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5 Dec 2007 : Column 318WH—continued

The hon. Lady referred to infill and so-called garden grabbing. While some intensification of urban areas may provide a useful contribution to housing supply, that is a local matter. It is for local authorities to make the choice about where they want housing to be located, and to strike an appropriate balance between intensification and other options, including greenfield development. Local authorities have the powers that they need to prevent inappropriate development, which can include housing in back gardens. They can set local policies to provide the strategic overview specifically to protect gardens from development, and they can exclude gardens
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from their brownfield targets. It is important that they make those decisions by working with their local communities.

Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for his helpful comments, which I will take back to the local planning authorities. The Minister will recall that I am supporting the 5 km policy wholeheartedly. I am concerned about the blunt instrument of a rigid 400 m boundary as the crow flies, so that anything within 400 m, however difficult it might be to walk to or get to the heathland, is now prohibited. I wonder whether he agrees that in all cases there should be a point at which there is a case-by-case judgment, as was just said in relation to back gardens.

Mr. Wright: In terms of a case-by-case basis, a balance needs to be struck between local authorities providing policies and a strategic vision for an area, which includes infill, garden grabbing and other matters relating to housing and planning, and site-by-site consideration. Such a balance definitely needs to be struck. PPS3 provides the means that local planning authorities need and the weapons to decide what type of housing they want, and where, which is important. That is not a top-down approach dictated by the Government. It is very much a matter for local authorities, working in consultation with their local communities.

Regional planning guidance note 10, published in 2001, is the current statutory regional spatial strategy for the south-west. Its policies focus development on the region’s main towns and cities. I am reluctant to talk in detail about it, but the emerging RSS, which the South West regional assembly is considering, seeks to continue and reinforce the view that development outside those areas should be of smaller scale in order to meet local needs. However, it should seek to increase the overall level of housing delivery across the region as a whole, in order to meet growth needs and to address the affordability problems mentioned by the hon. Lady. The important question is what rate of housing development is appropriate in Mid-Dorset and North Poole in order to meet local needs. As I have said, however, I am going to disappoint the hon. Lady: we must await the RSS panel report, although I understand that publication is imminent.

I turn to the rural communities that are such a wonderful feature of the hon. Lady’s constituency. I have mentioned the balance that needs to be struck between the strategic vision and case-by-case solutions, but it is important to consider bespoke solutions, rather than treating growth as a one-size-fits-all solution. It is about understanding a community’s specific needs, and how they work.

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Gathering evidence and understanding local housing markets is a key step to ensuring an appropriate mix of housing to meet local needs, including affordable housing. As for rates of housing development, clearly there needs to be a proper balance between demand and supply and promoting a sustainable pattern of development for the region. The regional spatial strategy process sets that balance with a planning framework for a sustainable pattern of development for the south-west. Looking ahead to 2006, it sets rates of housing development in the hon. Lady’s part of Dorset.

The Government’s commitment to tackling housing supply and ensuring more affordable housing with reforms to the planning system will equip local communities with the tools to focus on solutions tailored to local needs. The Government are keen to increase the supply of housing and to address problems of affordability so eloquently referred to by the hon. Lady.

It is clear that there still needs to be substantial housing in the small towns and villages of the region, with a focus on delivering more affordable housing. However, I cannot stress enough how important it is that the south-west owns the agenda and seeks its own solutions. The regional spatial strategy will provide rates of housing development for each planning authority in the region. Most important, however, it will be a spatial strategy prepared in harness with strategies for housing investment, the environment and the region’s economic growth. Together, they will provide local communities with a clear strategic context.

PPS3 suggests how local planning authorities might use their local development frameworks to set the balance of different household types to be provided across the planning area. Those measures, along with others, are intended to strengthen every local community’s ability better to meet its housing needs. I suggest that the hon. Lady asks whether her local authorities were using PPS3 to judge the mix between flats and family homes. PPS3 provides a clear opportunity for local planning authorities to designate what they need in terms of housing, and where they need it.

The region’s No. 1 priority is the provision of more affordable housing to help improve the balance of its housing markets. My Department also has the key objective of sustainable communities in all regions. Today’s debate has given us an excellent opportunity to reinforce the Government’s commitment to a better future for the south-west. We want more homes in appropriate places—more homes, green homes and better homes.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Five o’clock.

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