping and character with the towns and introduce a population to the area who do not assimilate easily, perhaps because they are commuters or drawn from a specific group. For example, estates of bungalows are targeted at older or retired people. To get the community working, there needs to be good social mix, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman acknowledges.
My vision is of incremental development in towns and cities that is in keeping with them. No town or village should be preserved in aspicall communities must grow and develop. All communities evolve, but it should happen gently, appropriately and with the consent and support of local people. That is not rocket science; it is the way in which most communities have developed from time immemorial. Suddenly increasing the size of a small town or village by 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. is a recent phenomenon. We then wonder why that did not work, why the community did not hang together, why the local infrastructure could not support it, why people could not get on a dentist's or doctor's waiting list and why they had to travel further for work and leisure, with all the attendant undesirable effects.
We need a complete rethink of the way in which we plan for the future, which must be rooted in communities. "Predict and provide" produced the mess that the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) described and Government policy has now mutated into "dictate and provide". That is likely to be even worse. The communities plan needs careful evaluation. In my view, it needs moreit requires challenge. That is not only my view. The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is as sceptical as me. Its report states:
"The impact of such a housing programme on the environment could be unsustainable . . . The impact of developing so many homes in the South East, one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, has not been fully assessed . . . The additional homes could place excessive demands on the environment leading to the loss of green-field sites and excessive pressure on the water supply and other natural resources."
I could go on, but perhaps that would embarrass the Minister even more. The Labour-dominated Select Committee took a measured and considered view of his policy and criticised it in fierce terms. With the Select Committee, local communities and the combined might of the Opposition Benches against him, he is under considerable pressure. I hope that he will bend under it in favour of what is right and good. One might have believed so, but we must now consider the revelation of the Barker review of housing supply.
Mrs. Barker, not content with the massive increase in supply that the Government propose, does not simply want the communities plan to be implemented but up to 250,000 more houses to be built every year. Let us imagine the implications of that for the green fields of England. Not a community in Britain would be safe from the Government if they adopt the Barker review. Although they have not said that they will adopt itthey know the political consequencesthey have not said that they will not accept such targets.
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The Government claim that supply will have an effect on house prices and that affordability will be tackled by building countless more houses. I remind the Minister that new housing constitutes 1 per cent. of the housing stock and 10 per cent. of the transactions. To affect the price of housing by supply requires the sort of buildingand moreover 10 years that Mrs. Barker proposes. That means not a few hundred thousand extra houses but possibly between 2 million and 3 million more. They would be built on the green and pleasant land that I love and will defend with my hon. Friends.
I should move on before I become too elegiac, but the Minister needs to come clean with us about where the Government stand on Barker. Will they go along with it and accept it or do they share my reservations? Let us have an honest answer on whether they believe in a development land tax. Let the Minister say today, "We believe in such a tax." It is recommended in Barker. Let him honestly say that the Government believe in a housing policy, in the words of Kate Barker, independent of local government. Let him say he believes that; let us have an honest answer on Barker.
I will tell the House my answer on Barker. I know that housing prices are influenced by interest rates, the disproportionate allure of home ownership in Britain, the relative unattractiveness of alternative investment vehicles and the level of non-housing borrowing secured against housing equity. Frankly, those things drive up and hold up house prices. To apply a supply-side solution to those demand-side issues is crude and unlikely to work. It would mean stamping on the wishes of local people, which is precisely what Kate Barker recognises. That is why she wants to transfer all the power to regional authorities, which would impose those targets on local people.
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