The Government attach great importance to the protection of the green belt. This policy was clearly restated in circular 22/80, which is issued to all planning authorities and inspectors. We consider that these controls are adequate and would not propose any additional measures.
In view of the hundreds of thousands of acres that are being lost each year to urban sprawl, would it not be more practical and effective if my right hon. Friend called a halt to green belt development until city centre space was fully used?
As my hon. Friend knows, there are the strictest controls over developments in the green belt. We intend to maintain those very rigorously indeed. The circular that we issued to all local planning authorities and as guidance for all planning inspectors makes clear the importance that the Government attach to the use of the green belt to contain the sprawl of built-up areas.
Does the Minister recognise that the problem of non-conforming activities in green belt areas is sometimes considerable? Will he therefore encourage local authorities to provide adequate industrial estates where business men can develop reasonable activities, and strengthen the powers of local authorities to deal with objectionable activities that frequently continue for many years and ruin whole areas of the green belt?
Obviously that is a matter first to be directed to local authorities, which have their clear responsibilities. The determination to use proper arrangements and the desire to use inner city and existing urban land in preference to green field sites are related to the aspects that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
I appreciate the impracticability of introducing a planning requirement that, for example, third parties should have the right to appeal against planning permissions, but will my right hon. Friend consider sympathetically the introduction of such a procedure where a green belt is affected? It would not require new legislation, because the practice could be made perfect by the Secretary of State calling in applications for a public inquiry in such special circumstances.
My initial reaction to my hon. Friend's suggestion is that I think real difficulties would arise. However, if he cares to write to me to put his suggestion in greater detail, I shall consider it.
I do not know to which aspects the hon. Gentleman is referring. That being so, I cannot comment further on his supplementary question.