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30 Jun 2010 : Column 254WHcontinued
Mr Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Lady's intervention is becoming slightly lengthy.
Lorely Burt: I am sorry, Mr Benton. I beg your pardon.
Mark Lancaster: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention. She makes a powerful point, and we shall indeed find out what the Minister has to say.
In my constituency, local people were occasionally consulted. However, all too often, it was clear that the decisions had already been made and that lip service was being paid to local people through sham public consultations. Indeed, two years ago, I came to this Chamber to try to convince the then Minister, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), that his Department's decision to impose 4,500 extra homes in rural north Buckinghamshire completely out of the blue was a mistake. It went against not only local residents' wishes, but the advice received from Milton Keynes Partnership and the Department's own advisers, all of whom felt that the decision was not in the interest of the city or its rural residents.
Thankfully, the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, listened to reason and the decision was eventually overturned. I was grateful to her for reversing it, but we should not have had to go through that process in the first place. Common sense was finally seen, but that was a clear example of how the previous Government, with their Whitehall-decreed targets and unelected quangos, tried to run roughshod over the desires of local people. That is why I am so pleased that the new coalition Government have listened, and I hope that the days of top-down targets are limited.
Despite that minor victory in this Chamber two years ago, we have still seen house-building targets that were too large for local economic needs. As I said, there is no blanket opposition in Milton Keynes to the expansion of the city, but there is a feeling that it must be done at a sustainable pace and following the I before E philosophy. For example, 1,300 new homes were completed in Milton Keynes in 2009-10, but only 600 jobs were created. The current requirement is that 1.5 jobs are created per new home built.
It was therefore with great relief that on 27 May I received a letter from the new Secretary of State outlining his plans to abolish regional spatial strategies. I am pleased to say that I not only welcome the move; it is broadly supported by Milton Keynes council and local residents. Of course, there is a minority who view any change as a threat, and I called for the debate precisely so that the Minister would have an opportunity to put meat on the bones of the Secretary of State's announcement and to allow local authorities up and down the land to begin to plan ahead as a result of the Government's decision.
In effect, the abolition of the regional spatial strategy makes Milton Keynes council the policy maker for planning in central Milton Keynes, while Milton Keynes Partnership remains in charge of development on the eastern and western flanks of the city. However, the reality is that because the principal expansion areas are under the control of Milton Keynes Partnership, it is the Homes and Communities Agency, through Milton
Keynes Partnership, that has dictated the amount, direction and speed of growth in Milton Keynes, not the democratically elected local council.
My first question to the Minister is: how will that relationship change? Will there be only one planning authority for Milton Keynes in the future, and will it be the council? To that end, does he intend to revoke the statutory instrument that gives Milton Keynes Partnership its development powers, and what future role does he anticipate for the partnership?
Secondly, will the scrapping of the regional spatial strategies be achieved through existing regulations or via a forthcoming Bill? Thirdly, will the Government put in place an interim mechanism that will allow local planning authorities to resist or defer planning applications for development above a certain size during the transitional period so that they are able to take stock and revisit their sustainable growth requirements?
Fourthly, and in line with that, will the Minister consider implementing a framework that ensures that the building and land assets of the Homes and Communities Agency and Milton Keynes Partnership are managed in line with the policy set by Milton Keynes council? Fifthly, how will the Government ensure that local councils take another look at their current housing plans and modify them if that is in the best interests of local people? On the flip side of the coin, how will the incentives and rewards to local authorities for building more homes and promoting greater economic growth be implemented?
Sixthly, will the Minister explain the funding mechanism for the future infrastructure projects that will be necessary for future residential properties? At present, Milton Keynes has a local tariff that is based on a per-property financial contribution to infrastructure, but that accounts for only a relatively small percentage of the amount that is required. Where will the remaining funding come from?
Finally, Milton Keynes lies on the border of three counties-Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire-and three regions: the south-east, east midlands and eastern regions. Can the Minister outline what mechanism will be available to ensure that the various stakeholders from those authorities can and will work together to come up with a consensus position that would benefit everyone in the cross-regional area?
I welcome the Secretary of State's decision to abolish regional spatial strategies and commend him for the leadership that he has shown in this matter. The Minister will, however, appreciate that the decision actually raises several important questions, some of which I have tried to outline this afternoon. I know that I speak for local authorities up and down the country when I say that the sooner we have answers, the sooner local authorities will be able to move forward in implementing local wishes.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) on his excellent speech and on his wisdom in choosing today's topic for debate. May I congratulate the Minister on abolishing regional spatial
strategies so quickly? I hope that the mechanism that formalises the abolition will be introduced as quickly as possible.
Kettering is a wonderful constituency, but it has the misfortune to lie within the Milton Keynes and south midlands sub-regional spatial strategy area. The previous Government put in place arrangements to increase the number of dwellings in the borough of Kettering by one third-from 36,000 to 49,000-by 2021. However, such a rate of growth is not supported by local people and will place a huge strain on our local infrastructure.
Below the regional spatial strategy, a core spatial strategy was constructed for the area of north Northamptonshire-Kettering, Wellingborough, east Northamptonshire and Corby-and below that was the local development framework for each of the boroughs and districts. All those arrangements were complicated, although they were eventually understandable.
The local development framework and the core spatial strategy for the borough of Kettering are already signed off, approved and in place. What can local people do about the strategies and frameworks that have already been signed off? I strongly suspect that my constituents would like the housing numbers in the documents that I have mentioned to be revisited. Yes, we understand that the housing numbers beyond 2021 that were pencilled in as part of the regional spatial strategy have now gone, and that local people and local authorities can decide what numbers are appropriate, but local people want to know what can be done about the existing strategies and frameworks that are in place up to 2021.
My personal solution is for the 13,100 extra houses that are planned for the borough of Kettering by 2021 to be made the target for 2031. The implied rate of housing growth in the borough of Kettering over that 31-year period since the beginning of the strategy in 2001 would then be some 400 new dwellings per year, which would be close to the traditional projections for housing growth. Local people can cope with such a rate of growth, and the infrastructure has largely matched it. If we can arrive at that sensible solution, I know that my constituents will be happy, and I hope that the Minister will address my specific points, which are of huge concern to my constituents.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for initiating this debate.
The abolition of regional spatial strategies by the new coalition Government is extremely welcome and cannot come soon enough. Returning powers on where to build housing to local communities and democratically elected local councillors, rather than unelected quangos and Whitehall bureaucrats, is the right thing to do. For too long, local people have felt trampled on by central Government decision making and have felt that decisions have been done to them and imposed on them, rather than being made with their consent. For too long, local people have felt that their voice has gone unheard. It is time to change this.
In my constituency of Kingswood, there is an urgent case for the abolition of the regional spatial strategy as soon as possible. As a direct result of the previous
Government's south-west regional spatial strategy, green belt land in my constituency is coming under threat from development through speculative applications in Oldland Common, Mangotsfield and Longwell Green. Two applications-to build on green belt land on Barry road, Oldland Common, and on Cossham street, Mangotsfield-have already been fought off at a local planning level, and I am about to launch a campaign against a new application to build on green belt land at Williams Close, Longwell Green, which has only just been submitted.
For me and my constituents in Kingswood, it has been a familiar pattern: thousands of letters have been written and thousands of signatures against these applications have been collected. I have been working alongside the fantastic Save Our Green Spaces groups in Oldland Common, Warmley and Mangotsfield, whose tireless commitment to saving their local green belt has been humbling. I am proud to represent such constituents, whose sense of pride, dedication and duty towards protecting their local community for future generations is startling. The Save Our Green Spaces group will be writing to the Minister, requesting a meeting to discuss the forthcoming legislation, and if at all possible, I should like to facilitate that request.
We have won every battle so far, but while the RSS remains unrevoked by statute, we have yet to win the war. Developers are still keen to chance their luck and build on green belt land, which is why the RSS must be abolished as soon as possible. The link between scrapping the RSS and preserving our green belt is clear. To this end, I tabled early-day motion 168, which I am delighted to say has been signed by many hon. Members.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): My constituency is also in the south-west. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we face a unique problem? Our regional spatial strategy was never implemented, but was still a so-called emerging RSS, so although it does not need to be abolished it is clearly not emerging any more. There is a risk from a policy vacuum in the south-west, which developers are looking to exploit. We welcome Government measures on the regional spatial strategies, but the policy vacuum needs to be dealt with pretty urgently.
Chris Skidmore: The hon. Gentleman is correct. We are currently in limbo in the south-west. Later in my speech, I should like to mention another matter, which is creating a problem at this stage, regarding the RSS and other planning legislation that has yet to be tackled.
First and foremost, I want to be clear that my constituents are not nimbys. Local people recognise the need for extra housing, and more affordable housing, for the future. I am sure that hon. Members agree with that. In fact, there has been cross-party agreement in South Gloucestershire council on our being able to build 21,500 houses over the next 15 years and at the same time protect and preserve the Kingswood green belt. It is only due to the imposition of 32,800 homes in the local area under the south-west RSS that the green belt has come under threat from being bulldozed.
I should like to mention to the Minister an important issue that needs to be dealt with when legislation comes to pass through the House. Currently, there is an instruction to planning inspectors in paragraph 71 of planning policy statement 3 to "consider favourably" applications
for housing where the local authority cannot show a five-year supply of housing land. That requirement is counter-intuitive in the current challenging housing market and in the context of the Secretary of State's recent announcement on the abolishment of regional spatial strategies.
Under the PPS3 framework, local councils are being challenged by developers to make good the housing shortfall by approving applications for housing, often in unsustainable locations such as the green belt, on the grounds that the council cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply. However, even though many developers are now experiencing low market demand and have therefore reduced housing delivery, that is not stopping the sector claiming that the land supply in south Gloucestershire has significantly worsened, with that claim being used to justify granting permission for additional housing sites on the green belt at planning appeal. In my constituency, permission has already been granted for 2,700 houses in the Emersons Green East development, yet due to developers' slow progress in planning and building those homes, the development is yet to begin. Now, using the argument of the five-year land bank and housing supply, which is still dictated by the soon-to-be abolished RSS, developers are casting their eyes over the green belt to cherry-pick the best sites. This unsustainable situation fundamentally conflicts with the new Government's approach to planning for housing provision and on protecting the green belt.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I agree that there is quite a challenge at the moment in respect of what is to happen. A district council in my constituency is obviously drawing up plans for its development framework busily behind closed doors and is, almost certainly, reducing the impact on the green belt but not protecting it fully. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this time around we should start at parish council level, not even at district council level, building it up from there?
Chris Skidmore: It is so interesting that the hon. Lady makes that point, because under the coalition agreement we will be handing more powers to parish councils, certainly for local referendums, with about 80% of parishes being able to decide where to build. There will be areas of land in a parish that the local community wants to decide on. There are certainly village communities that want to ensure that local residents whose families have lived in an area for generations are able to carry on living in a village. That is important.
My point about PPS3, particularly paragraph 71, is that it fails appropriately to balance the impact on communities-for example, village communities-and disproportionately favours housing delivery above genuine sustainability considerations. It is also contrary to the Secretary of State's statement that decisions on housing supply should rest with local planning authorities. The requirement to provide a five-year land supply was based on the previous Government's policy to deliver housing supply through a target-driven framework, of which paragraph 71 represented a key mechanism. The new Secretary of State has made it clear that that approach is no longer Government policy, and I hope that he will consider removing paragraph 71, along with the supporting national guidance on identifying sufficient specific sites to deliver housing for at least five years.
To replace the five-year land supply target, I suggest that the Government formally endorse the approach set out in the west of England multi-area agreement, which covers my area, to enable local authorities to agree with the Government annually, so that we have sequential development and more appropriate housing delivery forecasts that realistically reflect expected delivery. The Secretary of State should also consider carefully current national indicator 159 on the supply of ready-to-develop housing sites, which I suggest should be removed. The current NI 159 definition places great emphasis on the regional spatial strategy as the basis against which local authorities' housing delivery is to be assessed. That requires immediate attention in legislation because it is now clearly not in accordance with Government policy.
These issues need further consideration when the legislation comes to the House, but above all I thank the new Government for their decision to abolish the regional spatial strategy. It is a welcome decision for the people of Kingswood. It places us on the right track to restore powers to local communities, to trust local people to make decisions over their own lives, and above all to preserve and protect our treasured green belt for generations to come.
Mr Joe Benton (in the Chair): I call Martin Horwood.
Martin Horwood: I assumed that as I was not here at the beginning of the debate, I would not be called, so I think I should give way to my colleagues who are keen to make their points.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I thank you, Mr Benton, and my hon. Friend. I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) on raising this important matter.
Adel in my constituency is one of the many communities throughout the country that were overjoyed when the coalition Government announced that it would scrap regional spatial strategies and restore power over such matters to local councils and communities. The announcement in the Queen's Speech of the decentralisation and localism Bill resonated hugely, unlike some of those previously announced.
Yorkshire and Humber regional spatial strategy's H1 policy is headed "Provision and distribution of housing", and has determined a target leading to annual average net additions to the dwelling stock between 2004 and 2026 of 4,300. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) has commented on the five-year supply, and in Leeds city council area that leads to 21,500 housing plots as part of its forward planning.
A development off Holt avenue in Adel has been vigorously opposed by Leeds city council and local residents. The Adel Association led a wonderful campaign showing the importance of what is an historic site. Adel has been a settlement since Saxon times and is next to Adel's historic St John the Baptist church, which dates from 1150. It is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the country. David Wilson Homes has ploughed on with its attempt to obtain planning permission and, having had it refused by Leeds city council, has gone to the Planning Inspectorate. The simple reality is that the unrealistically high targets for housing demanded
in Leeds have provided until now, and will do so until regional spatial strategies are abolished, a legal loophole for developers to exploit. In communities throughout the country, we are seeing developers deliberately making a beeline for greenfield plots when they should focus on brownfield plots instead.
The irony in Leeds is that the city centre has hundreds of empty flats, which are ideal for first-time buyers, but developers try to build on important greenfield against the wishes of local residents. The frustration of the council's planning department and local residents has turned to a feeling of empowerment now that that unnecessary and over-centralised target will go. I warmly welcome the Minister to his job. The planning appeal by David Wilson Homes has, thankfully, been postponed pending the announcement. Will the Minister tell us the timing, and will he say whether this will be given as a reason for this or any other development being forced through? Clearly, it was the intention of David Wilson Homes to use the five-year rule and the regional spatial strategy to demand the right to go ahead, even against such opposition.
That is my only question for the Minister. I know that other hon. Members want to speak. The news is great and is warmly welcomed in Adel, as well as throughout the country.
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