Will my hon. Friend sympathetically consider whether there is a need to offer further protection for certain residential areas outside conservation areas by making it Government policy to support local planning authorities in resisting developments unless they blend in scale, character and density with surrounding buildings? Would not a good start be made by requiring permission to be sought for demolition of properties in such areas, in accordance with the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)?
We should avoid excessive complexity in the planning system. Local authorities have substantial powers to control the environmental character of their areas. General control over demolition would not necessarily secure the end that my hon. Friend seeks. Permission is often granted before any demolition takes place. Forced retention of buildings is not always in the interests of the character of the area.
Is the Minister aware of how disastrous yesterday was for the conservation of inner London? The London Docklands Development Corporation took two decisions through its planning committee. The first will result in the construction of a blue marble and glass tower block of residential flats following the demolition of the whole of the St. Saviour's dock conservation area, one of the only two remaining conservation areas in London along the riverside. This will be done contrary to the advice of the City of London, the local authority, English Heritage, the Minister's Department and the Victorian Society. At Hays wharf there is to be a mock-up of the Palace of Westminster that will be nearly 200 ft high and provide 1 million sq ft of office space. That will be done against the express advice, following consultation, of the guardians of the Royal Tower of London and the parks authority, which comes under the Department of the Environment. Will the Minister please intervene to protect the heritage that the LDDC is destroying in the capital city?
We believe in leaving planning decisions to the local authority in whose area those planning matters arise. The LDDC is responsible for the planning in its area. The hon. Gentleman has made representations in the past, to which I have responded in the House, and I am sure that he is aware that I have always listened to what he has had to say.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the major impacts on the environment is the increasing dirt, filth and litter that cover our streets, including the litter from takeaway shops? Will my hon. Friend again carefully consider the possibility of introducing on-the-spot fines, as already happens in a number of other countries?
Is the Minister aware that paragraph 15 of Government circular 2/81, which refers to the calling in of planning applications by the Secretary of State, says that he will be very selective and will do so only when the issues are of more than local importance? In view of the calling in of the planning application on the Chelsea FC ground at Stamford bridge, may I ask whether the Secretary of State has changed the criteria? The reasons given were the density of the proposed building and the consequent parking and traffic problems. Clearly, those are local issues. Has the Secretary of State changed the criteria? Will he make plain the details?
As the hon. Gentleman has said, call in is considered only if the application has regional or national importance. I am not able to discuss on the Floor of the House the particular application to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the environment in many areas would be greatly improved if derelict land could be developed? Does she agree also that this land should be developed, where possible, for the provision of housing to let? Does my hon. Friend welcome the business expansion scheme that was announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which should encourage the provision of rented housing under assured tenancies?
I welcome my hon. Friend's point. Some of the land must be provided by bringing derelict and unused sites on to the housing market. There are about 4,000 acres of under used land on the land register in London and about 2,500 houses were built in docklands last year. I also welcome the announcement yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on the business expansion scheme for rented housing. Deregulation of new private lettings will open up new opportunities for investment in much needed private rented accommodation.