Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Keith Hill: We are spending £446 million on infrastructure in the gateway.

Mr. Syms: The Minister says that, but Kent says that the Government are not being so proactive in establishing that infrastructure. We must have balance—we must have infrastructure as well as development. Many people in our communities are concerned that the two do not go together—people get the development first, with all the downside and the difficulties, but they do not get the infrastructure later.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England, for example, is concerned about the sustainable communities plan. It says:

The south-east is under great pressure. The Government need to think again. The Thames gateway makes sense but some of the other plans are rather too ambitious.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings made a compelling point on the green belt, which is a great legacy of the Conservative Government of 1955—Duncan Sandys introduced it. It was meant to save land for the long term. It was not meant to be a temporary thing that could be moved at the will of a Government when people felt that it was no
 
26 May 2004 : Column 1673
 
longer relevant. At the moment, green belt is being built on where there is already development pressure and green belt is being added where there is no pressure. Doncaster may be a lovely place but I do not think that it faces the same pressures as areas in the south-east.

That is an issue of real concern.

My hon. Friend made powerful points about Barker. The report did not take the latest census material into account: there are 900,000 fewer people in the UK and 720,000 empty homes, 300,000 of which are in London. There is a very good argument for looking into the management of our housing stock and freeing up that stock before we build on green fields across the country.

There is legitimate anxiety about the changes in our communities. I understand the Government's concerns about affordable housing and the need to increase density in certain areas, but in fact what is happening is that many leafy suburbs, and some rural areas, are undergoing substantial change. That is causing great concern to our constituents and the problem must be dealt with; otherwise the anger that already exists will grow. We need a more flexible approach than the Government have shown so far.

I hope that my colleagues support our motion, because the House should make clear its view of the Government's policy.

6.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): We have had an interesting debate. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) raised issues about planning policy guidance. He may have heard the Deputy Prime Minister on the radio this morning; my right hon. Friend made it clear that we are not changing the approach to out-of-town developments. Nor does the draft planning guidance mean reducing support for affordable housing in rural areas: quite the reverse.

My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) described the value and importance of the millennium village in his constituency. As his neighbour, I can testify to the importance of that programme, which is regenerating the coalfields area with a new approach to mixed development and the building of mixed, sustainable communities.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) raised concerns about his constituency, many involving planning cases, on which, as he knows, I cannot comment. I shall deal later on with some of the broader issues that he raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) set out clearly the pressures on housing in his constituency. He made a powerful case about the need for more development and housing in the south-east.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) made some important points, many of which I agree with, about the value of good design and the potential for city centre redevelopment. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) complained about development and greater density, while simultaneously complaining about affordability in his constituency. That very much epitomises the issues we face in London and the south-east.
 
26 May 2004 : Column 1674
 

I want to pick up some of the points made by the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), and will start with the issues raised about the green belt. Opposition Members have professed grave concern for the green belt, yet figures published by the previous Conservative Government showed that, in the 1980s and the 1990s, they slashed the green belt. The Labour Government have already increased the amount of green belt and we have made it clear that we need to protect the overall level of green belt in every region. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out earlier today, that is a "darn sight better" than the Conservative party managed to do.

As Opposition Members know, we have also increased the proportion of new houses built on brownfield sites. So far, the Thames gateway scheme has involved more than 80 per cent. brownfield development, with a density of 37 dwellings per hectare. That substantial brownfield development is a good thing.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that we should go back on the sustainable communities plan and that he does not support the four growth areas. I fear that is yet another example of Conservative Front-Bench Members not talking to each other, because what did the shadow Chancellor tell the Medway Messenger last week? On a visit to the Thames gateway, the right hon. Gentleman said:

The Government are indeed proud to be taking forward the Thames gateway development to provide much-needed homes for people who live in London and the south-east.

Let me deal with gardens. It is Chelsea flower show week so it is a good time to champion gardens. I point out to Opposition Members that nothing has changed for Britain's gardens. The definition of "previously developed land" has not changed. In 1975, under the category "Residential", the national land use classification included

That definition was used by Conservative Governments for 18 years, and it included gardens.

The figures on the proportion of brownfield development produced by redeveloping existing residential areas—knocking down houses and rebuilding—has remained broadly unchanged for many years.

The hon. Member for Poole made slightly more thoughtful points about increasing density undermining the character of certain areas, but planning policy statement 3 and PPS1 strongly stress the importance of design. Local planning authorities, frankly, should take a much more assertive approach to the quality of developments, the quality of life in an area and design issues. Greater density does not necessarily produce a decline in the quality of life—quite the reverse.

There is a fundamental problem with the Conservative party's position on planning. The hon. Member for Ludlow was right. The Conservatives do not want to build houses in the green belt. They do not
 
26 May 2004 : Column 1675
 
want to build houses as infill. They do not want to build them in the countryside. They do not want to build them in towns. They do not want to build them anywhere. They say that we should put more houses on surplus employment land. We agree. That is why we are changing the guidance, but that will not solve the problem—all the jobs that we are creating have to go somewhere, too. Admittedly, if the Tories got back to office and returned to their boom-and-bust approach, they might create rather more surplus employment land, but I presume that that is not the strategy that they had in mind.

The last time that we had an Opposition day debate on housing, I said that the Conservatives did not have a grasp of the figures and that their sums did not add up. They wanted to build more affordable houses and cut the housing budget by £400 million. Their sums are bad enough, but it seems that their spatial reasoning is pretty ropey, too. Last time, I pointed out that houses cost money, that they do not grow on trees and that they do not fall from the skies. Now, I have to point out that houses take up space. They have to be built somewhere. They cannot be built in the sky or in trees.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that he wanted incremental, gentle development. He was presumably referring to the low levels of building that we saw for too many years. That will simply not provide the homes that we need—the homes that he said that he wanted to provide to anchor people for life's journey. The Conservatives have a strange position. They admit that there are problems with affordable housing and rising house prices, but they then seem to go into complete denial about the relationship between housing prices, housing demand and housing supply. The Tory economic record in practice was abysmal, but at least they used to manage the rhetoric of supply and demand. Somewhere in their years in opposition, they seem to have ditched even any pretence of economic analysis, to fall back on good old nimbyism instead.

The analysis in the Kate Barker report was very clear on the relationship between housing prices and supply. An overwhelming array of evidence and analysis shows the need for more homes to be built. Various figures have been quoted, and one published assessment stated that housing need would grow by an extra 170,000 every year, owing to household growth. What document did that come from? It was not from the Barker review or the sustainable communities plan, but from the Green Paper on housing growth, published in 1996, by Tory Ministers. In 1996, they thought that household growth would be 170,000 a year. Now, they think that there will be no household growth at all. In 1996, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), wrote in his foreword to the Green Paper:

Household growth is already happening. Household supply has fallen too far. We need more homes. The Tories should face up to facts and support the development of sustainable communities. Frankly, if they had done that 20 years ago, we might be in better shape right now.
 
26 May 2004 : Column 1676
 


Next Section IndexHome Page