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I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is no truth in the claim that the Government are deciding the locations of the 10 eco-towns behind closed doors without reference to the views of the public or the local authorities in the areas where expressions of interest have been submitted. Importantly, I also confirm what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said in the House about eco-towns: they are indeed a matter for
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local authorities under the town and country planning system. Any eco-town site regarded favourably by the Government must be subject to testing through the planning system, including an appraisal of its sustainability, in order to proceed. We will work with local authorities in the areas where the Government would like to see eco-towns built. In most cases, the scheme will be supported by an up-to-date local development plan. We know that in some cases local authorities are including new settlements in their issues and options consultations.

In some circumstances, an authority without an up-to-date plan but with a housing shortage may want to proceed with development. In such cases, the local authority will still need to make a decision on a planning application, and will have to be satisfied that all options for the development’s location have been tested. Eco-towns will need full planning applications; section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires that applications be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Some areas will also want to consider reviews of the development plan or mini reviews of the regional spatial strategy.

We have previously mentioned the use of new towns powers to deliver and maintain an eco-town, and we remain open to the possibility that, in the specific circumstances of a scheme and its location, it may be appropriate to establish a new town development corporation. In every case, there would still need to be a planning application, or a master plan for each eco-town, which would have the benefit of full public consultation and robust testing of the proposal. Whatever the case, the views of councils and the public are integral to the debate about the ultimate location of sites, and the planning system is the right place to have the debate.

I hope that those observations have demonstrated to my hon. Friend and others the Government’s commitment to getting the processes right.

Mr. Todd: The Minister mentioned the mini review process. As I said in my speech, there is a proposal in the expert panel review of the regional spatial strategy to conduct a mini review on accommodating Burton’s growth-point growth in South Derbyshire. What sort of mechanism does she envisage for dealing with such dramatic proposals?

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Caroline Flint: As the regional spatial strategy has not been formally adopted, it is difficult to say whether a mini review would happen. The Government are still considering the full regional spatial strategy, but I am happy to ascertain whether there is any further information that I can provide to my hon. Friend. Clearly, I am limited in what I can say.

We want to make it clear that we are no less committed to the goal of delivering significant new homes in new growth locations, and to ensuring that that new housing does not harm the environment. Indeed, it can be imaginative in design, landscape and the use it makes of natural assets. I also fully recognise that infrastructure is an important partner to new homes so that they and the places in which they exist are successful.

We want sustainable homes in well-designed and attractive towns, and I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that many people who are waiting to buy an affordable home or rent a house want that as well.

Mr. Todd: Will my right hon. Friend expand on the importance of brownfield sites for new developments? She heard the reference in my speech to the potential difficulties to meeting the 60 per cent. use of brownfield growth targets. I drew attention to the fact that the eco-town proposal is not for a brownfield site. How critical is the use of brownfield for new housing development?

Caroline Flint: Of course, brownfield sites are critical for new housing development. We are trying to do as much as we can to take advantage of the opportunities that brownfield sites provide. We are also considering across Government what public land is surplus to requirements and can be used.

We are not simply considering numbers or bricks and mortar but real people who want homes. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me that access to affordable housing is no longer a priority only in London and the south-east. There are many other areas of the country, including my hon. Friend’s and mine, that need to offer that opportunity. It is part of our social justice agenda to ensure that those most in need have a chance to have a home, which many of us enjoy.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Three o’clock.

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