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Mr. Jenkins: Now we are diverging a little. If I have one or two properties that have been derelict and a nuisance for many years and I want my local authority to clear them and generate new accommodation on that site, where do I stand? It is a brownfield site. I want the authority to do it and to meet its target. It would be
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a disincentive if there were a change of culture in respect of the land. Therefore, it would be a far better idea for it to remain brownfield land.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is missing the point. Nothing would prevent the development of a brownfield site such as a factory. What I am suggesting would provide additional protection to gardens, which is what the Bill addresses. When a factory comes down, however much land it covers counts towards the 60 per cent. target in terms of brownfield sites. However, if a row of houses comes down, at present the footprints of both the houses and the gardens count towards the 60 per cent. target. I am simply saying that the garden element of the footprint should not count towards the 60 per cent. target for brownfield sites. It would be like a let; it would not count one way or the other—it would not count as greenfield development either. Perhaps it would be an example of the idea of a “greyfield” site. Therefore, it could not be used in the way that it is now, as a perverse incentive for some hard-pressed planning departments to meet a target.

Mr. Slaughter: That is an ingenious solution, but I fear that it is impractical on two counts: first, in relation to the collection of statistics and what constitutes the house part of a house plot; and, secondly, because there are many grey areas, such as to do with when parts of a plot were developed and outbuildings. Also, he himself has asked about what constitutes a garden, particularly in an urban area.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Member for Solihull said, “Well, we’re pretty clear what gardens are,” but I have questioned that. There might be detailed definitions that could deal with that issue. My suggestion merits consideration as a way of getting over the hurdle of the perverse incentive that I have mentioned. I hope that Members will think about this matter, and at least that an amendment will be tabled in Committee so that we can discuss it and see whether it can be addressed.

There is the additional question of gardens in green belt land. Part of my constituency is green belt. Some of the developments I referred to took place in green belt land. There is an exemption from the green belt for gardens under brownfield rules. We should look at whether gardens in green belt sites should count as green belt, rather than as brownfield.

Mr. Jenkins: My hon. Friend must realise something. I have houses in green belt and I have great difficulty getting any work done on them, even changing windows. The local planning authority will quickly state that any extension or development is overdevelopment of a site. It is very protective, and it has rules and regulations in place to ensure that green belt is protected. If work is not done, that is down to the planning authority and not regulations.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has made his point.

Proposed new section 71C addresses deals with mixed use residential development, and the hon. Member for Meriden hit on an interesting point in that respect. In my constituency, there will shortly be the major redevelopment of Brent Cross shopping centre. As that development stands, it will include a significant residential element—at the last count there were, I think, several hundred such units. My one concern is to maintain the
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appropriate percentage of affordable and social housing as part of the project. What one gets in respect of commercial developments is the whole panoply of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 section 106 negotiation. Local authorities look for a series of improvements—in Brent Cross, it is in respect of roads and public transport, which are expensive for the developers.

The problem that then arises is as follows. It is said, “Okay, we want so many hectares to be set aside for housing,” and the developer says, “Well, that’s fine, but all of it has to be expensive housing because I cannot afford to provide social or affordable housing as you made me put in all the roads and public transport improvements.” Such requirements are important, but we must ensure that they are not used as an excuse to back away from the basic requirement of the 50 per cent. affordable housing benchmark starting point. For my part, there is also the question of the very high proportion of social housing that the London Mayor expects to be provided.

In the case of mixed communities, the reverse suggestion might apply, in that entire housing developments ought perhaps to have a commercial element built into them to ensure that the appropriate shops are provided for these huge developments. Otherwise, in effect, those who do not have a car cannot access the shops. I was going to say “the post office”, but that would take us down a completely different route that I have no intention of going down. This is an important consideration, so we should perhaps look at the reverse side of the coin of proposed new section 71C. It is also important in this context to ensure that we have mixed tenure.

Clause 6 does not define “commercial purposes”, which could be a problem. Some of the developments that the hon. Member for Meriden or I might regard as commercial could be not-for-profit or public sector developments. One could not argue that a public sector development—a new hospital, for example—is a commercial development, but one might well want accommodation for nurses and doctors to be part of it. She is therefore right to make the point elsewhere in the Bill about the need for accommodation for public sector employees. Perhaps that issue could be dealt with under proposed new section 71C.

So far, so good, from the hon. Lady’s point of view. However, I start to get a little concerned when we get beyond clause 1. I am very much with her on clause 1, and I hope that she will see my suggestions in a positive light, but I have some problems with clause 2, on public bodies, both in principle and in terms of its phrasing. A public body is defined in clause 6 as

or a

which is 20-odd acres, in old money. My concern is the way in which clauses 2 and 6 fit together. For example, if we read

into clause 2(1), it would read as follows:


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The Department might own the land, but the Minister of the Crown does not—we are not talking about the Minister’s private estate. However, that is how the Bill reads as constructed, so we will need to look at this issue. Moreover, a lot of land is not actually owned by public bodies but leased, or leased back, by them. The wording of clause 2, which refers to public bodies owning land, therefore needs to be improved.

The hon. Lady’s initiative is a very important one. In my area, Edgware hospital has been redeveloped. In fact, a brand-new hospital was provided through release of part of the brownfield site on which housing is now to be built. The old Colindale hospital, which is redundant, is about to undergo similar redevelopment. The Bill does not deal with the definition of quangos, however. For example, a huge argument is going on about the National Institute for Medical Research, in Mill Hill, which we in my constituency are all desperate to see remain there. I am not sure what its status is, but I doubt whether it qualifies as a public body according to the Bill’s definition. If we cannot retain the institute, would the site be caught by her Bill, as drafted? I suspect that it would not, but it is an enormous site that perhaps needs to be dealt with under clause 2.

A similar case in point is the British Library’s national newspaper library, which is located in Colindale. The long-term objective is to move it from that site, which is too small. If that happens, another huge site would be released. Is the British Library a public body in the context of the definition in clause 6? Probably not. I know that paragraph (e) refers to a

but that prompts the question of whether they are public bodies in the first place. The definition is self-serving. It says that a public body means a public body owning more than 10 hectares of land.

Mr. Arbuthnot: This is interesting in a moderate sort of a way. Does the hon. Gentleman consider his comments to be detailed points that could best be raised in Committee, were he to permit us to get into Committee?

Mr. Dismore: As I said, I support the principles behind the Bill and hope that it gets into Committee, but I may well not be on the Committee and if the issues are not addressed there, they would have to be dealt with on Report, for which we have only one Friday allocated. I hope that by highlighting some of the problems today, they are flagged up and can be dealt with in Committee. We would not have to spend so long on the Bill on Report and it would have a much better chance of becoming law, which might not have been the case—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that there has to be a proper balance between a generalised debate on Second Reading and detailed consideration in Committee. Flagging up such points is one thing, but seeking to deal with them as would be done in Committee is not appropriate in a Second Reading debate.

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Mr. Dismore: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply referring to paragraph (e) and making the point about the public body definition being self-serving. Perhaps we can leave it at that.

Mr. Ellwood: And conclude.

Mr. Dismore: You will be pleased to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have progressed a little beyond my opening remarks.

I have significant concerns about clause 3. I oppose clause 4 as well, but I do not want to comment on Wales. The clauses are pretty well back to back. It would not be appropriate for the measures in them to be reserved to the local authority. The Library helpfully produced in an appendix to the research document what is in effect a transcript of the impact of clause 3 on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 by inserting the amendments to it. Those raise serious concerns. The Act as amended would exempt anyone else—the Secretary of State and, I suppose, in this context the London Mayor—from second-guessing the local planning authority in relation to dwelling density targets

We have the national standard, or benchmark—it is a benchmark rather than a compulsion—in relation to density. The local authority could say, “Irrespective of what planning guidance may come from the centre, we can set a density of one per hectare.” I do not think that any local authority would do that, but I make the point for the purposes of argument. Nobody would be able to second-guess them except perhaps the courts on judicial review, which would be a peculiar way of resolving a planning problem. I am afraid that I have to part company with the hon. Lady on that.

The Mayor of London has a clear policy of trying to increase housing. In my constituency and my London borough, there are concerns about the scale of the development. We have to provide extra houses somewhere. It would be wrong if a local authority were simply to say, “We’re not going to play the game. We’re not going to join in at all. We’re going to opt out of the national need to provide additional housing.”

Mrs. Spelman: This is where we seriously part company. The fundamental difference is whether we believe in grass-roots democracy from the bottom up or an authoritarian, statist approach that is top down. The hon. Gentleman says that the Government would lose their grip on local councils, but the density that those councils would choose as appropriate for their locality would be heavily informed by the people who put them into office in the first place. He mentions the Mayor of London. Of course he is also elected, but in giving him the powers on housing and planning, the Government are overriding another democratically elected body with a grass roots-up approach to what is appropriate in a locality.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Lady is tempting me into an argument about constitutionality. We have three different levels of government, all elected to implement
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their particular programme. The Mayor of London was elected by the people of London, in part on a policy of providing additional housing; the Government were elected by the people of the country, in part to meet the need to provide additional housing; and the local councils were elected to run the local authorities. There are three different levels of election, and people may vote for the same party in each one or they may cross-vote—who knows? The fact remains that there are different, potentially conflicting, perfectly democratic mandates and, where there is conflict, we have to try to resolve it. To exclude two of those mandates in favour of the third is potentially undemocratic because it may well favour those who have a house to the exclusion of those who need a house.

I think that the hon. Lady is right in her clause 1, which is why I complimented her on its formulation. It would tweak planning law in the way that it should be tweaked to provide some of the protections that we need. However, I think that the way she is trying to do that is equally as over-prescriptive as planning law, but in the other direction. As I said in my opening remarks, we have to try to strike the right balance between the need to provide additional homes and the need to try to preserve the character of an area.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I represent a component part of the London borough of Havering, which would benefit enormously from the Bill because it is 50 per cent. green belt, although it is a London borough. I commend the authority for having undertaken a review of the entire borough, identifying development opportunities, housing need and housing that is in bad order and needs replacing. Who could possibly be better placed to take that holistic approach than the locally elected councillors, who are so very familiar with every nook and cranny of the borough? They are much better suited for the task than the Mayor for London, who, I think, does not know where Havering is.

Mr. Dismore: I shall not get into a debate about whether the Mayor for London knows where Havering is. I suspect that the hon. Lady’s constituency is not very different from mine. I have a very urban part, towards the south of the constituency, and a more suburban area with green belt, towards the north and east.

I am not saying that we should ignore what local people and councils say. I am asking how we give voice to those who could be excluded from that process, the people who need somewhere to live. As I have said all along, we have to try to strike the right balance between local planning controls and the need to find places for people to live. The Bill starts off doing that very well, as it tries to preserve the character of an area by paying special regard to green belt and urban spaces. However, it goes on to say that, no matter what the housing need is in a particular city or nationally, a local authority can simply ignore it if it chooses. We must try to be more imaginative in our approach. The hon. Lady has come up with a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

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Similarly, exempt housing matters would include not only


That would effectively exclude any planning application involving a residential development on a private garden or urban green space. Occasionally, such a development might be appropriate, and completely excluding it is the wrong way to proceed.

I would like the problem resolved in a different way, by giving local amenity societies and concerned residents the right of appeal against the granting of planning consent, which would provide a better counterweight. I do not want somebody necessarily to be able to appeal against a neighbour’s back extension, but I have long been convinced of the need to give people a voice in the planning mechanism if there is a significantly high threshold for the number of residents who want to appeal and the development is of a particular scale. The fact that we have not been able to provide that is a lacuna and a shame. Clause 3 is the one part of the Bill with which I have no sympathy at all. It will not achieve the object of reasonable balance, which clause 1 so admirably does.

I would like to raise an additional point about clause 2, which clearly has a general nature where it states:

It does not say whether it means all the development land “which they own”—in Domesday Book fashion—or land that is redundant, disused and up for development. I think clause 2 needs to be a lot more specific. If it were to say simply, as it does in subsection (2), that every “seven years” a Government Department—

Mr. Ellwood: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You made it very clear a few moments ago that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has now been speaking for close to an hour, was wandering dangerously close into Committee territory. He is aware that many of his points can be made in Committee. He claims that he may not be selected for that Committee, but he knows that he could attend it, even if he were not selected for it. As other hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate, I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on whether it is now time to allow them to participate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The composition and length of a speech is entirely up to the hon. Member who has been called to speak. I have made a ruling about the broad distinction between a Second Reading speech and matters to be pursued in Committee, which I expect the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) to honour. If I feel that he is not honouring it, I will correct him. As I say, it is entirely up to him whether he has any regard for the attendance of his colleagues and other Members.

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