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Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I want to focus on my constituency because it reflects many points made by hon. Members, especially those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) in the context of his constituency. Fareham's population has expanded significantly. In 1961, 58,000 people lived in the borough of Fareham and by 2001 the figure had grown to 108,000. Most of the development has taken place in the west of my constituency, and in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—especially—it was well planned and environmentally friendly. However, brownfield sites are now being used to intensify development, especially in the western part of Fareham.

Nursing homes have closed and have been replaced by large blocks of flats. A block called Paxton court with 24 two-bedroom flats is being built to replace only three bungalows on Locks road in my constituency. Last week, there was a planning application to build 53 flats in five blocks, with car parking and access, on the site of only two or three houses in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield identified the problem of more intense development taking place in already well developed areas. The pressure on such sites is continuing not only in the west of my constituency, but in other parts, because the council is required to build more houses to meet the Government's planning targets.

It was interesting to note that the Minister for Housing and Planning referred to one of the last brownfield sites in Fareham. Some 1,650 hectares of land have been transferred from the ownership of the Department of Health to that of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is a former hospital site, and although part of it has been developed as a hospital, much of it consists of green fields. I will be intrigued to find out whether one of the last remaining green areas in the west of my constituency will remain as a place where children can play, or whether the fields will be built upon under the stewardship of that Department.

Why is there such an intensity of development in my constituency? Hon. Members referred to PPG3 and its guidance on population densities. The increase in the density of housing to 30 to 50 dwellings per hectare is leading to more intense developments on relatively small plots of land, so 24 flats are being built on the site of three bungalows and their gardens. More flats are being crammed into such areas.
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The classification of brownfield sites to include residential homes must be examined. The Government's adviser on density said:

Such an increase in population density is occurring in my constituency, and the Government are keen for that to happen.

An issue that arises from density of development and the focus on brownfield sites is the change of areas' characters. Park Gate, which is in my constituency, is a mixed residential, office and light-industrial area.

However, the demand for brownfield sites for housing makes it very attractive for businesses to close down and sell their land, or to convert light industrial and commercial premises for the purpose.

That is what is happening, but there is no debate in the local community about the nature of the area. People who may be able to walk to work now will be forced by the change in use to drive to work. That will put pressure on the already crowded roads in the west of my constituency.

The increase in the density of development also places pressure on the existing infrastructure. I return to the example of Paxton court, where 24 flats have replaced three bungalows. The amount of traffic on the roads will be between six and eight times greater as a consequence of such intense development of so-called brownfield sites, but the transport infrastructure in the area—both the local main roads and the M27—is already suffering a great deal of pressure from existing developments. Increasing the intensity of residential development and using more brownfield sites will add to the pressure on the transport infrastructure.

The Government have held no end of inquiries and reports. The south coast multimodal study was the most recent, but there is now to be a further study of transport needs in south-east Hampshire. Those inquiries merely put off the decisions that need to be made if the transport infrastructure is to be improved in my part of the county.

The increase in intensity of development has not increased the stock of affordable housing available for the doctors, nurses and teachers needed to cater to the needs of the growing local population. In part, that is because the price of the sites being used has been bid up—the pressure to develop on brownfield land has meant that developers have to pay higher prices for land. Those increases have been passed on to the people who buy the flats.

Flagstaff House is a development on the site of a former nursing home. A one-bedroom flat there costs £150,000—six times the average earnings in Fareham. The increase in housing density does not equate to an increase in affordable housing to meet the needs of key workers who might wish to live in the area.

The intensity of development and the strains being placed on the infrastructure mean that there is much opposition in the local community to the impact of the planning process. People are starting to feel disfranchised from the process, and to believe that the local council is almost powerless when faced with central Government planning guidelines. If we are to restore confidence in the integrity and transparency of the planning process, we must ensure that local people are able, through their local councillors, to influence more of the decisions that are taken about the future of their communities.
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That is not happening at the moment. It is important that we reconnect people with the planning process. People in Fareham are asking for a fairer deal.

6.38 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I begin by declaring my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, as I have an interest in a family property and building company. I also want to apologise to those Back-Bench Members of all parties who have not been able to contribute to the debate. I know that they will be frustrated, but it is inevitable that Front-Bench speakers will want to explain what they say in attack or defence, and that they will take many interventions.

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) suggested that, in future, it might be appropriate for the House to spend more time debating policy planning statements. I agree, as planning is a major issue in many constituencies. Many constituents are affected by it, yet most policy planning statements are not discussed here before they go out to local authorities for consultation. I think that the usual channels should consider whether those statements should be discussed more fully in Parliament, both when they are introduced and later, when we can see how they affect the communities that we represent.

Earlier, there was a little spat about rural planning, when it was clear that there were differences of opinion. We should spend more time in the Chamber on such matters, as that may be the best way of securing a holistic view from Members of Parliament.

In this short debate, we have heard some very good contributions. The hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) talked about the big conversation and being the voice of the north. His main concern was ensuring that the communities he represents were not joined up to the urban sprawl of the city of Leeds, which takes in many rural and semi-rural areas. We heard a thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who glowed when he mentioned the word "socialism". He wanted to make Luton an even more exciting place than it is at the moment, and strongly defended the Government's policies.

We heard a traditional and thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), who made seven points—unlike President Wilson, who had 14 points. It would be worth the while of the Minister for Housing and Planning to read those points—he was not in his place when my hon. Friend spoke—because they included some very good ideas for the future direction of development. We also heard some good contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban).

This debate is about town cramming and housing density. The Minister laid great emphasis on the fact that he wanted to increase density and there are certain parts of the country where higher density development is appropriate. In my own constituency, there are one or two former industrial sites near the quay and the former port that could be developed at higher density, and could include more affordable housing. However, PPG3 and the revisions of it in March 2000 are having an unintended consequence. Many parts of my constituency contain family homes with large gardens.
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What happens is that developers pick streets that used to be middle class, family areas, they buy up two or three homes together or make a large offer to one resident, and then they put in an application for high-density development. As Poole is a seaside resort, the applications tend to be for flats. After the developers get one property, they try to get others, so often multiple applications are made. As a result, the communities feel disfranchised and frustrated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said.

The consequence, as property after property is turned into flats, is that all the people who protested that they did not want the character of the area to change decide to sell up and move out. That means that the essential nature of the area changes. An aerial photograph of Poole would show mainly trees and gardens, but we are gradually losing trees and gardens and in their place we have higher density development. However, that development is not in affordable housing, but in expensive flats, many of them second homes.

We are losing family homes, trees and large gardens, so the nature of my constituency is changing. That theme is also apparent in Meriden, Sutton Coldfield, Fareham and some of the leafier suburbs of London. It perhaps affects Conservative Members more, because of the nature of the constituencies that we represent. In the past two general elections, the Conservative party was hard hit and the leafier suburbs and rural areas are just about the only ones where we have some representation. In any case, high house prices and the Government's pushing of higher density development through PPG3 have combined in a pincer movement on my constituents.

Planning committees are pushed, by PPG3, to allow higher density developments in the face of great opposition, and they are now demoralised and upset. The planning department in Poole has told me that the development control officers in the Sandbanks, Canford Cliffs and Parkstone areas have to be rotated—like officers on the Russian front—because of the stress caused by residents telephoning and e-mailing when an application causes great concern.

That is a feature of Britain. It is certainly a feature of the suburbs and it is changing the essential character of our towns. That is why there is legitimate concern about how PPG3 is implemented.

We all believe in some degree of national guidance, but I wonder whether there is a way in which one could be more specific about what is and is not appropriate for high density in a local area. My party believes that more of these decisions should be made locally. The only way to sort out the detail and to decide what is and is not appropriate for development is to give more powers to local authorities.

Perhaps areas should be designated as low-density areas in a particular borough or urban area to save its essential character. As it is, people tend to make areas of a borough conservation areas where that is not necessarily appropriate, because they feel that may be a means to ensure that density levels are lower.

Essentially, that is the charge that we make against the Government. Statistics and figures are bandied across the Chamber, but much brownfield development
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is on urban land that was a garden or a drive, or had been previously the site of a bungalow, now demolished. That is our legitimate concern. When my constituents hear that the Government, in their push for higher density, are commissioning a further study from Cambridge university's Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies, which is spending £1.75 million to look at even more ways to encourage density in suburbs, their natural reaction is to think, "Goodness, there will be more pressure on us to increase density where it may not be particularly appropriate."

That is why the Opposition are on the attack today. Our communities feel that they are under pressure and are being threatened. Many of our citizens feel angry and disenfranchised. The consequence of that in the long term is not good for politicians. When planning committees, residents and even MPs feel that they cannot have any impact on what goes on in communities, and that national circulars, Government inspectors and regional officers have more impact on their towns, we are in great difficulty.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) covered many issues, and I will not repeat a lot of what he said, but there is concern about how the sustainable communities plan will impact on some areas of the south. Although building over green fields is something that one has to do, the Government have planitis—they seem to have a plan for everything, largely by extrapolating and assuming that the trends will continue, making the situation in many of the areas under great pressure rather worse.

The other day, I was talking to the leader of Kent county council. He says that quite a lot of land there is appropriate for housing, but that there is not the infrastructure—

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