Previous Section Index Home Page

there follows a list of the towns and villages that will be separated, including Kettering and Corby, Kettering and Isham, Wellingborough and Ecton, Wellingborough and the Harrowdens, Wellingborough and Finedon, Wellingborough and Irthlingborough and Wellingborough and Rushden.

The fact that that policy has been obliterated will sound alarm bells across north Northamptonshire, because it raises once again the nightmare scenario of a linear
23 Jun 2008 : Column 125
city being created between Corby and Northampton with Kettering and Wellingborough in between. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough will be able to confirm that the phrase “the linear city” comes from an early Government consultee’s report that tried to steer the development of the local area away from that nightmare scenario. Yet here we are, in 2008, and a policy designed specifically to prevent that scenario from happening is being obliterated line by line.

And so the document goes on. There is an important section under item D called “Delivering Infrastructure”. Paragraph 3.41 on page 39 reveals that the policy in the draft said:

What is wrong with that? That provides the guarantees that local people want. However, that sentence has been crossed out and replaced with:

The wording has been very subtly but importantly watered down, and as a result it does not give local people the confidence that they need that growth will become sustainable in their local area.

There should be infrastructure triggers in the document. There should be specific commitments that if the infrastructure is not provided up front or at the same time as the housing growth, extensions to the housing growth targets should be shelved. Those triggers are not in this document. There is further analysis of infrastructure in paragraphs 3.48, 3.49 and 3.50, which come under the title “Phasing of Infrastructure”. Paragraph 3.49 says:

It suggests a number of remedies for those problems. One is the expansion of the Broadholme sewage treatment works. To deal with the road issue, it is suggested that

In a way, that is quite encouraging, because the spatial strategy is identifying the infrastructure that will be needed to cope with the housing growth. However, paragraph 3.50 goes on to say:

That is alarming in two respects. One is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, whose constituency includes the Broadholme sewage treatment works, knows, those works will reach capacity in 2010. There will therefore be a three-year gap, and that could get very smelly for the Wellingborough constituency. Furthermore, the document says that

23 Jun 2008 : Column 126

The Minister needs to understand that this is a spatial strategy document looking at housing growth up to 2021. Most of the extra housing is meant to be in place by the time the improvements to the A14 arrive. One would think that the sensible thing would be to say, “Right. We cannot have the housing growth unless the infrastructure improvements to the A14 are in place”—but not a bit of it. The document says that

On the desk of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), there is a proposal not to widen the A14 to three lanes but to carve up the two lanes on either side of the carriageway into three without widening the carriageway at all. When we add that to the Department for Transport relaxing its congestion targets, we get the nightmare scenario of the A14, which is already a killer road around Kettering, becoming even more dangerous and frightening for local people to drive on.

It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Hollobone: We then go on to policy 7, which has also been substantially amended. This one is called “Infrastructure delivery and developer contributions”. In the draft document, it said, very sensibly:

Excellent, fantastic; that is the sort of support that local residents wanted to see. But no—that text has been crossed out. The document also said:

Very sensible. But no—that too has been crossed out.

The Northamptonshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has contacted me to highlight its huge concern about the amendment to policy 7. It says:

Further alarm will be caused in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies by the fact that, as the strategy states, there is no way that it can meet the Government’s target for the percentage of new homes that are built on brownfield land. It says:

Great. However, it continues:

23 Jun 2008 : Column 127

It goes on to quantify 21,500 homes as the estimated amount of housing that will need to be built on new greenfield sites in north Northamptonshire by 2021. So there we have it in black and white: the housing expansion policy in north Northamptonshire will not be able to meet the Government’s stated aim of 60 per cent. of new build taking place on brownfield sites.

When the Government announced the Milton Keynes and south midlands housing expansion strategy in 2001, local people were led to believe that infrastructure would be provided up front and that the quality of life for existing residents would be enhanced at the same time as the quality of life for new residents would be provided for. That is not what has happened at all. We have not had infrastructure, jobs and then houses, but houses, not many more jobs, and then infrastructure going backwards.

The rail services to and from Kettering are being cut, the A14 is getting more and more congested and the best that local people can hope for is some kind of improvement to the road in 2017 at the earliest. The A43 Kettering to Northampton road, which is the busiest, most congested and most dangerous road in the county, was to be dualled, but that has been taken out of the programme. Strategic green gaps between the major towns and villages in the north of the county were protected by the initial policy, but they have been scrubbed out by the inspector. The limited promises on the phasing and delivery of infrastructure, enshrined in the draft report, have also been axed.

The core spatial strategy document is fundamentally flawed. It does not give local residents in my part of the world the assurances that they need with regard to the rate, scale and speed of housing development in my constituency and neighbouring ones. That is a mistake, the responsibility for which rests with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

10.5 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) on making such a splendid and reasoned speech. He truly speaks for the people of Kettering and for north Northamptonshire, and his interest in this subject dates back to before he was elected to this House. I am delighted to see the Minister in his place; he is held in high esteem by the House, and I know that he will listen to our arguments.

I do not want to rehearse what my hon. Friend has said, but I would like to add one or two points about Wellingborough. My hon. Friend talked about the A14, and he is right to do so because it is a killer road. He was also right to talk about the A43. In my constituency, the A45-A6 interchange is also extremely dangerous—we have had an Adjournment debate in this House on the issue—but there is nothing in any programme about the improvement of that interchange. It is not even in the 15-year forward programme. The Highways Agency thinks that it is a good idea, the county council thinks it is a good idea, the local council thinks that it is a good idea and the local people think that it is a good idea. But it is just not happening.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 128

On Saturday, I attended a public meeting in the village of Isham, which is one of the villages that would be dramatically affected by the loss of the strategic gaps. I was at the meeting because of flooding, which my hon. Friend touched on. During three of the last five years, there has been significant flooding, with sewage floating in people’s homes. When I asked local people the reason for that, they told me that it was the result of development of housing in the area without any improvement in infrastructure. It is hard to come to any other conclusion. My constituents fear that with the huge increase in housing that Wellingborough is already committed to, but with no improvement in the sewerage and drainage systems—there are no planned improvements—that issue will become a widespread concern. The problem with infrastructure can only get worse with the north Northamptonshire development.

I do not really want to make a party political point, but I will. In my constituency, under a Labour Government and a Labour county council, one of the secondary schools has been knocked down. All the other secondary schools are overcrowded, but we are going to bring in all these new houses with nowhere for the children to go to school. People do not move in without children, but that point does not seem to have been addressed anywhere in the Government’s thinking. They just believe in building new houses. I understand their thinking—they are not evil people. They are thinking that people need homes, but they fail to recognise the need to provide the matching infrastructure.

My constituency has no hospital and lies in the worst primary care trust in the United Kingdom, according to the Government’s figures. If we cannot get to a hospital now, and there are excessive delays and cuts in services, yet all the new houses are to be built, where will my people go to hospital? Sometime in the past, the plans suggested that there should be a new hospital, but that proposal has been lost—it simply will not happen.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the subject before the House yet again, but I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we will continue to press on variants relating to the development until the Government listen.

I want to give the Minister an idea of the unpopularity of the loss of the strategic gaps. Last Thursday, a by-election took place in Wollaston, which is a small village with many open fields between it and Wellingborough. It was announced that there was a danger of building on the fields. On a 33 per cent. turnout, the Conservative candidate got 816 votes and the Labour candidate got 97, and the strategic gaps were the main issue in the election. The Conservative majority increased by 50 per cent. I ask the Under-Secretary, not on party political grounds, but out of justice, to listen to local people.

10.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I congratulate especially the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and also the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) on their contributions. The hon. Member for Kettering is known in the House for his assiduous work and his concentration long into the night. I noticed that the documents in his hands had many green post-it notes stuck to them. I am sure that
23 Jun 2008 : Column 129
he studied his 90-page document in great detail; he read out some snippets to us. I shall try to respond to as many of his points as possible.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy was adopted in June this year. It represents a significant milestone in the realisation of the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area—the wider growth area that he mentioned. It is the first core strategy of its kind to be produced by a joint planning unit and the first to be adopted in the east midlands. Many of the points that both hon. Gentlemen made about their constituencies were addressed not only to me as Under-Secretary, but to the joint planning unit and, I dare say, the local development company, as they do their work locally. It is important to remember that the joint planning unit comprises planning officials from an array of district and county authorities, as they try to piece together all the work on regeneration, infrastructure and, indeed, housing.

I hope that both hon. Gentlemen acknowledge—I believe that they do—that housing is a key priority for the Government. In the past 35 years, under all Governments, we have not built nearly enough homes. Pressures and imbalances between supply and demand have resulted from increased longevity and changes in the way we live. We need to build more homes to tackle that imbalance. There are far more households of individuals rather than couples and families, and far more older people. I looked at the statistics as the hon. Member for Wellingborough was speaking and I saw that life expectancy remains above average in Northamptonshire. I am pleased that the indices for employment show that the claimant count is below average.

Our housing Green Paper, “Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable” makes it clear that we must go further to tackle the housing needs and aspirations of current and future generations. I accept that changes are difficult—in my constituency and in every constituency in the land, including those of the hon. Gentlemen.

We have set a new housing target for 2016 of 240,000 additional homes a year nationally to address growing demand and affordability. They will not be just houses; they will be homes, let us remember, in the hon. Members’ constituencies. The Green Paper set out proposals to deliver a total of 2 million new homes by 2016 and 3 million by 2020.

Milton Keynes and south midlands will provide the highest level of growth in any growth area between 2001 and 2016, delivering 210,000 new homes. I congratulate the hon. Gentlemen on the fact that their constituencies are desirable locations where people want to make their homes. As the hon. Member for Kettering said, north Northamptonshire’s share of that will be 52,100 houses up to 2021, with a further 13,975 identified in the draft east midlands regional spatial strategy, which is to be delivered by 2026.

The north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy acknowledges that that proposed housing growth will need to be supported by improvements in infrastructure and recognises that the delivery of that infrastructure is dependent on partnership working between the public and private sectors. Both hon. Gentlemen centred on the importance of infrastructure, which I shall return to in a moment.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 130

The north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy gives a key role to the North Northants Development Company to work with infrastructure providers to identify needs and secure the timely delivery of facilities and services. The North Northants Development Company is due to submit a development plan to the Department for Communities and Local Government in the autumn. From my experience of working with such companies and seeing what they have done in other parts of the country, I know that they can make a difference. Indeed, I am sure that the company will have tuned into this debate and listened to every word of it, and will be reading it in Hansard tomorrow, too.

As well as acknowledging the vital role of local partners, the Government fully recognise the role that we have to play in helping to unlock growth and create sustainable communities by supporting that infrastructure development. That is why we have provided a variety of funding to deliver growth in the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area and elsewhere. Under the growth area fund, north Northamptonshire has so far received just under £30 million, of which it received £10 million under round 1, between 2004 and 2006, and just under £20 million under round 2, between 2006 and 2008.

I hear what the hon. Gentlemen said, and what the hon. Member for Kettering said in particular, about the coming years and the possible strains on infrastructure. Among other things, the money already set aside has been used to help fund the regeneration of key parts of Kettering town centre, a new civic hub in Corby town centre and improvements to Wellingborough high street.

The results of the third round of the growth area fund were announced in December 2007. Under that exercise, north Northamptonshire was awarded just under £29 million to fund further work over the three-year period between 2008-09 and 2010-11. Under the first round of the community infrastructure fund, north Northamptonshire received more than £7 million to help fund a Corby northern orbital road, the building of a new road and the upgrading of an existing one, plus improvements to the A45 near Wellingborough.

The House has heard the concerns that the hon. Member for Kettering expressed about road infrastructure and further improvements that need to be made. I hope that those involved—the joint planning unit and the development company—will work with hon. Members. It is important that Members of Parliament should have a role, working with development companies to ensure that they tailor the best solutions for their local communities, through the available funds. MPs are uniquely placed to do that, as pillars of their local communities and as people who listen to them, each day and each week.

Bids for a second round of the community infrastructure fund are currently under consideration. I understand that north Northamptonshire has submitted several expressions of interest under this exercise. It is expected that decisions on which expressions of interest can go forward to the full bid stage will be made in just a few weeks’ time, in July, so hon. Members will not have too long to wait, and the announcement of successful bids will be made in February next year.

Next Section Index Home Page