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22 Apr 2008 : Column 374WH—continued

A number of hon. Members asked about the certificate of destruction. One reason why the certificate is being taken up only slowly is the existence of an alternative means of informing the Driver and
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Vehicle Licensing Agency that a vehicle has been scrapped—the tick box on the vehicle registration document that the owner may complete. The DVLA is carrying out an impact assessment on removing that alternative means of deregistration. Hon. Members can be sure that we are looking carefully at the certificate of destruction; we are working with the DVLA to promote awareness and to improve its operation.

The hon. Members for Banbury and for Vale of York spoke about the environmental permitting regulations. We believe that the changes will benefit both industry and regulators, including a wide range of businesses, but particularly smaller enterprises. Officials estimate that the reduced administrative burden on industry and regulators will lead to savings of about £76 million over 10 years. We do not endeavour to “regulate things out of existence”. On the contrary, we want to encourage businesses and industry, but in certain quarters there are still illegal operations, rogue operators and much antisocial behaviour. For example, 150 end-of-life vehicle sites in the west midlands are being investigated by the Environment Agency; illegal activities were found to be taking place at 73 sites, so enforcement action is necessary. We need a balance in the regulations.

Several hon. Members raised the question of theft. Only a few weeks ago, an Association of Chief Police Officers conference recommended a national taskforce to address the increasing problem of metals theft. It is hoped that such a taskforce will go ahead, but that relies on the provision of £2 million of private finance.

This has been an excellent debate. I have already undertaken to write to hon. Members on some matters, but if anyone is seeking information on any other issues, I will be happy to write to them. Our recycling industry is very important and the metals are of great value. The Government very much applaud the activities of the industry and welcome further developments, and I express our intention to continue to work constructively with the industry.

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Housing Developments (Consultation)

10.59 am

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I thank you, Mr. Chope, and Mr. Speaker for granting me permission to speak on this subject. I welcome the Minister to his place to hear my constituents’ concerns, to which he will respond in due course. It is not the first time that I have had the privilege of debating housing issues with him and I hope and expect that it will not be the last, because planning issues are extremely important to Kettering, north Northamptonshire and many places around the country. I see that many distinguished colleagues from all parties wish to take part in the debate and I shall welcome interventions on any subject that they feel is particularly important and will do my best to respond.

I begin with a quotation from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. On assuming that exalted position on 28 June 2007, she said:

That is a laudable aim, but I am afraid that the evidence on the ground in places such as Kettering suggests that people actually have less influence and control over their lives when it comes to large-scale housing applications.

Kettering and north Northamptonshire form part of one of the fastest growing housing development areas in the country. North Northamptonshire is the area covered by the districts of Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire, which forms part of the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area that is being promoted by the Government through their sustainable communities plan. There are four major areas of growth coming out of London: north Northamptonshire, the area that extends from London to Peterborough and beyond, the Thames Gateway, and the area between London and Ashford in Kent.

North Northamptonshire is the biggest single growth area outside London. It is set to grow to a planned population of more than 370,000 people by 2021—the equivalent of Bristol today. There will be 52,100 new houses and 47,400 new jobs. The rate of growth is faster than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes: more than 2,100 new houses were built in 2006, and that will rise to 3,700 a year in the coming years. To deliver that growth on behalf of the Government, the district councils in north Northamptonshire, together with the county council, have worked through a joint planning committee to create an overall town planning strategy for the area, which is known as the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy. That has been submitted to the Secretary of State and a public inquiry has taken place. Local people await the results with interest.

My starting point is this: local people have had absolutely no say on whether they want to live in an area with a population equivalent to that of Bristol. Local people want new houses for local people, but they do not want to live in the equivalent of a city.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. The Government are keen to talk about sustainable
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communities, but does he agree that any truly sustainable community must have the support of local people? Without that, a community cannot be sustainable. All too often, when we have consultations, local people feel that their views are simply ignored.

Mr. Hollobone: My hon. Friend is spot on as usual, and I pay tribute to him for the work that he does on behalf of his constituents on planning and many other issues. He is quite right—the biggest flaw in the development of north Northamptonshire is that there has not been a test of whether local people want the plans.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman include in that the opportunity to look at dispersed development? One problem with the process is that local areas are never given the opportunity to look at how they can develop in a more dispersed way in smaller towns and villages. Such development is never put on the agenda.

Mr. Hollobone: Dispersed development might be looked on in one of two ways, depending on one’s locality. There is a powerful case for saying that if development is to take place, it will need to be as concentrated as possible in some areas so that it does not gobble up large parts of the countryside with greenfield development. I am sure that most of us would agree that brownfield development should take place before greenfield sites are built on. However, in other localities, local people might want more dispersed development. After all, in many parts of the country, development that has evolved over time has happened in such a dispersed way. It will vary from area to area, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point that is doubtless important to his constituents and to his local area.

There are 36,000 houses in the borough of Kettering. The Government have made it a statutory provision on Kettering borough council, on which I have the privilege to serve as a local councillor, to provide an extra 13,100 new houses by 2021. In other words, the number of houses in the borough must increase by one third in a little more than 15 years. That is the Government’s plan for the constituency that I represent. They would have had a far more powerful case for that development if they had had the courage of their convictions and put it to a referendum of local people. The Government could have made a powerful case for expansion on such a scale and if they had such a case, they could have won a referendum. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) would have been satisfied—popular support for the development could have been demonstrated in a referendum. However, there has been no referendum of local people.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on this important issue, and I agree with him about the importance of consultation with local people. However, is there not an almost unavoidable asymmetry? Those who might be adversely affected by development, or who fear that they might be adversely affected and who have a legitimate interest in infrastructure provision, traffic consequences and so on, are already there and know about the issues.
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However, many of the potential beneficiaries of a development, such as those struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder or those in desperate need of social housing, do not know that they will have the opportunity to live in such developments. All of us with public policy responsibilities must take account of the often desperate housing need that people face, but that might not be reflected fully in the sort of consultation that he advocates.

Mr. Hollobone: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I agree with much of what he said. Clearly, some important housing needs are not being addressed sufficiently by Government policy, but it is not good enough to say, “There are housing problems in major cities, so we are going to build hundreds of thousands of new houses in areas that do not want them and on greenfield sites that should never be developed”. Such developments will not enjoy the support of local people. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes hit the nail on the head when he said that if such communities are to be sustainable, they must enjoy popular support.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) that we must do more to sort out housing provision in some of our large towns and cities, but the answer is not to increase the population of Kettering borough by one third, to knock down large numbers of terraced houses in cities in the north or to prevent areas such as Scotland, which want to grow, from meeting their housing needs. This is the 21st century, and the Government have espoused the importance of involving local communities and emphasised that local democracy should be seen to work, should take people’s views into account and should influence Government policy. However, there is a great danger that the so-called sustainable communities plan will create no sustainable communities at all.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yet again, my hon. Friend is sticking up for the residents of north Northamptonshire. The problem with the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) is that it addresses only half the issue—the building of the houses, although we understand the need for them. The concern of my constituents, however, is that although they can see the houses being built, they cannot see the infrastructure—the schools, the hospitals and the roads. It seems that only half the problem is being tackled.

Mr. Hollobone: My hon. Friend is right. Wellingborough is next door to Kettering, and he and I deal with many similar problems on behalf of our constituents. Like me, he will know that the Government—perhaps despite their best intentions—are simply not living up to their promise to provide infrastructure, jobs and houses in that order.

When the plans for Northamptonshire were first unveiled in 2001, I got involved with a campaign group called STOP—Stop the Over-development Plans for Northamptonshire. We were not against development, but overdevelopment, which was defined as too many houses for the available infrastructure. At a meeting in the offices of Wellingborough council, we spoke to Lord Rooker, the Minister driving the plans forward at
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that time. He promised me and Sir Peter Fry, the chairman of STOP, that we would have infrastructure first, then jobs and then houses, but the evidence on the ground simply does not support that.

Services at Kettering railway station will be cut this December, and the number of trains going north from Kettering will halve, while all the fast trains from London to Kettering will disappear. Similarly, some 70,000 vehicles a day use the A14 around Kettering, and the road is already at capacity. Despite having secured Adjournment debates and asked questions in Parliament about when the Highways Agency will introduce plans to improve the A14, we are still waiting for something to be done. Indeed, the agency is now talking about restricting local vehicles’ access to this Highways Agency road. Furthermore, the number of police officers in the county is falling, school places are full and Kettering general hospital is bursting at the seams. It is not infrastructure that is leading the development, therefore, but houses, which is why more houses are being built in north Northamptonshire than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes.

My point to the Minister is that if we are to have sustainable communities, the Government should test local opinion and put their case to local people in a referendum. However, I must tell him on behalf of my constituents that if he had held a referendum, he would have lost it. An overwhelming majority of people in my constituency are very suspicious of the Government’s plans and do not believe that they are sustainable. They believe that the number of houses intended for Kettering borough is too great, that they will be delivered in too short a time and that we will not have the necessary infrastructure to support them.

In that respect, I pay tribute to two Kettering residents, John and Pat Brunige from Warkton village, who laboured night and day in the spring and summer of 2007, knocking on doors across Kettering—particularly around the Ise Lodge estate—and asking people to sign a petition. The petition, which I presented to the House in July 2007, asked that any new housing developments in the Kettering area should be sustainable and that the necessary additional infrastructure should be in place to support such housing provision. The petition was signed by almost 5,500 local people. On their own, Mr. and Mrs. Brunige have done more consultation with local residents than the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I want to use the second half of my speech to concentrate on a recent planning application for 215 houses, which demonstrates that, as far as the local authority is concerned, the Government simply are not being fair when it comes to the development of housing plans for Kettering borough. The big weakness in the Government’s plans is that they have not tested local opinion, which is hostile to the proposed developments. Kettering borough council is doing its best in the face of a central Government diktat to make provision for the extra 13,100 houses. At the Government’s behest, it is drawing up a local development framework to identify the sites where those houses will be built.

The background to the issue is that Kettering borough council’s local development plan was in place in 1995 and ran through to 2005. The council was just about to update and renew it when the Government came along and said, “No, you can’t do that. We’re going to change the system. You’re now part of this growth area. We
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want you to produce a local development framework to make provision for 13,100 extra houses.” Ever since, the council has been working extremely hard to identify sites where the new houses could go.

That is not, however, preventing developers from coming forward. Kettering borough council is doing what the Government told it to do and identifying what we hope are sustainable sites for new houses. However, developers are also picking sites and putting in planning applications, and Kettering borough council is turning around and saying, “Just hang on a minute. We’re doing what the Government instructed us to do. We’re trying to identify where sustainable communities could best be placed.” One such application—for a site with 215 houses in Cranford road, Burton Latimer—was submitted by developers called Deejak Properties Ltd. The application went in in 2006, and Kettering borough council worked closely with the applicants to see whether the site identified by them would be suitable for development, but it came to the conclusion that it would not. The developers appealed to the Secretary of State against the non-determination of the planning application by the council. To cut a long and very interesting story short, the developers won the appeal and the application has been given permission to proceed.

The point is that the area identified in the application—Cranford road in Burton Latimer—was in an area that had been designated as open space in the 1995 Kettering borough plan, but which had not been identified in the local development framework that the Government had insisted that the council draw up. Burton Latimer town council was unanimously against the application, largely on the grounds of surface water run-off, inadequate sewerage systems and the development’s proposed location close to the Church street conservation area in Burton Latimer, which is very much at the heart of the village. There were also worries about the impact of traffic on the village’s historic heart.

The Burton Latimer action group was established and included some very hard-working local residents, such as Tom Kelly, Harry Fry and Jan Smith. Numerous letters of objection to the application were sent in. The whole of Burton Latimer was opposed to the application and Kettering borough council recognised the concerns. The site was not one of those identified in the emerging local development framework. Agreement could not be reached with the developers, who appealed and won their case.

My point to the Minister is that if the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government really believes in involving local people in decisions, she should let local people have a say on important matters that affect their towns and villages. The appeal was granted because the Government inspector said that the number of houses set to be built in Kettering in the next five years was not enough. She relied on paragraphs 69 to 71 of planning policy statement 3 in saying that Kettering needed to build more houses in the next five years, and that the application should therefore be granted. The problem with that is that it completely undermines the sustainable communities project. On the one hand the Government are telling borough councils such as Kettering: “Go and identify suitable sites that will be sustainable; we will have a look at your plan, and we might amend it, but basically it will be the master plan for the development of your local area”; but at the same time, under PPS3,
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they are allowing developers to put forward plans for unsuitable sites, and effectively granting them permission, because they say that the rolling five-year housing targets are not being met. Yet in north Northamptonshire more houses are being built than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes, so the ability of local authorities to try to create the sustainable communities that the Government want is being undermined.

Tom Kelly was one of the Burton Latimer residents who worked hardest on behalf of the action group, and I want to quote from his closing statement to the inquiry about the application:

The Burton Latimer case is one in which local residents are saying they do not mind having lots of new houses built in their town. Between 700 and 900 new houses are meant to be built there, and residents do not object. The borough council has identified 17 potential sites where developers could build—100 houses here, 200 there. However, the Government inspector is saying, “We are not going to wait for the local development framework to be finalised”—something that is only a few months away—“but are going to allow a speculative application to go through, on a site that is not among the 17 identified sites, in the interest of getting as many houses on the ground as we can, as fast as possible.”

It is even more worrying when such decisions come up against the infrastructure deficit that the relevant developments lead to. Many concerns have been expressed by Anglian Water about the inadequacy of the local sewerage system. Everyone knows in Burton Latimer and Kettering that local roads are full. The Government have effectively created a first-past-the-post system in which developers can make speculative planning applications and planning inspectors will nod them through on the basis that we must build as many houses as possible in the shortest period of time. People in Kettering are worried that that will be a green light for other speculative developments.

What I am saying is a warning to the Minister that the sustainability of his sustainable communities plan is being undermined by his own inspectors. It is simply not fair to impose housing targets on communities such as the borough of Kettering without asking local people if they agree with them. But if such housing targets are imposed on councils, for goodness sake allow them the time and space to make sure that the communities really can be sustainable.

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