Planning (Publication and Infrastructure)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 14th May 2002.

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Photo of Derek Wyatt Derek Wyatt Labour, Sittingbourne and Sheppey 3:34 pm, 14th May 2002

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require applications for planning permission to be published at the time notice of the application is given;
to require planning permission for new housing or business development to be conditional upon fulfilment of planning obligations relating to infrastructure;
and for connected purposes.

They say that an Englishman's home is his castle. I hope that they say that of women, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish too. Since the second world war, our housing policy has been largely to build houses and/or—sadly—high-rise flats for our poorest people.

The movement to build high-rise flats as a solution for our housing crisis came from the strong utopian—some say socialist—thinking led by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. His experiment in Marseilles—Unité d'Habitation—became better known as a village on stilts. When United Kingdom architects, planners and developers borrowed from these experiments, they failed miserably but, alas, not before many of our inner cities—and some of our outer ones too—had decided that that type of housing was the cheapest means of providing rabbit hutches in the sky. I know of only one architect of public high-rise flats who was prepared to live in them. That probably says a lot about our architects.

After the war, we seemed to forget the lessons of Saltaire, Port Sunlight, Bournville, New Earswick, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. I do not wish to upset certain hon. Members or their constituents, but of the new towns built since 1948, how many are we really proud of in terms of architecture, infrastructure and housing densities? Would we truly want to give grade 1 listed status to a Basildon, a Cumbernauld, a Milton Keynes or a Crawley as examples that can hold a light to our 19th century philanthropists who ultimately gave us the garden city movement? Thankfully, though, that is still a matter for debate.

Housing, especially in the south-east, has become, along with public sector pay and the need for a truly 21st century infrastructure, the key to the quality of life for everyone. House prices make it essential that we look again at extending the London allowance into a south-east allowance, but that alone will not solve our severe housing shortage.

I do not want this to be a Bill for the south-east—far from it. However, the way in which developers work in tandem with our unelected planning departments is a joy to behold. Developers can work with planners for two or three years without an elected councillor or the people whom it might affect knowing anything. The first part of the Bill would end the secrecy of developers and the relationship that they have with planning departments. It would make it law that when an architect, developer or whoever first contacted a planning department, whether by e-mail, letter or telephone, that department would have to put an advertisement in the local paper explaining the proposed development. It would also have to put that information on its website, inform all the elected politicians of the application, including borough and county councillors, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament and inform all the relevant statutory bodies. The current system is undemocratic, open to abuse and unfair.

The second part of the Bill goes to the heart of the problem, and I shall cite examples from my constituency, parts of which resemble a building site. When families moved into the village of Bapchild, they were told that there was a primary school less than 400 m away. They were not told that the primary school had no spare places. Consequently, those children have been fitted into the primary schools all over Sittingbourne, with some families having to drive nearly three miles across the town in the rush hour.

On the outskirts of Milton—fast becoming a suburb of Sittingbourne—on the Meads estate, more than 500 new houses have been or are being built. I will resist commenting on the way in which developers such as Redrow Homes and David Wilson Homes have attempted to build these houses. Families were told that there was to be a new primary school built under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. They were also told that there would be a new doctor's surgery on site, shops and even a village hall. They still might, if they cross their collective fingers, one day in the future actually see the shops and the play space, but I would not hold my breath. Families are now driving back to Gravesend or Maidstone to see their former general practitioners and there is no new primary school, so there is no planning gain. No wonder the developers love planning departments. They love them because the odds are stacked in their favour. This must stop.

In another area of my constituency, the developer has been allowed to build and, at the same time, take down the woodland that shielded the new houses from the noise of one of the busiest highways in the county. The result is that not even triple glazing prevents the din. Worse still—because that development is almost in the countryside—is the fact that as my constituents sit in their gardens all they can hear is the drumming of cars and lorries on the concrete.

The most insidious part of planning that goes unchecked relates to the number of houses that can be built on a site. My guess is that no developer who puts in for 350 houses actually builds 350 houses. Anecdotal evidence suggests that developers will try anything on. Their initial instruction may ask for 350 houses but by the time the development is finished, there could be as many as 500 houses on the site. That benefits only the developer.

To the communities that we represent, more houses mean a greater strain on our already overworked infrastructure. We already suffer shortages of teachers, nurses, policemen and women, doctors and firemen and women. Our train service is becoming oversubscribed and, in the rush hour, it is beginning to be stretched beyond the bounds of safety.

We can continue to pretend that we need houses, but before we build them—especially on greenfield sites—the agencies that serve our people must agree to that new build. It should not just be a matter for planning departments. The second part of the Bill would provide for a legally binding, multi-agency document for planners, developers, trade unions, statutory bodies, including health, education and police, to detail the infrastructure needs, the funding and the time scale for implementation before any housing permission is granted.

I hope that will mean that some of our public workers will be able to receive a new type of social housing as part of the planning gain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Derek Wyatt, Paul Farrelly, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Gwyn Prosser and Dr. Howard Stoate.