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I am trying to understand the nub of the Bill; I am struggling somewhat with that. As I see it, there are not many new proposals in the Bill that are not already
part of what has come through via the ODPM Select Committee, which sets out things that the Government are doing. Is the nub of the issue the number of homes that are being built? Does the hon. Gentleman wish to say to people who are on my public sector housing list, and who have been for about 18 to 20 years, that they can sit and wait because we are not prepared to build any more houses?
Charles Hendry: If the hon. Lady is having trouble understanding the Bill, I have two proposals. First, she could read itto do so might be helpful to her. Secondly, she might listen to the debate before she starts intervening, because I shall now come on to exactly the matter that she raised.
We realise that the Bill would not prevent what we consider to be the Deputy Prime Ministers disastrous legacy of housing development in the south-east, but it would make it much more difficult for the Government to impose those new houses without proper provision being made for the infrastructure necessary to support them. It would lay bare for public scrutiny the deficiencies in Government thinking and planning.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It might be helpful if I gave an example from Braintree, which until recently was one of the fastest growing towns in Britain. Two of our community hospitals have been closed down, and the land has been sold off but a new community hospital has still yet to be built. That has caused enormous frustration in a town that is growing very fast. In addition, we have had electricity blow-outs in many of our new housing areas because the proper infrastructure was not put in place for there to be sufficient electricity supplies to the new houses.
Charles Hendry: My hon. Friend, with his usual intuition, has predicted my next point. Any south-east Member could tell a similar story because all of us face the same sort of problem: enormous pressure for house building without the necessary infrastructure in place. Indeed, many aspects of that infrastructure are getting worse.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I wish to make a point in response to what the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) said about community hospitals. I hope that the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) agrees that we are moving away from having smaller unit hospitals because the advice of health professionals these days is that we want hospitals that can cover all the needs that people have and that have all the diagnostic equipment that people need. A plethora of new community hospitals is not the answer to the situation we face.
Charles Hendry: Crowborough and Uckfield in my constituency have two incredibly popular and well supported community hospitals, and the hon. Lady would be very brave if she were to come and say that they should be closed down. If that is truly a statement of the Governments intentions, it is very worrying indeed, and it would cause profound concern.
The Bill would require an audit in specific areas. In terms of health care, to accommodate additional housing growth it has been calculated that almost 1,300 additional acute beds and more than 600 general beds will be required over the next 20 years in the south-east alone. To pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark), in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex there will be a requirement for an additional 500 acute beds and almost 300 general beds over the next 15 years. In total, that equates to six medium-sized new hospitals being required in the greater south-east over the next 15 to 20 years. But far from increasing investment in health care, the current structure is under intolerable stress. The massive debt accumulated due to the chronic underfunding in Surrey and Sussex strategic health authority is leading to service reconfigurations across Surrey and Sussex, and those moves go against the public feeling that more, not fewer, services are required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has been a fantastic champion for saving the health facilities at the Princess Royal hospital, Haywards Heath and the Queen Victoria hospital, East Grinstead. Without his perseverance, determination and commitment, the situation would undoubtedly be even worse than it is. Further south, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is leading the campaign to preserve the maternity, paediatric and specialist baby services at Eastbourne district general hospital. There are even worse proposals for downgrading the accident and emergency facilities, with at least part of them being moved to Hastings, which is causing profound concern among local communities, Members of Parliament and the ambulance service.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman talks about chronic underfunding. Although I do not wish in any way to question the difficulties that the health service in his local area seems to face, will he at least admit that there has been a massive increase in NHS funding over the past seven or eight years, including in his area, compared with the level of funding under the Conservative Government?
Charles Hendry: No one can deny that there has been a very significant increase in the funding of the health service, but that is not resulting in better quality health care on the ground. What we have also found is that there is pressure each and every year on
Secondly, there is the issue of water resources. The south-east is one of the driest regions in Britain and has high rates of per capita consumption of water compared with other English regions. Inevitably,
demand for water resources will increase as a result of population growth, a decreasing average household size and growing use of water-intensive appliances. The current water restrictions in the south-east resulting from exceptionally dry weather have brought a requirement for new house building into sharper focus. I find it inconceivable, with about 10 million people in London and the south-east facing a hosepipe ban and the continuing possibility of standpipes this summer, that the Government have not reduced their house-building plans for the area. Those houses will all be built before a single new reservoir can be built.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report on water management recently considered water infrastructure in relation to the Governments house-building targets. Many of its findings are particularly damaging. It says that
the ODPM failed sufficiently to consult the water industry directlyor to give due consideration to the water management implicationswhen formulating the Sustainable Communities Plan and selecting the growth areas.
It is worrying that the housing growth plans have not in many cases been factored into the water companies long-term plans due to the way in which Government have initiated the planning.
the Government consider making water companies statutory consultees on applications for developments comprising a number of properties that exceeds a given threshold. It would also be desirable to make the Environment Agency a statutory consultee on water supply issues in these circumstances.
The irony is that the Government will allow water companies to raise prices to meet the enormous cost of providing new water infrastructurea double blow for residents in the south-east, where people are effectively being asked to fund the infrastructure for houses that they do not even want. Even the Governments preferred think-tank believes that current policy has been conceptually flawed. The Institute for Public Policy Research commission on sustainable development in the south-east noted in its final report:
Only with significant water efficiency savings in existing and new homes, and the timely provision of new water resources, will there potentially be enough water to meet rising demand for new housing and domestic consumption.
Flooding is the third issue. It is now nearly six years since devastating floods affected 10,000 people at the cost of £10 billion. According to the Environment Agency, 5 million people in 2 million properties are already at risk of flooding. More than 40 per cent. of people are unaware of the threat and 30 per cent. do not have adequate insurance cover. One of the worst towns affected in the flooding of October 2000 was Uckfield in my constituency. Nearly six years on, no money has been spent on new flood defences. We have had pledges, a reception at Downing street, ministerial visits, consultants employed and even the drawing up of a model that showed miraculously that if water is
poured into it, it comes out somewhere elsebut not a single pound on flood defences to prevent a recurrence has been spent. Yet Uckfield is expected to accommodate hundreds more houses over the next few years, with more concrete and more drains putting more water in the self-same rivers.
Despite planning guidance directing development away from areas at risk of flooding, inappropriate development is still occurring. Data from the Environment Agency for 2004 show that 34,000 new homes are envisaged within the indicative flood plains in local plans and that in the south-east growth areas, 30 per cent. of development sites planned for 2016 to 2031 will be in flood-risk areas. That is yet another aspect that has not been assessed and addressed.
Fourthly, there is transport. The total transport infrastructure in the south-east is estimated to be £21.3 billion. Increases in traffic congestion and pollution are cited by residents in the south-east as their two top local priorities, but there is no sign of significant improvement. There has been a legacy of underspending on transport in Britain and further public spending will be tighter in the coming years. By 2010, road traffic is expected to increase by 23 to 29 per cent. in England and by more than 25 per cent. in the south-east compared with 2000.
There is specific evidence to show that congestion in the south-east acts as a brake on new development. For example, a total of 13 junction improvements on the M1, the M11, the M20, the M3, the M27 and A3(M) are necessary for proposed developments. However, those improvements are subject to highways authority holding objections. The A2 outside Dover is now the only stretch of single carriageway main route between Carlisle and Italy. East Sussex has no motorway and there are only 12 miles of dual carriageway in the county. Vital improvements in dualling the A27 along the south coast have been abandoned or put on hold.
On top of that, there is the problem of maintenance backlogs. The average county council has an estimated £200 million to £300 million worth of maintenance work to do to bring highways up to a satisfactory standard by 2026, but poor financial settlements mean that the necessary work cannot be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has continually highlighted the traffic problems around East Grinstead. I was born in East Grinstead and a bypass was being discussed even then. Indeed, it has been talked about since the 1920s. Although the towns population has doubled in my lifetime, the A22 through the town remains a disaster. I support my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex and for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in saying that the town cannot take more houses without improvements in the road, and that any solution must also be a solution for the surrounding communities, such as Forest Row in my constituency and the villages in East Surrey.
Let us consider rail. Concerns about overcrowding, especially on commuter trains in the south-east, constitute the most common complaint that the Office of Rail Regulation receives. Although some improvements have been made, 4 per cent. of rail passengers into London in 2004-05 were still without a seat. That figure will increase further with additional house building. Along with the
hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), I have been working with the county council to examine the case for reopening the Uckfield-Lewes rail link, which would not only provide an improved local service but open up a strategic new link to the south coast. Despite thousands of new houses being imposed on us, the Government will not put one penny piece into that key infrastructure project.
The message could not be clearer. The Government expect the south-east to bear all the pain of the new houses but none of the gain of improved infrastructure. If we could prevent the unwanted new houses being built, we would love to do that because they will destroy areas of remarkable beauty for ever. However, the Bill is not about that. If the Government are determined to impose such huge numbers of new houses, against the wishes of local people, the least they can do is establish the investment that is needed in the infrastructure to accommodate them, and the Bill provides for that.
The measure requires local planning authorities to consult a range of authorities: the health authority to ensure that GP and hospital services can meet the additional demand; the relevant water companies and providers of sewerage and waste services to ensure that they can meet the additional demand; the education authority to ensure that local schools have adequate capacity; and the highways authority and Network Rail to ensure that there is capacity on the road and rail networks.
The Bill is eminently sensible and commands great support in areas that face the greatest housing pressure. It is an urgent measure and I hope that it will be given time to proceed today. I urge hon. Members to support it.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): My situation is similar to that of the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) in that there is a lot of new build in my local authority area. However, my constituency is urban and we have a lot of new build because we are surrounded by the green belt, which acts as a straitjacket on all the open spaces in the London borough of Redbridge, to such an extent that, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the population in my borough, especially in my constituency. The Conservative council in Redbridge has given planning permission for 33-storey and 21-storey tower blocks, and many additional housing units are being built.
My electorate, which was 78,000 at the election, will increase to about 82,000 in the next three or four years and will probably reach 90,000 10 years from now. I therefore face considerable pressure. Problems involving changes of circumstances and a lack of facilities apply equally in urban areas, with one exceptionthe beautiful Valentines park, where Essex used to play their cricket.
We had a problem with finding additional school places, but a long campaign was run over many years by a local residents association against the development of a former sports field for a new primary school. The council has just compulsorily purchased that sports field to build the new school. In fact, we are having two new primary schools built. However, we will also need a new secondary school in the near future, and I have
absolutely no idea where the land for that will be found. Our existing schools are all full, and I regularly see constituents in my surgery who are being told that they must take their children to schools in the north of the borough, four or five miles away, where there are places, because there is none in the south of the borough.
We all face such problems due to rapid population change. I would like to point out to the hon. Member for Wealden that it is predicted that the population in England will increase from 50.1 million in 2004 to 55.8 million in 2026. That is an increase of 11 per cent., or 5.7 million people. Londons population is now increasing after years of decline, and it will continue to increase because of Londons success as a global city and the great success of the economic policies of this Government.
We face a real problem, however. There is insufficient land in London to provide housing for all the people who are already in desperate housing need, including those in the London borough of Redbridge and other boroughs who are in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. I have constituents who have been placed in my borough by Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham councils because they cannot find housing for them in their own boroughs. For several years, my council was placing people in guest houses in Southend-on-Sea out of season in order to deal with the emergency housing needs of so many homeless people.
We need new housing. We need the new housing in the Thames Gateway, but we also need it in other areas. The hon. Gentlemans speech was a little like the curates egg: parts of it were good, and parts were very bad. The bad parts illustrated to me that the Bill is not all that it seems, and that it represents a very sophisticated form of nimbyism. It is saying, We want to carry out an audit, and when we find that the facilities are not there, we will stop the houses being built in our area.
People in urban centres such as my constituency do not live in a green and pleasant land. We have the dark, satanic millsexcept that they are no longer mills but rows and rows of houses, because manufacturing industry has gone and the landscape has been transformed. Nevertheless, we do not have the same green and pleasant areas that the hon. Gentlemans constituency has, yet the building will go on in our areas rather than elsewhere in the region. I suspect that many of the people who live in his constituency get on the train and come into London to work, earn their nice salaries from working in our capital city and go back to their homes and enjoy their environment.
Many of my constituents suffer as a result of the lack of space and the congestion caused by the growth of the city, but we have to recognise that nimbyism is a threat to the vast majority of people living in urban areas. Someone must speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves, and do not have sophisticated pressure groups and campaigns to preserve this or stop that. Although the hon. Gentleman made a number of valid points, he also made a number of sophisticated nimbyist points.
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