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Mr. Gale: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could clarify something on the record because it might help a lot. He has to accept that because of the general presumption that we need lots more houses in the south-east, local authorities are terrified of turning down planning applications on ground of lack of infrastructure. There is a fear that all a developer has to do is go to appeal, and
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because of the ODPM's attitude, the appeal is bound to be granted, at the local ratepayer's expense. Whether the development is designated by the Deputy Prime Minister is almost immaterial; the effect is the same.

Mr. Woolas: I listened to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes as a constituency MP, and take it at face value. I hope that what he describes is not the case: it is certainly not the Government's policy to encourage such a development or such attitudes.

These matters are more appropriate for my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, but we have talked about them on many occasions, in preparation for this debate and for others. I can assure the House that the Government do not intend to build anywhere and everywhere, including on the green belt. That is not our policy, and no such suggestion is borne out by the facts. However, the hon. Member for North Thanet used the word "fear", and that is something that we should look at.

Fear has no place in the process, but we must not forget that housing demand is led by changes in lifestyle, greater longevity and other factors. On the whole, it is not governed by population increase. There is therefore a knock-on effect for schools and care homes, and for the problem of old people from Islington being "dumped"—as the hon. Member for North Thanet termed it—in his constituency. We want good-quality care to be provided for all our old people.

Finally, I want to put on record some of the statistics that I promised earlier. In the past five years, Kent has received an annual average increase in formula grant of 5.4 per cent. In total, it has received an extra £200 million in grant over that period, on a like-for-like basis. That substantial annual increase is above the rate of inflation each year. Over the same period, Kent has increased council tax by an average of 7.4 per cent.

Moreover, Kent's provision of personal social services for adults this year amounts to some £278 million, up by 6.1 per cent. from last year. The county's allocation per head of population is £278. Cumulative growth in cash terms in the local authority since this Government took office has been 53.9 per cent.

The figures involved are clearly substantial. This year alone, Kent has received a 7 per cent. increase in total resources for children's social services. As a three-star social service authority, no part of Kent's social services resources is ring fenced, so the county can target those resources at the greatest need. I have listened to the arguments advanced by Opposition Members in this debate, but the background is that resources have been rising across the board.

I could give similar statistics for all the district authorities in the Kent area, but I shall concentrate on Tunbridge Wells, as the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells chose the topic for this Adjournment debate. In the past six years, there have been increases of 4.1, 4.3, 3.6, 3.7, 2.6 and 3.7 per cent, respectively. Those increases do not amount to a fortune, but they are above inflation.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells made some important points on his constituents' behalf that merit due consideration in discussions about the formula review. Representations have been made by Kent county council and the district councils in the area.
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They are being given due consideration and, as I said earlier, Kent county council is part of one of the working parties looking at how the formula works.

However, like the rest of the public sector, local authorities must constantly look for things that they can do differently to keep costs down. Opposition Members want to debate ways in which the central tax payer should pay more and more. They have come to accept that this Government's economic policy is so successful that there
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is more money, although I am sure that any proposal for tax increases by central Government would cause them to call more Adjournment debates on Thursday evenings, when once again they would pursue the Chicken Licken strategy.

Once more, I thank the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, and congratulate him on securing this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

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