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23 Jun 2008 : Column 119

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Question agreed to.

Regulatory REform



Planning and Development (Essex)

9.30 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I acknowledge the need for more housing to meet the uncontrolled immigration that flows from our membership of the costly European federal project, but we are under attack from inappropriate developments of flats without sufficient parking, which in this case will damage the very heart of our community—our ancient St. Mary’s conservation area. I hope that local councillors will accept that the purpose of the conservation area is to conserve it, and reject the application. I congratulate everyone who has signed this excellent petition—they are stars—and, of course, Brian Keeler and Mr. and Mrs. Patel, who organised it, are excellent leaders in our community, and they are to be roundly congratulated on their work and community-spirited actions.

The petition states:


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North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Steve McCabe.]

9.32 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting me permission to hold this debate this evening, and I welcome the Minister to his place to listen to the concerns of my constituents, and to respond in due course, on the very important subject of the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy.

North Northamptonshire is the biggest single housing growth area outside London. That is the fate the Government have decided is appropriate for my part of the world. Because of their plans, north Northamptonshire, which comprises the districts of Corby, Wellingborough, Kettering and East Northamptonshire, is set to grow to a planned population of more than 370,000 by 2021. That means that it will by then be a community equivalent in population to Bristol today.

In that plan, north Northamptonshire is supposed to witness the creation of some 52,100 new homes and 47,400 new jobs. It is a massive development on an unprecedented scale for Northamptonshire, and I have to say to the Minister that it is not a popular development in Northamptonshire. Were these proposals put to a test of popular opinion through a referendum they would be soundly rejected, because local people are rightly worried about the scale of the proposed development and the speed with which it is being rammed through. Local people are also worried that whereas at the start they were clearly promised by this Government infrastructure, jobs and then houses—in that order—what they are actually getting is lots more houses, precious few extra jobs, and infrastructure going backwards instead of forwards.

The subject of tonight’s debate is the core spatial strategy, which was officially adopted by the north Northamptonshire joint planning committee at its meeting on 12 June. To the credit of local authorities in the north of Northamptonshire, the joint planning committee is an innovative concept. Rather than having a Government-imposed development corporation making all the decisions about where houses should go and in what numbers, where jobs should be provided and so on, the local authorities in the north of the county got together at an early stage and decided to work on a different model whereby they would co-operate to try to create the best conditions for the new growth coming to the county. That is not to say that they were all in favour of the scale and pace of the development that the Government are imposing, but they felt that the best way to get the job done correctly was to keep the decisions local, so they decided to get together to form the joint planning committee.

The core spatial strategy that they adopted at the meeting of 12 June aims to ensure that the plans for the more than 50,000 new homes go hand in hand with the investment in jobs, infrastructure, services and environmental improvements that we have all been promised, so that growth benefits the existing communities in north Northamptonshire, as well as the new residents who have yet to arrive. This is the first strategic plan to
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be agreed in the whole of the east midlands, and the first in the UK to be prepared by a number of councils working together as a joint planning unit.

Believe it or not, the plan is the culmination of three years’ work by the joint planning unit, involving extensive studies and consultation. It was subject to an independent examination last winter, when a Government-appointed inspector looked at it and at the representations made by both developers and other interested parties. The inspector’s report was published on 15 May 2008 and, not surprisingly, endorsed the overall approach that the plan laid out.

The independent inspector was appointed by the Secretary of State on 22 February 2007 to carry out this independent examination. A pre-examination meeting was held on 4 July, and the examination itself was conducted by way of written exchanges and a series of hearings held between 23 October 2007 and 13 February 2008. The inspector’s report contained his recommendation

The point I wish to make to the Minister this evening is that, despite the time that preparation of the core spatial strategy has taken, it is actually a highly flawed document that is causing widespread alarm among residents in north Northamptonshire. I urge the Minister and his Department to ensure that, even though it has been officially adopted by the north Northamptonshire joint planning unit, there is an early review to provide the much-needed certainty about infrastructure, jobs and housing that, sadly, the present document does not provide.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, as usual. The problem as I see it with the new strategy is that some of the fundamentals that local people wanted have been excluded. Wellingborough council wanted a right to strategic gaps between the villages and the urban areas, but that has been removed by the inspectorate. That seems a very strange way of dealing with local democracy.

Mr. Hollobone: My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for his constituency and, as always on this issue, he is spot on. Indeed, the policy of strategic gaps—green areas between major developments in the county—was described in the draft core spatial strategy as “Policy 6”; I am looking at the inspector’s amended report, where that policy has lines all the way through it. That is of great alarm to residents in the north of the county, and it is an issue to which I wish to return later in my remarks.

The scale of the development that the Government envisage for my part of the world is truly alarming, although the Minister might think that “alarming” is a strange word to use. I am not against economic development or housing development, but local residents are concerned at the scale and speed of the proposed development, which most of them would argue is simply not sustainable, despite the core spatial strategy’s conclusions.

Let me illustrate the scale of some of the proposals. By 2021, there are supposed to be an extra 52,100 new houses in north Northamptonshire, of which 16,800 are to be in Corby, 13,100 in Kettering, 12,800 in Wellingborough and 9,400 in east Northamptonshire.
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The quinquennial breakdown of that housing growth is also alarming to local people. They are noticing new houses going up all over north Northamptonshire at the moment, but they may not be aware that, according to the Government plan, the rate of housing completions is meant to increase sharply. Between 2001 and 2006, some 8,190 houses were to have been completed in north Northamptonshire, but in the current period—2006 to 2011—the figure rises to 12,655. For the period 2011 to 2016, the figure rises to 15,560, and there is to be a similar total for the period 2016 to 2021, 15,695. Local people simply are not prepared for that rate of growth in the number of housing completions, and those figures are of alarm to my constituents.

I wish to highlight some of the most worrying aspects of the core spatial strategy report, which lead me to conclude that it is a fundamentally flawed document. It is a very big document—fortunately, it is publicly available on the north Northants joint planning unit website—running to more than 90 pages, and it really is a most riveting read. Some of its most important paragraphs are buried away in the detail of the text. I wish to refer not to the final report, as adopted, but, for ease of argument, to the inspector’s amended report before the final document was approved. On page 28 of the report, which was published in May 2008, one finds in item 3.16 this particular gem:

I expect that the Minister lives in a sort of rural community like mine.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda) indicated dissent.

Mr. Hollobone: Perhaps not; perhaps the Minister’s area is more built up. May I tell him that in north Northamptonshire the idea that car use can be cut by 20 per cent. in new housing developments is simply fanciful? It may be that in an urban area people can be persuaded out of their cars on to public transport, if sufficient provision is made, but I am sceptical that a 20 per cent. reduction in car journeys can be made by people who move into those new developments. It is simply not possible for many people in north Northamptonshire to survive without the use of a motor vehicle. I suggest that that particular aspect of the core spatial strategy is fundamentally flawed.

Policy 2 is entitled “Connecting North Northamptonshire with surrounding areas”. It states

Well, that is good. Among the priorities for further work and investment in north Northamptonshire in the period to 2021 are

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That sounds fantastic, but in fact the rail services to and from Kettering and the north will be halved this December, and the additional capacity mentioned amounts to the spare seats on the train service from St. Pancras to Corby.

Mr. Bone: I have fresh up-to-date information on the rail capacity from Wellingborough. My wife travelled up today and had to sit on the floor as all the seats were full.

Mr. Hollobone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation and I am sorry that his wife had that unfortunate experience. As we know, that is a daily occurrence on services between Kettering and Wellingborough and London. It is an absolute disgrace that passengers from those places have to stand for an hour on a train all the way to London, when they are often paying as much as £73 for a return journey. The additional capacity that has been promised to local people is a huge con trick. In fact, the fast inter-city services will disappear from Kettering, and the additional capacity, such as it is, will be on stopping services calling as far north as Corby, which is just next door.

Policy 2 also mentions the road network. Highlighted as a priority is:

In the final document, the word “dualling” has been replaced with “improvement”. That will be horrifying to local people, because the A43 links the county town of Northampton with Northamptonshire’s second town, Kettering. It is the busiest, most congested and most dangerous road in the area. There were plans to dual this road, but they were axed by John Prescott in 1999, who then produced the basis for this housing development plan in the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area plan.

Here we are in 2008, nine years on from the axing of the dualling programme, and it is confirmed in black and white—in fact, by a thick red line—that the Government do not want the road dualled. My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) will have to suffer further congestion and dangerous driving conditions for the foreseeable future.

That places in sharp relief the words of the Secretary of State for Transport, who used to be the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In a debate last year—I was in my place at the time and noted her words with glee—she said:

I would suggest to the Minister that the evidence from the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy suggests completely the opposite.

If we go further into the document, we see that paragraph 3.25 on page 31 states:

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That is great. I think that we would all support it. The strategy goes on to state:

Completely the opposite is happening. In December, East Midlands Trains will halve the number of trains running north from Kettering to Leicester. The service will be cut in half, and that hardly ties in with the words

Further down the page, in paragraph 3.29, the strategy states:

That is absolutely super, but the strategy goes on to state:

it could provide

I am staggered that the document can say that transport modelling indicates that this road is not essential for development planned to 2021.

Under the plans in the core spatial strategy, there is provision for 5,500 houses to be built to the east of Kettering. I have to tell the Minister that unless the eastern bypass is built there will be excessive traffic congestion throughout the town of Kettering and villages to the east will be simply gridlocked. The villages of Weekley and Warkton will be particularly affected by the development. Some 10,000 vehicles a day run through Warkton, and it sits on the busiest C road in the county of Northamptonshire. If those 5,500 houses are built to the east of Kettering, Warkton will have construction traffic going through it all the time and will be an extremely unpleasant place in which to live.

I come now to policy 6, which is the infamous “strategic gaps” policy. I have reached page 37 of the inspector’s amended report, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough will confirm that the whole page has been crossed out with thick red lines. That is extremely alarming, because in north Northamptonshire there are the three main towns of Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough, which sit more or less on top of each other in a straight line. It is very important to local people that those towns remain three distinct and separate communities. That was the purpose of the strategic gaps policy, which, before it was obliterated, stated:

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