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Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The facts of the situation in Bournemouth are very clear: the South West regional assembly is telling
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Bournemouth to build 20,000 more houses. This is a case of filling in and working with the developers, who simply buy up back gardens, then depart. I have checked with the Government office for the south-west, and not one penny is being spent on infrastructure in Bournemouth, which highlights the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). There is a discrepancy here between development and building up the infrastructure, which has been echoed in all parts of this Chamber. What are the Government doing about this issue?

Ruth Kelly: If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly that more money ought to be spent on supporting infrastructure, perhaps he and his party will start supporting the planning gains supplement on which we are consulting.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend comment on the planning guidelines in respect of social housing on small development sites? In London the planning authorities often insist on 15 units or more before social housing is included, which in inner urban areas like mine means that no social housing at all is built on such sites. Is she prepared to look into that and, if necessary, to take powers to ensure that we get a fair share of social housing on very small sites?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes a good point. In recent years there has been a big increase in the development of more affordable homes and social homes in London, but he also makes the point that we should consider using smaller sites for affordable home building. We are considering that in some detail.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that Conservative councils such as those that my constituency covers are complicit in measures to circumvent the spirit of the planning guidance, by encouraging and working with developers to build small developments of less than 15 units precisely to avoid a social housing obligation? Westminster city council made strong representations to avoid having to meet the Mayor of London’s 50 per cent. planning target, so Conservative councils do not go along with the spirit of the Conservative motion.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend speaks from her personal knowledge of these matters and she is right to suggest that there are Conservative councils that do not want to build the homes that people need, particularly affordable homes.

Let me set out the facts on brownfield development. We have been successful at making brownfield land available for development. We have seen the proportion of housing on brownfield land increase from 56 per cent. in 1997 to 73 per cent. in 2005, far surpassing our targets. This has created more homes, but on less greenfield land.

Greg Clark: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ruth Kelly: No. I will make the argument, then I will take an intervention.

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The increase in brownfield development and in density, from 25 per hectare in 1997 to 42 per hectare in 2005 means that it is possible to build 1.1 million new homes across the southern regions on less land than that on which the Tories planned to build 900,000 homes—a saving in greenfield land equivalent to the size of Norwich.

The hon. Member for Meriden points to the impact of planning guidance on back gardens. I shall address that now. Let me quote an example from planning policy guidance:

That was not my guidance. It was not the Deputy Prime Minister’s guidance. No, that was guidance provided by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) in 1992.

The hon. Lady is right to say that appropriate safeguards must be in place to prevent inappropriate development in back gardens. Indeed, it was this Government in 2000 who gave local authorities the power to turn down inappropriate development in back gardens or elsewhere.

Mrs. Spelman: I appreciate the right hon. Lady giving way. Is she aware that her own Housing Minister admitted on 21 March that classifications under the Conservatives’ last Administration had no status in planning regulations and gained status only in 2000 when her own party was in government?

Ruth Kelly: I am about to come on to how planning policy guidance changed and the impact that that had on the development of brownfield land and previously residential land. The planning guidance introduced in 2000 stated that there should be a clear priority for brownfield development over greenfield development. However, it also included safeguards for quality. It stated that

It went on to say:

Indeed, contrary to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Meriden, there was no presumption that brownfield land had to be built on simply because it was brownfield. In fact, the guidance specifically asks local authorities to consider a wide range of matters in deciding whether to allocate land for housing and whether to grant planning approvals. The range of matters includes the location and accessibility of sites, the capacity of existing and potential infrastructure, including, for example, social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): On the safeguards provided by the wording, the Minister for Housing and
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Planning, who is sitting on the Front Bench, wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph not long ago saying that the safeguards were sufficient to enable local authorities to protect sites. When I showed that letter to planners in West Berkshire council, however, they said that they were being as robust as possible, but whenever they feel that a development is inappropriate in the way that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has just described, it gets overruled on appeal because of the ODPM wording. The matter is centrally controlled, and the safeguards described in the letter from the Minister for Housing and Planning, which the Secretary of State has just voiced, are not happening on the ground.

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman should have waited a few moments; if he looks at what has happened as a result of the changes in policy guidance over the years, the facts speak for themselves. In 1992, when the previous planning guidance was introduced, the percentage of brownfield development on previously developed residential land was 40 per cent. In 2003—the last available count—that figure was 33 per cent. In absolute terms, land released for development in that period fell from 978 hectares to 966 hectares, which means that the increase in brownfield land for new housing has been in the use of non-residential brownfield land, such as industrial, commercial and vacant land.

Greg Clark: If the Secretary of State had studied the statistics—unfortunately, she has started to make partisan party political points—she would know that the proportion of gardens used for brownfield sites fell in every year under the previous Conservative Government, whereas it has risen in every year since 1997.

Ruth Kelly: That is simply not the case and the facts speak for themselves. The increase in brownfield land for new housing has been in the use of non-residential brownfield land.

In December, my Department began consulting on new planning guidance. As part of that review, we have been talking to local authorities, residents and others, including listening to the views of hon. Members, about whether local authorities should have more flexibility locally in deciding what land to bring forward for development. That review will include back gardens, just as it will include all other land that is potentially available for development.

The new draft planning guidance proposes even stronger safeguards for the quality of urban space:

It also explicitly states that

Andrew George: In the spirit of political consensus mentioned by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), I am pleased that the Secretary of State has acknowledged that the trend is not new. It is certainly not new in my constituency, where gardens have been built on over the past 20 years according to
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my records. If the Secretary of State accepts that planning is, sadly, fuelled more by greed than by need, will she accept that people do not want buildings in their back gardens, but they do want the money? Have the Government reflected on the point that significant premiums are added to land value, and that the community might want to share the additional income generated by the award of planning permission?

Ruth Kelly: It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman is beginning to ally himself with our case that we should try to capture some of that increase in land value through the planning gain supplement. I am pleased that he has arrived at that conclusion.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I shall be sorry if this business about back gardens deteriorates into a party political argument, because there is a problem even in a place such as Sunderland, where we have acres of brownfield sites but still have developers flying in helicopters looking for little bits of green space that they can fill in. Every week for the past few months, my local newspaper has carried a large advert calling for people with large back gardens—we do not have a lot of them—to come forward and offer them up for development. There is a problem, whatever the origin of the rules and whatever they happen to say, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will look seriously at the guidance when the time comes.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In December, we launched a review of the draft planning policy guidance examining whether we can give more flexibility to local authorities to bring different bits of land into use at different times. That should allow them to sequence development in the way that best meets the need for housing in their local area, while ensuring that developments are appropriate to it. The real question is this: which party is willing to take the tough decisions necessary to provide sufficient new homes to meet the needs of our communities?

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am glad to hear that the guidance is being extended and that more safeguards are being put in place. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). This is a big issue in my constituency, where inappropriate development on garden sites is taking place, particularly with regard to design and layout. Our local planning department says that adequate safeguards are not in place and queries what the Minister for Housing and Planning said in The Daily Telegraph. Will my right hon. Friend clarify how we can get through to planning officers that they have the power to refuse inappropriate development in gardens?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that point. Local authorities already have the power to refuse inappropriate development, and they should make use of those powers. The question is whether we can give local authorities more flexibility to sequence the land that they bring back into use for development in particular ways. The new draft planning policy guidance on which we are consulting attempts to do that. That should introduce new safeguards into the system.

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Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): As well as the inappropriate developments that have been mentioned, there are popular urban areas, such as parts of my constituency, that physically have no development space. We are almost completely surrounded by green belt that we want to protect, so that often, sensitive and sympathetic infill development is the only way to provide housing where people want to live.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point with which I completely agree.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): The Secretary of State should be aware that her comments could be interpreted by my constituents as suggesting that they are deeply worried about a problem that does not exist. Can she be specific in telling the House what proportion of new homes are built on gardens?

Ruth Kelly: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we collect figures for the percentage of new dwellings built on previously developed residential land. That fell from 20 per cent. in 1990 to 15 per cent. at the last available count. We also collect figures for the land used for new dwellings as a percentage of brownfield land, and that has fallen, too. The definition includes back gardens and patios, and houses that have been demolished and rebuilt. The figure shows a significant downturn since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred earlier to the need for flexibility in planning. Does she agree that it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) appeared to dismiss the possibility of home extensions in areas such as Luton, which are green-girdled and have no space even for infill development? A large proportion of the community in my area—especially ethnic minority communities—is overcrowded and requires extension through back gardens to alleviate the severe problem.

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes the important point that extending a house can often be the simplest and best way of meeting a need for more housing space and preventing overcrowding.

The question that confronts us today is: which party is willing to make the tough choices and decisions to deliver the extra homes that are needed? In the past 30 years, there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of households but a 50 per cent. drop in house building. Current projections suggest that household formation will increase by 209,000 a year until 2026. In contrast, approximately 168,000 additional homes were provided last year. That gap is unsustainable.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): Yesterday, the Government office for the south-east produced a report, which was commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, that set out options for housing development in the south-east. One of the options envisaged building 45,000 houses a year. Does the Secretary of State rule that in or out?

Ruth Kelly: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the independent panel, not us at this stage. It
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is absolutely right for each region and local community to ask themselves the hard questions. How many homes do we need for the future? Where will we build them? How will we meet housing need? Are the houses in the places where people genuinely want to live?

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con) rose—

Mr. Soames rose—

Ruth Kelly: I must make some progress.

If we continue to build only at the current planned rate, the proportion of 30-year-old couples who are able to buy a property will drop from approximately 50 per cent. today to 30 per cent. Do Conservative Members want that to happen? If not, how do they plan to tackle the problem? Where do they want the new homes to be?

The hon. Member for Meriden referred to building in garden cities, but she opposes development in the Thames Gateway. How credible is that?

Mrs. Spelman rose—

Ruth Kelly: Perhaps the hon. Lady has changed her mind.

Mrs. Spelman: I have made it perfectly clear on more than one occasion at the Dispatch Box—I am happy to supply the Hansard references—that we support the Thames Gateway project. We have reservations about the infrastructure because it is not clear even to those who are strong supporters of the project how the infrastructure will be secured for such an important development. We recognise the need for it and we have always supported it, so can we nail the myth once and for all?

Ruth Kelly: Absolutely not. If the hon. Lady is not prepared to say where the investment will come from to build the extra homes, she frankly does not support the homes. We have clear policies for a planning gain supplement to fund the necessary infrastructure for development. As she knows, we are working with the Treasury in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review to examine infrastructure needs.

Mr. Soames: I agree with the Secretary of State’s comments about hard choices—they are, indeed, hard choices. Will she make the hard choices that her Government have failed to make about infrastructure in areas where the Government impose onerous building targets without providing one extra penny of infrastructure spending? Will she make those difficult decisions and enable us to deliver the homes in a sustainable climate?

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