Orders of the Day — Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill
Mr David Drew (Stroud, Labour/Co-operative)
Given the number of Members who wish to speak, I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I do not necessarily share the views of Mr. Goodman about counties, but during consideration of the Bill some clarification of the new relationships will be necessary.
I start from the premise that the current planning system is unfair, inaccessible and unpredictable. I do not mind the idea of dynamiting the system, because people are genuinely distressed by it and feel that it needs radical change. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was undoubtedly radical and pushed things forward. My hon. Friend Mr. Betts made it clear that it put in place the community basis of individual demand. It was right to do so at that time, and we need to reinforce that principle. The regional level makes increasing sense to people, and I see no reason why we should not enforce that through the planning system.
I want to devote my remarks to the rural dimension. As chairman of the Labour rural group of MPs—I followed my hon. Friend Peter Bradley—I know that we must recognise the importance of the rural dimension. We must face up to the fact that there is a crisis in housing provision in rural areas. We must do something about it and learn how to move matters forward quickly. With that in mind, the rural group held a recent seminar at which virtually all the main players in the delivery of rural housing were present, including the Countryside Alliance. Those present were able to display the degree of consensus that exists. They emphasised the importance of planning to the system; along with transport, planning is undoubtedly the major issue in terms of changing rural life for the better. The belief was expressed that parish and town councils have an important part to play, that there is a need to streamline the decision-making process, that we must get more low-cost housing into our villages and market towns, and that we need to recognise the interrelationship of urban and rural areas. However, the difference is that planning in rural areas requires greater sensitivity and a recognition of the scale of the changes. It was also noted that there is much good practice, but that, unfortunately, a lot of it is not being disseminated throughout the system, so something must be done to improve matters. It is in those terms that I shall consider this Bill: does it move forward the rural debate, and, if so, how will that be achieved?
Urban and rural areas have much in common. Pleasingly, we have a rural agenda, but we need to consider how to bring about brownfield development and the delivery of sequential tests in rural Britain, just as they must be delivered in urban Britain. In the time remaining, I shall briefly consider the Bill's provisions and how they can be delivered in the rural domain.
I start with the debate about counties and regions. I may not come to bury counties, but I certainly do not come to revive them. There is much to be said for unitary government, which makes sense if we are to form regional assemblies in due course. We already have the economic drive of the RDAs, and that must be enforced through the planning system. We should be honest and open and say that it makes a lot of sense to assimilate policies on minerals and waste to the regional dimension.