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Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I am aware of the time, so I shall try to cut my comments short. The Conservatives will be pleased that my thunderous attack on their policies in the 1980s will have to be dropped; I shall stick to some fairly positive things.

I want to bring a northern perspective—if I am allowed to mention the north in this debate—to the issue of town planning and urban sprawl. I shall illustrate my
 
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comments with examples from my Elmet constituency, which is full of towns and villages of markedly different characters that are very conscious of their identities. I share the desire of local people to maintain their own geographical integrity, for want of a better phrase. We do not want villages such as Micklefield to merge with towns such as Garforth, and we do not want Garforth to merge with Kippax or, God forbid, Kippax to merge with Allerton Bywater, where I live.

As I hope has come through in the debate, people are realistic enough to recognise that new homes are needed, and the Minister outlined why they are needed. The reasons include a change in housing patterns and household formation, the fact that we are living longer and the fact that, thanks to a Labour Government, wealth and affluence are growing. My area faces high demand because it is considered a pleasant place to live that has very good facilities. When I travel around the constituency, people tell me that they want their sons and daughters to be able to get a house there and to live in the area when they get married or move into relationships.

The big question is—the Labour party has had a big conversation, so perhaps we should have a few big questions—where should we try to build those homes? Part of the answer to that big question is: on brownfield sites. I do not recognise portrayals, such as those of the Conservative party, of the developments that the Government have encouraged. I am here today to praise Leeds city council for the success that it has achieved with housing developments in brownfield locations.

The last figures that I looked at, which were for 2003–04, showed that 80 per cent. of all new homes built in the great city of Leeds in that time were developed on brownfield sites. The positive impact is that, in the review of the unitary development plan for Leeds, we have been able to remove some 352 hectares from planned development and move it back into green-belt land. In areas such as Scholes and Kippax in my constituency, that has been well received. The only blot on the landscape, if I may use that phrase, is the plan for large-scale development at the northern end of Whinmoor, which I will do my best to oppose and defeat. That development would come on the back of the proposed extension to the ring road.

I am not following a nimbyist line on this issue. My constituency has four or five key brownfield sites, and they are not in people's back gardens. I am amazed that anybody thinks that we could hit housing figures by building in people's back gardens. All I can say is that some of the Conservative Members who have spoken must have exceptionally big back gardens. [Interruption.] Perhaps they have front gardens as well—

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): And drives.

Colin Burgon: They even have drives; they have everything, the Conservatives.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman on that point. This is a question not of houses with big gardens, but of where developers may
 
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knock down two, three or four houses to obtain access to a large stretch of land that he and I would regard as gardens, so that they can put up 16 or 24 flats. That is the point.

Colin Burgon: I accept that, and I am glad that we are seeking to promote a better definition. Some of the terms that were thrown about earlier were a bit too loose, so I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments.

In my constituency, there are several brownfield sites. There is a petrol station at Micklefield with a car park alongside it, as well as the Swarcliffe development and two other sites—one in Wetherby and another in my home village of Allerton Bywater. The crucial point is that developments on such sites are helping us to meet housing demand and, importantly for people in my area, to protect the adjoining green belt.

That is particularly apparent in the case of the millennium village, which I shall deal with later.

In terms of northern house prices, Wetherby is an expensive place to live. People in Wetherby say that they cannot get on the housing ladder and stay in that pleasant market town. If one calls into Wetherby for a cup of tea—hon. Members might consider this when they drive up the A1—the Micklethwaite Farm development site, which is a classic example of a brownfield development, is just before the river on the left-hand side as one drives into the town centre after pulling off the A1.

House prices are high in that area, so I am particularly pleased that 23 of the 102 properties on that site are affordable homes, ranging from two to five-bedroom units. They have been sold to a housing association that will run them and let them at social rents, which is good news for people in Wetherby. That is one way to begin to address the grave housing shortage, which—let us be blunt—the Conservatives' policy of selling off council houses has exacerbated. There can be no debate on that point.

In my home village of Allerton Bywater, we are blessed with one of the Government's millennium villages—the first one was in Greenwich, and now the scheme has moved on to Allerton Bywater. The project has been run under the guidance of English Partnerships, which is brilliant at engaging people in the democratic process, helping them to understand what the development is about and addressing their fears and concerns.

The 25-hectare millennium village site is a good example of mixed-use development. The site formerly provided jobs for 1,400 miners, and the millennium village has brought jobs back into the area as well as housing. The village includes 500 homes, 100 of which will be sold under shared equity schemes. As a result of those schemes, 20 per cent. of the houses will enable younger people to get on the first rung of the housing ladder. I have spoken to representatives of English Partnerships, who say that local people welcome the scheme.

The millennium village consists of well-designed, high-quality housing, which is important, and it has also revived our community buildings. The old school, which was in a state of disrepair, has been renovated as a community centre and library, and the miners' welfare building, which houses the cricket and bowling teams
 
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and various other activities, has been rebuilt and will be reopened shortly. In that sense, the development is a boon. The crucial point is that the millennium village has saved a beautiful swathe of greenfield land between Kippax and Allerton Bywater, which will not be built on because the millennium village partly meets housing need.

Having listened to Conservative Members today, I urge them to get in touch with the leader of the Conservative group in Leeds, who followed a duplicitous and dishonest policy of opposing that development while demanding the protection of the green belt. Tough choices are necessary in such matters, and we supported the development in order to protect the green belt.

I have a few additional points for the Minister. I hope that PPG3 will not be weakened, because it has been crucial in developing a sequential approach to housing development—brownfield first; greenfield later—and we should try to strengthen it.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) discussed PPG7. Although PPG7 was brought in to revive the rural economy, it is used like a blunderbuss. It should not be used in metropolitan districts—it was used to introduce agricultural activity on the doorstep of one of the biggest conurbations in Leeds. In that case, a factory was built on the green belt in my constituency solely to promote agricultural or rural revival. That was totally inappropriate, and I hope that we examine that point in the future.             

Village design statements are very popular in my constituency, and they should be given even greater weight in the planning process. I should especially like to mention the residents of Bardsey, who spent vast amounts of time developing their village design statement and finished up losing a big battle on mobile phone masts.

Matthew Green: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Countryside Agency has just stopped giving grants to communities to produce village design statements as part of the vital villages scheme? I hope that he regrets that as much as I do.

Colin Burgon: I do regret it, although I welcome the fact that we introduced the policy. Perhaps it will change. However, I do not want to be like the Liberals by facing both ways at once.

Another aspect of urban sprawl is that when driving on motorways or major roads, one sees redundant trailers and lorries parked in fields with huge advertising signs on them. That adds massive clutter to the countryside, but nobody ever seems able to do anything about it. It is not only local firms that put them there, but multinationals such as IKEA and McDonalds.

We all tramp round the streets delivering leaflets—at least, some of us do; some people pay to have it done—and we can see that something that makes a real difference to the feel of an estate is the presence of trees. Our planning legislation should enforce the provision of trees in public spaces. There is nothing like trees for breaking up the straight lines of buildings and giving variety and colour to an area, as well as for promoting wildlife.
 
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I hope that the Government will continue to encourage bringing life back to our cities. A classic example is the great city of Leeds. Twenty years ago, one would steer clear of the city centre, especially on a Saturday night; now, it is absolutely packed with people. It is a lively place and people are living in it. We should do more to encourage that, because the more people live in the centre, the more pressure is relieved on the edges in constituencies like mine.

We should continue to have tight planning regulation. I do not want us ever to be like the countries with poor planning regimes that lead to hideous sprawl and inappropriate developments, which many of our constituents see when they travel. I could mention several countries, but I do not want to fall out with them, because they might not allow me to visit them in future.

Thanks to this Labour Government, the whole basis of urban and rural land use policy is far more coherent and based on sound principles. Now that we have got coherence back into the system, our job is to continue to move forward.

6.7 pm


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