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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: I was referring to Tory Front-Benchers, my Lords. I listened to all the questioning on the Statement in another place and was surprised. The honourable Member for Brentwood and Ongar, Mr. Pickles, was completely isolated and not supported by any of his Back-Bench colleagues.

We are not planning any new regional bodies of the kind for which the noble Baroness asked. The Housing Corporation, regional development agencies and the

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Government are not planning a new quango. The noble Baroness did not ask for one but that was implied by her question. Neither are we jumping the gun. At present, all relevant decisions will still come to Ministers. There is no question of decisions that should legitimately be made by Ministers accountable to Parliament being passed to an unelected group of people—however esteemed and qualified they may be. For the interim, decisions will be made by Ministers.

County councils will retain their rights in respect of minerals and waste but we are abolishing the structure plans. We are not abolishing county councils. Tory Governments abolished county councils. Labour Governments are not in that business. We do not want to impose another layer of planning—which would happen if we left county structure plans in place and be an undue burden on all concerned.

I do not want to bandy figures, but the Statement makes it clear that, since 1997, the Government have redesignated or physically added 30,000 hectares to the green belt. From 1979 to 1997, the figure was virtually stable. I do not have to apologise for anything. There is much more green belt under Labour than there was under the Tories. In no shape or form can any charges about attacking the green belt be levelled against the Deputy Prime Minister. We are pledged, as a public service agreement objective, to add to the green belt irrespective of our plans for more housing because we know that can be done. Green belts are not necessarily synonymous with green fields—which some people refuse to accept.

Density is not a question of piling them high and selling them cheap. Such properties do not last long. We have learnt the mistakes of the past. I invite your Lordships to study the publication Better Places to Live: By Design—a companion to PPG3. Unfortunately, it was published in September last year, when everyone's mind was on other matters.

In the document, example after example is given, supported by the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment, of good quality dwellings, designed with good environmental standards and built at high density all over the country. There are examples in Norwich, Manchester, Southwark, Islington, again in Manchester and in Kendall of density building of 50 to 100 dwellings per hectare, whereas the average in the South East has been approximately 20.

There are other examples of density building of 30 to 50 dwellings per hectare in Bishop's Stortford, Lewisham, Dorchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. All have details of good quality design. People are not piled on top of each other. The building is not done cheaply and corners are not cut. Therefore, there is absolutely no excuse for people to argue that higher density means poorer standards and poorer quality. We shall ensure that that is the case, in particular, in the growth areas. We shall focus a big push on the four growth areas to ensure that local authorities, planners and builders take account of the ideas and views of organisations such as the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment.

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With regard to the inquiry system, as my right honourable friend said, we have published three papers alongside today's Statement. One gives the Government's response to the consultation on the Green Paper. It does not give the Government's response to the Select Committee report. That will be done as part of the normal process. The 44 recommendations deserve a proper detailed response, and that will be done within the normal period of two months following publication. However, we have set out our response to the planning Green Paper.

In the inquiry system we want to maintain the right of all objectors to be heard. That is absolutely crucial. It is possible that, under different procedures, the inspector will be able to hear objectors either in an informal way or through mediation before the grand inquiry begins. Either way, objectors will have the right to be heard.

We also want to allow the inspectors to take issues concurrently as well as consecutively, as is the case at present in relation to major infrastructure inquiries. I give the example of Terminal 5. That was an exception but it is an example that people have in mind. During the course of that inquiry, the Deputy Prime Minister—then Secretary of State for Transport and the Environment—could not say what he wanted to say about transport in that area because that would have opened up completely new avenues in the inquiry. He was constrained. We want inspectors to be able to examine different aspects of big inquiries concurrently rather than one after the other.

If in an infrastructure project inspectors operate within the framework of a government statement on policy, they will not spend half their time with those appearing before the inquiry trying to work out what the policy is and then deciding whether the project fits the policy. Therefore, we believe that we can cut the time spent on major infrastructure inquiries by some 50 to 60 per cent.

Together, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I currently have 59 years' experience and membership of the other place. It did not take us too long to see that asking Parliament to take an almost statutory or constitutional role in an executive matter would be fraught with considerable difficulties for all concerned, including the Members of both Houses.

As we have said, we do not agree with the Select Committee on the matter of planning zones. We believe that such zones are achievable. It would not be a question of a free-for-all or a case of "anything goes". That is not our intention. It will not be a question of drawing on a map and saying simply that anything goes. Buildings must be of quality and good design. I hope that I have covered most of the issues raised by the noble Baroness. We shall return to the matter later in the autumn with a Statement containing further detail.

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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to clarify what he said. On page 8 of the Statement, the Deputy Prime Minister says:


    "I am also announcing that we will establish strong regional bodies".

The Minister suggested that it was proposed to add them on to something that was already there, but that is not what the Deputy Prime Minister said.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is not intended to create a brand new body. We are talking of the coming together of existing bodies which currently do not talk around the table in a structured fashion. We want them to do that, whether those involved are a government office, the director of the regional housing corporation or the RDA. We want to put the situation on a firmer footing. In that sense, it will not be a new body.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I declare an interest as Leader of Essex County Council. I find it extraordinary that the Minister should say that we keep on mentioning Essex and Kent. We are talking about four sites for 200,000 houses, and three of those are in Essex and Kent. In fact, two are in Essex. Therefore, that is 100,000 houses for Essex. If Essex and Kent do not have a particular interest in the matter, I do not believe that anyone has.

Two of those sites—one is at Stansted and one at the Thames Gateway—could possibly take 50,000 houses. Again, the Minister said that we were not going to concrete over the South East. If 100,000 houses were built in Essex, that would constitute concreting over a considerable proportion of that county.

The Minister also said in the Statement that we were not delivering the number of houses in the South East. I say immediately that in Essex 18 months ago the Government published targets for regional guidance on planning. They set a target in Essex of 5,000 houses a year. We have been exceeding that target every year since then, and we are likely to exceed it even more. I shall not comment on other parts of the South East, but certainly Essex has exceeded its targets over those years and is meeting the Government's requirements. Therefore, I believe that the Minister should reconsider that comment.

I want to raise a point of particular concern to me about the whole Statement. While I certainly recognise, as do others, the need for more housing, I concur with the comment of my noble friend Lady Hanham concerning the need for infrastructure as well. We could do more in Essex now, but those who have lived in Essex will know that one has to go somewhere to work. Therefore, all the development in our county or other counties in the South East must also be accompanied by employment.

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The Thames Gateway, which we also support as a regeneration area, needs employment as well as houses. I did not hear a suggestion in the Statement about the need to ensure that employment is created together with houses. If we do not do that, we shall create only more congestion and more problems, with no trains and no transport networks in the South East to cope with them. Therefore, I want the Minister to give us more information about how the infrastructure will compete with and complement the new houses.

I also concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, who said that 90 per cent of the people commenting on the planning Green Paper wanted to support the counties retaining the structure plans. I believe that we are doing a great disservice to planning systems in this country. Counties have been a bulwark in preparing the structure plans. We could do with processes to speed them up—we all agree with that. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his statement about not leaving the counties with the structure plans; I believe that they could be helpful.

Therefore, can the Minister respond to the points that I have raised and provide an answer as to how the infrastructure will fit alongside the 200,000 houses in the South East? Will money be available for roads, rail and other networks in order to enable people to commute around?


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