Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 3rd February 1999.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford 7:13 pm, 3rd February 1999

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I have some sad news for him. He will not have the consultation draft in time for his public examination. Officials at DETR said only late last week, following a telephone inquiry, that the draft that the Minister promised my hon. Friend in time for his examination is likely to appear in about a month's time.

As the Minister knows, it usually takes 12 months from publication of a consultation draft to the production of the final draft. It is likely that the revised PPG3 will not appear this millennium. The delay will have a significant impact. Housing starts are running at around 150,000 houses a year. The delay in PPG3 means that it is difficult to apply the new approach to planning permissions and development plans. The effective delay of the 60 per cent. target by a year will mean 15,000 extra dwellings on green-field sites. At a typical density figure of 25 dwellings to the hectare, that will mean that an extra 600 hectares per year will be lost to housing development.

The dithering and delays on PPG3 are a damning indictment of this Government and their approach in the past 20 months. As they dither, more building takes place on green-field sites. Their response has been too little too late. As the Select Committee points out, the Government's 60 per cent. target is weakened by phasing it in over 10 years. While they dither, local authorities and regional planning conferences are expected to apply the old figures to their plans. The Minister's hollow words about "bottom-up planning" have been exposed as a sham by the constant interference of the Secretary of State in local decisions.

Tonight, I hope that the Minister will tell the House when the draft version of PPG3 is to be produced, when the final version will be produced and why it is taking so long for the Government to revise their guidance.

Finally, on the role of regional development agencies in the planning process, interestingly the DETR's figures show that, out of a total of 103 members on the eight boards, nearly one in three are Labour placemen, with 32 members having Labour party connections, eight having Liberal Democrat connections and six having Conservative connections. It certainly seems like jobs for the boys. Notwithstanding that, it would be interesting to learn more about the role of the RDAs in planning. The legislation is extraordinarily confusing about precisely what they will do. Will they simply muddy the water by interfering in the normal process, thus bringing a system that is already bursting at the seams into greater difficulties? Will they be able to influence Ministers in any way to prevent erosion of the green belt and green-field sites? Or will they be a white elephant with no real role to play in planning, simply causing confusion, trouble and conflict between the regional planning conferences and the local authorities?

I said that, in the past 20 months the green belt had been attacked and green-field sites had been destroyed owing to the dithering and, sometimes, the direct intervention of Ministers, who pay lip service to environmental protection but do nothing to stop the destruction of the green belt. As the Council for the Protection of Rural England stated, in addition to all the damage caused so far, large tracts of green-field land in Hampshire and Devon are under threat of building as a result of Government pressure for more housing. In Yorkshire, Humberside and the north-east, there are plans to release green-belt land and green-field sites for development. In Staffordshire and around Bristol, there are plans to release green belt for development. New statistics show that there has been no increase in the amount of housing built on recycled land.

Enough is enough. It is time that the Government did something rather than mouthing pious platitudes as our countryside is turned into a concrete jungle.