Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 245)



  Q240  Mr Francois: Minister, you will be delighted to hear that the Committee has actually looked at precisely that example.

  Keith Hill: I am delighted.

  Q241  Mr Francois: I am delighted at how pleased you are. Can you tell us if the rest of the houses in the Gateway will be built to the same standard?

  Keith Hill: I do not think we can give that specific undertaking, and let me say as well that it is not our intention to apply or impose a separate standard for new build in the Gateway. The truth of the matter is that the view of the building industry is that they would much sooner operate on the basis of, let us quote the phrase, "a level playing field" so that you have the same standards across the generality of the industry for all the reasons of economies of scale, and you can understand why that should be the case. I think that is the right principle anyway. Why should we impose a higher standard in Thurrock than we would want to see applied in Rayleigh, or for that matter in Aberdeen, or for that matter in Aberystwyth.

  Q242  Mr Francois: I take your point, Minister, but you did imply in your earlier remark that you were very pleased with what was going on in the developments at Greenwich and then when we said, "Oh, that is a good thing. Can you guarantee that will happen everywhere else," you then wrote back—

  Keith Hill: Oh, you do get your digs in, do you not?

  Q243  Mr Francois: Forgive me, Minister, but that is what you did. PPS1. Is it your intention under PPS1 that planners will be allowed to specify the materials, quality of design, etc., in order to argue for more sustainable homes? Will you provide that power under the aegis of PPS1 to local planners?

  Keith Hill: Well, there are two things. Again, I refer to your distinguished role on the Standing Committee at the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, and you will recall that of course we have introduced a sustainability clause into the Bill. So sustainability now lies at the heart of the planning process. In addition to that, we have laid a further requirement for a much more explicit statement of the components of a plan application as part and parcel of the outline planning permission procedure. Briefly, we would certainly expect those sorts of material considerations to be taken into account.

  Chairman: That certainly is a fascinating dialogue, but there is one other important issue which I hope we will have time to cover.

  Q244  Sue Doughty: What we need to move forward to now is looking at housing, energy and climate change because we have got a huge opportunity to either fail to achieve something or to make a real difference in the quality of housing and reduce our contribution to CO2 emissions. As we all know, there are going to be 200,000 new homes being built a year as these proposals are being taken up. We have got a significant environmental impact, not only in terms of land use, resource use and water use but climate change, but in fact the driver for addressing these issues has not been your Department but DEFRA and it came out rather suddenly after Barker had come out and where it was clear that there was not so much in sustainability as we would like to see. Is sustainability really at the heart of the housing programme or did you actually just sneak it in afterwards?

  Lord Rooker: No, honestly. That is a very pejorative question. I just invite you to read—it is free, it is in the Vote Office—the Communities Plan published 5 February last year, where we set out the road map of how we are operating. So it is not an afterthought. I genuinely ask you to believe it is not an afterthought. We made that quite clear. We published statements, I think in the summer of 2002, after ODPM was formed about the way we would operate, that if it was not sustainable we were not having it because we have got enough dwellings in this country that have not lasted. If it is not sustainable, it will not work, it costs more, peoples' lives are ruined by it, and therefore we genuinely have to look at communities and not a house building programme to make the whole thing work, whether it is the social infrastructure, the road infrastructure, rail, the hospitals and everything else, it has got to be sustainable, and to look then at the quality of the products used in those dwellings. If we can recycle, fine; if we cannot, we shall then use low energy and low water supplies, as Keith said, were possible.

  Chairman: As you know, a division has been called. Joan Walley wants to slip in a quick question.

  Q245  Joan Walley: I just want to follow that up and ask that even if you cannot answer it now could you write to the Committee in respect of the new regulations that are coming out in terms of ODPM, in terms of energy efficiency standards as well and the level at which we will be getting the energy efficiency standards in.

  Lord Rooker: Yes, sure.

  Chairman: Indeed, there may be other issues, because I am afraid we have not covered all the ground we wanted to (no pun intended), which we might invite you to give written evidence on. But thank you both very much indeed. It has been an interesting session.

  The Committee suspended from 4.22 pm to 4.32 pm for a division in the House.

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