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Mr. Dismore: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had thought that my comments on clause 2 were of a general nature. I was not trying to be specific or raise matters more appropriate for Committee. It is
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important to ask whether clause 2 is about the Domesday Book having to be recompiled every seven years or simply about trying to identify land that is derelict, disused or about to be made redundant on a seven-year cycle. That would make a lot more sense. I simply say to the hon. Member for Meriden that she needs to look further into how clause 2 is formulated, not just in respect of what a public body is, but of what she means by developed land in this context. I think that the provision needs to be tightened.

On clause 3, we talked about density. Density is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not sure whether this is apocryphal, but I once heard that the most densely developed area in Britain is the Royal crescent in Bath. That shows how, with good design, density does not have to look horrible or make an area an unpleasant place to live in. The challenge is how to create the mixed communities that we need, using good design and making better use of land.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) jumped to his feet a little too early, as I am about to bring my remarks to a close. As far as clause 1 is concerned, I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden on her Bill.

Mr. Slaughter: I am sorry to hear that my hon. Friend is bringing his remarks to a close. He has dealt very thoroughly, though in general terms, with the Bill, but he has not addressed all the points raised by Opposition Members. It is a matter for him whether he wants to deal with it, but he has not responded to the question of why—in view of the guidance given in PPS3 and the discretion of local authorities in dealing with this matter—the Bill is necessary at all. Given that this is a Second Reading debate, he may like to deal with those matters, particularly the question of why we need to go down a legislative route.

Mr. Dismore: The problem with PPS3 is that it is not legislation and we are dealing here with something that is a little more important. I believe that the Bill, in clause 1 at least, provides the right sort of legislative nudges towards planning policy. Planning guidance can be changed, after appropriate consultation, at the whim of the Secretary of State, but primary legislation cannot. If the Bill were more prescriptive in respect of clause 1, I would not be for it, but there is nothing wrong in saying in planning law, “Well, let’s give special regard to these particular issues.” That does not mean to say that we cannot build on this land, but that we have to think about it more carefully first. In that respect, I am very much in favour of what the hon. Member for Meriden has to say. I have problems with clause 2, because the way that it is phrased is too prescriptive and it could be too costly. I have significant differences with her about clause 3, but if the Bill were to return from Committee comprising clause 1, a redraft of clause 2 and an improved clause 6, I would be one of those who would be prepared to support it further.

12.20 pm

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I shall be as brief as I can be. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)
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and thank her for permitting me to be a co-sponsor of the Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and thank him for permitting me to be a co-sponsor of his predecessor of the Bill.

Like the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), I used to be a member of a planning committee, and I want to comment on one thing that he said, which is that council members do not have the power or the will, frequently, to take on developers. Hart district council in my constituency, when it was under a Conservative administration about three or four years ago, took the innovative decision to set aside £100,000 to allow it to defend its decisions against appeal. Not only did that fund allow it to conduct such defences, but it sent the signal to developers that Hart would be no pushover.

Mr. Jenkins: I should not like my comments to be taken out of context, when I said that members did not have the will because of the history of refusals being overturned by the inspectorate, thus costing council tax payers money. That is what takes the will away from them. It is not a matter of their individual drive as councillors.

Mr. Arbuthnot: The hon. Gentleman is right that that is one of the factors that demoralises local councillors into thinking that they have no local control over the decision that we, as Parliament, have delegated to them and then taken back from them in respect of inspectors’ powers and those of central Government over spatial planning and local plans. His remarks about the feeling of powerlessness in local communities were absolutely spot on.

The Bill is not opposed to development as such. We have all said that we need more affordable housing—Hart district council and I accept that—but as I said earlier, not only does garden development not produce that affordable housing, because it usually takes place in areas where housing is less than affordable, but I would add the point that we need the infrastructure in place first. One of my worries about garden development is that it is incremental, with a few houses here and a development of flats there, however inappropriate to the area such a development may be. It is almost a stealthy strain on the local infrastructure, which was never designed to accommodate the housing densities that we now see and which are required by the Government and often opposed by local communities.

In my constituency last year, there were severe shortages of water. There is an increasing pressure on the commuter trains to North-East Hampshire. They are heavily overcrowded. The new carriages that are being introduced are considered so uncomfortable that people cannot sit down, so they stand all the way to Waterloo. Our roads are absolutely packed. Schools are completely full. Health services are at breaking point. The Government have only just begun to consult on how we increase and improve our water supplies. There are discussions about lengthening platforms for the rail infrastructure, but that is 15 years away at least. Health authorities are in great difficulty because of a shortage of money. So there is no mechanism to review local infrastructure requirements, as the Infrastructure Audit (Housing Development) Bill, which sadly fell at the post last week, was intended to address.

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The Bill gives some important decision-making powers to local authorities. There are some extremely hard decisions. North-East Hampshire is a beautiful area of the country. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to see our green fields or gardens built on—unless perhaps they are the owners of those gardens and green fields. Even those of us who support the Bill must ask ourselves what we would do if a developer came to offer us ridiculous amounts of money for our house or back garden. Speaking for myself, I simply do not know. I have to be honest about that.

It is also important for us all to recognise the undeniable need for affordable housing. The teachers, police and health workers that we need in North-East Hampshire cannot afford to live there. Hook, in my constituency, is one of the 10 most unaffordable places in the country in which to buy a house. What do parents do when their children get larger and larger and do not move out because they cannot afford the local property? [ Interruption. ] Well, my children are getting larger and larger and they do not seem to be moving out. Either children move way away from the area, which breaks up the local community, or we have to build more local affordable housing. Those are difficult decisions.

Angela Watkinson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that even new affordable developments—possibly for key workers in the categories that he has just mentioned—still need parking provision, and that PPG13, which discourages parking provision in new developments, and in particular in flatted developments, has been wholly misguided? Even when the developments are near stations and on bus routes, some people will use public transport for commuting to work, but still need a car for their leisure use.

Mr. Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend makes a valid point: the attempt to bear down on car parking places has not actually borne down on cars. The law of unintended consequences bites again. I know that she has worked hard on the matter in her constituency.

We have an extremely difficult set of problems. It is all very well for the Minister to say that local communities have the powers to deal with these things already, but as the hon. Member for Tamworth said, they do not feel that they do. They feel that the decisions are taken out of their hands by inspectors who overturn a lot of locally made decisions and who are legally bound by the guidance coming from Whitehall, issued by people who do not know the area or the pressures on local people and communities. They feel that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 gave the Secretary of State control over regional spatial strategy, as well as over local plans.

The Government are funding research to investigate further urban densification. The recommendations include doubling the density of development in suburban neighbourhoods and looking at the considerable potential for garden development. Not surprisingly, local people do not like that. It should be the locals who make these hard decisions. They are not stupid people. They know the pressures and the solutions in the area. They understand that back
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garden development can completely change the character of the neighbourhood. It should be local people who make the decision on that.

In my constituency, the most important issue is housing pressure. In North-East Hampshire, the answer to that is not to take people’s back gardens in the blanket way that seems to be going on; the answer is to redevelop Bordon, where the Ministry of Defence is selling land to allow between 6,000 and 8,000 new homes. The local community of Bordon welcomes that because it will rebalance the town and make it more commercially attractive, which the town really needs.

I am pleased to support the Bill. It would remove back gardens from the policy of developing brownfield land and return a little control over planning matters back to local people, which is where it should belong. It would also limit the powers of the Secretary of State, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden on introducing it.

12.30 pm

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) on introducing the Bill, but although it would be a reckless Member of Parliament who would say that we should allow development wherever it can take place throughout our constituencies—I am not one of those Members—the Bill is not the vehicle to provide local people with the opportunity to think about their future. I say that as a Member of Parliament who represents a new town that grew on the side of what, in the late 1940s, was a village. That village had to accept an enormous development that now numbers 100,000 people. Change, development and growth have thus been part of our landscape, and, on the whole, the community of Crawley has taken them on board extremely well. New neighbourhoods and communities have grown properly with the appropriate infrastructure, including the local pub and community centre, in the way in which we would hope that most communities would be allowed to do.

Such development has not taken place in isolation from giving people the opportunity to improve their quality of life by earning a living close to home. That is one of the huge assets that the constituency of Crawley has been able to offer, as have other new-town constituencies, such as that of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith). We are aware that growth and change are part of our lives. Although, as I have said, it would be reckless of a Member of Parliament to call for unfettered growth in their constituency, it would be wrong to say on the one hand that we really need more housing while, on the other hand, choking off the ability to be able reasonably to provide housing in a community. That is why I have serious concerns about several aspects of the Bill.

I firmly believe that local authorities have the ability to use their powers wisely. As I have listened to the excellent speeches that have been made, I have been interested to hear about the many ways in which good local authorities have been using their powers and examining carefully the infrastructure pressures on the things that make our lives decent, such as water, roads
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and health. The pressures are especially significant in the south-east, which is where my constituency lies. When we consider developments, we must take seriously not only those infrastructure pressures, but the possible environmental impact of those developments.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know the situation in Crawley, but 7,000 of the people on the council waiting list in Portsmouth are not people moving into the city of Portsmouth, but those who are already in the city, using the services in the city and looking for homes. Surely that is a consideration.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that timely intervention, which expresses the concerns of many of our constituents. I was about to talk about the number of people coming to my surgery who are desperate for housing. They are mostly young people who have formed partnerships or who have small children and we often do not have them in mind when we debate planning. We keep a close eye on the reasons why people visit my surgery and we recently calculated that more than 22 per cent. of them are in desperate need of housing.

Lynda Waltho: In my advice surgeries, I see not only young families but also people who have become single after a family breakdown. The developments of flats and apartments we have been discussing would be right for them.

Laura Moffatt: My hon. Friend illustrates well how a local authority can respond to the needs of its community. As I said, there is a neighbourhood system in Crawley, but the families of the pioneers who came from London to Crawley in the early days to a beautiful three or four-bedroom home of their own have now grown up. People who have lost a partner may want to stay in the heart of their community, but cannot do so if there is no appropriate housing. If they are renting their property, they worry about giving it up and taking on a different house. That is why I am worried about putting restrictions on local authorities about what they can do in their areas. Adjustments to the size of gardens could allow older people to remain in their community, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention.

Greg Clark: Does the hon. Lady share the concerns expressed in the report last year of the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Committee, which noted that the

Laura Moffatt: It is precisely the duty of local councillors and local authorities to consider what is needed in their communities. As the ODPM Committee report pointed out, we used to be convinced—like the new town pioneers—that we needed thousands and thousands of new three-bedroom properties. However, we now realise that that
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may have caused some difficulties. People who become lone parents do not need such large properties, so flexibility in the type of housing offered is crucial.

We are talking about the quality of life for people who are established in their communities, but also about the ability to respond to change, which is always difficult. To illustrate that I use an example from my constituency—as many of us do—where I faced a large development of flats. Mine was not the closest property by any means, so I made no formal objection, but I understood the concerns of the people whose houses were closer. However, that high quality affordable development has provided many young people with a decent home. It is close to bus services, thus reducing the need for cars, and fits in extremely well.

I was a member of the local authority when the development was being discussed. We were keen to ensure that it included shopping facilities. We took care to ensure that it complied with all the environmental standards, and more, so that it did not contribute to global warming. The development has settled down extremely well and has quickly become part of our community. This example provides an argument against the Bill.

The development took place on land that had been open space for a long time, but that had been earmarked for development. I understand that that is not the same as development on back gardens, but it relates to the point about providing something reasonable and decent for our communities. Whether the land is a back garden or space that has been identified for housing, we should allow a local authority to respond properly and decide whether the development should be allowed to go ahead. Providing an authority with a presumption against development in the way that the Bill would is a mistake.

Some Members have spoken about the ability of local authorities to negotiate reasonable rents and provide affordable housing, and I refer to a couple of back garden developments in Crawley that caused concern. Three houses were sold in Pound Hill and there was general concern about the style, size and general look of the proposed development, so negotiation took place with the neighbours to come up with a decent proposal. Furthermore, the people selling their homes took an active interest in whom they were selling to. They examined the developers to consider not only who was offering the best monetary deal, but who would provide young people with an opportunity to take their first step on the ladder or give people the chance to access a shared equity property.

The housing association, Moat, was involved in this development and the benefits of that are clear. It bought some of the properties from the developer and offered them on a shared equity basis. The development has been extremely successful. It houses young people, many of whom had been to see me about their housing prospects and who had had no hope of getting on to the housing ladder.

Although I understand the Bill’s aims, I can offer a further example that shows why the presumption that there should be no development in an area has a huge detrimental effect.

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Mrs. Spelman: I am listening attentively to the hon. Lady and I think that she has fundamentally misread the Bill. I pray in aid the correct interpretation that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) gave when he said that the Bill was precisely not prescriptive; it would allow discretion. The wonderful development that she has described in Crawley would be entirely permissible under the Bill.

Laura Moffatt: I thank the hon. Lady for that explanation, but the Bill is clear in its use of the phrase “special regard to”. That would provide a local authority that is minded not to represent the interests of those who are in desperate need of housing with a presumption against a development. That would change the balance. Instead of there being a clean sheet in the consideration of whether a development was suitable, would local authorities be able to say no to every single development that came forward? That would cause enormous difficulties.

Change and renewal are part of community life and the Government and local government should not attempt to resist development at every turn. However, I also believe that giving local people the ability to say no is crucial. That is why, on another count, I am seriously worried about the ability to switch development to employment land.

I have had to oppose my Government’s Secretary of State in relation to a local case because that was precisely what a developer wanted to do: he wanted to build on land that the local authority had rightly designated as employment land. I completely agree with the local authority that that development would be a mistake. If we are genuinely to enhance people’s ability to reduce their carbon footprint and to live close to where they work—often, people regard the south-east as an attractive place to live because work is readily available—it would be a huge mistake to lose pockets of land that are earmarked for business or industrial development, which will provide employment. I am worried that the Bill, as I read it, would make that development entirely possible, or even probable, and would reduce my local authority’s ability to oppose such development.

With that in mind, we should think carefully about development law and accept that the Bill is not the correct vehicle, because it would hamper local authorities’ ability to ensure that development is in keeping with the area. That is often difficult to do, but to impose a presumption against development in gardens would be detrimental. I shall therefore oppose the Bill.

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