I hope that hon. Members will forgive the pun, but as I came into the Chamber it dawned on me that on the last morning before the summer recess last year I had a slot at about the same time. On that occasion, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), replied on behalf of the Government in her maiden speech as a Minister.
My debate on that occasion was on the global environmental crisis. Little did I anticipate that the subject that I aired then would take off politically in the way that it did in the ensuing 12 months. It not only became the dominant issue at my party's conference in September, but it became the subject of the Prime Minister's now famous September speech and the major new issue on the political agenda. I hope that the issue that I raise today will become an issue of equal importance on the political agenda in this country and in our capital city, although I do not pretend that it has significance beyond that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the draft strategic planning guidance for London. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and other hon. Members who do not represent London constituencies benefit from the tradition of having a strategic plan for your areas as part of the general planning system. Indeed, that is something that we had in London. Such strategic plans were prepared by local government until the abolition of the Greater London council.
During the passage of the Act abolishing the GLC, we had substantial debates about what should happen in relation to the planning of the capital city and the metropolitan area once the GLC was abolished. The debate concluded that a body to be called the London planning advisory committee should be set up, to be made up of the planning committee chairs or other representatives from all the London boroughs and the City of London. The committee's task was to advise the Secretary of State on all London-wide planning matters. It was agreed that its first task was to advise on the content of strategic guidance for the capital city. So it was that the London planning advisory committee was set up. It worked extremely hard and, on 25 October last year, produced the document "Strategic planning advice for London: Policies for the 1990s" as its advice to the Secretary of State.
One of the special things about the document is that it received unanimous support from the three parties which were represented on the committee. It was signed by the three party leaders. I think that everyone will pay tribute to the chairman, who happens to be a party colleague of mine—Councillor Sally Hanwee of Richmond. She and her committee and their officers produced a very worthwhile document.
The document presents some uplifting thoughts. The committee identified four themes which have made London what it has been at its best: London as a civilised city, London as a world city of trade, London as a city of residential neighbourhoods and communities, and London as a city which offers opportunities for all.
The committee says that it has attempted to set forth the planning policies necessary to ensure London's success into the next century. It also says that the complexity of considering strategic planning matters for London, which accommodates 15 per cent. of the nation's population and work force and accounts for nearly one fifth of the gross domestic product, made it difficult to produce the advice. The need to provide a co-ordinated context for 33 separate planning authorities presented a greater problem than in the other metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, the committee did so unanimously. The document went to the Secretary of State and he issued, in March this year, draft strategic planning guidance for London, which is a much shorter document, mainly because it omits many of the important matters on which he was given advice and which I—and, I believe, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Soley)—will argue should have been included.
The debate is timely because it could not have happened later. We always knew that the Secretary of State planned to issue his guidance before the end of July. I understand that it is no secret that the Secretary of State may issue his guidance today—by which I mean Friday, not Thursday which is where we still are in the parliamentary time warp of an all-night sitting. I ask the Minister to agree, and to ask the Secretary of State to agree, not to issue the guidance today, but to have further consultation on it, especially on the matters about which there is still anxiety. The new Secretary of State, who I welcome, has an opportunity here to apply his mind to the document.
It was obvious from his time as Minister for Overseas Development that the Secretary of State is particularly concerned about environmental matters worldwide. He has been shown a good deal on our television screens this week padding around the Brazilian rain forests—and all credit to him for that—but I hope and believe that he is no less concerned about environmental matters closer to home. In many people's experience the environment is in pretty poor shape in our capital city, and I hope that I can persuade the Minister to agree that there is no need to insist dogmatically on publication today. I believe that the Secretary of State and his Ministers must be willing not to go ahead and issue a final strategic planning guidance that would show little change from the draft document.
Once produced, the document will effectively act as the strategic plan for London, and as a basis on which the local authorities will then draw up their unitary development plans. I know that that process should not be put off for months, with the whole exercise being repeated, but I believe that there are good reasons for delaying it somewhat. As the Minister probably knows, there has been widespread criticism of the draft guidance by those who have been consulted. Perhaps the most important criticism has come from the London advisory committee itself, again on an all-party basis. Other critics have been the London Boroughs Association, the Association of London Authorities, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Association of London Borough Planning Officers.
Along with the hon. Member for Hammersmith and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire)—who apologised to me some hours ago for not being able to attend the debate as he had a prior engagement to spend the evening with his family—and the three other Members of the group equally representative of the party groupings in the House, I am a member of the parliamentary cross-party London housing group of MPs, who are linked with a body called the Campaign for Homes in Central London. We, too, have looked at the draft guidance, which was the subject of a conference held in county hall, and share the view that there is sufficient criticism and cause for concern for the document to be revised.
I have another reason for suggesting that the Minister should think again. Given the importance of the document, there has been inadequate consultation and debate. This is the first time that it has been debated in Parliament, the only other public debate being the one at county hall which took place in the middle of May. The consultation period was only 10 weeks.
It is important to delay if necessary because it is important to get things right. It has now become almost a cliché that London is grinding to a halt. Our transport system is increasingly clogged, and not just when there are rail, tube or bus strikes. It is generally more difficult to get around the capital, even without the additional influx which will result from Channel tunnel rail termini. Increasingly, there are staff shortages in key jobs and it is often impossible for people to acquire affordable homes. Those problems are not raised by people with a partisan political view. For example, Coopers and Lybrand was commissioned by ELPAC to carry out an independent survey, the result of which appeared in May. The survey report was called "Access to Housing in London" and confirmed the matters that I have mentioned.
The problems are so serious that it is imperative for us to get things right. I shall concentrate on one or two of the most significant matters and mention some others that are also important. The most significant matter in terms of immediacy and importance to the people affected is that we must strive to make London successful not just economically but in a way that will make it pleasant and satisfactory for Londoners to live in and for people to move around and work in.
To do that we must deal strategically with housing and housing policy. We need affordable housing and it must be continually available in our capital city. The Minister is a London Member and knows the pressures in his borough, as do the other London Members who are present. Unless there is a change to enable planning powers to intervene and influence the provision of housing, the market forces at work in London will continue ineluctably to drive up house prices. That is because London is a capital city and an international city to which people come. That produces additional forces which are not applied to our other towns and cities. Those factors price out people who have always lived here or less well paid people who need to live here because of their work.
We need a planning use class that enables land to be zoned specifically for low-cost or affordable housing. That idea has been considered in the Department because our all-party group has had discussions with Ministers responsible for housing and planning. Escalating amounts of public subsidy are spent on acquisitions in competition with the private sector in order to provide a decreasing number of new homes. Cost limits, which were developed to limit expenditure on, for example, housing association acquisition costs, mean that central London is getting fewer affordable homes.
I have as many constituency pressures as any hon. Member, not least because in the docklands there are expensive developments while on the other side of the road
people are still living in poor council accommodation. The recommendations made to the Secretary of State by LPAC should be adopted. It recommended in paragraph 2.17:
Increased emphasis on the provision of satisfactory housing at affordable prices, particularly for those on low incomes.
Paragraph 3.5 refers to
An approach which emphasises housing needs rather than simply meeting housing demands.
Paragraph 3.2 talks about
The objective of sustaining and developing stable and secure residential neighbourhoods and communities and preventing any losses from existing dwelling stock.
In paragraph 4.3 LPAC mentions
Housing capacity figures for boroughs linked to assessments of need for low-cost housing and a requirement to demonstrate how these will be met, including key workers and groups with special housing need.
Paragraph 4.4 refers to
Agreements with developers to ensure the maximum amount of low-cost housing in new-build schemes with a minimum of 25 per cent. affordable homes in larger schemes.
The proposal was clearly made that a high proportion of new dwellings should be for social or non-market housing. The Coopers and Lybrand report, "Access to Housing in London", said as strongly as any such report could how urgent the matter is. It concluded:
Access to housing in London will only be secured for those who legitimately require it if action is taken on a scale not yet seen or even contemplated.
It says that London's housing market is a special case. Because of the international position of the capital city, the usual pricing mechanisms do not apply—the point that I made earlier. However, our economy is dependent on low-paid service sector workers, who find it increasingly difficult to live here, and so have to live away and commute in, which they also find difficult. In the meantime, prices are pushed up by wealthy people coming in from outside. Some methods exist, such as section 52 planning, but they are insufficient and we need more.
The document does not even mention the problem of homelessness. It mentions the importance of providing housing for lower and middle income households in London, but no objectives or mechanisms for ensuring this housing accessibility. Almost incredibly it says:
The need for new homes will be met by maintaining the present rates of new construction and conversion in the private sector, and the continuing buoyancy of demand.
That does not explain why, so far, the market has not provided affordable homes for large numbers. It is inadequate to see conversions as a major source of new low-cost homes. The implication is that more homes will meet housing need, but that is not true. More affordable homes would do that, but there must be a policy to provide such homes.
The presumption in the Greater London development plan, which is to be superseded by the guidance once it is finalised, against loss of housing will be eroded by a policy requiring boroughs to show that they are making reasonable provision to accommodate demand for business development if they wish to retain sites and buildings in residential use. This could be particularly devastating for central London communities in places of pressure, and in boroughs such as mine. This set of pressures—particularly those which force out affordable housing—is the most severe problem facing individuals and families, often at the most desperate end of the social needs scale. Some of them are Londoners, but some are those who come here and cannot find anywhere cheap to live.
We need also a co-ordinated transport policy. My constituency provides a good example of this need. We are discussing whether there will be a Jubilee line extension, going from Green Park through Westminster and Waterloo to points east. We are anticipating the Channel tunnel rail link, going under the constituency. British Rail is consulting about widening the viaduct at Southwark cathedral. There is the faint possibility of an extension of the Bakerloo line. But none of these ideas is being considered in a co-ordinated way, and they are not to be integrated, for example, with the plans for the expansion of Waterloo and the siting of the second terminus for the Channel tunnel rail link at King's Cross or Stratford. There is no strategic transport planning. It is irresponsible for a capital city of a congested country such as ours not to have a strategic and integrated transport policy.
The document that we have on these matters is extremely weak. It is about time that the statements about public transport and the need for an integrated provision were made more boldly. It is these parts of the document which betray its innate weakness, and it is in these areas that the document is ambiguous, simplistic and poorly co-ordinated. There are descriptive statements of effects but not policy statements. With the advice of those who are experts, and officers and members of councils across the party divide, the document so obviously stands ready for improvement. We must seize the opportunity.
As for the integration of public transport, there is a reference in the document to the central London rail study and another to the east London rail study. That suggests that the Government thought of one study and then the next. I think that the announcement of the result of one was made during the week when it was announced that the other would be set up. The studies are interlinked, and it is not possible to plan adequately for transport in the new and developing dockland area without knowing how that will fit in with transport in the middle of the capital.
We read in paragraph 31 that the Government intend to extend the deregulation of bus services to London in the early 1990s. It is stated:
This will give London the benefits of greater competition and innovation and reduce levels of subsidy that have been achieved elsewhere in the country.
It does not say that the extension will produce further traffic congestion and greater difficulties. We often hear complaints in the House about the horrendous problems caused by coaches which bring tourists to the area and park along the Embankment or on Westminster bridge. They were parked two or three deep the other day when I came to the House. It is naive to make a supposed statement on deregulation without any analysis of the consequences.
Paragraph 34 states:
The Government also recognises that undesirable car commuting traffic will be discouraged.
Almost all car commuting traffic is undesirable. The majority of it carries one person into the capital and the same person out. Generally, the individual's car is not used from the time he arrives to the time he leaves in the evening. Properly subsidised and adequately supported public transport would reduce the number of private cars and ease the enormous congestion. The predictions of the numbers of vehicles using the roads of the capital are
horrendous. It is forecast that the number of cars owned by people living in London could increase by 22 per cent. to 34 per cent. by the year 2001, bringing the total up to 3 million. The problems are bad enough already without increasing the number of cars to that extent.
We need to be firm about green belt land and the environment generally. We must make it clear that green belt and metropolitan open land and other open land is sacrosanct and clearly stated to be so. In the statements on metropolitan open land, it is not clear to me that the borough of Southwark would not be able, consistent with the policy behind the strategic guidance, to sell off part of Burgess park—a metropolitan open land park created by the London county council and the Greater London council—for housing development for sale. Does the presumption against development of the green belt apply equally to metropolitan open land so that that would be something that the Minister would be likely to turn down? How strong is the protection? That still seems unclear and requires much more specific analysis.
Paragraph 61 deals with an enormously important and controversial matter—important views and the River Thames. It seems that the Secretary of State intends to issue further guidance on the protection of strategic views, such as those of St. Paul's and the Palace of Westminster. Soon, the planning inspector's report on Hay's Wharf, which is opposite the Tower of London and next to the southern end of Tower bridge in my constituency, will land on the Secretary of State's desk. The original design, for a building whose architecture resembled that of the Houses of Parliament, was—thank goodness—called in after a request made by myself with the support of others. Three options were then offered. In my view, none is sufficiently good to justify occupying that site again, and English Heritage agrees. In any event, clear guidance is vital if we are not to lose the character of the Thames riverline and spoil it for generations to come. The Thames and the river front are unique features of our capital and any new development there must be right.
Paragraph 63 of the draft refers to archaeology:
Local planning authorities should also take account of the desirability of preserving ancient monuments and their settings. They may wish to draw developers' attention to the Code of Practice drawn up by the British Archaeologists and Developers Liaison Group when considering developments which will affect known or presumed archaeological remains. Any conditions proposed in a planning permission for such development should be consistent with the principles laid down in DOE Circular 1/85: Use of Conditions.
That does not begin to advise Southwark or any other council as to what should be done if something like the Rose theatre is discovered. I was at the meeting of Southwark's planning committee when it was told, "You'll just have to sort it out yourselves."
The site of the Rose theatre has been scandalously treated. I visited it again this week. Because of the former Secretary of State's refusal to reschedule the Rose, not only will the new building be inadequate in its height and other dimensions, and in ways that the late Lord Olivier and others, including the Theatres Trust, warned against, but the developers—having promised to protect the site—have dumped all kinds of material and equipment on it. The Rose is the only Elizabethan theatre ever discovered, and it happens to be of national importance—but under the non-specific wording of the draft guidance, it is entitled to no greater protection. A draft as weak as that is completely unacceptable.
Other paragraphs deal with hotels, tourism development, retailing, and so on, but in most cases make bland or generalised statements. If the London planning advisory committee had submitted a bland or generalised document, I could not have criticised the Secretary of State for saying, "This is the advice I received, and I cannot be blamed for adopting it." But that is not what happened. The committee submitted substantial advice agreed by all the parties involved, on the basis of well-tried arguments refined over a considerable time, and finally presented earlier this year.
That same committee is of the view that the draft strategic guidance is still inadequate. It concludes that the priorities are the provision of homes for those on low to middle incomes; a much-expanded Underground and rail investment programme; restraints on traffic, particularly in central London, to mitigate the severe and increasing problem of mobility within the capital; adequate investment in environmental improvements and renewal of the infrastructure; and increased Government financial support in helping to plan for a better quality of life.
I make an 11th hour plea to the Minister to emphasise to his colleagues that it will do them enormous credit, and Londoners and our country enormous good, to produce the best possible guidance. This debate could be of unusual significance in the planning of London into the next century by presenting an opportunity to convert the draft into guidance of real benefit. I hope that the debate will make the Government think again and persuade them to get the guidance much more right than it is in its present form.
I support much of what has been said so appropriately by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has been involved in this matter for some time, together with me and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who cannot be here tonight.
It is appropriate that the subject for this debate follows the previous one. If the Minister has any doubt about the growing importance of the planning and land use issue, he need only run his eye over the subjects for debate tonight and he will see that at least four are directly related to planning and land use and one or two others are probably indirectly related.
The previous debate dealt with the problems experienced mainly by Conservative Members in rural areas of southern Britain. Essentially the same problems are experienced in London. The difference between the urban and rural areas is obviously significant, but the underlying problems are not different. Much of what I said in that debate could be repeated now. Those problems relate to the crisis that results from not having a proper housing policy and when the role of local authorities, particularly in terms of planning, has been largely undermined.
The Government are paying the price of abolishing the Greater London council, as are Londoners. The idea was that with the abolition of the GLC the Secretary of State would issue the strategic planning guidance. Contrary to the Government's wish, the other place insisted on a planning advisory committee being set up. Again, I join the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey in congratulating the members of that committee. When it was set up the Government took the view that it would not be effective. It was, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, an all-party committee. Given the extraordinary difficulties of trying to produce a planning document on London from the sort of the base that it was operating on, it has done a good job. It is clear that that committee has done far more thinking, as have one or two other organisations, on the needs of London and its planning aspects than the Government have done.
The first thing that I want to do is to echo strongly the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman and the many people outside the House who are concerned about these matters that the Government should not issue the final strategic planning guidance until further consultation has taken place.
A rumour began to go round the House this morning that the Government would make a statement or publish a written answer on the issue and it took some time before it emerged that the Government were talking about issuing the final planning guidance in the next 24 hours. The rumour was an agitated one precisely because people did not know what was happening. On such important issues, where many people are worried about planning and guidance, there is a strong case for the Government undertaking not to issue the final guidance until there has been further consultation.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out that only 10 weeks were given for consultation and there were only a limited number of public statements about the matter in the press and two voluntary organisations ran conferences on it. I do not know whether the Minister has had the notes on the conference report for the Campaign for Homes in Central London, but if not, I advise him to have a look at it. He is welcome to have my copy if he so wishes.
The level of concern among those who are aware of the importance of this matter is high. Needless to say, something like strategic planning guidance in London will not grab the headlines in the national press. However, I can say categorically that unless the Government address the issue carefully London will continue to seize up in terms of transport, affordable housing, the supply of labour and the economic problems that stem from those matters.
An absurd contradiction lies at the heart of the Government's draft strategic planning guidance. It is the very contradiction to which I referred in the previous debate—their belief that if they reduce planning problems and lessen controls, the free market will somehow produce a solution. I repeat that that will not happen, and it is even less likely to happen in London because land is in inelastic supply, to use the market definition, because housing is slow to respond to changes in the market and because the existing planning and subsidy systems distort the market out of all recognition anyway. That means that we shall never have a free market.
In addition, we must consider the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, who quoted the Coopers and Lybrand report, which also points out the special nature of the London housing market, and I shall return to that in a moment.
The Minister's previous boss at the Department of the Environment, now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, strongly felt that if the Government could get local authorities off people's backs—as he would have described it—and allow free market forces to reign, that would result in a better-run society. We know that at least 100 Conservative Members believe that that argument is seriously flawed and there is reason to believe that a growing number of Conservative Back Benchers no longer believe that theory, which in my view is nonsensical.
Let us deal first with housing. As I have said a number of times, housing is in crisis in Britain and in desperate crisis in London. I do not know how any person who is born and brought up in London and who does not earn well above the national average wage can find anywhere to rent or buy. In areas such as mine, one-bedroom flats cost about £80,000. What sort of first-time buyer can afford that? Suppose that one is looking for rented accommodation in my area. When I was elected in 1979 my council had a waiting list of about 4,000 people and hardly anyone in bed and breakfasts—and then only for short periods. It now has a waiting list of 10,000 and hundreds in some form of emergency accommodation. The council is trying to reduce the amount of bed and breakfast accommodation that it uses, but nevertheless the accommodation offered remains short-term accommodation. That is true of local authorities, both Labour and Conservative, throughout London. They are in acute crisis.
There is no point in believing that the housing associations will solve the problem. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey did not deal with the statement in the Coopers and Lybrand report that the housing associations would never do anything except provide for a small section of the market. That is true. Housing associations have still not restored their building programmes to their mid-1970s level, yet they are being urged to take over council housing. If housing associations are being told to take over council housing—which does not add to the stock of housing—and at the same time to build, buy, repair and renovate, clearly they will not be able to supply the housing that is needed in London.
That leaves the private sector, and that brings us to the biggest disaster of all. The previous Secretary of State for the Environment believed strongly that if the Government allowed market rents to be charged and made it easier for landlords to gain repossession, the private market would expand. It did not; it contracted, and it continues to contract. The tragedy is that for some years now, well over half the private lets in London have been outside the terms of the rent legislation, yet still the private sector is declining and still rents are increasing. I have spelt out the reasons for that before, and I do not need to go into them tonight, except to say that is caused predominantly by the way in which we subsidise housing in Britain—by the fact that a generous subsidy goes to buying and a less than generous subsidy to renting.
Transport in London is also in crisis and that is obvious if we walk on to the streets. We have a devalued public transport system which has been run down and has suffered under-investment for many years. It is unreliable and now operates more slowly than it used to. People are also more afraid to use it, particularly late at night when they most need it.
I remember not long ago cycling beside a traffic jam in London. When we sit in traffic jams, we often feel frustrated and angry. We might even curse the other traffic. However, when I cycled beside that jam, I witnessed the enormous and dangerous absurdity of what is happening in London today. I saw hundreds of cars and other vehicles standing still, belching out fumes and depleting the ozone layer, but there was usually only one person in each car. Everyone was getting nowhere fast. What nonsense.
If the Greater London council still existed we might have more cycle groups as there are in many other cities. We do not have the facility now to provide complete London cycle routes. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out, we do not have the facility to use the river to its best advantage. We have simply been told that the Secretary of State will take a view on the river. My worry about the previous Secretary of State taking a view of the river is that he might simply have stood at the top of Marsham street towers and gazed out over at the river wistfully, perhaps thinking of concreting it over. There is no policy to allow London and its surrounding areas to have a good transport and planning system designed to serve the community and to enable businesses to operate effectively.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey also referred to the arts and to the Rose theatre. I congratulate Southwark council and the hon. Gentleman on what they have done in that respect. I find the whole affair utterly amazing. I still have not managed to convince Conservative Members that the Rose theatre discovery was the No. 2 headline news in the United States. It was a major story in most of western Europe and in many other countries as well.
We should say to ourselves, very slowly, "The British have discovered the remains of the Rose theatre where Shakespeare acted. It was the first Elizabethan theatre of its kind." Shakespeare—a name that is known to everyone, not just to English people, who have had the good fortune to go to school. We should then pause and say very slowly, "The British are going to build an office block on top of it." No wonder the rest of the world cannot believe their ears.
In purely commercial terms there is an enormous opportunity to use the Rose theatre site simply For tourism. In commercial terms, using it for tourism would far transcend the return on 20 office blocks on the site.
There is no strategic guidance in London to deal with problems such as those with the Rose theatre. I am sure that the previous Secretary of State would have been happy to put the office block on the site whether there was a regional planning authority or not. However, it is nonsense to operate in that way.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) may be aware that when the original plans which would have put the office block's piles through the theatre's stage were designed, no planning power other than scheduling could have stopped that. Had it not been for individuals surrounding the site and negotiations in which the Government and English Heritage persuaded the developers to rethink, English Heritage and the Government would have allowed the piles to be sunk. The present planning process could not stop that happening.
That is interesting. I find the whole incident completely amazing. We will be condemned for this by future generations.
Figures that were released yesterday by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that the population of London may again be declining. The trouble is that it is difficult to know what is happening to the population of London and the south-east. There is a case for having a careful study of the population of Britain of the type that was carried out in the 1940s. We need some idea of population movements to get our strategic planning right.
There is a tendency to move out of the cities again. That has certainly been happening for the past 30 or 40 years and it has been producing some of the problems that we associate with the inner city. Some people are trapped in the inner city and are unable to move either within the area or out of it, and other people are wealthy enough to move in and out of it, or even have two or more homes and be able to switch between them. As I said to Conservative Members in the previous debate, we are now finding some of the problems of the inner city emerging in rural areas. Villages are adopting the same pattern in which half the houses are empty for half the week and come to life again only at the weekend. We need to look at population movement. Again, in the draft guidance there is no sign that that matter has received the attention that it needs.
There is a general deterioration of the environment. Opposition Members have always argued that the Conservative philosophy of the free market economy, which, as I said in the previous debate, tends to be a short-term policy, leads to private affluence amid public squalor. We are seeing that more often in and around London. The implications for the economy are serious. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey quoted the Coopers and Lybrand report. I draw the Minister's attention to the comments of the London chamber of commerce—the people in that organisation support his party—which, in 1987, said:
The high cost of housing in London and parts of the South East deters even highly paid staff from moving South. At the other end of the scale inexpensive housing for rent does not exist. Urgent action is needed.
Because of the cost of housing, even international companies are having to offer additional money to people who are to go to London to work. That distorts the housing market in the way that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned. Houses in areas such as mine are sometimes rented for up to £1,000 a week because international companies can afford such rents. Incredible rents are being demanded. That drives out the local population and makes it a difficult area for the local community to stay in.
An important argument about London is that we have alllowed communities to splinter and become run down. One of the co-ops in Waterloo, in which the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) is involved and which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and I have visited, is a good example of an attempt to recreate a strong and vibrant community. That is happening increasingly throughout London. Again, without good strategic planning we will not be successful.
I emphasise that it is feared that the situation in London will continue to deteriorate unless the Government take planning in London seriously. They chose to abolish the GLC. I think that they were wrong, and they think that they were right. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, surely there is a need for something more than the draft strategic guidance that we have at the moment. No one can seriously believe that we can abolish a tier of government that dealt with matters such as transport, housing, and population, and studied the needs of areas as well as the economy, and replace it with the document that we have been given as draft guidance. There will be no serious sign for bodies outside the House about what the policy will be or how we put it into effect.
We need a proper planning framework and more consultation. That is why I inform the Minister that there is a desperate need to make sure that the draft strategic guidance remains a draft at the moment. I plead with him to consult more widely and take account of the growing problems of London—they are affecting his own party as dramatically as any other, so he has a political interest—that are affecting employers who say that they cannot get employees, accommodation and so on in London. All that must weigh very heavily with the Minister. If it does, I suggest that he makes it clear to the House, and to those outside who are concerned about the matter, that the Government will not go ahead with the final document until they have consulted more widely and in much more depth.
The major plea from Opposition Members has been for a delay in the publication of the strategic guidance. I respond to that by making two points. First, having listened carefully to the arguments of the hon. Members for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I have noted a number of points that have been made already in representations and during the consultation phase on the draft strategic guidance, which urged changes from the draft to the final document. Many of the points raised this morning have been covered. When later today, in everyday parlance and tomorrow in parliamentary parlance, the strategic guidance is published, hon. Members will be pleased to see that a number of their important points have been taken into account.
Secondly, consultation on the preparation of the guidance began in 1986, and it is our view that it would be wrong to prolong that process further. The reason why we believe that is because London needs an effective up-to-date series of unitary development plans in place as soon as possible, or plans will simply not keep pace with the rapid changes taking place in London.
Opposition Members will have noted that, while I have been with this portfolio only since sunrise this morning, I have tried to maximise the number of hours available to look at the strategic guidance document against the draft and against the representations that were made, some of which I will comment on. I am satisfied that a number, not all—Opposition Members would not expect all—of their points have been covered in the extended final draft, which we intend to send to all London Members of Parliament and to place in the Library tomorrow.
The publication of the guidance marks an important stage in the introduction of the new planning arrangements in London, based on the unitary development plans which will be prepared by the boroughs. That new system of plans will replace the present two-tier system based on the dated Greater London development plan prepared in the 1960s, and local plans prepared by the boroughs.
The guidance will provide a framework for the boroughs to prepare the well-focused and effective unitary development plans which London needs as it faces the challenges and opportunities of the 1990s.
It is important to remember what the guidance is, and what it is not. It is not intended as a comprehensive "masterplan" for London setting out policies for all planning issues in this great city. Those who still think that it is the job of Government to impose such a design will be disappointed. The Government believe that such an approach is inflexible and wrong. The future of London must be shaped, above all, by the initiative and energies of its local communities, businesses and people, not by blueprints laboriously prepared and handed down from above.
The purpose of the guidance is straightforward. It is to assist the boroughs to prepare their UDPs by setting out clearly the Secretary of State's guidance on those land use planning matters that need to be dealt with on a Londonwide basis. It also draws the planning authorities' attention to other statements of the Government's planning policies in planning policy guidance notes and circulars. It does not deal with aspects that are essentially local, because we believe that each borough is best placed to decide those matters with all relevant interests as they prepare their UDP. The guidance will be kept under review to reflect changing circumstances.
The Metropolitan police, who are a Londonwide body but are not controlled by an elected authority, are regarded as being important enough to be allocated a debate in Government time in which London Members take part. Given the way that the Minister is describing the purpose of the guidance and given that he wants local authorities to take their guidance from the Secretary of State, will he suggest to his colleagues in the Department and to the Leader of the House that a day should he set aside for a debate on the guidance that is issued annually?
More than anyone else, the hon. Gentleman will know that that is not a matter for me. I shall put the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House.
I stress that the guidance is concerned with matters directly relevant to the use and development of land. It concentrates on matters that the town and country planning system can sensibly and properly influence. It is a dangerous illusion to imagine that planning guidance and unitary development plans are a suitable instrument for tackling every problem that London faces. That is a recipe for discrediting the planning system. For example, the problems of skills mismatch and access to housing are important issues to which the Government are addressing a range of initiatives in training and housing policy. Planning powers can make only a limited contribution to alleviating such problems. It would be wrong for the Secretary of State in his guidance to pretend otherwise.
The objectives of the guidance, which should be reflected in UDPs, are to foster economic growth, bearing in mind the importance for the national economy of London's continuing prosperity; to contribute to revitalising the older urban areas; to facilitate the development of transport systems which are safe, efficient and have proper respect for the environment; to maintain the vitality and character of established town centres:, to sustain and improve the amenity of residential districts; to allow for a wide range of housing provision; and to give high priority to the environment, maintain the green belt and metropolitan open land, preserve fine views, conservation areas, surrounding countryside and the natural heritage.
I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will allow me to write to him about the distinction that he made between green belt and metropolitan open land. That subject has not appeared on my desk as rapidly as it should have today, but I am sure that it will in the near future. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will write to him on that point and on any other that I am unable to answer.
The Minister is reading from a paragraph that is no doubt entitled "objectives of the guidance." Does he now include in the final guidance a transport objective, which did not appear in the original guidance? Does he accept, as he seemed to in his introduction, that guidance that takes as its premise economic growth, but which exludes other dimensions, is imbalanced? The fundamental criticism of the guidance is that it predicates economic growth and does not acknowledge that transport and other planning must be co-ordinated so that growth is not prevented by all the other features and failures that have been identified.
There is no doubt that predication of economic growth is not at the heart of the final version of the guidance. Many of its aspects take into account a range of other important issues, not least transport, about which I can speak from constituency experience. The assessment studies take into account issues wider than those of borough interest. Quite rightly, they must take into account not only economic growth but other aspects of the environment. Of course I support a balanced approach to the development and planning of London.
The guidance takes into account the advice put forward by the London advisory committee on behalf of the London boroughs.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been an elaboration of the transport issue, not in the form of specially defined objectives, but as additions to the draft because of representations made.
We welcomed the constructive spirit in which the advice was prepared and put forward. We were also pleased to see that in not much more than two years from the abolition of the GLC, all 33 boroughs could reach agreement on the advice. The hon. Gentleman highlighted that point. That was an important and constructive move forward and it has been taken into account.
My right hon. Friend has welcomed and given the greatest attention to the London planning advisory committee's advice in preparing his guidance. Our approaches and emphasis differ on some aspects, but there is a great deal of common ground between us and the boroughs on many matters, and that is reflected in the guidance.
We share, for instance, a common commitment to the importance of protecting the green belt and metropolitan open land, and the value of other local areas of open space and "green chains" of open land in the built-up area. The guidance gives high priority to both the natural and the built environment. It covers nature conservation, protection of buildings of special architectural and historic importance, conservation areas, preservation of ancient monuments and their settings, protection of views and the character of the River Thames.
The hon. Gentleman commented specifically about the Rose theatre. He will be interested to see that the paragraph on achitecture has been amplified.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that no specific theatre, however considerable and important its merits—I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman on that point—is mentioned in the document.
We have also taken account of the LPAC's advice in giving guidance on the number of additional dwellings for which each of the boroughs should make provision in their UDPs in the period up to 2001 and these figures are set out in the guidance. It is for the boroughs in the UDPs to indicate suitable locations, densities and standards of parking so that they can decide how best to accommodate the additional housing within their area without detriment to the local environment.
I have already touched on the question of access to housing. The Government recognise the importance of providing housing for lower and middle-income households in London. The main way we are achieving this is through housing policies to encourage forms of low-cost home ownership and the provision of rented accommodation by the independent sector. Last year we also carried out a consultancy study to examine the potential for major housing development, including low-cost housing of five large underused sites in east London. We are keeping in close touch with the local authorities and landowners concerned to ensure that these sites come forward for development.
Planning can also play a part. Planning conditions cannot normally be used to impose restrictions on tenure or occupancy and we do not support, therefore, policies which aim to impose such conditions. They would be unenforceable and likely to lead only to unproductive wrangling between local planning authorities and potential developers. But the planning system can help by ensuring that there is an adequate and continuing supply of land for new housing, and that UDP policies on densities and conversions take account of the demand for smaller units.
The continuing prosperity of London as one of the world's foremost business and financial centres is vital for the national economy and employment. That is why it is essential to provide a favourable climate for business investment and development, while taking careful account of the effects on the local environment and transport. The regeneration of docklands has shown that a positive, flexible and realistic approach to new business development is essential in order to revive rundown areas of inner and east London. Much progress has been made under this Government in returning prosperity to these areas. Many further opportunities will arise in the next few years with the Government's massive programme of road improvements and proposed rail investment in east London, and the release of large sites previously required by public utilities and services.
The guidance devotes considerable attention to transport and land use matters. It explains the Government's broad strategic approach and current initiatives to improve transport conditions in London and relieve congestion, and sets out committed public transport and trunk road investment which the boroughs will need to take into account in preparing their UDPs.
London's transport systems have come under increasing pressure in recent years. I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the impact of that on London. To a large extent, it is the result of the growth of prosperity and economic activity which inevitably brings with it increasing traffic movement. The Government are firmly committed to improving London's transport systems in order to sustain economic growth and development and increase travellers' comforts and the comforts of local residents who are affected. The guidance describes current action being undertaken to achieve this and the proposals for further investment. Taken together, these measures represent the most ambitious package of transport improvements in London for decades.
The Government's main aim now—and I believe that it is shared by the boroughs—is to implement successfully and quickly the new system based on the unitary development plans. It is important to achieve a good coverage of UDPs in London as soon as possible within the framework provided by strategic guidance. The Secretary of State has made a commencement order for 28 of the 33 planning authorities in London to begin work on their UDPs. This will take effect from 11 August. The remaining boroughs will be included in a further commencement order at about the end of the year.
Many boroughs have already started preliminary work on their UDPs and I look for them to make rapid progress, reaching deposit stage within two years, or considerably sooner in some cases where there is already a good, up-to-date local plan. The UDPs will provide an up-to-date framework for development control, which should contribute to quicker decisions on planning applications. By providing greater certainty about the intentions of planning authorities, they can assist developers and public services in considering future investment and the allocation of resources. The process of plan preparation also enables members of the public and local voluntary groups and business to participate in decisions affecting the future of their areas.
The Government believe that London has achieved and maintained its greatness by its ability to adapt to change and take advantage of new opportunities, while respecting and conserving the environment and use inheritance from the past. The role of the land use planning process is to facilitate development while protecting the local environment. That is the keynote of the Secretary of State's guidance, which should be reflected in the new UDPs. I urge the boroughs and their local communities to grasp the opportunity provided by the new arrangements to prepare truly effective plans to take London into the next decade.