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Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Certain aspects of this debate are of great and grave importance to my constituents. In Sutton Coldfield, we are groaning under the weight of vexatious and unwanted development proposals. We have made some progress over the past year, but it is no thanks to the Government. I am pleased that the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), are on the Front Bench today, because they both have some understanding of the problems. Indeed, on the day that the Minister was promoted, he responded to my Adjournment debate on a similar subject. He recently agreed to meet me and a senior councillor from Sutton Coldfield to discuss the issues. I have also indulged in a great deal of correspondence with the Under-Secretary, some of which is ongoing.
I want to make three specific points in supporting the motion ably proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). Overall, my key point is that far too few decision-making powers are in the hands of the local community and that the planning system is slanted too much in favour of developers. We have to rectify that situation in the interests of our constituents.
There is a great deal of difference between wasted and undeveloped industrial land, which needs to be cleaned up and returned to productive use, and the sort of back gardens about which the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) and I exchanged views a moment ago. The confusion between infill in the back gardens of houses and industrial development land causes enormous upset and great vexation to people who live in my constituency and similar communities. We all know what brownfield development is meant to be, but the concept has been greatly abused through lack of a clear interpretation.
Secondly, communities, through local authorities, must have more power in decision making. It is proposed that three bungalows on Little Sutton lane in
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a lovely part of Sutton Coldfield be demolished to make way for a large number of flats. Everyone opposes that. The three local councillors and I are opposed to it and up to 1,000 people who live in the area have said that they do not want the development. However, the developers are back after being turned down. They can take informal advice from the planners and they threaten to appeal. My constituents are defeated. We cannot match the way in which developers push through proposals, using the well-known weapon on appeal of a slick London barrister. The developers bank the money and move on, and my constituents are left with the disruption and misery caused by a process that should not lead to the results that often ensue.
Once one or two such developments occur in an area, people wake up one morning and find that its character has completely changed. The effect of great density in an area such as my constituency on doctors' surgeries, schools, parking, roads and so on is incremental and immense. We do not oppose the Government's point about the need to build houses or the density arrangements. However, in a city such as Birmingham, those houses must be built in the right area and the authority must be able, under the law, to discriminate between an appropriate and an inappropriate area.
In my constituency, developers presented a proposal for Brassington avenue, which is in the heart of Sutton Coldfield. Although many of us welcomed the original proposal, as soon as that welcome for good sense about density was made public, the developers upped the number of flats that they wanted to build and lost the sympathy of the area and the people who had initially examined the proposal and genuinely believed that it might prove appropriate.
Thirdly, I set the Government a test of their sincerity about the green belt. Peddimore will be a familiar name to the Under-Secretary. It is a site that was removed from the green belt under my predecessor, Lord Fowler, and made a site of regional significance in the west midlands. That was done on the ground of prospective enormous inward investment by the electronics industry. However, it never materialised. The result of a unitary development plan inquiry was devastating. The inspector not only found in favour of the arguments that I and others in my constituency presented and dismissed the council's argument, but made it clear that the council had not even assembled a proper argument.
The Labour council in Birmingham is trying to subvert the inspector's ruling through the draft regional plan and ask the Under-Secretary and the Department to leave Peddimore as a site of a regional significance outside the green belt. The test for the Under-Secretary and the Department is to listen to what all those people who attended the inquiry said. Let the Under-Secretary hear the authentic voices of local communities speaking for the areas where they live and return Peddimore to the green belt. There is no user for the site and no case for its being out of the green belt. Alternative, much better sites exist and there is a damning case against its current status. I urge the Under-Secretary to examine the evidence carefully and ensure that Peddimore goes back into the green belt.
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I have been relatively brief about an enormously important subject in Sutton Coldfield. We must ensure that local communities have a much better defence than currently exists. I detect some sympathy for those views from the Under-Secretary. I hope that she will redouble her efforts to find ways of ensuring that the planning system can provide that defence to local communities, which are far too exposed.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): First, may I pay a compliment to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning? Unfortunately, I was unable to be present for the first part of his speech, which I shall read with great interest in tomorrow's Hansard, but the latter part I entirely agreed with. He has a great grasp of the important issues we are discussing today.
I heard all the speeches from the other Front-Bench spokespersons, and I take issue particularly with the Liberal Democrat, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), who, on the one hand, said that planning should not be too centralised and, on the other, that people do not want to live in silos. Unfortunately, local authorities, to some extent, are silos. They can deal only with matters within their boundaries. Central Government must have a role
Mr. Hopkins: I have nothing against central Government; indeed, I strongly support them and their planning role. They need enough power to do the job properly. My constituency of Luton, North has a desperate housing shortage. We are running out of brownfield sites and we are doing our best to put as much housing as is reasonably possible within the borough boundaries, but we need to expand to house people. We are talking about people on the council house waiting list, not those in large houses. They are the ones who need homes; we need social housing.
The word "planning" greatly appeals to me. It has a socialist flavour of which I entirely approve. Of course, the great advance was made by the post-war Labour Government and the Silkin Act, and we owe them a debt. I am fully in favour of planningsensible planningand indeed a central role. Only central Government can solve the problems we have in Luton.
Like many other areas in the south-east, Luton has a serious housing problem. There is a shortage of housing, as well as a shortage of affordable housing, and we need more council housing in particular. There is a similar situation in many other areas. We need to build reasonably near to Luton, but we also have to build in other local authority areas. I have discussed these matters with the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), in whose constituency some of the new houses will undoubtedly be built. Some of my constituents may finish up living in his constituency, over time. [Interruption.] They are fine people and I want them to be properly housed in decent homes, wherever they live.
Clearly, planning law is designed to have a negative effectto prevent development where it is inappropriatebut it also ought to have a positive aspect so that it promotes development where it is
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appropriate. To the north of my constituency, there are areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and areas that should not be built on, but there is also pretty average farm land that is entirely appropriate for new housing.
Mr. Patrick Hall: My hon. Friend's use of the word "positive" brings me to my feet, and I very much agree with him on that. Does he agree that, rather than approaching these matters involving housing development and the sustainable communities plan as a threat and something with which to generate fears, which is what the Conservative motion seeks to do, we can be positive and confident about the many interrelated social, economic and environmental benefits that will flow from a strategic look at those issues and which will help society?
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