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The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out in his Budget statement, the Government have provided unprecedented investment for primary schools in England. That is part of a total school building programme that is six times as large as it was in 199697.
Mr. Scott: The residents of Ilford, North and Redbridge will be disappointed by that answer. [Interruption.] Will the Prime Minister please ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to look into this as a matter of urgency?
The Prime Minister: Well, if they are disappointed by that, it is hard to imagine what they must have felt like in 199697. A major school building and refurbishment programme is under way over the next few years. That is why it is so important that we keep the investment going into our school system, and why it is such a shame that the Opposition voted against it when we proposed it.
Mr. Michael Meacher, supported by Mr. Tim Yeo, Norman Baker, Mr. John Gummer, Robert Key, Vera Baird, Joan Ruddock, Emily Thornberry, Tony Lloyd, Andrew George, Mr. Martin Horwood, and Mr. Mike Weir, presented a Bill to combat climate change by setting annual targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions until 2050; to place duties on the Prime Minister regarding the reporting on and achievement of those targets; to specify procedures to be followed if the targets are not met; to specify certain functions of and provide certain powers to Members of Parliament with regard to ensuring carbon dioxide emissions are reduced; to set sectoral reduction targets and targets for energy efficiency, the generation of energy from renewable sources, combined heat and power and microgeneration; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 10 March 2006, and to be printed. [Bill 43].
It was in 1955 that the then Government first encouraged local authorities to establish green belts around our main cities. Over the past 50 years, green belts have become the best known and the most popular of this country's planning policies, yet today they are under greater pressure for development than ever before.
Every year, 2,400 acres of green belt are developed on. In my constituency, 1,500 acres are under threat from one development. My Bill would reform our green belts, re-establish their permanence and thereby encourage much needed urban renewal. I am delighted to say that my Bill has secured support from hon. Members of all the main political parties in this House. My aim is simple: to ensure that green belt policy continues to shape the environment and our communities for the next 50 years.
Despite what some people may assume, green belt land makes up just 13 per cent. of England. The largest single example with which hon. Members will be familiar is the metropolitan green belt, which has prevented London from sprawling right across the south-east. It has protected thousands of acres of countryside and preserved the rural habitat for many thousands of indigenous wildlife species. In many ways, however, the green belt is more important for the way that it shapes our towns and cities by providing natural and permanent limits to them. That limit has stimulated a myriad urban renewal schemes, by encouraging the reuse and regeneration of neglected city land. By creating that natural boundary to our cities, we have been able to prevent the ugly, urban sprawl that sadly characterises some foreign citiesa sprawl that sucks the life out of city centres and generates needless commuter journeys every working day.
For example, without a green belt, Birmingham would have spread out across the Meriden gap to merge with Coventry and elsewhere with Kidderminster, Lichfield and Tamworth. The green belt in the midlands has encouraged the reuse of brownfield land and helped those communities to keep their individual character. I maintain that green belts put the heart back into our cities, by stimulating their renewal.
Unfortunately, our green belts are today shrinking in the face of enormous pressure for development. The latest figures show that since 1997, 284 acres have been developed in the south-west; more than 1,000 acres have been built on in the south-east; and, every year, an area of more than 15 square miles is developed on green belt land. That is the equivalent of the city of Lincoln.
What has gone wrong? After all, there has always been development pressure from developers and investors, but they are now targeting green belt sites far more. What has changed? The answer lies in a subtle but significant change in policy. Two years ago, the Government published a new set of planning guidance.
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Instead of reaffirming the permanence of land already designated, they focused on the total acreage. Thus the Deputy Prime Minster has said that he would
However, that differs from the original policy. In a county such as Hertfordshire, it means that land can be released for development if land elsewhere in the regionnear Peterborough, for exampleis rebadged as green belt. As hon. Members will realise, that entirely undermines the idea of a permanent green belt that shapes a city. Indeed, what it leaves us with is more like an elastic band, something that is continually stretched as more and more development is forced in. The irony is that the Government's plans for urban renewal are undermined, because developers and investors know only too well that all they need to do is to wait for the greenfield sites to be developed and ignore the awkward neglected city sites.
It is time to reverse that policy change and get rid of the elastic band. I wish to re-establish, in law, the permanent character of green belt land and, with it, the benefits of urban renewal and protection of the countryside. My Bill would seek to reverse the changes of 2003, to make the policy site-specific again, and to ensure that the boundaries of green belt land are clear and permanent. More land could then be designated, but that would not mean that other land could be released for development as a quid pro quo. The result would be to strengthen significantly the protection of our countryside and to help to shape our towns and cities. In a way, it would encourage the often ingenious minds of developers and investors to think how they could reuse a neglected site or develop land that has been overlooked. It would also end much of the current green field speculation in which people are being conned by the unscrupulous, who market plots of green belt land for tens of thousands of pounds on the internet.
Fifty years on from their conception, green belts are still the most effective and popular means we have of protecting our countryside and renewing and revitalising our towns. Green belts have stopped urban sprawl; kept neighbouring towns independent; and have given us all close to hand the open countryside that is so vital to our health and wellbeing.
We need to reform our green belt policy, to restore permanent boundaries and character, and I am delighted to be supported by Members not just from my own party but on both sides of the House, not least because they hope and believe, as I do, that by reforming our green belts we can ensure that they continue to shape our communities and the environment for another generation.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Prisk, Colin Challen, Dr. John Pugh, Andrew Selous, Mr. Robert Syms, Mr. Andrew Lansley, Mr. Mark Lancaster, Anne Main, Philip Davies, Mr. James Gray, Mr. Stephen O'Brien and Mr. Edward Vaizey.
Mr. Prisk accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about the Green Belt; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 June, and to be printed [Bill 44].
Mr. Speaker: Before I call the Leader of the House, it may be helpful if I say something about the arrangement of today's business. If the Leader of the House's business motionitem 3 on the Order Paperis agreed to, we will begin a single debate covering motions 4 to 40. It will be in order in that debate to discuss the general question, how the House selects the membership of its Committees, as well as the particular proposals in the motions. At the end of four and a half hours the Chair will put the question on each of the motions in turn.
A notice of my selection of amendments is available in the No Lobby and the Vote Office in the normal way. When we reach a motion to which an amendment has been selected, the occupant of the Chair will invite the Member concerned to move the amendment formally, and the House will decide first on the amendment and then on the motion, amended or not as may be the case.
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