Housing and the Green Belt

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 29th April 1999.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford 1:25 pm, 29th April 1999

I beg to move, That this House regrets the Government's record on allowing building in the Green Belt and development of greenfield sites and their failure to meet even their own targets for new building on brownfield sites; condemns their refusal to increase their 60 per cent brownfield site building target in line with their recently revised household projection figures; and deplores the Government's failure to protect the countryside.

It is a little over two months since our last debate on the Government's lackadaisical approach to protecting the countryside and their penchant for concreting over vast tracts of green belt and green-field land, with areas such as Stevenage, West Sussex, Sutton Coldfield and Newcastle as monuments to their anarchic approach to protecting our countryside and the green belt. Since then, there have been two significant Government announcements. First, there was the long awaited and long-overdue publication of the draft revised PPG3—planning policy guidance—on housing. Secondly, there were the revised housing projections, which showed a reduction from 4.4 million houses to 3.8 million.

In the light of those announcements and, given that some green-field development will be carried out, we must ask how it can be minimised and brown-field site development maximised. Will the Government's preferred approach enable us to do that sustainably and rationally, rather than by pursuing the field-by-field, trench warfare approach so characteristic of their efforts so far? Can the process be improved so that it becomes an opportunity rather than a threat?

Both in government and in opposition, we have maintained that as much building as feasible should be on brown-field sites. That is why we originally set the 60 per cent. target. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised it to 66 per cent. early last year. I am delighted that the Government have come some way towards our way of thinking and have accepted a 60 per cent. target, even if the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), who I understand is to reply to the debate, regards the Government's policy as a recipe for disaster. It would be helpful if he would give greater details on how they will seek to achieve the target.

The latest available figures show that building on brown-field sites is lagging behind the target, at 53 per cent. PPG3 is supposed to be the blueprint for ensuring that the target is met, but will it have that effect? While we have waited for the guidance, and its long overdue publication, major green-belt developments have been given the green light in places such as West Sussex, Hertfordshire and the west midlands. If new housing continues to be built on green-field sites at the current rate, an area the size of Suffolk will disappear under concrete by the time today's school leavers reach retirement. It is worth noting that, in Cambridge city council, both Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors voted for a major review of the green belt to be in the East Anglia regional plan. As the House knows, that means that several thousand houses will be built in south and east Cambridge on green-belt land if the changes take place. That would destroy the purpose of the Cambridge green belt, which is to preserve the unique setting of an historic city. PPG3 talks of extensions to urban areas, which we believe is in some ways misplaced, because it threatens the green belt in the example that I gave. I should be grateful if Ministers, instead of chattering among themselves, would give some thought to how, if the policy in Cambridgeshire goes ahead, the Government will fulfil the purpose of the green belt and protect the historic city of Cambridge.

In PPG3, the Government talk about urban extensions, but will such extensions not put an unbearable strain on existing infrastructures? We are told that we are to have a sequential approach to the choice of sites, with brown-field sites considered first. Will that slow the planning and development process yet further? Will the Government end up falling even further behind their own targets?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

It is rather pathetic that all that the Minister can do is sit there and try to disturb my speech because he simply does not like having pointed out the inadequacies of his Government on this matter in the past two years.

As the Minister will know, a recent study published by the Civic Trust and the House-Builders Federation focused on 54 potential brown-field sites identified for building purposes as long ago as 1986. The study revealed that only 39 sites—72 per cent. of that land—had been developed at all in the intervening years and that only between 29 and 54 per cent. of the land had been developed for housing on all or part of a site. The report listed such constraints as contamination, problems of land assembly and what the authors called a lack of flexibility, creativity, technical and market knowledge in some local authorities. If the possibility of developing a brown-field site is to be considered for years, but is ultimately to be discarded, the sequential approach could significantly slow up development.

While we are on the question of contamination, may I draw to the attention of the House the fact that, as I am sure the Minister accepts, this problem needs to be addressed urgently? Last summer, the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee report highlighted the issue. It said: We would be appalled if the necessary Regulations on land contamination has not been laid within 10 days of the House returning from the Summer Recess. That was the summer recess of 1998, to be of help to the Minister. That was six months ago and no orders have yet been laid.

On 22 July last year, the Minister for the Environment said that the Government would bring the legislation into force in July 1999. Since then, there has been significant slippage. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), told me in a written answer on Tuesday that he hoped that the regulations would be laid in July this year and that they "should"—that was the word that he used, interestingly—be in force on 1 December.

The slippage and the pedestrian attitude that has highlighted the Government's general approach suggest that there is no sense of urgency. The Government seem to be oblivious to the fact that local government, the industry and environmental interests all eagerly await the regulations. The sooner they are in force, the sooner the clean-up and development of brown-field sites can go ahead. [Interruption.] I hope that Ministers, instead of asininely sitting on the Treasury Bench, saying, "Hear, hear," will pull their fingers out and do something so that we do not have the slippage that the Select Committee so hoped almost a year ago would not happen.

Barely do we have the revised draft PPG3 than the Secretary of State publishes his revised household projection figures. The previous figure of 4.4 million houses—on which all planners had been working—has been reduced to 3.8 million. At a stroke, the Government's targets for overall development, as well as for green-field sites, seem—superficially—to be more attainable. There will be less new development, presumably including that on green-field sites—or is that too good to be true? That remains to be seen, but the Opposition will certainly carefully study those figures and the assumptions that underlie them—when we know exactly what those assumptions are.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does my hon. Friend not think that it is odd that the figures have been revised without the workings being published? Has my hon. Friend noticed that a former professional adviser to the former Department of the Environment has said publicly that he cannot believe that those figures are correct and that he is unable to judge them because the workings have not been provided? We shall have to wait until this autumn to find out how the Government arrived at that conclusion. It would be nice if we could be given that conclusion, but is it not odd—indeed, even suspicious—to publish a new figure without explaining how it has been reached?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Given the fact that the Government pay so much lip service to open government, one would have assumed that, when publishing sets of figures that would have such an important impact throughout the country, they would publish the assumptions and workings behind them. It is quite extraordinary that they have not; sadly, it is typical of the contempt in which the Government hold the House and the way in which it carries out its business that they are prepared to publish a result without the workings that elaborate on it.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

If that is the case, perhaps my hon. Friend will suggest to Ministers that, if they could manage a commitment of 60 per cent., or 4.4 million, of houses on brown-field sites, and, even if we are now to assume that the number is 3.8 million, they might agree—roughly speaking—to my hope, while I was Secretary of State for the Environment, of 75 per cent.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can reassure him that I shall deal with his intervention later.

At present, however, hon. Members in the Chamber are in a fortunate position, because the purpose of the debate is to hold the Government to account for their failings in a matter that has such a great impact on communities throughout the country. My right hon. Friend raised a most important point in relation to the publication of the new projected housing figures without any of the background work to support them. We are fortunate in that two Ministers are sitting on the Treasury Bench. Perhaps at least one of those Ministers would like to deal with the extremely valid point made by my right hon. Friend. Ministers could intervene now or, if they have to bide time by seeking the advice of their civil servants, we shall await their comments in either their opening or their closing speeches.

It remains to be seen whether the figures are too good to be true. We shall certainly examine them extremely carefully—as well as the assumptions that underlie them—when all the reasons for the Government's decision are available to us and to the rest of the country. However, we can calculate on the basis of the former figures that, if the Government have got the figures wrong, 600,000 families or individuals will have nowhere to live during the time span of the projected housing figures. [Interruption.] I can reassure the Minister that I fully appreciate—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I would be grateful if hon. Members stopped making casual remarks from sedentary positions—that would be most helpful to the debate.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you appreciate that I am fully aware that the time span has changed with the announcement of the latest figures, if only because the Government made it clear when they published the new figures in their press releases, which they kindly send to me.

We can calculate on the basis of the old figures that, if the Government have got it wrong, 600,000 families or individuals will have nowhere to live. We understand that the projections remain much the same in the south-east, but that there will be sharp falls in other parts of the country. We shall have to await the Secretary of State's contacting the regional planning conferences to outline the details before we know for sure whether our understanding is correct, but that is certainly what is rumoured. Will there really be fewer widows and divorced people in the next 25 years than were previously expected? If so, it would be interesting to know the basis on which the Government reached that conclusion. When will the Secretary of State tell regional planning bodies how the reduced 3.8 million projection will affect their areas?

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

My hon. Friend makes a most interesting point about a hypothetical reduction in the number of widows and divorced people. Is the reduction in the figures not attributable, at least in part, to a projected increase in cohabitation? Whereas in the past people would live separately, they now live together openly.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The somewhat sketchy information which has so far been published gives the increase in cohabitation as one of the reasons for the reduced housing projections. It is important that we should have access to the workings that have gone into the figures, because it would be interesting to know the rate of split-up of cohabiting partners. Obviously, some cohabiting partners split up, as do married couples, but we are in the dark as to its impact because we do not know the details of the workings for the figures. Our uncertainty would be eased by being told exactly how the Government carried out their calculations, but I fear that time alone will tell.

The Government's announcement is hedged around with qualifications. It stresses that 3.8 million is not a precise figure; yet, even on the sharply reduced forecast, we shall need 150,000 new households a year, every year, for the next quarter of a century. All in all, the Government's recent announcement raises more questions than it answers, because they did not publish the evidence and the workings when they published the figures. The Government have got matters back to front by making an announcement of that nature and then expecting the country and interested parties to wait six months or so to see the complete picture that would enable them to form an independent view on how accurate and realistic the figures were.

Given that the emphasis on housebuilding will, in many cases, revolve around urbanism, the first objective must be mixed-use development.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

As it appears that quite a lot of disinformation is going around, I should like to point out that the press release on household growth that was published by my Department on 29 March 1999 laid out the regional figures.

We did that, first, because it conformed with the practice of previous Administrations: nobody would question the ability and credibility of staff at the Office for National Statistics and, in one sense, the figures are not Government figures, but a reflection of what the ONS has said.

We did it, secondly, because, starting on 14 May, an important hearing will take place in the south-east—the examination in public of the guidance produced by the South East regional planning conference. The Government thought that it was responsible to ensure that the regional information was available to that hearing; but, as usual, the more detailed district and county information will be published later this year.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

I fully accept what the Minister says, because we have all seen the press release. My point is that the Government have published figures up to a certain level, which they have not gone beyond. A Minister recently told me in a written answer that the Government could not confirm whether there would be any change in the projected figures for the county of Essex. He said that we had to wait until the Secretary of State had written to the regional planning bodies. The junior Minister has kindly confirmed that that is absolutely correct. Of course it is, but, to understand the significance and the impact of the figures fully, we must know their effect on specific planning areas in a county. We do not have that information.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

Is it not extraordinary that the Minister prays in aid the fact that an examination in public is about to take place and the new figures are now available? However, when I asked him about the county structure plan and the EIP that had taken place in Devon but had not yet been finalised, he dismissed my question and said, "It has already taken place, so we cannot take account of new information." The Government seem to have one rule for one part of the country and another for somewhere else.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: the situation is nothing short of chaotic. That is totally unacceptable to the House, to local authorities which must do the work and to the public who want to know how the Government's policy will impact on their local communities.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

I will give way once more and then I must make progress. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Is my hon. Friend not being far too kind to the Government? They have given a figure, but we know that the Office for National Statistics usually provides a range of figures and that the office must have done the work in order to produce that figure. Why do we not have the details of that work? Either the Government have those details, and will not publish them, or they do not have the details, in which case the figure is meaningless. In one way or another, the Government have got it wrong.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is inconceivable that the Government would not be prepared to publish the figures if they had them. It will be fascinating to hear the Minister's explanation. We want to know whether the Government have the figures. If they do have them, why can they not publish them, so that we can examine them now instead of waiting until later this year?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, West Chelmsford

I said that I would take no more interventions; I wish to conclude. The Minister will have the opportunity to speak in about three minutes, when he will be able to provide all the answers that he likes.

The agenda for this building must be determined by scale, certainty, planning for sustainability and the proper use and distribution of planning gain for the benefit of the whole community. We believe also that, logically, if the projected housebuilding figure is to be reduced by about 600,000, it is time for the Government to be bold and to raise their 60 per cent. brown-field site target. The Government now have a golden opportunity to raise that figure to 66 per cent., as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has done, which would be environmentally friendly and show badly needed common sense.

The Government know full well that some people, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), have suggested an even higher figure of 75 per cent. for brown-field site building. I believe that it is time for the Government to re-examine their 60 per cent. commitment and to raise it, given the changed circumstances.

The first two years of this Government's policy on the green belt and on green-field building have been characterised by bullying, destruction of the green belt and a lack of clear direction. The publication of the revised PPG3 and the reduced housing projection figures give the Government the chance to put their mistakes and the damage of the past two years behind them. Now is the time for the Government to think again and come up with a policy that is environmentally friendly and relevant to the country's housing needs, and will not ruin whole swathes of the countryside. I urge the Government to seize that opportunity.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 1:50 pm, 29th April 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 and promoting an urban renaissance, and maintaining tight planning controls over the Green Belt and other designated green spaces; recognises that the Government's decentralised and integrated policy approach is helping to achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of urban and rural development; welcomes the Government's commitment 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 benefits of replacing the previous 'predict and provide' approach to the issue of household growth with a more flexible 'plan, monitor and manage' system; 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 shall begin by addressing the Opposition's charges against the Government—which have been poorly made—as stated in their motion. The Opposition claim that we are allowing large-scale development in the countryside and the green belt. Given the previous Administration's record, their charges are opportunistic, even hypocritical. I remind the House that it was Conservative Members who let the market rip. Clearly, they are trying, in speeches by their Front-Bench Members, to dissociate themselves from that policy. They did nothing to deal with the problems of urban sprawl and the decline of our inner cites.

Under the previous Government, large areas of the green belt were released for development and little effort was made to promote housebuilding on recycled land. Their record reveals that, between 1985 and 1995, only 42 per cent. of new homes were built on recycled land. They knew that their policy was not good enough, but they did not have the bottle to widen people's horizons and take on the "not in my back yard" syndrome. The previous Government approved development in the green belt in places such as north Kent, Manchester, south Bedfordshire and Woking. Conservative Members deliberately mislead the public on housing development by confusing green-field sites with the green belt.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

No. I shall proceed further with my speech before I let the right hon. Gentleman intervene.

It was, of course, also the previous Administration who embraced the inflexible, top-down, predict-and-provide approach to household growth and denied local people a say in how much new housing should be built and where in their region it should be built.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

The right hon. Gentleman quoted four places, but I can, off hand, point out that, in two of them, the developments were not housing: one was Manchester airport, which could hardly be built in the middle of a city; the other was a much-needed opportunity for jobs which the Labour party demanded. Will the right hon. Gentleman please not misinform the House?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I shall not misinform the House. I shall give right hon. and hon. Members the facts and they can, if they want, read the three-page list of places where the Conservatives allowed green-belt development to take place.

What are this Government doing to promote new thinking on planning for housing and urban renewal? We are decentralising decision making and replacing the top-down mentality, with its predict-and-provide approach, with a more flexible system of plan, monitor and manage.

I shall contrast the previous Administration's role with the actions of this Government and past Labour Governments. The post-war Labour Government introduced the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, they did, and we are proud of the fact that they established the green belt and the national parks. If we read the history books, we find that Conservative Administrations have done nothing to protect the countryside and the green belt. They did not even challenge the predict-and-provide approach, as we are now doing with our system of plan, monitor and manage, which will be much more effective.

Photo of Ian Cawsey Ian Cawsey Labour, Brigg and Goole

Conservative Members do not need to tell us what their plans for the green belt are, because in certain parts of Britain, those plans are evident. In north Lincolnshire, the area that I represent, the unitary authority that was formed in 1996 now has a Labour administration, which has drafted its first local plan. That would reduce green-field development, protect the green belt and prevent the over-development of villages. The Conservatives in opposition on the council oppose that draft plan and will stand for election next Thursday saying that they will overturn it if they are elected. They would increase development on green-field sites and in villages. A number of their candidates have, in the past, been personal beneficiaries of that policy, and they want it to be reinstated. That is what the Conservative party does to green-field sites and the green belt.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

That speaks for itself. It may be a Labour party political broadcast. Are there some elections in the near future?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Yes, there are. Well, I hope that the electorate who will have the opportunity to vote in the local elections have taken note of what my hon. Friend said, which was very telling. Such behaviour obviously follows on from what the previous Administration did when they were in power.

The Government are developing innovatory ideas to regenerate towns and cities—a legacy of that previous Administration—to increase the use of recycled land and improve the quality of life of everyone who lives in urban areas. Our aim is nothing less than to drive an urban renaissance, providing for sustainable growth in both urban and rural areas.

What the Government have grasped, which unfortunately Conservative Members cannot seem to see, is that there is a link between protecting the countryside, the green belt and urban renewal. Everyone agrees about that. Many members of the Conservative party believe that we are approaching these issues in precisely the right way, and our approach has been commended by some Conservative Members from time to time. What is more, there is widespread support for the approach that the present Administration are taking to land use and transport planning. That support comes from the Confederation of British Industry, the house builders, and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, to name but a few. I shall quote from the CPRE press release. The Government's new planning policies begin to put teeth into its commitment to protect the countryside and revitalise the towns.They should have a significant impact on the geography of new building and help to contain urban sprawl.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions


Therefore, I welcome the debate—the fifth that we have held on the subject in less than two years. I thank the Tories—the official Opposition—for letting us have a free party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour party. May we have many more in future? If we can arrange one just before the European elections, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it might help to get more Labour votes.

Let me repeat what we have already achieved since the previous debate on the green belt, requested by the Conservative party, in February. Our statement "Planning for the Communities of the Future" marked a break with the past and set out our objectives for the urban renaissance that I have mentioned. It signalled a departure from the days of predict and provide, and the previous Administration's laissez-faire policies.

We have set a clear 60 per cent. national target for new housing to be built on recycled land, which was supported by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. We believe that it is realistic and challenging, and will encourage the regions to go even higher. By contrast, the Conservative party still seems unable to agree on any national target, and bandies figures about—as we heard this afternoon—without any idea of how they will be achieved.

We announced a significant increase in the funds available for urban regeneration and the protection of the countryside. We have launched the new deal for the communities initiative. We have increased the funds available through the single regeneration budget. We have freed up £5 billion of capital receipts for local authorities to use in their housing programmes. We have strengthened PPG6 to make an even firmer declaration of our intention to curb the excesses of out-of-town shopping.

We have devoted real resources to address the economic and social problems in rural areas. To mention one initiative, we have put £170 million into rural bus services. As a result, in many areas, people now have a bus service after years without one.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The right hon. Gentleman has prayed in aid the CPRE. Will he explain why another non-governmental organisation, Friends of the Earth, described the recent Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee report as a damning indictment of Government plans"? Why did the Labour-dominated Committee say The Government's proposals are well-intentioned, but vague and not adequate to achieve their aims"? How does he answer that accusation?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

We have answered the Select Committee report; I am a great supporter of Select Committees. I look at these matters historically and I am describing what we have done. The Opposition give me the opportunity to present a monthly report to the House on planning generally and I have set out what we have done, up to the February debate. I shall now tell the House this Administration's achievements since February. I am giving an update, and I have no doubt that the Select Committee will consider those issues. Friends of the Earth will then be able to make its judgment. I have no doubt that, like the CPRE, it will be converted and say that the Labour Government are doing an absolutely first-class job.

I have stated the Government's record up to February, and we have not been resting on our laurels in the few weeks since the Opposition last initiated such a debate. We have not stopped working and we will continue to modernise. We have issued revised drafts of planning policy guidance on development plans and on regional planning—PPG12 and PPG11. We have released the new household projection figures, set up a new system of plan, monitor and manage and officially launched the new business-led regional development agencies, which take a strategic overview of the needs of each of the English regions.

On 12 April, I published a report detailing progress on our modernisation planning initiative over the past 15 months. I sent every Member of the House a copy, to keep them informed. I have not heard any criticisms of the report since Conservative Members received it. If anything, I have had slight congratulation from one of them. We are now moving in the right direction.

On 23 March, we published our revised PPG3, on housing. I was asked about that in the, previous debate on this subject. I am happy that the revised PPG3 was warmly received, even by those on the Opposition Benches. It represents a major departure from previous policy and introduces, for the first time, a sequential approach to planning for housing.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I shall give way in a moment.

No longer will there be a stampede to build ad hoc on green-field sites. Priority must be given to recycled land and vacant sites before green-field sites are built on—brown-field first must make sense. If Conservative Members think differently, they should say so. I give the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) the opportunity to do so now.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister intervened earlier to say that it is important to distinguish between green-field sites and the green belt. He rightly says that the draft of PPG3 refers to a sequential approach for development plans in which previously developed land is considered first and green-field sites after, but PPG3 also refers to urban extensions. That could come into conflict with the green-belt policy. In respect of that sequential approach, why did not he say expressly in PPG3 that building on green-belt land should be a last resort?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a presumption against building on green belt—it is quite specific. It is for local authorities to make recommendations—on structure plans and through the examination in public, which I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking part in—if they want to change the green belt. That is up to them. It is for the Secretary of State to decide whether to accept such changes.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot comment on any specific application or development of a structure plan, but the debates that people are having during the examination in public try to resolve some of those difficult issues. I remind him that there is a presumption against building on the green belt.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I do not wish to misrepresent the Minister's view, but can I take it that I am therefore wrong to think that PPG3, which refers to considering extension of urban areas before considering the use of green-field sites, can come into conflict with PPG2 on green belt? Is it to be presumed under the sequential approach to development plans that building on, and allocation of, green-belt land for development should be the last resort?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I repeat: there is a presumption against such development in PPG2, which refers to the green belt. If a planning authority wants an urban extension, which would be a major shift, that will have to be in its structure plan and the planning guidance. We have treated PPG3 like any other planning guidance. It is out for consultation at the moment and we will make the final decisions. I reiterate that there is a presumption against building on green belt. That stands. Let me deal with what will happen in the future. As I have said, I have given you an update on what has happened since the February debate—on what we have done in practical terms.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The Minister keeps using the word "you". I must ask him to use correct parliamentary language.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Government's record up to and beyond February has been presented to the House; let me now say what we shall be doing in future. In a few weeks, we shall release the first figures from the national land use database, which will be a domesday book for the new millennium. We have had a big debate about building on brown-field sites. When this Government came to office, I asked a simple question: how much brown-field land was available? The answer was, "We do not know." One of our first moves was an attempt to establish the facts, so that we could have a reasonable debate. We wanted to discover exactly how much brown-field land we had in this nation of ours—and we should know the answer in the next few weeks. The information will give details of all brown-field sites that are ripe for development.

Before the summer, Richard Rogers's urban task force will publish its report, which will inject new ideas and momentum into our goal of returning life to our towns and cities. That report will be followed, later in the year, by urban and rural White Papers setting out practical policies for the implementation of the ideas presented in it. All our initiatives attack not just the symptoms but the causes of urban decline, with the aim of creating urban renewal. If we can make our urban centres more vibrant, exciting and pleasant places in which to live, work and play, we shall already have gone a long way towards protecting our countryside from the pressures of continued development.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

My hon. Friend is aware of the situation in Nottinghamshire, because he has been there. He is now referring to perhaps the most crucial aspect of the planning system. If we cannot end the depopulation of our cities by means of the "joined-up" policies that he has mentioned, we really are in trouble. Urban regeneration—the tackling of problems such as crime, poor housing, the lack of services such as education, and under-achievement —is fundamental to the easing of pressure on the green belt.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Regions, Regeneration and Planning), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

I know of the problems that my hon. Friend experiences in the Nottingham area. Under the new deal for regeneration, the Government have committed more than £3 billion over the next three years. That will complement the housing investment that I mentioned, and will make real improvements in the most deprived areas—areas to which my hon. Friend has referred.

On Monday I was in Manchester, announcing the names of the winners of a competition to build new homes at Britannia basin in Castlefield. That regeneration project attracted 162 entries, which was the second-highest response ever received by the Royal Institute of British Architects. The response demonstrates the extent of interest in the reuse of brown-field sites. Similar initiatives are under way elsewhere in the country, but that particular initiative involved designers and developers such as Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash, along with RIBA, in a creative move to combine the talents of many young people. We were told that that had never been encouraged under the last Administration.

Our enthusiasm for the urban renaissance shows that we are fully committed to the countryside. As the House is doubtless fed up with being told, more Labour Members than Conservative Members represent rural constituencies, and they are doing a damn good job. Our concern must be not just with the enjoyment of the countryside for its own sake, but for those who live and work there. Only this week, I had a discussion with members of our Back-Bench rural group to try to find new ways of returning life to the economies of run-down areas of rural England. Rural England is changing, and the new Labour Government will respond to that change.

The rural White Paper will examine the long-term future for the English countryside and how policies on the economy, health, education, crime, agriculture and the environment will support a sustainable countryside and rural communities in the future. It will consider how the prosperity and competitiveness of the rural economy can be strengthened, how development and regeneration policies can help those areas in need, and how we can ensure that all rural people have opportunities to participate fully in society.

Our consultation on the discussion document "Rural England" ends tomorrow, and we shall consider the responses carefully as we prepare the White Paper. [Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members complaining. They initiated the debate, and I thank them heartily for enabling me to present the Government's record. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I am getting on with it. I hope that Conservative Members are enjoying it.

There will be close co-ordination as we link the urban White Paper to the proposals being developed in the rural White Paper. This is joined-up government with joined-up money. Our commitment to protecting our green spaces and green belt could not be stronger. As Opposition Members know, development is permitted in the green belt only under very special circumstances. There is a presumption against such development. We see the green belt as vital to stopping urban sprawl and supporting sustainable development. There is no evidence that we have any intention of weakening our policy on the green belt. The facts speak for themselves. Since we came to power two years ago, we have increased the size of the green belt by some 30,000 hectares. That is not a loss: it is a major gain.

I remind the House that green belt does not mean green field. A green-field site is any undeveloped land. Not all green belt is free from development. Many developments existed long before the green belt was defined. Development in green belt frequently involves redevelopment of previously used sites. This Government, like their predecessors, have a policy to try to ensure that such redevelopments yield environmental improvements compared with the developments they replace, and that happens by and large.

Equally, green belt is not a landscape designation. All kinds and qualities of land, including derelict sites, may be in the green belt. Less than 5 per cent. of green belt overlaps with statutory national landscape or wildlife designations. Green belt is also not a national designation: it is primarily a local designation within a regional framework, and decisions about the setting and altering of boundaries, or about permitting development, rest primarily with the local authority and local people, and that will continue. That is why regional planning policy guidance shows the weight we attach to continued protection.

The future is about harnessing growth to promote a better quality of urban life and to bring life back to the hearts of our towns and cities. That will relieve pressure on the countryside. The Government aim to provide sufficient housing so that everyone who wants one can have a decent home. We also aim to ensure that houses are of better quality, built in a better environment, and provide for sustainable communities in which people are proud to live.[Interruption.] We even have young people on our side. That was a little cheer and a "Hear, hear". If Conservative Members disagree with the objective of providing decent homes for people to live in, they should say so.

Urban renaissance and protection of the countryside are not mutually exclusive: they are interlinked. That was one of the weaknesses of the previous Administration's policies. They let development rip in the green belt and on green-field sites, and they allowed inner cities and towns to rot. Let us stop this nonsense about urban versus rural and town versus city. Let us get on with the job of improving the quality of our housing and environment and creating real sustainable development. That is exactly what we are doing, and what we shall continue to do.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton 2:14 pm, 29th April 1999

The subject of the protection of green-field sites in my constituency is not new to the Minister, because I have raised this matter with him. It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity of today's debate, initiated by my right hon. and hon. Friends, to bring to the House's attention again the grave injustice in the county of Devon.

The Devon county structure plan consultation began almost two and a half years ago, when I was a Minister in the previous Government. I made representations in a written submission on behalf of my constituents. I wrote to my colleague, the then Minister at the Department of the Environment, prior to becoming involved in the county structure plan consultation. In November 1995, the then Minister, Mr. Robert Jones, wrote to me when I queried the number of houses predicted for Devon, and in particular the proposal for a new town to be built in my constituency on green-field sites. He said that these figures should not be regarded as inflexible targets and they should be subject to testing through the structure plan process.

As a constituency Member of Parliament, I do not claim to be an expert in planning matters. However, I have learned quite a lot in the past two and a half years. I have made written submissions at every opportunity throughout the structure plan process, and I spent four days at the examination in public in Devon, on three of which I gave evidence. The message that came home to me was that when the Government came to office, they did not share the previous Government's view that the figures should not be regarded as "inflexible targets" and should be subject to testing through the structure plan process.

As a Member of Parliament, I have used every democratic process open to me, including an Adjournment debate on the Floor of the House. I have personally presented a letter at the door of No. 10 Downing street to try to get Ministers to recognise the views of the people of my constituency. I am not the only one involved. On Conservative-controlled East Devon district council, there is cross-party opposition to the plan for a new town to be built in east Devon.

We know why there needs to be a new town in east Devon: it is nothing to do with my constituents, but it has to do with the views of the Labour-controlled city of Exeter, which wants to grow. That is not an unreasonable request, but it wants to expand at the expense of my constituents in east Devon, and to extend the borders of the city of Exeter into my constituency. That was made very clear at the examination in public, and it is why the Labour-controlled city council and its Member of Parliament have supported the proposal for the new town.

I should be interested to hear the Minister's views because although the area in question is not green belt, it is green field. When we talk about urban sprawl and pushing out the boundaries of urban areas, we are talking about such development coming into my constituency.

There is an additional complication in this particular part of my constituency. The land that has been identified as the most likely site for the new town borders Exeter airport in my constituency. The airport is vital to the economy not just of my constituency but of that part of Devon. There should be no development close to the border of the airport which would restrict its growth and development—that is important for its future viability.

That matter was raised in specific terms at the examination in public. Indeed, evidence was taken from people who gave the panel their views on the noise from the airport—noise such as that produced during the ground testing of aircraft engines at night when they are being repaired and serviced. I was shocked, because one of the Minister's predecessors in the previous Government told me in writing that examinations in public should not be site-specific. One cannot get more site-specific than the taking of evidence about the noise generated in a particular locality during the ground testing of aircraft engines.

What has really saddened me—and saddened my constituents, as proven in my own surveys, in questions from the media, and in public meetings that I have held—is that there is universal opposition to building that new town in my constituency. The people do not want it; the people do not need it. East Devon district council planning authority, which is the representative body closest to local people, does not want the new town, and has opposed it at every stage of the consultation process. Conservatives members of Devon county council have opposed it.

The Liberal Democrats on Devon county council are the ones who approved the new town and voted yes to it. Although some of the district council colleagues of the Liberal Democrats on Devon county council walked with me up to the door of No. 10 Downing street to oppose the plan, those county councillors voted for it because their leader said that, had they not done so, the Deputy Prime Minister would have imposed on the county of Devon even more punitive requirements—and the Government's bully-boy tactics generally in planning bear that out.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

I am rather surprised by my hon. Friend's comments, and should like to be absolutely clear about them. I assumed, perhaps rather naively, that Liberal Democrats on the county council would be sensitive to local opinion, but perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify the true position, which I feel should be amplified. Although we already knew that the Labour party is in favour of urban sprawl and of developing green-field towns, is she telling us that the Liberal Democrats in her part of the country are also in favour of destruction of the green belt, green fields and the countryside?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

They voted yes; I sat in the county hall and personally witnessed it.

Perhaps we should not be so surprised that Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions take the views that they do and create the impression that people hold of them—those Ministers carry baggage. The Minister for London and Construction, on 23 January 1997, before he was elected to government, told Planning Week that a target of 60 per cent. of brown-field sites would be "a recipe for disaster" because it would create excessively high densities in cities. He also said that there was "absolutely no doubt" that the only realistic way of meeting the housing figure was to develop new towns and settlements. The Minister shakes his head, but, if he has been misquoted, I hope that he will print a correction.

Before I initiated an Adjournment debate on the matter, to which the Minister replied, I took a rather unprecedented step: I telephoned his private office prior to the debate to let him know what I would say, because I was seeking some co-operation and help from the Government. I went even further.

I presented a letter at No. 10 Downing street to the Prime Minister, seeking his intervention, so that at least the planning authority—East Devon district council—might be able to sit down with Ministers and talk through its grave concerns about the proposals being imposed on it. I wrote: Your Government has proposed that more homes should be built on brown field sites rather than green field sites. We agree. You have personally assured the people of Devon that local views will be listened to.

I took the Prime Minister at his word—more fool me: not only did he not intervene, but local people have not been listened to. I as a Member of Parliament have not been listened to, and the district council has not been listened to. The Liberal Democrat-controlled Devon county council has been bullied into pursuing a certain route— [Interruption.] Perhaps that is what the Lib-Lab pact is all about—or perhaps those Liberal Democrat councillors reached their decision voluntarily.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

Before the hon. Lady mentions bullying again, will she just recall that the Conservative Minister whose record she was praising a moment ago proposed a housing figure for the county of Devon that was 7,200 higher than that which the Government have approved because of the county structure plan inquiry? Is that bullying by the Government, or hypocrisy on the part of the Conservative party?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

I personally wrote to the Minister, although he may not recall my letter, asking whether, if the Liberal Democrats who control the county council genuinely felt that they did not want to support the figure, but were genuinely concerned that Ministers would force them to accept an even higher one if they refused the initial one, he would—before we reach the final stage in the structure plan consultation—confirm to me that the councillors were misguided in that assumption. We have never had—

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

I shall answer the question in a moment. I do not intend to dodge the Minister's questions, as he has been dodging mine for the past year.

I wrote to the Minister so that I might be able to take his reply to the county council and say to its Liberal Democrat leader, "You have this wrong. Ministers are not going to foist anything on you. Democracy is alive and well and is living in Devon. Local people will be listened to, as the Prime Minister promised." But I was not able to do that.

We must therefore assume, in the absence of the type of assurance that I was seeking from the Minister, that perhaps the Liberal Democrats were right. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head and says no. I think that we must assume that the Liberal Democrats, like Labour-controlled Exeter city council, are in cahoots in the matter and are anxious to foist the new town, against the wishes of the people, on my constituents. It is no good the Minister shaking his head. We are going to have the town—we know it now—which will be a tribute to new Labour. We must find a suitable name for it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

Yes; that would be such a good name for it.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

Yes—I am so generous to the Minister; it is unprecedented.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I am so grateful to the hon. Lady. Perhaps she will now answer the question that I asked her.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

I shall do so.

Whatever figures were finally arrived at in the structure plan, which is a democratic process involving many stages, my colleague in the previous Government explicitly stated in his letter, which I quoted to the Minister and in oral evidence to the examination in public, that the figures were not set in tablets of stone, but were subject to the scrutiny of the democratic process—namely, the structure plan consultation that has lasted for almost two and a half years.

What I do not understand, and what the people of my constituency do not accept, is that although we gave approval and support to the Government's announced policies of building on brown-field sites, of listening to local people and of following the democratic process, we could not get from Ministers one iota of sympathy or support. Ministers wanted to railroad through the proposals, despite the fact that, as we knew, revised figures would be forthcoming. The Minister quoted the Council for the Protection of Rural England. The CPRE advised the Government that there was likely to be a readjustment of the figures. There was every reason not to railroad through the proposals, but to say, "Let's look at the new figures, revise our decision making, and allow the local people to revise their decision making in the light of local feelings and new information."

The Devon branch of the CPRE stated: The South West Regional Planning Conference is now aiming for the 'lowest technically justified figure' under the new process proposed in the revised Regional Planning rules, and at the end of this year we shall get the new household projections based on the 1995 figures (instead of the 1992 figures currently used) …These are expected to show lower rates of net inward migration, but there are now serious doubts about other aspects of the national"— housing— projections.

The issue was raised in oral evidence at the examination in public. Ministers knew about it, yet they have not been prepared to say that there could be a moratorium in Devon while the figures were analysed and considered further so that we would not have to rush into making decisions about building two new towns—one in my constituency—but would be able to reflect the views of local people based on accurate figures rather than on figures that have been universally accepted as out of date.

The Minister prays in aid representatives of the building industry. I sat through four days of an examination in public, before which the builders' representative in my constituency had already named the new town. What a mockery of democracy it is when a building company circulates literature and names a new town before the democratic process is over.

We do not expect to win this battle, but I do not intend to throw in the towel. We are now looking for evidence that the Minister is genuine in his desire to protect green-field sites, to use brown-field sites first and then to reassess the situation. I hope that if he is, he will accept from me a request by East Devon district council, which now has to produce the plans for the town.

Not only does the council have to produce those plans, but it has been told by the Prime Minister that it has to produce them. After I had presented my letter to Downing street, the Prime Minister wrote back to me, and his final paragraph states: East Devon District Council must now commence work as soon as possible to produce a Local Plan to 2011 which makes provision for the new community proposed in the Structure Plan. That edict from on high before the consultation period was over was not greeted with joy in the county of Devon. It was one more example of the way in which the Government say one thing but, when faced with a situation in which they could have made a difference and stood by their word and their policies, they deliberately fail to honour them.

Will people from the Minister's Department sit down around a table, without press or publicity, with the representatives of the planning authority, East Devon district council, and discuss with them how they are now to apply the planning regulations to the new town against the background of the new rules under PPG3 and other guidance, which the Minister says now represent the way forward?

Why should the people of Devon be deprived of the opportunity to avail themselves of the new policies when the Minister has made such great play of them? We have said that we will support them too, yet he wants to deny them to the people of Devon. If he can answer my question and agree to that meeting today, I shall be most grateful.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

I was giving way, but I had also finished my speech.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I thank the hon. Lady. It was unclear, because her hon. Friend stood up behind her.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady cannot both give way and finish her speech at the same time. I shall assume that she was giving way to the Minister.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

The hon. Lady must not confuse the role of Government with the role of the relevant local authorities—the county and district councils, which have specific statutory planning functions. She must recognise that the process has, quite properly, involved consideration at an examination in public of the figures in the draft structure plan, and the acceptance by Government of amended figures substantially lower than those proposed by Conservative Ministers in the previous Government. The consequences of the structure plan now have to work through to the local plans produced by district councils in line with normal planning procedures. The hon. Lady is a former Minister, and should know that it would be improper for any Minister to interfere inappropriately in such statutory proceedings.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

I am not asking the Minister to interfere inappropriately, but surely it is not unreasonable for a planning authority to seek advice from the Department on a specific issue. That request does not come from me personally; it is being articulated by me on behalf of the district council, and is an official request from the planning authority. I aqm sorry that the Minister does not feel that he can respond positively.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I assure the hon. Lady that the Government are only too happy to respond positively and that PPG3, which is now out for consultation, may be one element to be taken into account. I understood her to be seeking not advice but a meeting to negotiate the location of a new development, which would be different and entirely inappropriate.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

That was not the content of my letter to the Prime Minister. I ask the Minister to read carefully the wording of that letter, in which I said that we had had to accept that the planning decision had been foisted upon us. The meeting would be to advise the planning authority whether it could avail itself of the new policies, or whether the Government were saying that any changes in policy would not apply to the council in connection with the new development. It wanted to know whether it would have to adhere to the existing system.

It was on that basis, and in good faith, that the planning authority sought a meeting. The aim was not to alter the figures. We have recognised that we have lost that battle. The people of east Devon will remember it for ever as a battle that they fought and lost. We seek to ensure that whatever has to be done under statute, we make as good a job of it as possible. That is a sad situation.

Photo of Colin Burgon Colin Burgon Labour, Elmet 2:35 pm, 29th April 1999

I am pleased to be able to bring a northern perspective to this debate because as my constituency contains within its boundaries most of the green-belt land within the city of Leeds, green belt and planning issues concern me greatly.

Elmet contains towns such as Wetherby and Garforth, and villages such as Scholes, Barwick, Methley and Boston Spa, which value their separate identity within Leeds. As the Member of Parliament, my desire is to work wherever possible to maintain the character, identity and physical integrity of the towns and villages that I represent. I believe that the planning system should be used, where appropriate, to pursue that objective vigorously.

Like the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), I am a relative novice in planning issues, but I have increasingly realised that, certainly in a city such as Leeds, the future of the green belt is intimately bound up with the developments taking place in the inner cities.

There is little doubt that we need to maximise the number of new homes built on previously developed land—that is, on brown-field sites or, as many of us would prefer to say, recycled land. That will not only ensure that we preserve as many green-field sites as possible, but will regenerate our existing towns and cities. The need to make our urban areas attractive places to live is the other side of the coin of saving our countryside and green spaces. Any person who sees the green belt and urban renaissance as two entirely separate processes is wrong.

I am pleased to say that, as in many other respects, my city of Leeds is giving a lead in city centre regeneration. In my recent talks with councillors, it has been stressed that the city already achieves the Government target of putting 60 per cent. of its new development on recycled land. I am proud of my city, as hon. Members would expect, and I know that it is keen to do even better. The Government's task is to give the encouragement and support that will enable the council to do that. That will require economic, fiscal and regulatory measures in transport, land assembly, site remediation and building rehabilitation, to facilitate a partnership approach designed to achieve the desired objective of urban renewal—or, as the Minister called it, in language better than I could use, urban renaissance.

At national level, it must be remembered that many new homes—up to 1 million, it is estimated—could be provided by refurbishing rundown empty dwellings, by so-called "living above the shop" initiatives, and by the conversion of old office and industrial premises, as seen in many waterfront sites.

It must not be thought that recycled land is available only in urban centres. In my constituency, we have a 52-acre colliery site to be developed at Allerton Bywater. I am sure that because it has been chosen as a millennium village site, the development will be of the highest quality, but the other benefit to local people is that developing the recycled sites will enable us better to protect the green belt round Allerton, which separates it from its neighbouring village of Kippax.

The Government are fully behind the developments that I have mentioned. The evidence, as outlined by the Minister, is clear from the document "Planning for the Communities of the Future", and from the work of the urban task force under Lord Rogers, alongside whom I am happy to serve on the Millennium Commission advisory panel. I am impressed by his grasp of the subject. There is also the initiative of the millennium communities, and the recently issued draft planning guidance on housing, PPG3, which will be much discussed this afternoon.

The other key policy strands promoted by the Government that develop the new thinking—I shall not say "joined-up thinking"; I had better stick to the phrase "new coherent approach"—are sustainability and integrated public transport. Sustainability requires us to cease pepper-potting new housing developments in small villages and towns, and to focus on more substantial mixed tenure and mixed use developments which contribute to viable and mixed communities. Everybody deserves a decent home, and affordable housing provision must be an integral part of our approach. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Wetherby area of my constituency. Far too often, young people are priced out of living in that area. That cannot be right and I hope that the Government will encourage local councils to develop ways of making the long-talked-about aspiration of affordable housing a reality.

The emphasis on enhanced public transport provision similarly requires us to concentrate development along existing or potential public transport corridors instead of in relatively isolated and car-dependent communities. That might, in special circumstances, require the redrawing of green belt boundaries—their relaxing in public transport corridors, but their tightening elsewhere. I know that Ministers will be actively considering the implications of such an approach.

In looking ahead, I urge the Government to do two things. First, they should simplify and demystify the planning system. Much of it is virtually incomprehensible to non-experts. In our successful campaign to defend the green belt around the village of Thorner, a key element was the painstaking and detailed work of Ruth Long, the secretary of the action group, but not everybody will be as lucky as we were with her support. Secondly, we all recognise the need for a proactive and modernised planning system at both regional and local level, and a strong partnership approach to implementation involving the local authorities, the private sector and public transport operators.

My constituents recognise, and I never tire of telling them, that it was a Labour Government who first established the green belt and the modern planning system in 1945. It is a Labour Government who will be prepared to plan and regulate for a more cohesive and sustainable society for us all.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 2:42 pm, 29th April 1999

There can be no doubt that the Tory party has a death wish—which is something to be encouraged. That is obvious from the way in which it is conducting the local election campaign and its well-publicised splits, and from the subject it has chosen for debate today.

Let us consider the Tories' record; it is not one to be proud of. They achieved only just over 40 per cent. of development on brown-field land, as we have heard from the Minister. Every hon. Member can think of green-field developments in their constituencies which the previous Administration allowed to proceed. In many cases, the previous Secretary of State forced through those developments, both residential and out of town, on appeal. We all know that it is de rigueur in the Tory party these days to apologise for past mistakes, whether Thatcherism, or underfunding of the NHS or the state education system. The Tories should also say sorry today for desecrating our towns and countrywide.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Liberal Democrats on Devon county council voted yes to a new town in my constituency?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady has already given the answer to that question. She will be aware that the previous Secretary of State used bully-boy tactics to drive through planning applications, and I am certain that the current Secretary of State is no stranger to strong-arm tactics.

I am grateful to the official Opposition for initiating this debate, because it gives me the opportunity to examine Labour's record. I have perhaps a more balanced view of what the Government have achieved so far than the official Opposition. The Government have abandoned predict and provide, which is good, but they have replaced it with plan, monitor and manage—or PMM. It is always difficult to know what acronyms stand for, and the view of many experts is that PMM is an unknown quantity.

This Administration have set a higher target for brown-field development than the previous Administration, and that is a good decision. However, they have not so far indicated that they are willing to revise that figure upwards on the basis of the change in the household projections. I am sure that the Minister, when he responds, will explain why the Government cannot increase the 60 per cent. figure, but I understand that it was anticipated that 175,000 houses would be needed each year when the projection was for 4.4 million new households.

It is now anticipated that 150,000 houses will be needed each year. Sixty per cent. of 175,000 is 105,000. Surely the Government will still be able to achieve 105,000 houses, even though it is now anticipated that only 3.8 million new households will exist. Therefore, in 10 years' time, when the Government anticipate hitting the 60 per cent. target, they will actually hit a 70 per cent. target, because 105,000 is 70 per cent. of 150,000. I hope that the Minister will tell the House that he is considering increasing the target.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for adopting the point that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) made earlier. I wish the hon. Gentleman luck, because the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, who replied to my hon. Friend, totally ignored the point. The hon. Gentleman may have more luck with the Minister who will wind up the debate.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The Minister has been nodding, so I hope that his reply will have some substance. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) highlighted the concern about the absence of any precise regulations covering the clearing of contaminated land. That is a major omission which the Government should address as soon as possible because without such regulations, developers will not be willing to develop brown-field sites.

The Government have issued draft PPG3, which I accept is good in parts. However, it mentions the need to take into account the Government's latest household projections. Will the Minister explain whether that will lead to a bottom-up or a top-down approach to establishing the number of houses needed in each region? PPG3 requires further consideration. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning quoted the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, but that organisation described the draft PPG3 in its current form as too sketchy. I hope that he will put some flesh on the bones of PPG3 shortly.

PPG3 says that the sequential approach should give priority to the reuse of previously developed land, bringing back empty homes into use and promoting the conversion of empty buildings. Those are all very sensible aims, but why is there a complete absence of any mechanisms to achieve such worthy ends? For example, PPG3 does not include a green-field development tax, or VAT equalisation for new build and conversions. It is upbeat about urban design, but so far, the Government have not willed the means to achieve such lofty aims. Where will local authorities find the staff—and the money to pay them—to deal with the issue?

What is the Government's role in relation to urban design? I understand that the Government have disbanded their urban design team. According to the Civic Trust, there is not a single person with sole responsibility for design in the DETR, although the Government managed to find £8 million for the Highways Agency to increase its maintenance programme. I understand also that the Government are not willing to fund the Urban Design Alliance, which is supported by many professional organisations. [Interruption.] If the Minister considers that to be rubbish, he can say so in his response, but that is the view of at least one significant organisation with an important role to play in urban design. The Government are paying lip service to good urban design, but that will not stop a single mock-Tudor mansion being built in this country. Providing staff and resources will.

PPG3 should be an opportunity to meet the environmental challenges posed by new homes, which include a threat to dwindling water supplies in parts of the country and an increase in CO2 emissions. There is also the potential to use renewable energies in new housing stock, and a lot could be done in that respect. I am pleased that my local authority, the London borough of Sutton, is taking the lead on these matters and will soon install solar panels in some of its social housing—an action that I commend to the House. The London borough of Sutton also supports a project approved by the Secretary of State to establish a zero-energy residential development. I understand that this is the first instance of the Secretary of State approving an application in which the local authority has accepted the second-lowest tender, rather then the lowest. The application was allowed to proceed because it was a sustainable development project. I welcome the Secretary of State's backing for that scheme.

There is much to be done about building regulations, to improve energy conservation and the reuse of water. I hope that the Minister will say something about that, either today or when PPG3 is reissued. I hope too that he will spell out how PPG3 will be implemented. It is one thing to issue a document in draft and again after consultation, but it is another thing entirely to ensure that what is contained in the document is implemented.

What is the Government's action plan for implementation? What training will be given to staff in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and in the relevant Government offices so that they understand what is in the document? What best practice guidance will be issued? What will the Government do to ensure that local authority decisions reflect the contents of PPG3?

I look forward to the Minister's response to these important questions. I hope that he will be able to give some detailed explanations and reassurance on these matters.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin 2:52 pm, 29th April 1999

When I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I was half expecting Conservative Members to stage a break from their Thatcherite past. No doubt they have rewritten their speeches several times since Monday, but sadly, it seems to be business as usual. They have nothing new to say about housing, planning or the green belt.

As my hon. Friend the Minister noted, this is the fifth time that this debate has been held in recent months, which makes it all the more surprising that the subject has been chosen for an Opposition day. I could not help but notice that there were never more than nine Back-Bench Conservative Members present during the opening speech by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Two drifted away during his oration and—such were the rumours spreading through the House about the quality of the speech—one came in, then left again. No doubt that Conservative Member had far better things to do in the precincts of the House, given the modern Conservative party's greater interest in bloodletting than in housebuilding.

As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) said, we have heard no apology for the Tory record during 18 years in office. In that time, we saw new lows in housing investment, ever-reducing numbers in social housing, record mortgage arrears and repossession rates, and spiralling levels of homelessness. The previous Government had no understanding of the need to integrate jobs with housing provision. They presided over a free market free-for-all—a NIMBY charter—in which there was housing for the few and exclusion for the many. It is to those few—that dwindling sector of the electorate—that today's Conservative party is pitching its appeal.

Conservative housing policy contributed to the pressure on the green belt about which Opposition Members now complain. That they have chosen this subject for debate shows how out of touch they are, in town and country alike.

As has been noted, the number of Labour Members with rural and semi-rural constituencies is greater than the total number of Conservative Members, and greater than the total number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members in rural seats put together. Last July, the rural group of Labour Members wrote to about 25 leading countryside and rural organisations to ask what they thought should be the Government's top five priorities in this Parliament. The organisations contacted were authoritative, and included bodies such as the former Rural Development Commission, the Countryside Commission, the County Councils Network, the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union, the National Association of Local Councils and the National Trust.

None of those bodies referred to the green belt in response to our question about priorities, but there was a strong consensus about the need for modern, flexible planning regimes and for affordable housing in and for rural communities. The Conservative party in opposition may be as deaf to those priorities as it was in government, 'but they make up the real rural and housing agenda in this country.

In 1990, the Rural Development Commission estimated that about 80,000 additional and affordable homes would be needed in rural communities in the five years to 1995. Fewer than 17,000 were provided under the previous Government, who provided neither the necessary funding nor the planning regime that would have made available the land supply for the development of that housing.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

No, I want to make progress, as I know that other hon. Members want to contribute.

Tory councils up and down the country set their face against the provision of social housing. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) is not present to hear that, although the average in England for the provision of social housing was 23 per cent., the figure was as low as 15 per cent. in rural districts, which were mainly Conservative-controlled, during the years of the Conservative Government. The matter was left to the market.

In 1979 and 1990, surveys by the Department of the Environment, as it then was, found that one person in four in rural communities lived on the margins of poverty. In 1991, the Rural Development Commission estimated that about 40 per cent. of the rural community could not afford home ownership. Even so, between 1985 and 1990, 91,000 council homes in the countryside were sold under the right-to-buy provisions and not replaced. Indeed, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has estimated that most new private housing in the countryside was at the upper end of the price scale.

The previous Government's policies encouraged migration into the countryside. That has led to the gentrification and geriatrification of rural communities, and forced up land and house prices. It has also forced out the rural poor, young and old alike, and meant that rural homelessness spiralled upwards at a rate far in excess of the frightening levels evident in towns and inner cities.

All that has applied pressure to housing in urban centres and the green belt, where young people from rural communities have been forced to migrate in search of homes and jobs. It has contributed to the undermining of rural communities and the breakdown of their social infrastructure. Without housing and employment for the next generation, who will send their children to the village school or buy their provisions at the village shop? That is why, under the previous Government, village schools were not considered viable and were closed, and why village shops have been in decline.

Yet 10 million people live in the rural communities of this country. Of the 1 million homes that it has been predicted that they will need between 1991 and 2011, 500,000 will be generated in and by rural communities. No one argues against the idea that a policy to protect the green belt is important, but it is a delusion to think that somehow it will aid people living in rural communities.

In a full page advertisement entitled "Affordable Homes is the Key to Sustainable Development", the RDC said: If the current concern about development in the countryside leads to even tighter constraints, the situation will worsen for many rural people. The RDC has no axe to grind. It has come to an objective assessment of the needs of rural communities and how they should be met. Elsewhere, the RDC has also said: We are concerned that many of the policy responses to the household growth debate adopt an environmentally biased interpretation of sustainable development which undermines the achievement of related social and economic objectives … From a rural perspective, therefore, urban concentration can exacerbate rather than combat social exclusion.

There is a desperate need for proper recognition, by central and regional government, and by local authorities themselves, of the needs for new housing in rural communities. There is a desperate need, too, to increase the funding and assistance made available by the Housing Corporation for that purpose. There is a need for innovative approaches to the identification of land, and the funding of social and affordable housing in the countryside to overcome the diseconomies of scale, and the additional costs of land acquisition and building involved in such projects.

There is an even more pressing need for a flexible and sensitive planning regime. Draft PPG3 goes some way towards providing a system under which land supply can become less problematic. I hope that the Green Paper will say something about making it possible for local authorities to define the tenure of the housing that they seek to provide to address local need.

There is an urgent need for integrated and strategic planning. The regional development agencies will have a major role to play in ensuring that wherever jobs go, housing exists for people seeking them. Without both jobs and houses in local communities, people will migrate either to find employment or to find homes because there are none in their local communities.

The need for jobs and housing requires a more flexible approach to planning in the countryside, and that is the way towards sustainable community life. That is the way to sustain the village shop and the local school. That is how we can reduce dependency on both public and private transport in the countryside. It is the way in which to reduce the migration that distorts the demography of both rural and urban communities. It is also one means of reducing pressure on the green belt.

Only so much can be achieved by recycling brown land. Infill development is important, and it can probably make a larger contribution than many people suspect. However, it is not of itself the answer. I am not just reconciled to the idea, but eager to see green fields developed for the community where such developments are needed, where there is local consent and consensus, and where the form and quality of the development is sensitive and appropriate. After years of dodging the problem, we should listen to the voice of rural communities, because that is what they are saying. We should show leadership in government.

The Government's emerging housing and planning policies are making an important start on that crucial project. However, the reduction of the Housing Corporation's approved development programme from 6 per cent. to 2.3 or 2.4 per cent. is disappointing. Only 883 new homes were built in 98 districts last year, with 218 districts receiving no allocation. We need to address that point.

We need proper local assessment of housing need in rural communities. There must be a rural element in the new deal for communities. We need more resources, and the reinstatement of the Housing Corporation's approved development programme to at least 6 per cent. A greater commitment is also required from the capital receipts initiative in rural communities.

We are developing innovative partnerships between the private sector, local authorities, social landlords and funding institutions, and that development must be accelerated. We need a more flexible planning regime, and I hope that we will have one soon. We also need a greater sense of leadership at parish council level. Development in rural communities is controversial and it requires imagination and commitment.

The Government must send town and parish councils the message that they are committed to their future. We have not done that with sufficient emphasis in previous consultation documents about the future of local government, and we must give parish councils the tools that they need to show the real leadership that we require of them in the countryside. A new planning regime is required which attaches more importance to consultation, consensus and consent.

The Conservatives do themselves no favours, and do rural communities a great disservice, by submerging rural needs and legitimate aspirations in their crocodile tears for the green belt. The Government are talking to rural communities, and listening to them. A concerted start has been made on reducing the problems of homelessness and lack of housing in rural communities, but a great deal more remains to be done. It will not be easy to achieve the targets that we should be setting, but with a proper understanding of the problems, a commitment to address them and a sense of true partnership with rural communities, we will get an important job done.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 3:06 pm, 29th April 1999

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake). Both exposed their essentially urban, or suburban, outlook on this problem. I agree with the hon. Member for The Wrekin that it is important to find affordable housing in our villages. That is precisely why the Conservative Government abolished the right to buy from housing associations in small rural villages. Throughout our discussions on these matters, we have said that children of those who live in villages must be found affordable housing. Attempts to pillory the Conservative party on that point are misplaced. The hon. Gentleman addressed the rest of his speech towards finding more space for housing in rural areas.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington speaks entirely from a suburban London standpoint. His main proposal was to provide more training for officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on how to interpret PPG3. That is not an overwhelmingly important call. Perhaps it says more about the Liberal Democrats than anything else.

Both hon. Members felt it odd that we should have chosen the subject of housing and the green belt for debate in the run-up to the local government elections. We did so for the very good reason that we alone fight the corner of the countryside against unreasonable development. As evidence of that, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington may care to consider that Councillor Eric Hodges, the Liberal Democrat chairman of a Wiltshire council committee considering these matters, was reported in the local paper this week as jettisoning his opposition to unattractive development between Swindon and Wootton Bassett. If he could have a bypass for the latter, his own town, he would be happy to accept the 4,500 houses involved. That is typical, of course, of the Liberal Democrats. They pay great lip service to preserving the countryside. but as soon as they see some opportunity—a bypass here, a bypass there—my goodness me, they give in to the Labour Government.

This is the second opportunity that the Conservatives have had this week to demonstrate that we are the only people who care about the countryside. The first came on Tuesday, when we debated clause 2 of the Finance Bill and opposed the Government's absurd increase in the price of petrol, which is so damaging to my rural constituents. Today, we can demonstrate our real concern for the green belt. I welcome that opportunity as I am certain that the debate will be widely covered in local papers throughout the country. What we have to say will have a significant effect in the local government elections next Thursday.

Let me turn to the overall household projection figures. When I was a special adviser to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), we said to officials—some of whom may well be listening this afternoon—that it was essential that they should find ways to revisit their original 4.4 million projection. Over a period of months they came back and said, "Terribly sorry, Minister, but there is absolutely no way that we can revisit the figures. We have gone over them in every possible way—backwards and forwards, upside and down. These are the figures. These are the statistical projections. There is nothing we can do about it."

When I was on the Select Committee which recently looked into the matter—two or three other hon. Members in the Chamber today were there too—we again cross-examined officials and Ministers backwards and forwards. We pressed them. We tried to say, "Surely these figures must be wrong." The message consistently came back, "Well, they may be wrong and we fear they are too low. We predict that the outcome is likely to be 5 million rather than 4.4 million, but we are certain of the absolute robustness of the 4.4 million figure." The Select Committee report on the matter goes to great lengths to say that 4.4 million is, indeed, the figure.

It is surprising, therefore, to discover that the real figure is only 3.8 million. As my hon. Friends have already pointed out, it is extraordinary that the Government can come out with this figure, in the run-up to local government elections incidentally, but with no kind of arithmetic workings as to how they have reached it. They should know that when they do come out with the arithmetic in the autumn, we shall examine it robustly to see exactly how they reached that figure and exactly why they chose to come out with it at this time.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the two figures are based over different time periods?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The point about time periods is not necessarily a good one, or if it is, the Government must tell us what the figure would increase to in the period up to 2016.

We can bandy arguments about statistics across the Chamber all afternoon. The most important point is that if, indeed, the new household projections are decreased and if, under the 4.4 million figure, we could get 60 per cent. on to brown-field sites, presumably at 3.8 million we can get significantly more than that on to brown-field sites. I challenge the Minister to respond to that point later this afternoon. So far, he has been weak on everything he has said on this subject. The Select Committee described his evidence as, I think, vacuous and misleading. This afternoon we challenge him, if the projections are as low as his officials are now telling him, to say that he will increase the amount of housing that can be accommodated on brown-field sites.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that he went public in this House a few months ago to say that many people had expressed doubts about the validity of the figures, but he, having looked at them, accepted that they were soundly based? if that is the case, why is he not criticising himself for his own lack of judgment?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am grateful to the Minister for that reminder to us all. I was quoting the Select Committee report. As a member of the Select Committee, I naturally accepted what it said. I am amazed to hear that his officials have now overturned what the Select Committee said and what they themselves said only two or three years ago when I was a special adviser. Nevertheless, it is interesting. Doubtless the Minister will respond to the point during his speech.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My Whips tell me that I must not give way too often, so I hope that my hon. Friend will excuse me if I crack on a bit. Perhaps he will have an opportunity to contribute shortly if I am reasonably brief in my remarks.

I want to refer in particular to my constituency and what is happening in Swindon, not merely because of the constituency interest, but because the Government's approach to the inexorable westward growth of Swindon is a litmus test of their approach to this problem. The Government will know that the Labour-controlled Swindon borough council together with the Liberal Democrat-controlled Wiltshire county council, reached a figure of 66,000 new houses for the county, of which 22,000 would be in the area around Swindon. That comes from a Labour borough, not a Conservative one. According to the new figures just produced, the total has increased to 70,000 houses for the county, of which 26,000 will be in and around Swindon. As a result it looks increasingly likely that the ever precious rural buffer zone between Swindon and my constituency may well be breached.

In the Government's response to the Select Committee report, the Secretary of State said that he would look again at whether or not rural buffer zones should be increased to the strength of the green belt. I challenge the Minister to tell us what his thinking is on the subject of rural buffer zones. Will he reassure me and my constituents in rural north Wiltshire that the rural buffer zone around Swindon will now be strengthened, so that if these extra houses must be found by Wiltshire county council and Swindon borough council, they will not be built on the rural buffer zone between Swindon and my constituency?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am sorry, but I am under time constraints. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I have been asked to be as short as I can.

The Minister will know of the local view. The Western Daily Press headline states: Prescott homes plan 'a threat to villages'. He will know that villages in my constituency have objected to the proposed modification structure plan. In particular, I think of Wootton Bassett, Purton, Lydiard Millicent and Lydiard Tregoze. All the towns and villages around the eastern border of my constituency are threatened by the ever westward sprawl of Swindon.

I challenge the Minister to tell me what he intends to do with regard to Wiltshire and the threat from Swindon borough council. The Minister shakes his head to tell us that he will give us no indication at all. For legal reasons it may be wrong for him to comment at this stage of these considerations.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I accept that point and, as the Minister says from a sedentary position, I well know that myself. It may be that he will not comment this afternoon, but he should know that eventually he will have to sit in judgment on these figures and the structure plan. The House will judge his commitment to both saving the green belt and the countryside by what he does to north Wiltshire.

We are under threat not only from Labour-controlled Swindon expanding westwards, but from the Minister's projections and attitude to the countryside. If the Minister will not be specific on the subject of Swindon, I challenge him at least to be so robust in his remarks this afternoon on the subject of the rural buffer zone that that will be taken into account by local planners—then I can tell my constituents in north Wiltshire that, contrary to what the Liberal Democrat leader of the committee has said, and contrary to what the Government are doing elsewhere in England, they are safe from Swindon.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 3:16 pm, 29th April 1999

It has been interesting to observe, over the five debates that we have now had on this issue, the evolution of the Conservative party from its previous stance—which I well remember as a leader of a city council and subsequently as an academic—to its present stance. If we were in the business of acronyms we might describe their original stance—most of their time in Government—as DAFT, or "develop anything for Tescos". That changed in the last period of the Conservative Government, when stewardship of the environment was in the hands of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), to TEPID, or "try to engage Parliament in debate". The present stance, which we see this afternoon, can be described as that of a BANANA party, or "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything".

I imagine that this matter has arisen as a result of the Conservative party's attempts to parochialise the debate, the purpose of which is twofold. First, this seems to be about the only debate that Conservative Members can advance without attempting to grab each other by the throat. Secondly, the Conservative party believes that there is some mileage, probably for local electoral purposes, in attempting to deal with the issue area by area and county by county. That rather overthrows the responsibility of this House which is, as my hon. Friends have said, to look at who needs homes where in the future. Can we throw away the provision that we need responsibly to make over the next 20 to 25 years, to ensure both that people who need homes have homes and that they are built in an orderly fashion and, most important in terms of the current debate, that development takes place in a sustainable fashion—that we do not build all over the countryside, but attempt to develop brown-field sites and within cities and towns where possible. The House has a grave responsibility and, frankly, the Opposition are shirking it and misrepresenting the case for political purposes.

To make that misrepresentation, the Conservative party has had to resort to some strange readings of the figures and the debate. That can be for two reasons—either because Conservative Members do not understand the debate, or because they do, but choose to misrepresent it. I am not sure which one applies, but it seems to be a bit of both.

Let us take the new projections. We have already heard an attempted straight comparison of one projection with the other, when in fact the projections have moved forward over a number of years, so are based on a different time frame. We have heard a suggestion that the figures should be exact, but forecasting is not an exact science. It is impossible to get figures exactly right in a forecast, as the Opposition suggest. It was suggested that because the total numbers have come down, the Government can revise the target upwards. That ignores the strong evidence to the Select Committee, which was known when both the new and the original figures came out, that there are substantial regional variations in respect of migration, different tenures and, most importantly, the availability of brown-field sites.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that point is recognised, because 60 per cent. is a national figure—an average that varies according to region?

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

That is exactly the point. Within a total target, one must take account of several factors. That means that we must plan properly between regions. In any event, the figure for household growth is not necessarily the same as that for households. If we are serious, we must take account of all those factors rather than adopting the gimcrack, parochial approach of the Tory party.

Brown-field sites in the south of England are in far shorter supply and need much more remediation than in the north of England, which appears to have a substantial supply. That means that we must consider the matter carefully region by region and analyse how to achieve the national target with different approaches in different parts of the country. Simply taking a figure, dividing it by a number for future household growth and using it to up the target misses the point entirely.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Given his view on the figures, does he think that there is any prospect of the Government meeting even their present 60 per cent. target for brown-field development?

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

The answer to that relates to the need to plan ahead over a period, as the previous Government demonstrated by failing miserably to meet their targets. To achieve a much higher target we must put policies in place, as the Government have been doing. I believe that that target is eminently achievable by careful analysis region by region and by developing policies that work towards it over time. It cannot be done in the way that the Opposition appear to suggest.

The Opposition made the grand statement that they had raised the target to 66 per cent., as though that would make anything happen. There was even a dispute among Opposition Members about whether their target was 75, 66, 62 or 61 per cent. They changed their target within weeks. They remind me of a bunch of Trotskyist sects declaring the date of the world revolution when they cannot make it happen.

The truth is that although the new housing projections are slightly lower, the crucial element missing from the argument is that the figures for the south have barely gone down at all. The pressure is on in the south of England, where there is a combination of fewer green-field sites and considerable immigration. That should make us realise that the necessary strategy is not fundamentally different for that part of the country. That is precisely set out in PPG3: we should build on brown-field sites where possible.

I caution the House that setting up a register of brown-field sites will not solve the problem. Some brown-field sites are in the deep countryside, such as former mental hospitals and airfields. Building on such sites would lead to unsustainable deep rural communities that would become commuter dormitories. We must consider urban and rural sites and how to combine them with a policy of urban renaissance and sustainability by minimising transport corridors and, wherever possible, adding to existing town and city developments so that their resources and transport facilities can be used. That would develop a sustainable pattern of housing, while providing the necessary number of houses to ensure that the House and the Government will be able to say that we have not mortgaged the future for the sake of a quick fix. That is our real task. We will not achieve it by skating over the figures and drawing easy conclusions.

We cannot join the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) in saying that Plymouth council should tear up the sea front and build houses on it. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) said, we must do two things in analysing housing, both urban and rural. Urban areas require a denser pattern of housing, but they also need their green lungs. They must be liveable, or we will repeat in future generations the problems of previous ones with cities emptying and people moving to the countryside.

In rural areas, we must ensure that communities remain viable and have affordable housing. If we do not, we will end up with a society of toffs living in rural areas, serviced by people bused out from towns to clean their houses and mend their cars. That is not sustainable either. It is a complex issue that I ask the Conservative party to take seriously. It is not a subject for short-term electoral advantage. It is an honourable, long-term enterprise to get this right for the future of our people. In 20 years, they will curse us if they do not have the housing that they need and if we have not developed it sustainably.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 3:27 pm, 29th April 1999

We had a contribution of righteous indignation from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and one of admirable brevity from the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon), which I shall use as my model. He cited the efforts of a particularly public-spirited lady in his constituency who had helped preserve the green belt in Thorner. I thought of another equally admirable person—perhaps even more admirable, given the scope of his responsibilities—Mr. Ronald Smith, chairman of the London Green Belt Council, of which I have the honour to be president. Assiduity in addressing highly complex planning issues can achieve successful results.

Notwithstanding the partisan contributions, I hope that we are all in this together. We have a duty and obligation to keep this a green and pleasant land. The pressures on the south-east, to which the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) referred, are enormous. It is noteworthy that, in the revised projections for 1996 to 2021, the number of households in the south-east is expected to increase by no less than 26 per cent., or 900,000, and in London by 21 per cent., or 600,000. Those pressures are growing all the time and are accentuated, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, by migration from the north to the south for economic reasons. There is also migration for reasons of social demography, with people gravitating to the south, especially the south coast, to retire. There is inward migration from the influx of refugees and the legitimate immigration of the dependants of immigrants from overseas. All those factors make the pressures on London and the south-east the greatest. We must pay particular attention to them.

There are some aspects of the Government's policy as outlined in PPG3 of which I must be critical. An emphasis has been placed on transport corridors. In the Stevenage case, that was the justification for gobbling up large tracts of green belt and open countryside for the development of housing. In the south-east, the transport infrastructure needs are so great that the Government's emphasis can have a major impact.

There is the Central Railway project to run freight and passenger trains from the north-west and the midlands along the Chiltern line, across London and to the channel tunnel. If it is constructed, with passenger stations along the line, it could provide an opportunity under the provisions in PPG3 for new housing communities to be established in a particularly sensitive green belt in a corridor beyond the M25. There are plans for a transport exchange associated with the projected road-rail freight facility at Colnbrook and for the Parkway station near the M25 with the Great North Eastern Railway. All around the M25, there are pressures on the countryside and green belt associated with transport facilities.

The Government say in PPG3 that facilities for car parking and the density of housing should be such that more emphasis is placed on public transport than the motor car, so the risk of public transport facilities impinging on housing development to permit more extensive housing in areas that otherwise would be countryside becomes greater all the time.

There is also a predisposition to allow existing communities to expand at the edges, rather than to permit the development of new towns or communities in the countryside. This is all very well. I understand the thinking behind it, although there are exceptions to it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton graphically exposed in the case of the new town in east Devon, but the policy has grave implications for the London area. There could be a tendency to allow development all the way to the M25. We already see development around the M25 and it is but a short step to take it even further into the countryside beyond.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to live up to their rhetoric and pay much more attention to urban renaissance. There is a great deal of talk about it, although how it is to be achieved is not explained. At the same time, there is talk—this is the contradictory aspect—of more infilling, more use of derelict land and more use of compulsory purchase powers, which always gets me worried. Socialist local authorities in London have used those powers in a malign fashion more for social and political engineering than for creating communities in which there is a good balance of open space and housing. If we put all that together, there is a real danger that the urban renaissance envisaged by the Government will not provide the quality of life which they claim is so important in their planning document.

For Londoners, the preservation of metropolitan green belt is of immense importance. No other tract of green belt is more under pressure. I urge the Government to realise that there is green belt not only outside the M25 and around Greater London, but within it—the Harefield ward in my constituency has the greatest amount of green belt in the capital. The green belt contains not only sites of special scientific interest or nature reserves such as Ruislip woods, but other sites: some may be inferior countryside, but they are important to the balance between the town and rural England. They are the green lung on which our communities depend.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 3:35 pm, 29th April 1999

This has been a good debate. Some Opposition Members, including Ministers, have made the criticism that this is the fifth such debate that the Opposition have called. I have some bad news for Ministers. There will be more of these debates. We will keep dragging them to the House so that they can explain the fiasco.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

In a minute. I should like to get through my first paragraph or so.

The Government have finally produced draft PPG3 and the revised household projections, but they have dithered and delayed for two years before so doing. That means that we have to look forward to see what the prospects of the Government's policies working are and backwards to see what damage has already been done by their drift and inaction. All that the Minister could do was stagger from meaningless slogan to meaningless slogan.

The way in which the revised household projections have been handled is particularly curious. Only last year, a Select Committee described the previous estimate of 4.4 million as the best one there is. At last September's party conference, the Minister for London and Construction said that all previous estimates of household figures had fallen short of the actual number of households. Until fairly recently, unnamed Ministers were hinting that the figure of 4.4 million was, if anything, on the low side and numbers such as 5 million or even 5.5 million were muttered darkly. Then the new thinking was rushed out at about the same time as PPG3, but without the detailed data which have been promised for later in the year. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made a brave, but doomed, effort to defend the figures.

What of the figures themselves? My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) spoke with his usual authority on the issue. I am sure that the Minister accepts that small variations in underlying assumptions such as interest rates and GDP could make a dramatic difference to the projections. I understand that the figures make no allowance for economic factors. The Minister for London and Construction is looking at me as though I am telling him something new.

We have already heard about the shameful decisions made in Stevenage, West Sussex, Newcastle and Sutton Coldfield. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that two new towns are being dropped in the middle of east Devon. Will Ministers now reverse all or some of those decisions? It seems that, if the figures are correct, they were based on outdated information.

We have heard how county structure plans have been forced through on the basis of the old PPG3. The Council for the Protection of Rural England has pointed out that, in the south-east, 800,000 of the 900,000 houses planned between 1991 and 2016 have already been built, or sites have been earmarked for them.

What of the future? As my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) eloquently said, it is a crying shame that the Government did not take this opportunity to increase their target for brown-field development. The revised estimate of 3.8 million homes means that the Government are planning to build 2.3 million homes on previously developed land. Even with the Government's new projections, a 60 per cent. target for new brown-field development would still mean that 1.5 million homes were built on green-field sites. If they meant what they said before, the Government could still build 2.6 million homes on brown-field sites, so that only 1.2 million would need to be placed on land not previously developed. [Interruption.] I wish that, instead of keeping up a running commentary on my speech, Ministers would address these genuine problems.

The plain fact is that, even with the reduced household projections, there will be a one-fifth increase in new households in England over 25 years. On the Government's own target, which they are failing— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Hon. Members must be quiet. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the House.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

On the Government's own target, which—incidentally—they are failing to meet, at least 40 per cent. of new development will be on green-field sites. In his opening speech, the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning wholly failed to address that point. When his colleague the Under-Secretary winds up the debate, the Government will have a second chance to respond to the points that we have made and to take up the cry from the Opposition and from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake).

The chairman of Countryside Properties has claimed that 40 per cent. of household growth will take place in the south-east, which has only 11 per cent. of the brown-field sites—a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). It is estimated that, during the past five years, 300,000 acres of meadows and grassland have disappeared—an area roughly the size of Bedfordshire—yet, at any one time, about 750,000 homes lie empty in England and Wales.

PPG3 sets much store by urban extensions. Will the existing infrastructure be able to cope? Will not some of those developments, designed to reduce green-field development, actually encroach on the green belt—a point made powerfully in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). After all, the Government have already proved by their actions that they regard the green belt as a pretty elastic concept.

Substantial costs can be inherent in brown-field sites. Who will bear them? Who will spend money on testing the viability of sites, dealing with such issues as contamination? The Government will not do so—why should developers? Have local authorities the money to do so? The Local Government Association has already pointed out that an extra burden will be imposed on planning authorities resulting from the sequential approach, and that councils will have to "jump through hoops" to show that a particular proposal is unsustainable. However, the household projections appear to assume that the Government's much-vaunted policy for urban renaissance will fail, and that the exodus from our cities will continue. I should like the Minister to deal with that point specifically. Will he also confirm that his projections only show migration 15 years ahead?

Finally, where does social housing fit into that agenda? We heard about that from the hon. Members for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) and for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley). The Secretary of State told Housing Today that he did not know what proportion of the new households were likely to need social housing. He lamely said: That's an area of housing policy that depends on a great deal of policies that we are currently looking at. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman has a way with words. No doubt he had in mind the current review of housing benefit, which is causing such concern—especially for housing associations and those who provide them with private finance. The Under-Secretary's views may be no more reliable, because the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee referred to his evidence on the provision of social housing as "vacuous and disingenuous".

Shelter points out that the new projections do not take account of existing need. The figures for the south-east seem to mask actual cuts in social housing. As we all know, there is already a serious regional mismatch in social housing; internal migration will only make a bad situation worse. The latest projections show that the drift from north to south is accelerating. The National Housing Federation estimates that 95,000 affordable homes will be needed each year between 2001 and 2016. The federation contends that there is an existing backlog of 600,000 homes and that 40 per cent. of the new households will be on low incomes—that is the key point. What price social exclusion now?

It is difficult to avoid the sad fact that, in planning and housing matters, far from having joined-up government, we have a Government who can only be described as dysfunctional. I ask the House to support the motion.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 3:44 pm, 29th April 1999

The danger in any debate is that it may generate more heat than light. Some of that heat may come from the perfectly legitimate desire of hon. Members to pursue issues on behalf of their constituents. Sadly, however, some heat comes in the form of hot air generated solely to make party political points. There has been rather too much of that today from Opposition Members, especially those on the Front Bench. There has not been much informed debate.

On a subject as important as the future of housing and the shape of our towns, cities and countryside in the future, it is important that we remain focused on the real issues. That is what the Government are trying to do. At the start of the debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning reiterated our firm policies on housing and the green belt. He described our achievements to date in addressing the challenges posed by household growth. Hon. Members have raised points in this debate to which I shall try to respond, but I also want to look ahead to the further action that we have in hand.

Most important is carrying forward the new planning policy guidance on housing—PPG3—which was issued recently. I am pleased to tell the House that it was broadly welcomed by everyone who has thought seriously about how we can reconcile many of the difficult issues that must be reconciled if we are to provide for the housing needs of our country, while protecting and respecting our countryside. At present, PPG3 is out for consultation. It sets out how we should try to determine the location of new housing, and the priority that should be given to using existing developed sites and existing housing stock in urban areas—encouraging recycling of previously developed land. It underlines very clearly our desire to ensure that encroachment on green-field sites is kept to a minimum.

That is reinforced by our national target, which is that 60 per cent. of new housing is to be on previously developed land, or provided through conversions, over the next 10 years. We hope that it will be possible to better that target both nationally and, where possible, regionally. In contrast to the Opposition, we do not pluck figures out of thin air and hope to be able to deliver them. When we set targets, we aim to deliver them. When we give pledges, or manifesto commitments, we deliver them. That is the difference between Labour and the Conservatives and that is why Labour is the party of government and the Conservatives are the party of opposition.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for the Minister to tell us why he told Planning Week that a 60 per cent. target would be a "recipe for disaster" and that there was "absolutely no doubt" that the only realistic way to meet the housing figure was to develop new towns and settlements. Why did he say that to Planning Week in 1997? Apparently, he did not believe it.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No, I do believe it. The hon. Gentleman was obviously not listening during the previous debate on this subject two months ago. At that time, I responded to an intervention from one of his hon. Friends by explaining that that figure was plucked out of thin air by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, at the very tail end of a Conservative Government who were limping towards defeat and were trying to pull something out of the hat. We did not believe that it was right or responsible for a Government who had devastated the countryside by allowing development to offer death-bed repentances by plucking out of thin air figures that had no justification. We have carried out a serious analysis of what is feasible. We did not commit ourselves to the 60 per cent. target until we were sure that it could be delivered. That is the difference between the Labour Government and the Conservative Opposition.

Another key issue, to which the Opposition should listen, is the establishment of the new national land use database. Believe it or not, until now—despite the 18 years during which the Conservatives were in power—there has been no consistent system for recording and making use of information about land in urban areas that might be available for redevelopment. The Conservatives talked about it, but they did nothing about it. The Labour Government—[Interruption.]— I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mrs. Jones).

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Fiona Jones Fiona Jones Labour, Newark

On behalf of my constituents, I take this opportunity to say that I welcome the Government's proposals. I know that all my constituents welcome the fact that the Government will build on brown-field sites instead of on green-field sites.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I welcome my hon. Friend's comment and, above all, I welcome her back to the Chamber. I am delighted that, at the first opportunity, she is back here speaking for her constituents.

I was explaining that, in contrast to the previous Government, the Labour Government were acting to identify the scope for urban regeneration. The first phase of the new national land use database will come on stream in the very near future. I expect that to be a most important tool for local authorities. In the longer term, the Government intend to expand and maintain the database to cover all land and uses of land, and for it to be publicly accessible.

However much new development is put into existing towns and cities, consistent with sustainable development objectives and the aim of making our urban areas better places to live, it is a plain fact that some new development must be on green-field sites. Indeed, some green-field development is essential to breathe new life into certain communities, especially in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) was right to stress the importance of appropriate housing, especially social housing developments, in certain rural communities which will die without that provision. We have to get the balance right and assist opportunities for sustainable development and for meeting social and economic needs in rural communities. It is vital that new development is of the right type, in the right place and on the right scale, which is why we place such emphasis on developments being sustainable.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No. The hon. Lady spoke in the debate and I dealt with her points earlier.

Getting development in the right location lies at the heart of planning policy for transport. In the next few months, we shall consult on a revised draft of PPG13. That will complement the objectives, set out in our White Paper on the future of transport, of reducing congestion and pollution and promoting an approach that locates development where it is accessible by a choice of means, including public transport, so reducing reliance on the private car.

There is a range of options for meeting development needs that cannot be met within existing urban areas. One of the most sustainable patterns of such new development may be in urban extensions, especially where they would take advantage of the existing under-utilised infrastructure, especially transport and other vital services. That inevitably creates a tension. That tension was considered, but not resolved, by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. In its report, the Committee endorsed the preference for urban extensions, but, in a separate recommendation, sought to maintain inner green belt boundaries unchanged.

There is a real tension in that respect, as the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) emphasised. We have tried to address that tension in PPG3 by making it clear that, in certain cases where it is desirable in terms of urban extension and sustainability, there may be a case for reconsidering green-belt boundaries. However, that must be the exception to the rule. It must not be undertaken for any other reason and the presumption must normally be against development in the green belt. The Government are trying to be responsible in facing up to the difficult issues thrown up by the development challenge, especially in areas such as Cambridge and Cambridgeshire where, for good economic reasons, there is great pressure to meet the needs of the burgeoning economy and to provide more accommodation for the people who work in the area.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I do not invite the Minister to comment on the particular circumstances of Cambridge, but ask him to note that we are not talking exclusively about the sustainability of the area or the availability of a public transport corridor. The simple fact is that the Cambridge green belt is one of those green belts that are designed to protect the unique setting of an historic city. It would be wrong to disregard that important aspect of green belts.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman's point. I should point out that the alternative promoted by some, which is to leap-frog the green belt and develop new settlements beyond it, might have other disadvantages, such as generation of increased traffic. That is why I stress that the issue is a difficult one that does not lend itself to glib answers. It must be considered seriously and rigorously and we must be conscious of the whole range of issues, including the protection of the countryside and sustainability, when seeking solutions. The hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot say more about the specific case that he raises.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I agree that the issue is important, but does the Minister accept that, by making an exception of one difficult case, he sets a planning precedent that might be used in respect of other encroachments in the green belt?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I am highly conscious of the fact that any message to the effect that the Government are relaxing green belt policy would be disastrous, and we are sending no such message. We have no intention of encouraging inappropriate development in the green belt, and we certainly do not wish to emulate the previous Government's record. In their last year in office, the Conservative Government released for development more than 700 hectares of green belt; and released on appeal—on the Secretary of State's own decision—500 further hectares of green belt.

We have a responsibility both to those who are inadequately housed and to the next generation, many of whom have already been born, to provide the framework to enable an adequate supply of good-quality housing; but housing is not an isolated human need. The people who live in those houses need access to a range of employment opportunities, good-quality services and other facilities. We want new development to be well designed and to accord in its own right with sustainable development principles, such as accessibility by a choice of means of transport which allow less reliance on the motor car.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) made an entirely unfounded allegation that the Government were not serious about urban design. Nothing could be further from the truth: we have laid enormous emphasis on urban design, not only through the guidance that we have issued or the speeches that we have made, but through practical action. Measures such as the designation of new millennium villages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) described, are part of our positive efforts to encourage and promote the highest quality design in new developments, so as to demonstrate what can be done. We also have a responsibility to preserve the countryside, and we are determined to maintain our efforts in that respect in the years ahead.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) seemed wholly confused about the figures, as did several other hon. Members. The Opposition motion reveals that confusion by referring to the Government's failure to meet even their own targets for new building on brownfield sites". The most recent figures available on development on green-field sites compared with brown-field sites relate to 1996. Anyone with the slightest political knowledge will know that that was not a year in which the Labour party was in office; therefore, the record is that of the previous Government. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman made such an elementary mistake.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) referred to the Government bullying Devon. As I pointed out, it is some bullying when the Government allow the county council 7,200 fewer homes than the previous Government, of whom she was a member, wanted to impose on it.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No, I will not give way to the hon. Lady.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked why, if the projected figure was now 3.8 million rather than 4.4 million, the 60 per cent. target could not be increased to 70 per cent. That implies a rather mechanistic view, reminiscent of predict and provide. We do not go straight from projections to household figures—that would be predict and provide. Instead, we intend to interpret the figures carefully and allow the regional authorities to do so as well.

I repeat: we want to do the best that can be achieved, and the targets that we have set are demanding. The 60 per cent. target will be difficult to deliver: the previous Government did not get anywhere close to it—their record was abominable—but we intend to get as close as possible. We shall be prudent and set targets that we believe can be reached. We are determined to deliver on those targets, and we shall try to exceed them if possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) revealed why he is such a valued member of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee when he identified exactly the kinds of principles that are important in achieving sustainable development objectives. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who has done much to protect the green belt—and many hon. Members on both sides of the House respect him for that—seemed, surprisingly, not to be keen on transport corridors. I understand his concerns, but I put it to him that there is simply no alternative if we are to ensure sustainable development without allowing sprawl into the countryside, which would be a serious mistake.

This debate has not done the official Opposition any credit. They are currently in apologise-and-move-on mode, but today they did not even reach the point of apologising. I put it to the Conservatives that, until they apologise for their appalling record in government, they will have no chance of being anything other than the Trotskyist sect of which my hon. Friend the Member for Test said they were reminiscent. What a contribution!

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 288.

Division No. 158][4 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Gray, James
Amess, DavidGreen, Damian
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesGrieve, Dominic
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Gummer, Rt Hon John
Baldry, TonyHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Bercow, JohnHammond, Philip
Beresford, Sir PaulHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Blunt, CrispinHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Boswell, TimHoram, John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaJenkin, Bernard
Brady, GrahamKey, Robert
Brazier, JulianKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterKirkbride, Miss Julie
Browning, Mrs AngelaLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Burns, SimonLansley, Andrew
Butterfill, JohnLeigh, Edward
Cash, WilliamLetwin, Oliver
Chope, ChristopherLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Clappison, JamesLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Loughton, Tim
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
(Rushcliffe)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMcLoughlin, Patrick
Cran, JamesMadel, Sir David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Major, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (HaltempriceMalins, Humfrey
& Howden)Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Donaldson, JeffreyMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMay, Mrs Theresa
Duncan, AlanMoss, Malcolm
Duncan Smith, IainNicholls, Patrick
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterNorman, Archie
Faber, DavidPaice, James
Fallon, MichaelPaterson, Owen
Forth, Rt Hon EricPickles, Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanPrior, David
Fox, Dr LiamRandall, John
Fraser, ChristopherRedwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, RogerRobathan, Andrew
Garnier, EdwardRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, NickRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gill, ChristopherRuffley, David
Gorman, Mrs TeresaSt Aubyn, Nick
Shepherd, RichardWalter, Robert
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Wardle, Charles
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Waterson, Nigel
Soames, NicholasWhitney, Sir Raymond
Spicer, Sir MichaelWhittingdale, John
Spring, RichardWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Steen, AnthonyWilkinson, John
Swayne, DesmondWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Syms, RobertWoodward, Shaun
Tapsell, Sir PeterYeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Sir TeddyMr. Oliver Heald and
Trend, MichaelMr. Tim Collins.
Abbott, Ms DianeCotter, Brian
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Cousins, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cranston, Ross
Allen, GrahamCrausby, David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Cummings, John
Ashton, JoeCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Atkins, CharlotteCurtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Austin, JohnDalyell, Tam
Barnes, HarryDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bayley, HughDarvill, Keith
Beard, NigelDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDavidson, Ian
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDawson, Hilton
Benton, JoeDean, Mrs Janet
Blackman, LizDenham, John
Blears, Ms HazelDismore, Andrew
Blizzard, BobDobbin, Jim
Borrow, DavidDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Donohoe, Brian H
Bradshaw, BenDoran, Frank
Brake, TomDowd, Jim
Breed, ColinDrown, Ms Julia
Burgon, ColinDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Butler, Mrs ChristineEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Byers, Rt Hon StephenEfford, Clive
Cable, Dr VincentEnnis, Jeff
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardFearn, Ronnie
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Fitzpatrick, Jim
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Follett, Barbara
Cann, JamieFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Caplin, IvorFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Casale, RogerGalloway, George
Caton, MartinGapes, Mike
Cawsey, IanGardiner, Barry
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gerrard, Neil
Clapham, MichaelGibson, Dr Ian
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Goggins, Paul
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clelland, DavidGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clwyd, AnnGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Coaker, VernonGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Coffey, Ms AnnGrocott, Bruce
Cohen, HarryGrogan, John
Coleman, IainHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Colman, TonyHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Connarty, MichaelHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cooper, YvetteHealey, John
Corbett, RobinHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Corbyn, JeremyHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Corston, Ms JeanHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMcWalter, Tony
Hill, KeithMahon, Mrs Alice
Hinchliffe, DavidMallaber, Judy
Hoey, KateMandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hood, JimmyMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hoon, GeoffreyMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hope, PhilMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hopkins, KelvinMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Martlew, Eric
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Maxton, John
Hoyle, LindsayMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Humble, Mrs JoanMeale, Alan
Hutton, JohnMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Iddon, Dr BrianMilburn, Rt Hon Alan
Ingram, Rt Hon AdamMiller, Andrew
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Moffatt, Laura
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Moran, Ms Margaret
Jamieson, DavidMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jenkins, BrianMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Mountford, Kali
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Mudie, George
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)Mullin, Chris
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms TessaO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keetch, PaulO'Hara, Eddie
Kelly, Ms RuthO'Neill, Martin
Kemp, FraserOrgan, Mrs Diana
Khabra, Piara SPalmer, Dr Nick
Kidney, DavidPearson, Ian
Kilfoyle, PeterPendry, Tom
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Perham, Ms Linda
Kingham, Ms TessPickthall, Colin
Kirkwood, ArchyPike, Peter L
Kumar, Dr AshokPlaskitt, James
Lawrence, Ms JackiePollard, Kerry
Laxton, BobPond, Chris
Leslie, ChristopherPope, Greg
Levitt, TomPound, Stephen
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Linton, MartinPrimarolo, Dawn
Livingstone, KenProsser, Gwyn
Lock, DavidPurchase, Ken
Love, AndrewRadice, Giles
McAvoy, ThomasRammell, Bill
McCartney, Rt Hon IanRaynsford, Nick
(Makerfield)Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McDonagh, SiobhainReid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
McDonnell, JohnRendel, David
McIsaac, ShonaRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McKenna, Mrs RosemaryRoche, Mrs Barbara
Mackinlay, AndrewRooker, Jeff
McNulty, TonyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Mactaggart, FionaRowlands, Ted
Roy, FrankStuart, Ms Gisela
Ruddock, JoanStunell, Andrew
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Ryan, Ms JoanTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Salter, Martin(Dewsbury)
Sarwar, MohammadTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Savidge, MalcolmTemple-Morris, Peter
Sawford, PhilThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Sedgemore, BrianThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Shaw, JonathanTipping, Paddy
Sheerman, BarryTonge, Dr Jenny
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Shipley, Ms DebraTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Short, Rt Hon ClareTwigg, Derek(Halton)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Tyler, Paul
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Vaz, Keith
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Whitehead, Dr Alan
Soley, CliveWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Spellar, JohnWills, Michael
Squire, Ms RachelWinnick, David
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Steinberg, GerryWise, Audrey
Stevenson, GeorgeWood, Mike
Stinchcombe, PaulWorthington, Tony
Stoate, Dr HowardWyatt, Derek
Stott, RogerTellers for the Noes:
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinMr. Kevin Hughes and
Straw, Rt Hon JackMr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House welcomes the Government's continued commitment to protecting the countryside and promoting an urban renaissance, and maintaining tight planning controls over the Green Belt and other designated green spaces; recognises that the Government's decentralised and integrated policy approach is helping to achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of urban and rural development; welcomes the Government's commitment 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 benefits of replacing the previous "predict and provide" approach to the issue of household growth with a more flexible "plan, monitor and manage" system; 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.