New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 4:15 pm, 9th December 2003

I share the worries of my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman about the lack of time for debate. My objections to the Bill are fundamental, which is why I wish to make them on Third Reading. I was given guidance earlier that time was limited on Report and that the Government kept rewriting the Bill in Committee, so it was a good idea to wait and see what the final outcome was. However, now that I have seen that outcome, I am afraid that the Bill is little better than it was originally and the big problems that were apparent when it was introduced remain. I have declared my interests in the Register.

The first objection that my constituents and I have to the Bill concerns the phenomenal powers that it gives the Secretary of State. Secretaries of State have traditionally had substantial powers, which are often vexatious for constituencies and councils, including those in my area, because they are usually used to encourage more development than is desirable for the local community or can be easily accommodated, given the inadequacies of investment in transport, health and education. The Bill will make that problem far worse, as it gives the Secretary of State phenomenal powers to drive through major infrastructure projects and his own housing targets as part of the regional spatial strategy. It will cause endless disagreements and difficulties with elected councils and communities, which will be angry when the Secretary of State flexes his muscles and uses those powers.

I am suspicious about the delay that will be caused by throwing the existing planning system into the air and having to build a new one at considerable expense. Undoubtedly, the Secretary of State will then panic about the delay preventing the development that he would like. That, I fear, is likely to mean that the present Secretary of State or a future one will want to increase the targets even further, whatever the wishes of reluctant communities, as there will be another shortfall in housing provision, as assessed by him, caused by the uncertainties of the new planning system.

Good points have already been made in our short debate about the lack of democratic accountability of the new regional planning bodies. Like my hon. Friends, I do not welcome regional government of any kind in England, and certainly do not want it to affect my constituency—that is also the majority view of my constituents. Regional government is a waste of money, and it is offensive when it is designed, as it is in the Bill, deliberately to override the wishes of local communities as expressed through their elected unitary authorities or county or district councils. What is the point of all the costs and expenses of elections, planning officers and councillors in our areas if they will simply have to dance to the Secretary of State's tune on all the major issues that matter to those local communities?

I am sure that the Secretary of State has one good intention, and would like more development on brownfield sites. But we know that in practice the regional spatial strategy will be used to demand development across the piece, including development on the large number of green fields that remain in constituencies beyond the main metropolitan areas.

We also know that the Government's transport shambles continues apace, and that there are no plans now or on the horizon for increasing rail or road capacity to serve the large new housing areas that will undoubtedly emerge from the regional spatial strategies. Once again, the Government have produced a solution to the problem that will not work. Once again, that shows their inability to indulge in joined-up government. The Department for Transport is stumbling well behind the pace, with no ability to provide the links that are needed, and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which is responsible for planning, is worried that it is not driving enough housing through in areas with green fields, so it has invented a new planning system that will allow it to do that, making the transport and other infrastructure problems far worse.

My constituents in Wokingham and I have a heavy heart about the legislation being driven through this afternoon. We hope that in another place wiser counsel will prevail. Regional government in England is unnatural and a waste of money. Regional government directed by a Secretary of State who is out of touch and sympathy with many of our constituents is an abomination to us democratically, and it leads us to wonder why we go to the expense and trouble of building and electing local authorities when they are to be treated in such a cavalier fashion. I hope that in the other place those wiser counsels will force Ministers to think again. If they mean what they say about devolving power to local communities and acting democratically, they should tear up a large chunk of the Bill.