Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:39 pm on 3rd February 1999.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 7:39 pm, 3rd February 1999

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's continued commitment to protecting the countryside, including green belts, and promoting sustainable regeneration in towns and cities; recognises that the Government's decentralised and integrated policy approach, as stated in Planning for Communities of the Future, Modernising the Planning System and A New Deal for Transport, is helping to achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of urban and rural development; welcomes the Government's commitment strictly to control development in the open countryside and to increase the proportion of new housing on previously—developed land in urban areas, smaller towns and villages from 40 per cent in the mid—1980s to 60 per cent; recognises the need to replace the previous predict and provide approach to the issue of household growth with a more flexible decentralised system, involving realistic regional targets for the building of new homes on recycled land, tighter controls on urban sprawl, new regional and housing planning guidance to ensure the adoption of sustainable solutions to housing development and more rigorous and detailed assessment of land availability; and believes that the Government's inter-linked policies for urban regeneration and protection of the countryside will enhance the quality of life for people in both rural and urban areas. I particularly welcome this debate as a further opportunity to set out the Government's achievements in planning for the communities of the future. After 18 years of Tory drift and indecision, characterised first by laissez-faire, during which any development on green fields or green belt was regarded as not only acceptable but desirable by the bigots of the right, and latterly by a death-bed repentance—years in which the countryside and the green belt were sacrificed again and again by Ministers in the former Government who are now masquerading as their defenders—this Government are moving ahead purposefully with their policies of sustainable development and with a modernised planning framework. Over the past 20 months, we have made considerable progress on developing a coherent policy that reconciles the need to provide sufficient land for housing with protecting the countryside from unsuitable development.

Before I set out the Governments' policy and achievements, let us reflect briefly on our inheritance. We inherited from the previous Government a record that entirely belies their rhetoric this evening. Not only did the previous Government preside over a housing crisis, with the worst levels of homelessness and house repossessions in any years since the war, but they allowed extensive development all over the countryside. During the decade 1985 to 1995, they achieved on average only 42 per cent. of new development on recycled or brown-field sites. They were also profligate with the green belt, releasing on appeal more than 500 hectares for development in their last year in office alone, and presiding over the redesignation of a further 700 hectares in that same year.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said that, in exceptional circumstances, the release of land in the green belt might be acceptable, but let us look at the Tory record and see how exceptional the circumstances were in the Conservatives' last year in office. In July 1996, the then Secretary of State agreed the release of 23 hectares of green belt in Caddington near Luton against the recommendation of the inspector, who had recommended refusal of planning permission. In March 1997, he approved the release of 50 hectares of land at Mizens farm, Woking for a development relating to a motor car which featured in the disastrous election campaign of the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major): the wheels fell off both the car and the campaign. Two months earlier, in January 1997, 428 hectares were approved at Manchester airport.

Those decisions were made by the Secretary of State on appeal, but in that same period he was also aware of, and presided over, the following additional redesignations of green belt: in Dartford, 250 hectares approved for development; in south Staffordshire, 148 hectares; in Cannock Chase, 71 hectares; and in Solihull, 260 hectares. The total amount of green belt approved for development use in the last year of the Tory Government was more than 1,200 hectares. That is their record, so it is utterly hypocritical of them to pretend now that their record on that issue is anything other than shameful.