Household Projections

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 25th November 1996.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:51 pm, 25th November 1996

Does the Secretary of State accept that his statement and document are long on pious concern, which sits uncomfortably with the fact that the Conservative Government, who have claimed for 17 years to be the party of rural England, have encouraged out-of-town development, whether it be housing, super-stores, warehousing or leisure centres? He commends the idea that local people should make decisions themselves, but was not much of that out-of-town development pushed through by Ministers, who overrode the decisions of local councils?

Does the Secretary of State accept that we welcome the recognition that something has gone wrong, but deplore the fact that he does not seem to have decided to do anything about it? Does he not realise that the problem of people leaving cities is not just a planning and housing matter? It is necessary to deal with the reasons why people leave cities—usually to seek a better quality of life.

Does the Secretary of State not accept that the years of failure by the Government to do anything about the problems of air pollution, rising crime, schools and hospital services in urban areas, other than to close those hospitals, have made things worse? Will he confirm that, last year, the Budget reduced the funds available for hospitals, schools and police in urban areas? What will happen in tomorrow's Budget? [Laughter.] It is no good the Secretary of State mouthing pieties today and allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to kick the bottom out of his pieties in the Budget tomorrow.

The Secretary of State will, I am sure, accept that we have long advocated more building on brown-field sites and more people coming back to live in flats above shops. Will he confirm that Tory central office arranged for Tory candidates to denounce us for advocating that? Does he not accept that there are limits on building in already built-up areas, that it costs more per house, that, with higher densities, maintenance costs are higher, and that problems can arise for householders if buildings have been erected on polluted land—for instance, on what were formerly landfill sites? Will he contemplate changes in the law to protect householders who acquire homes on brown-field sites?

Does the Secretary of State accept that not all open land in urban areas can be built on, that many green-field sites in urban areas are precious, and that more are needed to provide playing fields and sports grounds for existing town dwellers to keep up the quality of life, which may stop them moving out of the area? He says that not all sites are ripe for development, but does he accept that people are unlikely to accept his promises when 5,000 playing fields have been sold under the Government and 2,600 more are threatened with sell-off?

Does the Secretary of State recall that, on the "Today" programme this morning, he said that he would provide more money for urban areas when that is not true, and that tomorrow's Budget is likely to reduce the amount of money that goes to social housing? According to the Government's present plans, 1.8 million houses will be built on green-field sites. The Secretary of State aspires to just 40 per cent. of the new houses that are needed being built on green-field sites. That would mean that he aspires to building 1.5 million houses on green-field sites, concentrated particularly in the south-west, eastern and south-east regions. This is not the end of building in rural areas as we know it.

We welcome a debate, but the Secretary of State should remember the here and now. He wants to hit the target of a further 3.7 million houses by 2016, but is he not obliged to accept that he is building only 137,000 a year, at which rate, by 2016 we would be 1 million short of his announced target? Does not that expose his document for what it is—fine words, pious objectives and pious aspiration—but, when it comes to something practical, the Government are nowhere to be seen?