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I believe that the promoter of the Bill has the best of intentions, but it is misguided and will not help to deal with the problems of my constituents. It is unnecessary because there are already many different forms of planning that take account of these needs. We do not want a static picture that relates only to the current situation. Foresight is needed, as we must consider the future. We need, too, to build in flexibility to accommodate the unexpected, including changes in world energy prices and the economic cycle. We need sophisticated measures
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to take into account a range of issues and, although the Bill is well intentioned, it is not necessarily the best way forward.

Finally—hon. Members will be pleased to hear that word—may I refer to measures that are already under consideration, including water management. The Department for Communities and Local Government is working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at water resources and the needs of new communities. That work should be strengthened so that the water companies deliver their commitments over a 25-year period or longer. We must make sure that new homes are built in areas that are environmentally sustainable. It is not just a question of water but of other resources in the region.

Lyn Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that sustainable communities should provide a community-based infrastructure which, however, was not provided in the docklands in the early 1990s? Homes were provided, but not schools, hospitals or any community facilities at all by the London Docklands development corporation. The Government have recognised the folly of such activity—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady’s comments are rather wide of the Bill.

Mike Gapes: I shall avoid delving into the history of the docklands, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

There is already statutory consultation on regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks by the Environment Agency and water companies, and planning authorities will have more statutory powers to require water companies to consult on the management of water resources in future. Such powers are overdue but, hopefully, they will be introduced next year.

Other measures are in hand to look at the question of household growth, and that should be taken into account when water companies consult Ofwat about pricing and so on. It is essential to take a coherent, planned approach to many of those things, and it is not sufficient to look at them purely in the local context. We need, too, to emphasise the need to save water—a subject I have already touched on—and we need to make sure that statutory bodies, including Government agencies and Departments, consumer organisations and the Consumer Council for Water take part in the consultation to ensure that the correct decisions are made.

The new code for sustainable homes must ensure that builders and home owners are given guidance on ways in which they can improve existing properties. It is all very well dealing with new build, but people who build conversions and extensions, or otherwise change their properties, could install solar panels or mechanisms to use waste water to irrigate their garden. Such measures are small steps, but they make a huge difference. I should add, in passing, that if everybody was told to take their televisions off standby and disconnect their mobile phone chargers from the socket, they would save a lot of electricity.

I hope that, over the coming years, we will see a significant increase in the amount of housing and home building. It is urgently needed. I hope that some
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of it will continue to be in my constituency, but I also hope that we will not be put in a straitjacket and that all new developments will not take place in already overcrowded areas that suffer from traffic pollution, congestion and a shortage of public open space, parks and leisure facilities. I hope that we will be able to say that the country as a whole is benefiting as well as making a contribution to the building of sustainable communities and decent homes for all.

1.26 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): It may not be generally known in the House of Commons that at the Conservative party parliamentary away-day, I won one of the chamaeleon awards for the biggest contribution to environmental affairs for my extensive role in nature conservation work. I say that because listening to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) is, for me, something like a near-death experience, and when I was wondering why, I remembered that gapes is a fatal disease in grouse.

I realise that the hon. Gentleman’s role today is to act as a logjam, but I have seldom heard more nonsense talked, even on a Friday, about a serious Bill, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) is the promoter and I am pleased to be a sponsor. The Bill was admirably and expertly introduced by my good Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) who, together with me and many other local Members of Parliament, is involved in a campaign that could not be further from the vices attributed to us by the hon. Member for Ilford, South. Indeed, it will be the answer that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) uses, if and when she has a moment to speak.

A number of us—my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, and my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the chief executives and leaders of the district councils—went to see the Minister for Housing and Planning to talk about the problems associated with infrastructure and housing targets. We explained that we were not against more housing and understood the need for further and more affordable housing in the south of England, but she accused us of being nimbys, not wanting the housing and so on.

May I lay to rest the suggestion that the Bill is a plot to stop the building of more housing? It is a plot to prevent the Government from imposing housing targets on areas of the south-east which are already creaking and do not have the infrastructure to cope with the housing that we already have, that which we are going to get and that which will be imposed on us in the future. Let us dispel the impression created by the 50 minutes of drivel from the hon. Member for Ilford, South and return to a first-class Bill that is trying to do something very important—that is, to secure the quality of life for people of all backgrounds and all walks of life.

The picture portrayed by the hon. Gentleman of some downtrodden urban minority struggling in the inner cities, as opposed to people who spend their entire lives in traffic jams, is pathetic. I agree that the
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problem is a national problem. It cannot simply be looked at locally. The Bill is a serious attempt to devise a national procedure for an audit of the infrastructure, so that what his Government have always promised can, unusually, be made true, and infrastructure will keep pace with housing development.

I first raised this question years ago. In 2000 I went to see the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), who was then a Minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and is now the Prime Minister’s admirable Parliamentary Private Secretary, to discuss the real problems caused by the creaking infrastructure in my constituency and other constituencies such as Wealden, East Surrey and Horsham—the places that we know best, which are struggling to cope with further housing. At that time, I participated in serious discussions about the infrastructure deficit.

My hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs, for Chichester and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) all wanted to be here today, but they are attending meetings to try to save some of the most important assets in the health service in the south of England, St. Richard’s hospital in Chichester and Worthing hospital, which are in danger of being downgraded. That illustrates the vital importance of health infrastructure, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden has mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden was generous in his comments about the campaign that we have fought in Mid-Sussex to preserve vital services at the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath and the Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead, which is particularly well known to him. Incidentally, the Government have not even consulted the health service on major housing targets. No one has bothered to consult the NHS on plans for the future. If anyone had, the strategic health authority in my area would not be starting another consultation, which will lead to further recommendations to cut services.

I want to relate the Bill to one particular problem in my constituency. We must provide about 14,100 homes in Mid-Sussex between 2006 and 2026. The plan is to build some 2,500 of those homes on a greenfield site in the beautiful town of East Grinstead in addition to a further 2,000 homes in the town, making a total of up to 4,600 houses in one small market town, which is out of all sense of scale and proportion. The plan has been subject to a planning consultation, which has just ended, in which it attracted almost universal objection from local residents, who are extremely anxious. I anticipate that the result of the consultation will be a strong no to what the council has had foisted on it and is having to propose.

As I have said, the plan would result in about 4,500 new houses in East Grinstead alone, which would result in a new population of more than 11,000—3,000 extra schoolchildren, 1,600 extra school places, 1,500 pensioners, a requirement for 5,000 jobs, 2,000 extra commuters and 6,000 extra cars on the road. To put the matter in context, that development does not include a single penny of Government funding for infrastructure to maintain my constituents’ quality of life under such a huge weight of development.

The Minister may have heard of the Gatwick diamond, which is an economic zone. There is a proposal to build 41,200 houses between 2006 and 2026
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in the Gatwick diamond, which is more than 2,000 houses a year. That level of activity is almost twice that of Ashford and similar to that of Milton Keynes. Both Ashford and Milton Keynes receive enormous public support and help for building infrastructure to keep pace with the development of homes. No help at all is available in Mid-Sussex from the Government. At present, the infrastructure charge per house is likely to be about £46,000. How will that help affordable housing? How will people be able to afford house prices that will sustain such an infrastructure spend?

Another consideration is water. A distinguished environmentalist who sits on the Labour Benches said to me yesterday, “There are 14 million people in the south of England at present living under a hosepipe ban. A massive increase in housing development is proposed. Where do the Government expect the water to come from?” How can this be called sustainable development?

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames: No, I will not.

Does the Minister have any idea of what sustainable development is? When I asked a parliamentary question three years ago—I was seeking a definition of sustainable development—the answer was, “I will reply to the hon. Gentleman shortly.” There was not even an answer. Since then, what sustainable development means has changed according to the whim of the Minister at the time.

There is a water shortage. There is great anxiety about the quality of water, about the treatment of sewage, about the quality of life and about roads, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden rightly said. The exit turn of the A23 to East Grinstead is already running at full capacity. Just up the road at Horley, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), there is a development of 2,000 houses. The occupiers of those houses will use the A23. There are 4,000 houses to be built at East Grinstead. The exit turn of the A20 is already running practically at capacity. I assumed that it was a national asset and that the Highways Agency would want to pay for it. Not a bit of it. It is to be paid for by the developers. How are developers to pay for the exit turn of the A23 and improvements to the A264 and the A22, build a relief road, build schools, create green places and build all the other things that make a civilised, viable contribution? How is all that to be provided just by the developers, without any contribution from the Government?

I say to the Minister, “You cannot go on willing on the south-east a scale of development which is intolerable environmentally.” By any definition of sustainability, environmental security and of all the other things the Government witter on about, what they are willing on the south-east of England is utterly unfeasible. There needs to be an audit of the infrastructure.

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Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that not only his constituents, my constituents and the constituents of other Conservative Members but many constituents of Labour Members, including Labour voters, will be distressed and disgusted by what is going on in the House today to try to thwart a piece of legislation that is both environmentally important and important for all our local communities?

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend makes an essential point. The Government’s intentions are clear. The speech by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) was a disgrace and will be noted by constituents throughout the land who have a vital interest in their quality of life, that of their children and that of their grandchildren. Terrible harm will be done to the environment of the south-east because of what the Government are willing on us.

I have in my hand a letter from the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury dated 10 February 2000. It was written after I had raised questions with him and had asked for an audit of the infrastructure in mid-Sussex and wider Sussex. He said:

That has been shown to be a bare-faced terminological inexactitude. It has not happened, and it is not happening. The Government are not doing what they promised to do. They have not backed with plans and Government money the additional infrastructure required to sustain the level of housing that the Minister and her hon. Friends are demanding.

Other Members want to speak, so I do not wish to go on—as I could do—except to make two further points. This is a terribly serious matter. The environment cannot be played with like a toy, at the political whim of whoever happens to be in power. It needs to be at the heart of development in the south-east of England. At present, the Government are denying that, and they are destroying much of what has been built up over the years.

Decades of unsustainable development has put our region’s environment under significant pressure, and that makes the Bill even more important. Development is not always bad. Indeed, it is often good; it can be good for the environment, as long as it is in the right place, well designed and well supported by properly funded infrastructure. Without planning for water supply and sewerage, waste disposal, flood risk management, proper roads and railways that function, communities simply cannot function. The quality of life of my constituents in East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and the surrounding areas, which are the engine room of the economy of this country, inevitably will decline.

The current infrastructure in south-east England is struggling to cope with existing demand. The most careful planning is needed to accommodate the proposed number of new houses. The Minister nods her head, but that is not happening; there is no plan whatever to support the infrastructure in and around my constituency with Government money. There is no plan. All the
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money has gone to places such as Ashford—to what are called the growth areas. If these developments go ahead as planned, there will be very serious consequences for the environment of this country.

The decisions that need to be made are very difficult. They involve a whole series of issues, which are all connected to one another, and constitute the most formidable challenge for Government policy and for the lives of our constituents throughout the country. They include climate change, pollution, biodiversity, the countryside and water. They also involve all the other things that go to make a civilised life: how we deal with waste; how we enable our people to travel to work; how we enable our children to be educated, and where they play; the quality of public space and our whole urban landscape; working and living patterns; and the fact that the natural landscape of this country is about to be concreted over. Other issues include traffic jams, juggernauts in rural areas, the balance between road and rail, carbon emissions, demographic change and the supply and affordability of housing.

It is just not possible to separate those issues. They have to be addressed in the round. That is why the Bill is so important: it would make the planners conduct an audit of infrastructure in every regard, in order to understand whether there is the local infrastructure to support the kind of development that the Government are willing, and the housing that we do indeed need in our constituencies to accommodate people—to enable people to continue living in such areas and to enable people new to those areas to buy homes.

It is not possible to docket such issues in one Government Department or under one heading. It is a disgrace that they are being dealt with in the current disjointed and dysfunctional way. The Minister must report back to her Secretary of State that they need to get a grip of that, and understand that such development cannot be just handed down by diktat without any thought or concern for the quality of the lives of those on the receiving end of the Deputy Prime Minister’s odious plans. The problems are not just environmental, social, or economic, but all three at one and the same time. The way in which we think about and handle those problems will have the most profound effects on our financial prosperity, our society, our environment, and above all, on the quality of life of not only all our people living now, but those to come in the future.

1.45 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): The Bill is concerned with the tension between two groups in our local communities that has been reflected in the past two speeches that we have heard. The first group are those who need homes, but find that they cannot get them because of a substantial housing shortfall, especially in urban areas. The second group are those who are living in areas in which they do not want further and more intensive development. It is difficult to balance those two groups’ concerns, and that is something of which I have experience.

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