Sustainable Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Local Government and the Regions, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:31 pm, 5th February 2003

I gave up after two pages of notes but I shall try to answer some of the hon. Gentleman's questions.

First, I welcome his comments that the statement is ambitious. That is true. He is also right that the plan is not completed. As David Davis also pointed out, sustainable communities include many elements, such as transport, education and health. They must be brought together. We achieved that in the millennium village at Greenwich by working across government.

Other Departments are responsible for most of the expenditure on, for example, education and transport. I have to argue my case for any extra money. The Prime Minister is taking charge of the Cabinet Committee because we have to work across the Government to ensure that we have the infrastructure for community investment and thereby sustainable communities. It is therefore true that other documents and statements will follow.

However, I remind Mr. Davey that when I spoke in the House about the review of the Budget statement for the next three years, I emphasised that I would tell hon. Members how the money would be spent. That is why I have made a statement today. The amount was announced at the time, and I now have to apportion it.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether money would go into a balance of affordable houses and key homes. I have allowed the regions to determine the balance. When I receive their views, we can ascertain the total effect, which the 2004 expenditure plans will set out. I shall therefore have to come back to the House to report on those matters. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that much work remains to be done, but I have been trying to plan where the money should go.

The hon. Gentleman referred to brownfield sites. Many are in the Thames gateway, which is an important area that we can use. When we consider sustainable development, we are talking about people and families. Sons and daughters are being told that they cannot live near their mothers and fathers and that they must move elsewhere. I note that those who are firmly ensconced in their areas demand that the others should move.

We have a responsibility in sustainable communities to try to keep people together where they want to be. That is important. It has been suggested that keeping people together can lead to more land being taken. However, greater density can lead to more houses with the same land take. That is a fair point that I have made previously.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would take more greenfield space for housing. The Council for the Protection of Rural England has been critical and almost suggested that all building could be done on brownfield sites. A representative said on the "Today" programme that 75 per cent. should be built on brownfield sites. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman supports that figure. He should consider the difficulties of achieving of that. Some areas of the United Kingdom do not have brownfield sites and I therefore have to strike a balance.

Nick Scone of the CPRE said on the "Today" programme:

"We accept that there's a need for more housing and we accept that some it will have to be in the south-east and we accept that some of it will have to be on green fields."

[Interruption.] That was on the "Today" programme. I have the exact quote. I know that the CPRE also seems to be sending other messages. It is headed by the former editor of the Standard, whose name I cannot recall. I agree with the statement that I quoted.

Building on greenfield sites happened even under the Tory Administration. They gave us no extra green-belt land. Conservative Members' rhetoric is not consistent with the facts. However, those who are critical must realise that although many hon. Members said that a target of 60 per cent. was impossible, we achieved it seven years ahead of time. Even if the target was 75 per cent., 25 per cent. would have to be built on greenfield sites. Let us show a bit of intelligence, and recognise reality.

As for joined-up government and transport policy, let me point out that the Thames gateway depends greatly on the channel tunnel rail link. We renegotiated the arrangements because we were spending so much. A modern transport system is crucial—and we rescued the system imposed by the last Administration from bankruptcy. We think that our approach is fair. As for the need for a proper balance, I agree that it is a matter of judgment, and I am here to answer for mine.