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Mrs. Spelman: Is the hon. Lady aware that since 2000 the change in house prices by type very much reveals the market principles in respect of the over-supply of flats that she describes? Flats have increased in value by only 36 per cent., whereas there have been increases of 123 per cent. for bungalows, 85 per cent. for detached houses and 119 per cent. for semi-detached houses. That shows the impact of building more of one type of housing.

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, my neighbour, for that intervention, which demonstrates the importance of local authorities getting the planning mix right. It has economic as well as social repercussions.

Planning policy guidance note 3 has been replaced and I acknowledge that the Government have made efforts to clarify many of the contentious issues. However, private gardens still come under the definition, with only a weak nod in the other direction when the guidance notes that not all gardens are likely to be suitable. It states:

I am not sure that Opposition Members will draw a vast amount of comfort from that statement as a clarification for local authorities that they can turn down planning applications of that sort.

Mr. Jenkins: I am interested in the hon. Lady’s argument. That is why I asked about the comparison between the light-touch approach and the heavy, rigid legislation approach. Would you prefer to say that on no account—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he keeps using the word “you” and has been ascribing a great deal to me that certainly has nothing to do with me.

Mr. Jenkins: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would the hon. Lady care to draft an example of legislation that she thinks would control the problem or does she think that no development at all should take place on former residential sites?

Lorely Burt: I certainly do not want to put local authorities in a straitjacket by saying that something will never happen. There will be circumstances in which back-garden development is entirely appropriate. What we are talking about is the back-garden development that produces considerable deficits to the well-being of an area and causes local people to feel extremely resentful about its inappropriateness. As the hon. Member for Meriden pointed out, such developments put stress and strain on local facilities and council services—affecting drains and causing road congestion, for example—in neighbourhoods that were never designed for the number of households that have been created.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): The hon. Lady and I share roots in Dudley, so she will know the situation involving local houses and gardens. How would the proposal that she has described protect my
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constituents who have come to me and who are worried about whether the Bill would affect their plans to extend their home by building a granny flat, extension or conservatory? Would the Bill catch those people within its grasp?

Lorely Burt: I was not aware of that as a potential problem, but I do not think that the Bill would substantially alter current Government guidelines. I certainly know that granny flats are as rare as hen’s teeth in Solihull. We have been looking for one because of my own family requirements, and I know that they are very difficult to find. I am unable to help the hon. Lady on that point, but perhaps the hon. Member for Meriden can.

Mrs. Spelman: To clarify the position, let me point out that the discretion that local councils would have under the Bill would enable them to consider worthy requests from constituents to adapt or extend their home or build in the garden to meet their family needs. The discretion rests with the local council; there is no blanket exclusion on the kinds of development that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) has described.

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her very helpful intervention.

Paragraph 47 of PPS3 permits local authorities to set a range of densities provided that the average is at least 30 dwellings per hectare. That is the national indicative minimum. That is an extremely helpful development in the new Government guidelines because it is totally appropriate that we recognise the differing densities in, and character of, neighbourhoods in local authority areas. That is fine as far as it goes, but the Bill would extend the provision much further to allow for a much greater degree of discretion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) spoke in the debate in 2006. He said:

I suggest that Members on both sides have echoed that theme.

Some local authorities can act for themselves. They do not need central Government to tell them how they should manage the character and quality of their local areas. However, there are still problems. I have already mentioned the strains on local services and the hon. Member for Tamworth has made the point that the inspectors who are called in on appeal by developers do not know the local area. The people who live in an area best understand the impact of such developments. As the hon. Member for Meriden pointed out, the council could still allow for building to take place on back gardens as part of the usual planning applications. That cry of “Power to the people” is certainly echoed by Liberal Democrats.

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The Bill includes a number of duties. The first would create a new section 71B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and would mean that

That gives gardens the regard that they deserve. Instead of gardens being an afterthought that receives just a weak acknowledgment at the end of PPS3, there is recognition of their importance to the environment and the life of a community.

The Bill is also helpful in that it considers how we respond to the challenge from Labour Members who have rightly asked where the new houses will come from. The Bill would empower local authorities to look much more carefully at derelict commercial areas. Although it is important that land should be available for commercial development—it funds the economic life of our country—the Bill is helpful in that it would lead to a review and the production of a report on commercial land. I have been to the regeneration offices in Solihull to see what land is available there. When we are criticised for not wanting to lose back gardens, we become eager to find ex-commercial brownfield sites that would be suitable for new housing and for providing the infrastructure that would enable affordable housing development to take place.

In general, it is an excellent Bill. I commend my neighbour, the hon. Member for Meriden, for introducing it.

11.19 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on her Bill. To reassure her, let me say that I come to praise the Bill, at least in part, not to bury it.

A private Member’s Bill should be modest, it should attract cross-party support and it should not cost a lot to implement. In drafting her Bill—certainly the first half—the hon. Lady has gone some way towards achieving that. I also think that a Bill’s promoter should be willing to negotiate and accept amendments, particularly from the Government. If this Bill is to proceed, a measure of work will be needed to make it better and generally acceptable.

I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill, which is designed to protect green land and tackle some of the problems of overdevelopment. It is wrong to say that people who care about their local environment and the character of their area are nimbies. They are not; usually, they are people with genuine concerns. The task for government, national or local, is to find the right balance between protecting the character of an area and meeting the desperate housing need of people who live in the area and who are not being provided for. That is a difficult balance to strike, whether at national strategic level, city-wide level—we are grappling with the Mayor of London’s pronouncements on what we should be doing about housing—or local level. There are often tensions between the different levels of government in that respect.

In my area, we are extremely concerned about the extent of development that is likely to be undertaken. For example, in the next 10 years or so I expect between
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10,000 and 15,000 extra households in my constituency, which is just one of those in the borough. In the borough as a whole, we face the prospect of three to four times that number of additional households and a huge amount of development. In housing terms, mine is the fastest growing part of London, which has a significant impact on the character of the area and on the level of public services provided.

One of my main concerns about our local authority’s approach is that it does not appear to be coming to grips with the demand on public services that the additional growth will create. It seems to adopt a rabbit in the headlights approach to some of the applications that are coming its way. We have to think about education, health care provision—both primary care and acute care—roads and more mundane things such as sewerage, water, electricity and gas. To my mind, Barnet council, which is Conservative controlled, does not seem to be dealing properly with some of those issues.

When considering Bills such as the hon. Lady’s, we have to take account of a series of conflicting rights and try to find the right balance. We have the owners of the property who wish to profit from it; they have a right to do so under the Human Rights Act 1998. Under article 1 of protocol 1 to the convention on human rights, people have a right to have their property properly respected and their position considered. By extension, we have the developers, who may have invested considerable time and money in a project.

Mr. Jenkins: Is my hon. Friend here to speak up to safeguard the rights of developers?

Mr. Dismore: I am not speaking up for the rights of anybody—at least, not yet; I shall do so later in my speech. I am simply identifying the various conflicting interests, which have to be balanced. The fact is that developers have an interest, which has to be taken into the balance when deciding what to do in respect of general strategy, legislation, or a particular application. We cannot simply pretend that developers do not exist. They do.

The views of the local community are of great importance. The immediate local community, often represented by an amenities society, often takes a close interest in what is going on. I pay tribute to the efforts of the Mill Hill Preservation Society, its chairman, David Welch, and its indefatigable vice-president, John Turtle. The society has done a good job of preserving that important part of London.

We also have to take account of the views of immediate neighbours, who may have different interests from those of the local community as a whole. The value of their property may be affected by what is going on. That is not nimbyism; it is an important interest that we also have to recognise, because one person’s profit is another’s potential loss. When we talk about nimbies we use the throwaway line, “Not in my back yard”, or, in this case, “Not in somebody else’s back yard, either.” But that is to overlook the fact that those people are concerned about their area and about their own rights and property. We should not disparage people who want to stand up for themselves in that way.

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Of course, in this balancing act, we also have to consider those people who are in desperate need of housing, particularly in London and especially in my constituency, whose position may well not be catered for if we get the balance wrong. Finally, we have to consider the impact on the wider community—the impact on services of developments, especially if they are large scale, can extend far beyond the immediate neighbourhood and affect a whole constituency or borough. There are many and various interests that have to be balanced when we look at planning law.

Mr. Jenkins: My hon. Friend mentions large-scale development. Does he realise that what we are concerned about is the cumulative effect of lots of small-scale developments in an area, all of which are treated individually rather than collectively?

Mr. Dismore: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Later, I might give one or two examples that may help his argument.

At the heart of the debate is the development of affordable homes. In my area, one often finds on turning a street corner that the old houses have been knocked down and a block of flats has been built since one last went down that road. That happens far too much, especially on the main roads in my constituency, but it seems to be a trend that is impossible to stop. I think that that illustrates the point that my hon. Friend made: one house is knocked down, then another, and ultimately the whole row is lost as one follows the precedent of its neighbour. We have to think about how to protect back—and, I suppose, front—gardens from overdevelopment.

The Bill gives no indication of the size of garden in question. In my area, gardens range from several acres at the rich end of the constituency, to postage stamps for the less well off. Different considerations may well apply to those extremes and to the range in between. The development of gardens is a major concern for residents of Mill Hill, where many of the big gardens and houses are located. Some people have sold off their back garden to developers, who have applied for planning consent to build four or five houses, or a block of flats, on the land. That raises access issues, as well as the question of overdevelopment. However, if some of the estates where there are houses with small back gardens were caught by the provisions, thus stopping what are virtually slum clearance projects, that would work against attempts to provide additional housing and prevent the benefits that I think the hon. Lady wants from being achieved. Perhaps she should think about that a little more, although the broad thrust of her Bill to protect gardens is appropriate.

We must do something to protect gardens wherever they may be, even if they are not formally defined as part of the green belt. In my constituency, some gardens form part of the green belt, and others are outside the green belt. However, we must recognise that there is a desperate shortage of housing in my constituency, which the London borough of Barnet seems to be doing little to address. Its new housing strategy does not put anything like sufficient emphasis on, for example, the need for social housing. In London, the purchase of what are termed “affordable homes”, even using the subsidised schemes available to
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some to help them to buy property, remains way beyond the means of many Londoners, including in my constituency. The only real hope of new housing for such people is social housing; unfortunately, the London borough of Barnet—wrongly, in my view—seems to be unconcerned about providing such housing. Whatever conditions and ideas are proposed in relation to planning, we must make sure that they do not prevent people who are in desperate housing need from getting the accommodation they need.

Clause 1(2) inserts new sections in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. I congratulate the hon. Lady on the formulation that she came up with for proposed new section 71B. The requirement to give “special regard” to gardens and green spaces is an interesting formula, because it is not prescriptive in the way that designating a piece of land as a greenfield site would be. It simply gives a nudge to planning authorities to use their discretion. Rather than tell them that they must do something, it simply reminds authorities not to forget about gardens. That is a clever formula. I have been struggling to come up with a definition that might serve the same purpose, so I think that the hon. Lady has done very well.

The proposed measure is modest and balanced, but there are some problems, one of which is the fact that gardens are not defined. We had a discussion earlier when the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) suggested that gardens are all green, but of course they are not. Many gardens are modern Japanese gardens with gravel and rocks and some may be all patio. We may need to do a little work on that point. We may also need to emphasise that we are talking not just about public gardens, but private gardens, as that point is not made specifically.

The formulation in the Bill is important. I agree with the hon. Member for Meriden that it probably would not prevent the modest works that nobody wants to stop, such as the back extension or conservatory—most people accept that such development is reasonable—but would provide protection from the housing developments and blocks of flats that we all want to see controlled. It would help if the hon. Lady were to make it clear that her proposals would not affect permitted development. That might be a way to include in the Bill the provision that it is not trying to catch those small projects, because that would cause great irritation to the owners of property and to planning departments in local authorities that had to investigate and adjudicate on applications that are, frankly speaking, small beer that they should not have to worry about. The hon. Lady might think about proposing an amendment in Committee to ensure that permitted development is not caught by the terms of the Bill —[ Interruption. ] I am told that that is already the case, but I cannot see it on the face of the Bill and I suggest that it is necessary.

Mrs. Spelman: The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful suggestion. I have already given the assurance to two hon. Members that I do not wish the Bill to have the unintended consequence of catching or preventing the building of a granny annexe or an application for a building on a back or front garden. The Bill could certainly be amended to make that explicit.

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Mr. Dismore: I am grateful for that assurance and it strengthens my support as far as clause 1 is concerned.

I shall give one or two examples from my constituency. The case is well made by a decision by the planning inspectorate in my area last autumn. The planning application to build at 57-63 Marsh lane and 9-11 Glenwood road, Mill Hill, caused great consternation in the area. It was strenuously opposed by the Laing Field and Moat Mount residents association and its strong activist, Clive Cohen, who does a lot of work in the area to protect wildlife and the environment. The appeal was on the proposal to build seven houses in a row of back gardens. It was allowed, and a Mr. Pickering of the inspectorate said:

it is a Conservative council—

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