I beg to move,
That this House
notes that development of the Green Belt continues unabated under this Government;
believes the Government's Communities Plan will be unsustainable and will damage the quality of life of millions of people in this country by concreting over green fields and destroying rural communities;
further notes that the Government's targets for brown field development have actually led to the loss of green spaces in suburban areas through infill development;
and further believes that communities through their local authorities, not remote regional bodies, should be able to decide the priorities for local development.
If I may beg your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall start by pointing out my tie. You will notice that it is the tie of the Deepings rugby club, and I am wearing it today to celebrate the success of its under-13 and under-14 teams, their coaches and the staff. I know that the whole House will want to celebrate that success with me.
One reason for the motion is the fact that Conservative Members want to expose the truth. I shall tell some home truths—truths about the homes that should be built on brownfield sites as part of an urban renaissance and truths about the houses that are gobbling up the green belt. In exposing those truths, I shall reveal the Government's trickery, for which I do not blame the Minister for Housing and Planning. He is a good man. I blame the Deputy Prime Minister and the regime under which the Minister is unfortunate enough to work.
Did my hon. Friend notice that the Deputy Prime Minister had hardly come into office when he gave planning permission, later overturned, to build the largest estate on a greenfield and green-belt site almost in Britain's history, near Stevenage, a town that could do with redeveloping from within rather than spreading out across the countryside?
My right hon. Friend's typically apposite intervention gives me the opportunity to explode a myth. We may hear from Labour Members—my right hon. Friend will be ready for this, as he always is—claims that the Conservatives are against all development. Of course the Conservatives are not against all development, but we believe that development should be in character and keeping with existing settlements. It should be of a scale that is appropriate to those settlements and in line with the wishes of local people.
I am sure that that is something of which the hon. Gentleman would never be accused. It is a fair point. I have had to rule on a number of occasions because Members at the Dispatch Box, on both sides of the House, tend to move around and, generally speaking, it is helpful not to do so. The more that is addressed to the Chair, the more that will be heard and picked up by the microphones.
I will, as is appropriate, address my remarks through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will face you as much of the time as possible, to our mutual benefit and enjoyment, I hope.
Without wishing to test my hon. Friend's patience, may I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer about the decision on Stevenage, which matters to the people in the immediate area and also sets a dreadful precedent? Does he agree that it sets the tone for the Government, who are blind to the precedent that the Deputy Prime Minister has established? The destruction of the green belt will be remembered for many years when they are long gone.
My hon. Friend is right that that will be the Government's legacy. The whole House and the people of Stevenage and elsewhere will be disappointed that the Deputy Prime Minister is not in the Chamber today, because he stands indicted, as my hon. Friend suggested. He ought to come to the House and explain himself.
Further to the point that my hon. Friend made about the Deputy Prime Minister and the intervention of our right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, did he see the article in The Sunday Telegraph, which said that gardens
Will he call on the Government to explain their position, and on the Minister who, as he said, is a good man, to disown it?
As if in anticipation of my hon. Friend's pithy and appropriate intervention, I had planned to deal with that precise matter. First, however, I wish to make some progress.
The Government, as I said, have been engaged in trickery. Like all dud coins, their cons have two sides, but we have come to learn that their currency is spin, not substance. This particular con is about the green belt and brownfield development. Like all confidence tricksters, Ministers initially sounded plausible. Greenfield development has increased under this Government. I am pleased that the Minister does not dispute that, because in a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman, who leads for us, he revealed that in 2000, 430 hectares of the green belt was developed, whereas in 1997, only 405 hectares were developed. There has therefore been a steady increase in the volume of green belt developed under the Government.
When challenged on the subject, however, the Government are imprecise and evasive about details. That is not my analysis or judgment—I am not guilty of exaggeration or hyperbole, to both of which I am virtually immune—but the considered view of the House of Commons Library, which says:
"Government replies to PQs asking how much building has taken place on green belt land are normally evasive, mentioning the overall strategy . . . but not precisely answering the questions."
I know that you will be struck by that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as, indeed will all hon. Members, who rely on parliamentary questions for good, accurate information. I have already said that the Minister is a good and straightforward man and, apart from anything else, he will be disappointed in himself.
The Government's claims about the green belt have focused on overall strategy, but they have not given clear details. When challenged, they have claimed that they have increased the green belt in net terms, but their own figures show that the increase from 1997 to 2003 is based on a few limited areas. The increase in England was 24,800 hectares, almost all of which is in four areas. One would expect the pressure for development to be greatest in those areas, and one would expect to find them around London and in the south-east and the south of England. I had a close look at the words of Mr. Duncan Sandys—the Minister will be familiar with his words and, I suspect, reads them in bed every night.
Mr. Duncan Sandys made it clear that the purpose of the green belt was to produce a tight strip of land around urban areas to prevent their encroachment into the surrounding countryside, that it should be a narrow strip of land and that it should be where development pressure was greatest. It was designed, he said, to prevent "urban sprawl".
So where were the areas that the Government added to the green belt? In Tyne and Wear, York, south-west Yorkshire and the north-west. The increases can be attributed to smaller areas within those regions: Blyth Valley, Tynedale, Ryedale, Bolsover, Doncaster, Blackburn and Vale Royal. In fact, 91 per cent.—almost all of the increase—can be attributed to Blyth Valley, Tynedale, Bolsover and Blackburn.
What are the areas like where the green belt has been increased? The Tynedale council website which I looked at describes the area as forestry dominated and truly remote—not the area most likely to suffer from urban sprawl, not an area under pressure for development, but an area that describes itself as "truly remote".
The Bolsover website describes the greenbelt area as situated on the north-eastern fringes of Derbyshire bordered by the Peak district and Robin Hood's Sherwood forest—elegiac, picturesque; not a place, one imagines, where people are desperate to build vast numbers of new houses—the kind of desperation that is fuelling the development mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer in his early intervention, the kind of development so resisted by the people of Bedfordshire, Kent and Northamptonshire, who know what they face in relation to their communities and the supporting infrastructure.
I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I suggest that he does not try to guess what I intend to say. In the title to the debate and in his remarks so far, he has referred to urban sprawl. Would he be so kind as to explain what he means by urban sprawl? His discourse thus far suggests that he regards any extension of urban space to be ipso facto urban sprawl. Is he therefore suggesting that no towns or cities should increase in size at all, and that all development should occur within the existing boundary of an urban space?
The hon. Lady either did not hear what I said or did not listen to what I said. I said that sprawl, defined not by me, but by the architects of the green belt, was the urban area encroaching into the surrounding countryside. I went on to speak about development that was out of scale, out of character and outside the wishes of local people. I should have thought that was pretty plain. I wonder what the hon. Lady would say to her constituents and people close to them when they were faced with developments of the kind that I described—out of scale, out of keeping, out of character, against their wishes and without supporting infrastructure. I wonder whether she would defend her constituents or kowtow to the Government's position. That is a challenge for her, and I know she will meet it with her usual diligence.
Naturally, I always listen to my constituents, but most of them live in houses built on greenfield land, as virtually the whole of Milton Keynes was, so they understand the balance between the need to protect the countryside and the need to provide affordable housing for young people.
I shall come to affordable housing, but the protection of the countryside requires more than fine words. We had fine words from the Prime Minister before 1997, when in an interview in Country Life he spoke about how much he revered and loved the countryside. It was a passing relationship that he soon got over.
In pursuit of an attempt to find out where houses might be, were the hon. Gentleman's party ever to come to power, I note in the Order Paper the phrase, "town cramming", which presumably the hon. Gentleman does not approve of, and the reference to
"the loss of green spaces in suburban areas through infill development", with which the hon. Gentleman does not agree either. So where would the houses actually be? Would they be anywhere at all?
There is a difference between town cramming and urban regeneration, but I shall deal with that point later, as I feel that I must make some progress. I know that the situation is uncomfortable for Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman is a very diligent Member of Parliament who takes his work seriously, and he takes a great interest in housing and speaks with great authority about it. I know that he is uncomfortable about some of these issues. If he were not a balanced man, he would not have that discomfort, but he is such a man and he will share my disquiet, as well as a degree of the embarrassment that I think the Minister feels deeply.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Bedfordshire, in which my constituency is situated. In Luton, we are running out of brownfield sites and using everything that we can, but there are 7,000 families in housing need. Is he telling my constituents that they will not be rehoused, because we are never going to build on greenfield sites outside our town?
No; indeed, I met a delegation of people from Bedfordshire a few weeks ago, and they argued very strongly that there was a need for development, but not of the nature or on the scale that the Government imagine, and not in the way in which the Government choose to do it—outside the consideration of local people, against their interests and with a minimal chance for them to have a say. I suspect that the people in Bedfordshire, rather like people in my constituency in Lincolnshire, want incremental development of a scale and character that are in keeping with what is already there. It is the speed, scale and nature of development, as well as its location, that are fundamental. Like the hon. Gentleman, I accept that we need to build houses—we always have done, and we always will—but where those houses are built, how local communities are involved, the infrastructure to support them and their relationship with the landscape are matters of which everyone in this House should take account, and which Governments in particular have a duty to handle responsibly.
I am attracted to my hon. Friend's idea that local opinion should carry more sway. What changes would he like to see in the present planning system to guarantee that that happens?
My right hon. Friend will know that I spoke about these matters at some length on Monday. He was one of the first people to demand a copy of my speech, because he takes a great interest in these things. I said on that occasion that the planning system is typically unresponsive. It is esoteric and it frustrates developers and bemuses members of the general public. The Government had an opportunity to do something about that in their Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, but rather than rooting planning in the community and making a transparent system, as the Minister said he wanted to do, by removing power and giving it to remote regions, I suspect that the Bill has made planning all the more esoteric and distant from the people who are affected by the decisions of planning authorities. I share my right hon. Friend's distaste for that attack on local democracy, which has been carried forward in the Minister's name. I am a supporter of local democracy, and I want planning decisions to be taken as locally as possible, as clearly as possible and in a way that is well understood by local people, in line with local wishes; but I shall say a little more about that in a few moments.
The areas where the Government have extended the green belt have been well away from the areas where they should have done so. Indeed, the Library says in precise terms:
"These are probably not the areas in England where there is most pressure for development."
That would be bad enough, but the other side of the coin with this Administration is their failure to come clean about brownfield development. Once again, I went to that definitive source of information, the House of Commons Library. You might think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I believed, in my innocence, that brownfield land would include disused factories, empty warehouses and sites that needed redevelopment and would benefit from new initiatives, new housing, bringing in new people and building new buildings. That is in line with comments that were made earlier from the Labour Benches. It has been made clear in various interventions that such development is necessary. It is certainly necessary when what we replace is worse than the new development.
Brownfield land includes not only those sites, but according to my information, any land in the curtilage of an existing structure, which relates to the earlier point about gardens.
A close examination of the statistics shows that a substantial proportion of what the Government claim is brownfield development—brownfield development is hard to measure because the Government do not give precise answers, but I have examined the national land use database statistical record from September 2003—is not built on what would generally be recognised as brownfield land. That developed land consists not of scars on the landscape that should have been built on, but green spaces within urban areas—developments at the bottom of people's gardens. Frankly, that is the other side of the dud coin, and it is a con.
The Government easily met their targets for brownfield development, which is an achievement that the Minister trumpets and discusses with great confidence, because the land that they have developed is not, by any reasonable definition, brownfield land. I give way to my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, who is an expert on such matters.
Is my hon. Friend aware of a case in my constituency, where the council proposed to take away some council tenants' gardens in order to meet the Government's targets for building on brownfield land? Given the Government's policy of rebuilding on brownfield land, all council tenants should watch out, because their gardens might be taken away for development.
My hon. Friend had briefed me on that additional point. I am always grateful for his expertise and enormous knowledge, which he often displays in the Chamber and in Committee. Once again, he has added an extra charge against the Minister, whose charge sheet grows ever longer, and perhaps Dr. Whitehead will add to it too.
As the hon. Gentleman says, it is important to get the definition right. Does his definition of brownfield land solely consist of land upon which bricks have physically been placed—the building's footprint—and does he define the marginal land around such a site as greenfield land? If a paving stone or some gravel had been placed on land in order to access a building, would he define the site as being in-between greenfield and brownfield land? He claims that the Government definition of brownfield land is vague, but is his definition of brownfield land as vague as that which he is attacking?
Most hon. Members would expect brownfield development first and foremost to take account of those sites that, by their continuation in their current form, are a scar on villages, towns, cities or the landscape. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is well travelled, and he knows that many former commercial or industrial sites, which have not been redesignated for housing and which will never be reborn as industrial or commercial sites, would be appropriate for residential development.If I were lucky enough to be the Minister for Housing and Planning—one day, I hope to hold that post—I would develop those places and examine the mechanisms that the Government have put in place to bring that about.
We know that the development of contaminated sites poses some problems, but it is not impossible to review the regulations, fiscal arrangements and the law to examine whether we can use more of those sites. In opposition, we are having such discussions with all the interested parties as we develop our thoughts and policies.
Somewhere much further down my list might be the issue of in-fill, but it certainly would not be my top priority. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Conservative Members and, I suspect, Labour Members, too, would want first to have clear information about precisely what has been developed so far. I defy anyone to glean that information in precise terms from answers that Ministers have given or from the tabular information that is available from the Minister's Department. There are indications that a great number of back gardens have been developed. We can all make the calculation in approximate terms, and we all have anecdotal information from our constituencies concerning land that has been developed and is described as brown field, but is in fact nothing of the sort. Will the Minister give a commitment to provide better-quality information that breaks down the figures to tell us precisely what kind of land is being developed and called brown field?
I have already given way to the hon. Lady twice, and I want to make a little more progress because many other hon. Members want to speak. I will try to give way again later on.
The motion refers to the communities plan, which was alluded to in the exchanges that took place during my opening remarks. The Government believe that an extra 200,000 houses should be built in the south-east in addition to the 900,000 new homes that are planned up until 2016. The communities plan is designed to deliver 120,000 houses in the Thames gateway area alone. There are profound concerns about the implications of that for community, sustainability, environment and infrastructure. Yesterday, I was in Northamptonshire. I was engaged in some hard work, but I had the chance to talk to local people and take their view of the communities plan. I have a shocking revelation for the Minister—it was not a positive view. People are extremely worried about its implications for south Northamptonshire. They see it as filling the green space between villages. They believe that it will create commuter areas because communities will be unable to provide the employment or services to make them self-sustaining, so people will have to use those villages and towns as dormitories to travel elsewhere. They feel that their local opinion, although it has been voiced, is not being heard where it matters—at the Minister's desk, on his telephone and in his mailbag. They are frustrated that the considered opinions of local people are being overridden.
We have to look again at the communities plan. I am not sure that it is ever appropriate to override local opinion in this way, but there is another side to it. If development is skewed into four areas in the south of England, where economic activity and employment are already substantial and there is already a disproportionately large portion of the nation's wealth, what does that say to the other parts of England and the kingdom? What does it say to the north-west and the north-east? What does it say to people in my own dear county of Lincolnshire? It says that we are going to build more homes and create more jobs and wealth where homes, jobs and wealth already exist. The other side to the communities plan is about kicking against a proper concern for the different parts of Britain, many of which are desperate for a boost.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the absence of a communities plan—such as the situation that existed under the Conservative Government whom he supported—the pattern of planning decisions for housing development was characterised by housing estates being tagged on to towns and villages, often on appeal, in an unsustainable way that was disconnected from jobs and local services and increased the amount of car travel? That is what happens when a negative attitude is in the saddle and there is no sustainable communities plan. If the hon. Gentleman rejects the sustainable communities approach, does he have revised ideas on how things should be done?
What a good point the hon. Gentleman makes. He is right: much post-war development has been characterised by the sort of unacceptable development that he describes. Housing estates have been tacked on to the end of towns, as he put it. They are often not in keeping and character with the towns and introduce a population to the area who do not assimilate easily, perhaps because they are commuters or drawn from a specific group. For example, estates of bungalows are targeted at older or retired people. To get the community working, there needs to be good social mix, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman acknowledges.
My vision is of incremental development in towns and cities that is in keeping with them. No town or village should be preserved in aspic—all communities must grow and develop. All communities evolve, but it should happen gently, appropriately and with the consent and support of local people. That is not rocket science; it is the way in which most communities have developed from time immemorial. Suddenly increasing the size of a small town or village by 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. is a recent phenomenon. We then wonder why that did not work, why the community did not hang together, why the local infrastructure could not support it, why people could not get on a dentist's or doctor's waiting list and why they had to travel further for work and leisure, with all the attendant undesirable effects.
We need a complete rethink of the way in which we plan for the future, which must be rooted in communities. "Predict and provide" produced the mess that Mr. Hall described and Government policy has now mutated into "dictate and provide". That is likely to be even worse. The communities plan needs careful evaluation. In my view, it needs more—it requires challenge. That is not only my view. The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is as sceptical as me. Its report states:
"The impact of such a housing programme on the environment could be unsustainable . . . The impact of developing so many homes in the South East, one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, has not been fully assessed . . . The additional homes could place excessive demands on the environment leading to the loss of green-field sites and excessive pressure on the water supply and other natural resources."
I could go on, but perhaps that would embarrass the Minister even more. The Labour-dominated Select Committee took a measured and considered view of his policy and criticised it in fierce terms. With the Select Committee, local communities and the combined might of the Opposition Benches against him, he is under considerable pressure. I hope that he will bend under it in favour of what is right and good. One might have believed so, but we must now consider the revelation of the Barker review of housing supply.
Mrs. Barker, not content with the massive increase in supply that the Government propose, does not simply want the communities plan to be implemented but up to 250,000 more houses to be built every year. Let us imagine the implications of that for the green fields of England. Not a community in Britain would be safe from the Government if they adopt the Barker review. Although they have not said that they will adopt it—they know the political consequences—they have not said that they will not accept such targets.
The Government claim that supply will have an effect on house prices and that affordability will be tackled by building countless more houses. I remind the Minister that new housing constitutes 1 per cent. of the housing stock and 10 per cent. of the transactions. To affect the price of housing by supply requires the sort of building—and more—over 10 years that Mrs. Barker proposes. That means not a few hundred thousand extra houses but possibly between 2 million and 3 million more. They would be built on the green and pleasant land that I love and will defend with my hon. Friends.
I should move on before I become too elegiac, but the Minister needs to come clean with us about where the Government stand on Barker. Will they go along with it and accept it or do they share my reservations? Let us have an honest answer on whether they believe in a development land tax. Let the Minister say today, "We believe in such a tax." It is recommended in Barker. Let him honestly say that the Government believe in a housing policy, in the words of Kate Barker, independent of local government. Let him say he believes that; let us have an honest answer on Barker.
I will tell the House my answer on Barker. I know that housing prices are influenced by interest rates, the disproportionate allure of home ownership in Britain, the relative unattractiveness of alternative investment vehicles and the level of non-housing borrowing secured against housing equity. Frankly, those things drive up and hold up house prices. To apply a supply-side solution to those demand-side issues is crude and unlikely to work. It would mean stamping on the wishes of local people, which is precisely what Kate Barker recognises. That is why she wants to transfer all the power to regional authorities, which would impose those targets on local people.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is saying that the relationship between supply and demand has no effect on house prices? If he is saying that, can he explain why the increases in places such as Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, where there is a relatively finite housing supply but increasing demand for it and prices are going through the roof, have nothing to do with that relationship?
Of course there is a relationship between supply and demand, but the hon. Lady, who clearly has studied these matters in some detail, will understand that the history of that relationship in this country shows a remarkable insensitivity as between supply and demand. In a textbook economic model, one would expect supply to increase to feed demand. One would expect a close relationship between supply and demand, but, if anything in this country, the most surprising thing about the housing market is the insensitivity between the two, not the closeness that she suggests.
I simply say to the hon. Lady that she has to answer some questions about the 2001 census data, which have been largely ignored by Kate Barker and certainly ignored by the Minister and the Government, but which reveal that the ratio of dwellings to households is changing. There is an increasing number of dwellings—1 million more—against households. That is 300,000 more than in the previous census, and 900,000 fewer people in this country than previous Government estimates show. I am amazed that Kate Barker did not take that on board. Frankly, the fact that she did not undermines the arguments on which her report is predicated.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that in the last 25 years, while the population of the United Kingdom has increased by 4 million, so has the number of households? Those figures reveal the most startling demographic changes taking place in our society. Any solution of the housing problem must begin by addressing those changes.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The real housing crisis involves not the net supply issue, but the relationship between provision and need. Look at building history: far more family homes have been built, typically in greenfield areas, than have houses suitable for single-person households. There are far too few adapted houses, wheelchair-friendly houses and houses for older people. There are far too few opportunities for those who want to downsize. Often, older people want to downsize because it is much more convenient for them to live in a smaller property, but they cannot do so while staying in the community in which they have lived and to which they owe their loyalty.
There are all kinds of supply issues, and all kinds of issues involving the match between provision and need, but those are not taken seriously into account by Kate Barker's report. I have heard nothing from the Government about them either.
I want to end my speech, and I know the hon. Gentleman will make a pithy and powerful speech of his own later; but if he wants me to give way briefly, because I like him so much I will.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He pointed out that there were now 1 million more houses than households. That is partly due to the large and increasing number of second homes. Does he accept the principle adopted by us, and indeed the Government, of ending second-home council tax discounts?
As a matter of principle, I try never to support or agree with the Liberal Democrats. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, however. One of the repercussions of what I described as the relative unattractiveness of alternative investment vehicles has been people putting their money into property, and the Government's pension shambles—I know that the Minister is not personally responsible for that, and perhaps he is embarrassed about it—has exacerbated the problem. The hon. Gentleman is right: the explosion in second home ownership and the buy-to-let market should be dealt with. The truth is, however, that if people had felt more secure about other kinds of investment that explosion would not have happened.
The motion calls for a very different approach. As I said earlier, what we need is an urban renaissance. We need to tie housing policy closely to regeneration policy. We need to understand that the only way of regenerating our towns and cities is to reachieve the population mix that will make them vibrant and viable. We do understand that sustainability means having the public services, the employment, the life in our towns and cities that will make people want to live in them and bring up their children in them.
We believe that the Government's policy of seeing housing as separate from those things—as I think they do—is misguided, short-sighted and against the interests of the communities who resent so bitterly what the Government will impose on them by concreting over so many of our green fields. There is a different approach, a new vision. We need policies built on sound foundations. We need to help more people afford homes of their own. We need to ensure that everyone has a warm, safe home built to last—the least advantaged as well as those with good fortune. We need to give local communities control over how they develop. We need to protect and enhance our precious environment. And we need to regenerate urban Britain, building high-quality homes on brownfield sites.
Those are our goals—goals that are at the heart of authentic conservatism. The idea of a home can inform this party, but it can also inform the Government, and it can inform our nation. Homes are a proper symbol of social justice, of security, of private ownership, of independence from intrusive Government, of local identity and of embryonic community life. We need to find homes for people so that they can enjoy all those things. We need to give the people the homes that they want to anchor them for life's journey.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"applauds the Government for maintaining the amount of Green Belt in England and its pledge to maintain or increase the amount of Green Belt;
notes that development of previously developed sites for housing has a crucial role in meeting local needs for housing in the Green Belt and welcomes the Government's crackdown on urban sprawl, by adopting a sequential approach to the release of land and planning growth where it is needed;
supports its proactive approach in improving the sustainability of rural communities;
applauds the Government's success in achieving its previously developed land target early and increasing average densities of new development, which have helped to take the pressure off green fields;
applauds the Government for introducing new planning policies in PPG17 to protect open spaces of value to the local community;
and praises the Government for introducing the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to improve the speed and quality of decision making and place sustainability at the heart of the planning system, and for its new emphasis on community involvement, ensuring local people's views are an integral part of the plan making process."
As the House knows, I am a devoted parliamentarian. I relish the opportunity for debate, and it is nice to be so much in demand. I have been here for quite a few Opposition day debates of late.
Of course the Government are fully aware of the importance of housing and regeneration. That is why we pushed it to the top of the political agenda, and why we are investing a massive £22 billion through our sustainable communities plan over the next three years. Now it seems that after years of silence and inaction, the Opposition have finally woken up to the significance of these issues.
Of course, those of a less charitable disposition than my own might think that today's debate has something to do with the imminent local elections and that there is an element of opportunism, even scaremongering, on the part of the Opposition in raising these issues in the terms that they have today. Use of such vulgarisms as "town cramming" and "concreting over the countryside" is part of that. Indeed, complaining at the same time about too much development in towns and about concreting over the countryside might seem to some like a classic case of trying to have it both ways. Far be it for me to say so.
The fact of the matter is that the Opposition's record speaks louder than their rhetoric—and we have certainly heard plenty of that this afternoon. After all, it was the Conservative party that stood idly by while development gobbled up our countryside. Thousands of little boxes were spread across our land, all at dismally low housing densities, most of them designed for nowhere and built anywhere. When the Conservatives came to office in 1979, less than 5 per cent. of retail turnover was based on stores outside existing town centres. By 2000, it was growing to nearly a third and rising, as the effects of the big out-of-town shopping centres—the Conservative legacy—began to be felt.
In fact, during the 18 years of Tory Government, nearly 13 million sq m of out-of-town shopping floor space was developed—shopping centres, retail parks and superstores—and the consequence was the devastation of our historic town and city centres. I wonder, even now, whether the Opposition have fully woken up to the significance of the legacy of unsustainable sprawl that they left to us.
Let us take one example of that legacy. The motion begins by noting that
"development of the Green Belt continues unabated".
Continues from when? Well, let us just consider the facts, using published Government statistics. They show that in 1996, of all the new homes built, 2 per cent. were built in the green belt; and in 2001, 4 per cent. were built in the green belt. Let us be clear: new building does not just happen. It often takes years between the granting of the planning permission and the completion of the development. It often, we think, takes too long, which is why we have brought in our planning reforms to speed up the process.
The plain fact of the matter is that many, if not most, of the planning permissions for this doubling of new build in the green belt in the late 1990s were granted under the last Tory Government. So if the Opposition insist on talking about the despoliation of the green belt, we all know who the guilty party is—them.
I am grateful to the Minister for his rave review. Does he accept that a larger number of people are coming into this country—legally and illegally—than are leaving it? Some external bodies believe that it could be as many as 250,000 extra people a year—equivalent to a city the size of Southampton, which would be necessary to house them all properly. What does the Minister believe is happening in that respect and what impact is it having on the housing market? What would be a sustainable rate for granting people from abroad the right to live and work here?
We certainly are in pre-election mode, are we not, with that sort of typical Tory scaremongering? Let me put it to the right hon. Gentleman that population growth stemming from various sources is, of course, a significant driver of the demand for housing. We should also be aware—I believe that my old jousting partner, Sir Sydney Chapman put his finger on the problem—that there are other significant drivers.
More than 40 per cent. of the demand for new housing arises from natural demographic changes in our population. Some are to be welcomed. For example, we live longer; the elderly do not vacate homes on the scale that they did in the past; many people choose to live alone. That is their choice. Unfortunately, other factors—family discord, divorce and so forth—are significant drivers that can often force people to live singly.
There are therefore many factors at work. Mr. Hayes mentioned the Thames gateway, and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, may want to say something about the true Conservative position on that development. After all, it stems from the work of Lord Heseltine, that visionary who used to represent Henley. However, the fact is that two thirds of the growth in housing demand in Kent arises from changes in that wonderful county's existing population. Folk there live longer and choose to live singly, but they also suffer from some of our society's disorders.
Let us be clear: it is not a question of blaming the enemy outside, but of recognising that serious changes are occurring in our society that we must try to accommodate.
No. I shall try and let the hon. Gentleman in later but in these short debates, with many hon. Members wanting to speak, I am conscious that Front-Bench speakers must be as brief as possible.
I want to be reasonable about the green belt, which we all cherish. It is wrong to whip up hysteria by making exaggerated claims about its loss. Nearly two thirds of new development in the green belt has been made on land that was previously developed, and total use of green-belt land amounts to only 0.02 per cent. a year.
Mrs. Spelman has been silent, at least in a formal sense, throughout our exchanges so far. I have been courteous enough not to draw attention to her, but if she insists on protesting about the green belt I shall draw the House's attention to her website, where she makes it clear that she entered politics to protect the green belt in her locality. I am not surprised: after all, the Conservative Solihull council adopted the development plan on
Does the Minister accept that the Government pulled the rug out from under Solihull council's feet when they redefined what constitutes a brownfield site? They said that my constituents' back gardens were brownfield sites, and in so doing they set neighbour against neighbour. The council found it extremely difficult to defend itself in court.
I provoked the hon. Lady to speak. I am not sure that central office will approve of that, on this of all days. She knows that redefining gardens as residential land capable of development has been part of the land use classification system since 1975. The Opposition did not challenge that when they were in government, and we inherited that approach from them. I may say more about that if Mr. Mitchell intervenes on me later.
Planning policy guidance note 2 is there to protect the green belt. It confirms that the green belt must be protected as far as can be seen ahead, sets the defining boundaries and provides a presumption against inappropriate development. The guidance is working, and we stand by it.
In addition, the Government have set clear targets for each English region, including those regions that contain the growth areas, to maintain or increase the current area designated as green-belt land in local plans. That is the policy that the Government are pursuing.
On a more serious note, I need to say something about the recently published green belt statistics.
In the light of those errors, I want to assure the House that further work is being carried out on checking the revised figures, in order to ensure that they are now robust. That will take two to three weeks. Once we are satisfied that they are accurate, a revised statistical release will be issued and placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I apologise to the House for the errors. The House will, I know, understand that such things happen, but they should not, and for that, I apologise. However, I should remind the House that statistical errors do nothing to undermine the fundamental point that I want to make today in relation to the Government's record on the green belt: since we came to office, there have been significant increases in the green belt in England.
Some 19,000 hectares were added between 1997 and 2003, with a further potential 12,000 hectares proposed in emerging local plans. If those proposed increases come to fruition, that would be a creditable 31,000 additional hectares—an area bigger than that covered by Birmingham city council. I contrast that record with what happened between 1993 and 1997, when the green belt increased by a mere 2,000 hectares. Already we have expanded the green belt in our first six years 10 times more than the Tories did in their last four years, and we expect to do better.
The Minister has been honest about the error in the figures, and I accept what he has said. However, I question the proportion of green belt that has been added in areas where development pressure is not the greatest. Most people see the green belt as a means of preventing urban sprawl where development pressure is greatest, and that was its original intention. Why is the Minister adding to the green belt in places where that is not so?
I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman received my apology. I understand his point, but if he looks in detail at the figures that I published on
Let me say loud and clear that we have no plans to relax planning controls on the green belt. The fundamental policy aim remains to keep land around urban areas permanently open, to prevent urban sprawl and to protect the countryside from encroachment. Where green belt boundary changes are proposed, we want to be satisfied that all opportunities for development within the urban area contained by the green belt have been properly considered, including brownfield land.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about a particular aspect of development in rural areas. Many of my constituents are getting increasingly irate—I do not believe that they are motivated by discrimination or bigotry—about the fact that Travellers' sites are being allowed on private land where my constituents would have no hope whatever of having permanent development allowed. That is causing friction where there was none before. Is his Department prepared to do something about that, because I fear that it will result in very bad race relations in some parts of England?
I appreciate the temperate way in which the hon. Gentleman raised that issue. As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, it is an issue not merely for those who live in the countryside but for those who live in urban areas. I assure him that my Department is alert to it. We are active on that subject and we expect to make proposals for revised guidance and more effective enforcement in due course. I hope that that gives him and his constituents some reassurance.
It is important that local people should also be involved in decisions about the green belt, so the need for boundary changes should be considered first in a review of the regional spatial strategy. Only when the need for change has been firmly established should detailed changes be considered through the local plan process. That ensures that local people have a full opportunity to make representations or object to proposed changes.
The Opposition accuse us in the motion of "concreting over green fields", of losing
"green spaces in suburban areas through infill development" and of "destroying rural communities".
The Conservative spokesman was generous today in acknowledging the shortfalls of the speculative, mainly private housing development that has too much characterised the past few decades. I think that I am being fair in saying that his solution is to favour incremental, small-scale growth that is decided by local communities. I agree that much development could be dealt with like that, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there are strategic issues to do with demography, household change, employment, transport, pollution—
Order. When I rise to my feet, the hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. His intervention is far too long, especially when there is very limited time for debate.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In a nutshell, I agree with my hon. Friend. Where appropriate, it is right to make small-scale development, but we should not delude ourselves, as a House or as a society, that the pressure for new homes that is already present in London and the south-east can be dealt with by small-scale development about which the local community is the sole arbiter. That is simply unrealistic. We have to go for the larger-scale development that the Government have set out for growth areas. That applies to his constituency and I am grateful for his strategic vision on that approach. We are already bringing in the essential infrastructure and public services that need to be present at the beginning of a housing development and that in the past were unfortunately often brought in at the end, if at all.
I reinforce the point that my right hon. Friend is making. Does he agree that we cannot cope with the 7,000 families waiting for new homes in Luton by small incremental changes?
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is, as he and I well know, not invariably the case, but I wholeheartedly endorse his observations on this occasion. The sort of proposals being made in his locality for what are, in essence, urban extensions offer a way forward, but the scale might have to be substantial. There is a housing need that must be addressed and no shilly-shallying can avoid that reality.
I shall try to press on. I am aware that I have already been speaking for a significant time.
On the terms of the Opposition motion, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in 1996 the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Gummer, published the Green Paper, "Household Growth: Where Shall We Live?" It was an extremely tentative document; perhaps the Conservative Government could see the shades of night closing in and did not want to over-commit themselves on policy.
Nevertheless, the Green Paper contained two important themes. The first was the need for intensification of existing residential areas, including, I am bound to tell the House, the use of gardens. That is in paragraph 6.2—town cramming, I suppose the present Opposition would call it. The second theme was the recognition that not all necessary housing development could be located in existing urban areas—"concreting over the countryside", in their terms, I suppose.
Let me put these questions to the Opposition. What has changed since 1996? Do they believe that they got it wrong in 1996? If they did, what is their answer now to the question they posed themselves only eight years ago?
I am reminded of places such as Macclesfield whose Member of Parliament is our distinguished hon. Friend, Sir Nicholas Winterton and where the local council and community want incremental development of the type that I was advocating, yet the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister's boss, put a moratorium, through strong guidance, on all development in the town.
I am aware of the issues in the north-west of England, which are a matter for lively debate in the area, but I must point out two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, in the preceding period of the regional plan, there was an excess of supply over demand in the region, so the Government clearly have to respond to that reality. Secondly, the Government have ambitious plans for the regeneration of cities in the north-west, so significant new build will be needed in those areas as part of the regeneration process.
I shall continue, but I may be a little churlish in dealing with future interventions. We all know that, at present, there is a lot of Tory local election propaganda about the Government wanting to concrete over the countryside, but the blunt fact is that the legacy of the Tories was unplanned urban sprawl. That is why the Labour Government introduced a sequential approach: brownfield first, greenfield last. That is why we set a 60 per cent. brownfield target—and it is working. In 2002, 64 per cent. of new dwellings, including conversions, were built on such land.
Our policies will not only reduce the profligate waste of greenfield land so characteristic of the executive home developments that were so beloved of the previous Government but help to ensure better designed developments that provide for a wide range of needs.
We have already seen rises in housing density. The density of new dwellings in England in 2002 was 27 per hectare, a figure that had remained unchanged at 25 since 1996 and was a great deal lower before then. We want further rises. We have already said that in the south-east we want all planned dwellings built at an average of 30 per hectare, up from the 25 we inherited. By 2016, as a consequence, we will have saved 4,000 hectares of land from new build, an area equivalent to the urban area of Ipswich. We recently announced a new initiative to bring 1,650 hectares of surplus public sector land into use for new homes—an area equivalent in size to the London borough of Islington.
Part of our success in protecting the green belt has been the result of revitalising our cities. They now have a vitality and self-confidence that has been missing for years. That was admirably highlighted in the report, "A Tale of Eight Cities", published by my Department recently.
My right hon. Friend has spoken about brownfield development. A developer in my constituency is anxious to develop a brownfield site that is perfect for that purpose, but the previous owner has a waste disposal licence from the Environment Agency. Apparently, neither the current owner nor I can do anything to about that and it is deterring him from developing a perfectly good brownfield site.
I often observe in these debates that there is nothing more deadly than the friendly intervention, and that was a perfect example. I am entirely unsighted of those issues. I should be delighted if my hon. Friend were to write to me. I shall seek to reply to her, within the constraints of my quasi-judicial role as a Planning Minister. I hope that that gives her some satisfaction.
The truth is that people are returning to our cities, which are cleaner, safer, greener and creating more jobs and prosperity for their populations and regions. Take Manchester. Fifteen years ago, fewer than 300 people lived in the centre of that city of nearly half a million people. Now, the city centre has a population of 15,000 people, and it is growing. Many of them are young people who have colonised refurbished Victorian warehouses. Similar trends are evident in most of our major cities' central areas and they are expected to grow substantially in the next few years, with the planned new residential developments. That regeneration is welcomed, but some apparently think that we are planning to build in people's back gardens.
Let us not forget the wider reforms to the planning system. We need to put planning back at the centre of local decision making and to restore pride in both planning and planners. That is why the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, so recently passed by the House, introduces a simpler and more flexible local and regional plan-making system, promoting better community involvement and giving local people more say in what their local environment looks like. For the first time, we have given the planning system the statutory purpose of contributing to sustainable development.
Let me make it entirely clear that our vision of creating sustainable communities applies equally to rural areas. The fact is that some of our rural areas are suffering, not because we are hellbent on concreting over the countryside, but because local people cannot afford to live there. That is why we have doubled the Housing Corporation's target for low-cost housing in villages from 800 in 2001 to 1,600 last year and why we will build a further 3,500 low-cost homes in villages over the next two years. That is why we are taking further steps to make it easier for councils to limit the resale of ex-council housing in rural areas, so that those homes are reserved for local people. There are now 30 such areas—up from 24 in 1997—and soon there will be 35. That is not rhetoric; it is real action to protect rural communities.
The choice offered to the House today is simple. We can go forward with this Government's policies: strong, successful, vibrant towns and cities; better designed, more sustainable new development in which homes, jobs and services are planned together, not left to the mercy of the market; and safeguarding our countryside by prioritising brownfield land, increasing the green belt and taking practical action to protect rural communities. The choice is a positive vision of sustainable communities or a return to the sprawl of the past.
The Opposition bring to the House a record in which out-of-town retail devastated our urban shopping centres, our great provincial cities were ravaged by boom-bust economics and low-density housing sprawled across the countryside. The House has a choice: to go back to the mistakes of the past or to embrace a positive agenda in which economic progress, social justice and environmental concern go hand in hand. The Opposition's motion offers nothing. It reminds us of their past failings. It tells us that they have nothing to offer for the future, apart from opportunism and sloganising. I urge the House to reject the motion.
We have just heard two speeches, but neither would bear a huge amount of detailed scrutiny.
The Conservatives' motion is broadly on the point and for that reason we shall support it. However, it is only broadly there. There are difficulties with the Government's approach to planning. They are over-centralist. The recent Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill takes powers away from local authorities and passes them up to unelected regional authorities. We tried to prevent that but unfortunately the Tories caved in and the Government got their way.
The Government are over-centralist in their approach to housing numbers; that point has already been discussed. They cannot allow for local variation. Most parts of the south-east are screaming out that they do not want as many houses as the Government want them to take. However, for the past six months I have been asking for an extra 1,000 houses in South Shropshire, but the Minister still cannot provide them because of the centralised approach that is taken. [Interruption.] He says that he is working on it, and I hope he is. We wait with bated breath in my area.
Overall, the Government's approach fails to trust local authorities as effective planning authorities. The new Bill gives local authorities a greater ability to plan, but the imposition of central targets over that process is the problem. That is where the Minister will discover that the nirvana and vision that he portrayed at the end of his speech will fall down. He needs to give way a bit and trust local authorities more.
In the Department, housing and planning are almost in separate silos. They are not seen as one and the same thing. I realise that the Minister speaks on both issues, but there is a lack of joined-up thinking between the planning system and the need for more affordable housing. The planning system is not used as a vehicle to deliver affordable housing. Several options are available, but they have not been taken up. Too much work takes place in silos.
None the less, the motion is a bit rich given that it comes from the Conservatives. We have heard the Minister outline their past failings, but the very title of the motion, "Town Cramming and Urban Sprawl", gives the game away. They are worried about building in towns and building outside towns. They clearly do not want building anywhere. In fact, the purpose of this debate was to allow certain Tory Back Benchers to jump up and say, "I do not want all these extra houses built in my constituency." We heard that several times during the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. This is not "nimbyism" but "nimcyism"—not in my constituency. The Conservatives say that they want more affordable housing as long as it is not built in their constituencies. They will quite happily build it everywhere else as long as it is not in the places that they represent.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the other point that came across in the Tory spokesperson's speech was that the Conservative party wished to direct people to where they should live in England? That is not in the south-east but up north where there is a lot of space. The Conservatives also want to direct people into the sort of households that they should have. The Conservatives believe that people are spreading out too much and that they should live together whether they want to or not.
The hon. Lady may have a point, but there is a consensus that housing density should increase. She was verging on saying that that should not happen. However, in broad terms I agree with her.
I have experience of local Conservatives in my area. Their approach to development seems to be to say no to everything. In fact, the Conservative party appears to have a planning policy that is "Always say no". It is the most negative approach to development that I have ever seen. It does not matter whether jobs or anything else are at stake; it is simply a matter of "Let's say no".
We have seen the Conservatives' failures in government. Let us not forget that out-of-town supermarkets were developed under the Conservatives, and that in places such as Malvern, supermarkets have devastated the town centre. I am worried that this Government will reverse their policy of stopping such developments.
I will not give way because I am conscious of how much time was taken up by the first two speeches and I realise that other Members want to speak.
There is a policy vacuum in the Conservative party. The one occasion on which the Conservatives announced a policy on planning and housing was Monday. Mr. Hayes made the announcement and then appeared on "Newsnight", where he was well and truly Paxman-ed about it. It was a bit of a "Newsnight" mugging. It may not be fair—I do not think that Jeremy Paxman is fair—but it revealed that the policy did not require any legislative changes and might have an inflationary impact on the housing market. When the Conservatives announce a policy they have a problem, but the rest of the time, when they do not have a policy, they are just the party that likes to say "No".
The Conservatives' wanting to take on the planning issue in local elections would be understandable if they had stood up for what they say they believe in. Let us turn to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. An amendment on the transfer of powers to unelected regional authorities was ping-ponging between the two Houses. This House may not have been made aware that the Conservative motion before the House is their second. They put one on the Order Paper and then changed it. The first said at the end that
"local authorities should be able to decide the priorities for local development, not unelected regional authorities", but they removed those words. I wonder why. They are embarrassed that their Lords let them down and allowed the Government to proceed with a Bill that transfers powers to unelected regional authorities from county, metropolitan and unitary authorities. Far from defending the rights of local democracy, they caved in, and they changed the wording of their motion because they are so embarrassed about it.
What does my hon. Friend think may be the implications of that for next year's county council elections? This year's local elections have reared their head in today's debates. Does my hon. Friend think that the Liberal Democrats could campaign on this issue in the 2005 county council elections?
I would be very surprised if Liberal Democrat councillors throughout the counties did not point out the Conservatives' failure to defend elected members over unelected regional authorities. I would also be surprised if it did not get mentioned in the odd "Focus" leaflet. Members from other parties like to mention "Focus" leaflets, but before they jumped up I thought that I would do it for them.
I have had another experience of the Tories wearing their local planning hat. It comes from the other local authority in my area: Tory-run Bridgnorth district council. I do not often mention it; frankly, it is best not to mention it most of the time. A supermarket is to be built in the centre of Bridgnorth. The issue is not whether that is right but the approach that the Tories took. They allowed the senior planning officer to do all the negotiations with the supermarket on his own. He then wrote the development control report stating whether the company should get planning permission, and he spoke in the debate. That was allowed by Conservative-run Bridgnorth council. It then allowed the planning officer to interfere with the legal officer's duty by trying to prevent councillors from speaking because he thought that they might be opposed to the development. The most recent failure is the fact that a meeting was held in secret to discuss the deal and the application, which are one and the same, and councillors who turned up were given the relevant papers and told that they had to hand them back at the end.
That is how the Conservatives run local planning: they do it in secret with no regard to proper and decent practices.
I urge the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to condemn the conduct of Conservative-led Bridgnorth council.
I hope that in her winding-up speech the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Yvette Cooper, will touch on planning policy statements. We have spent 18 months debating the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, but the detail that is critical to whether or not someone gets planning permission is included in planning policy statements, which have replaced planning policy guidance. PPSs, however, are never debated in the House. They are produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, are the subject of consultation, and are signed off by Ministers. They are crucial to planning decisions but we never have an opportunity to debate them. We can argue about the system of planning in a planning Bill, but we can never debate the nuts and bolts of the planning system.
If the Minister for Housing and Planning believes in an open and accountable planning system, he should allow us to debate PPSs, which come up regularly for review. Draft PPS6 has raised a number of concerns, because the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury appear to have had an influence in allowing out-of-town supermarket developments again. I believe that the ODPM is concerned, but has issued the statement none the less. PPS6 favours developers of large-scale multiple retail units over other retailers such as small shops in town centres, which could be damaging to town centres. We know how much damage was caused in the 1980s when supermarkets were built on out-of-town sites, but there is concern that PPS6 will lead to exactly the same problem again. A husband and wife in my constituency have summed it up very nicely:
"The centres of small market towns all over Britain will be destroyed just as they have been in France, more small businesses will fail, and many of the jobs created in these new shopping centres will be at the expense of our existing ones. We are constantly being urged to use our cars less and yet new housing developments in the countryside will only encourage more commuting. Why doesn't the Government actively encourage the owners of town centre properties to refurbish . . . ?"
With PPS6, we are in danger of creating more large out-of-town shopping centres. I hope that the Under-Secretary will make it clear that that is not the intention and that if necessary, the Government will change the statement.
My hon. Friend has mentioned out-of-town developments. The Opposition said that they were going to stop such developments, but they started the process. My hon. Friend may be aware that a Conservative Secretary of State allowed a number of years for the ban to come into effect, by which time all the supermarkets had submitted their applications, as has been pointed out. If the supermarkets are allowed to re-establish themselves on such sites, that will sound the death knell for even more town centres. Does my hon. Friend agree that the supermarkets are causing the strange death of merry England?
"the spivs in the retail industry"—[Hansard, House of Lords, 5 February 2004; Vol. 657, c. 854.]— not, I think, one of the highlights of recent ODMP speeches. There are, however, problems with supermarket developments, particularly on out-of-town sites.
I turn to another planning policy statement—draft PPS7, which covers rural areas. I have two concerns, which I hope the Minister will address. One is the general nature of PPS7. I quote from a constituent, a member of the local Campaign to Protect Rural England, who makes a powerful point, although perhaps it is expressed a little too strongly:
"My main overall concern about the Draft is that it appears to be very heavily biased in favour of almost any form of economic development almost anywhere in the countryside. There is totally inadequate emphasis on the importance of the countryside as a valuable and vulnerable asset in its own right—and on the consequent importance of safeguarding it for its own sake."
I hope the Minister will give assurances that draft PPS7 will not allow significant business development of an inappropriate sort in the countryside. Clearly, farm diversification needs to take place, but that would happen under the current PPG7. I hope the Minister will begin to address some of the concerns that are being raised about relaxing the rules too much in draft PPS7.
There is a second and more serious problem with PPS7: its potential effect on affordable housing. The Minister knows that one of the few ways of creating affordable housing in rural areas is through the use of exception sites. Draft PPS7 appears to rule out the use of exception sites for affordable housing in rural areas. That will have a dramatic effect because it will drive the young people away from the villages to the urban centres. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that that is not the intent of PPS7, and that if that is its effect, she will change it.
Finally, I turn to an issue that the Minister raised, but which was not touched on by the Conservatives, surprisingly—that is housing density. I am surprised that with all their worries about town cramming and development spreading out into the countryside, the Conservatives did not mention housing density. Perhaps they were worried because the figures for housing density when they were in government were pretty awful.
The Minister trumpets the fact that housing density is going up, but the figures are still dismal. The most recent figures we have, which I am sad to say are from 2002, show that 27 dwellings per hectare is being achieved. According to the Government's guidance the percentage should be higher. The median point of the range being discussed would be 40 dwellings per hectare—higher than the Minister mentioned. If that had been achieved over the past few years, 40 per cent. more homes would have been produced on the land that has been used since the Government came to power. That is the effect of getting the housing density numbers up.
We do not need estates of executive homes with gardens. We need more dense construction, because that is the way of delivering the affordable houses that we need. We do not deny that we need extra housing. We will not put our heads in the sand like the Conservatives and pretend that we can get away with no more extra houses. We need extra houses, but we need to make sure that they will not devour the countryside. I shall not become all Elgar-like, as the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings was, talking about "green and pleasant Land". I thought he would get on to "dark Satanic mills" after a while.
The debate, as is always the case when we are coming up to local elections, has been a lot of froth and very little policy. We know the Conservatives have no policy. We know their record is appalling. All they can do is point out some of the problems that the Government have created, and we agree with the words of the motion because they analyse some of the problems correctly.
The Government, if one believes them, say, "Don't worry. We've got it all in hand. It's all going to be sorted", but their policies do not add up to sorting the problems of affordable housing and protecting the countryside, which could be achieved if they reviewed the policies. I urge the Government to look seriously at integrating housing and planning policies more closely. I do not believe they have done so sufficiently. That lack of integration is leading to the problems that give rise to debates such as this on the Floor of the House.
I am aware of the time, so I shall try to cut my comments short. The Conservatives will be pleased that my thunderous attack on their policies in the 1980s will have to be dropped; I shall stick to some fairly positive things.
I want to bring a northern perspective—if I am allowed to mention the north in this debate—to the issue of town planning and urban sprawl. I shall illustrate my comments with examples from my Elmet constituency, which is full of towns and villages of markedly different characters that are very conscious of their identities. I share the desire of local people to maintain their own geographical integrity, for want of a better phrase. We do not want villages such as Micklefield to merge with towns such as Garforth, and we do not want Garforth to merge with Kippax or, God forbid, Kippax to merge with Allerton Bywater, where I live.
As I hope has come through in the debate, people are realistic enough to recognise that new homes are needed, and the Minister outlined why they are needed. The reasons include a change in housing patterns and household formation, the fact that we are living longer and the fact that, thanks to a Labour Government, wealth and affluence are growing. My area faces high demand because it is considered a pleasant place to live that has very good facilities. When I travel around the constituency, people tell me that they want their sons and daughters to be able to get a house there and to live in the area when they get married or move into relationships.
The big question is—the Labour party has had a big conversation, so perhaps we should have a few big questions—where should we try to build those homes? Part of the answer to that big question is: on brownfield sites. I do not recognise portrayals, such as those of the Conservative party, of the developments that the Government have encouraged. I am here today to praise Leeds city council for the success that it has achieved with housing developments in brownfield locations.
The last figures that I looked at, which were for 2003–04, showed that 80 per cent. of all new homes built in the great city of Leeds in that time were developed on brownfield sites. The positive impact is that, in the review of the unitary development plan for Leeds, we have been able to remove some 352 hectares from planned development and move it back into green-belt land. In areas such as Scholes and Kippax in my constituency, that has been well received. The only blot on the landscape, if I may use that phrase, is the plan for large-scale development at the northern end of Whinmoor, which I will do my best to oppose and defeat. That development would come on the back of the proposed extension to the ring road.
I am not following a nimbyist line on this issue. My constituency has four or five key brownfield sites, and they are not in people's back gardens. I am amazed that anybody thinks that we could hit housing figures by building in people's back gardens. All I can say is that some of the Conservative Members who have spoken must have exceptionally big back gardens. [Interruption.] Perhaps they have front gardens as well—
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman on that point. This is a question not of houses with big gardens, but of where developers may knock down two, three or four houses to obtain access to a large stretch of land that he and I would regard as gardens, so that they can put up 16 or 24 flats. That is the point.
I accept that, and I am glad that we are seeking to promote a better definition. Some of the terms that were thrown about earlier were a bit too loose, so I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments.
In my constituency, there are several brownfield sites. There is a petrol station at Micklefield with a car park alongside it, as well as the Swarcliffe development and two other sites—one in Wetherby and another in my home village of Allerton Bywater. The crucial point is that developments on such sites are helping us to meet housing demand and, importantly for people in my area, to protect the adjoining green belt.
That is particularly apparent in the case of the millennium village, which I shall deal with later.
In terms of northern house prices, Wetherby is an expensive place to live. People in Wetherby say that they cannot get on the housing ladder and stay in that pleasant market town. If one calls into Wetherby for a cup of tea—hon. Members might consider this when they drive up the A1—the Micklethwaite Farm development site, which is a classic example of a brownfield development, is just before the river on the left-hand side as one drives into the town centre after pulling off the A1.
House prices are high in that area, so I am particularly pleased that 23 of the 102 properties on that site are affordable homes, ranging from two to five-bedroom units. They have been sold to a housing association that will run them and let them at social rents, which is good news for people in Wetherby. That is one way to begin to address the grave housing shortage, which—let us be blunt—the Conservatives' policy of selling off council houses has exacerbated. There can be no debate on that point.
In my home village of Allerton Bywater, we are blessed with one of the Government's millennium villages—the first one was in Greenwich, and now the scheme has moved on to Allerton Bywater. The project has been run under the guidance of English Partnerships, which is brilliant at engaging people in the democratic process, helping them to understand what the development is about and addressing their fears and concerns.
The 25-hectare millennium village site is a good example of mixed-use development. The site formerly provided jobs for 1,400 miners, and the millennium village has brought jobs back into the area as well as housing. The village includes 500 homes, 100 of which will be sold under shared equity schemes. As a result of those schemes, 20 per cent. of the houses will enable younger people to get on the first rung of the housing ladder. I have spoken to representatives of English Partnerships, who say that local people welcome the scheme.
The millennium village consists of well-designed, high-quality housing, which is important, and it has also revived our community buildings. The old school, which was in a state of disrepair, has been renovated as a community centre and library, and the miners' welfare building, which houses the cricket and bowling teams and various other activities, has been rebuilt and will be reopened shortly. In that sense, the development is a boon. The crucial point is that the millennium village has saved a beautiful swathe of greenfield land between Kippax and Allerton Bywater, which will not be built on because the millennium village partly meets housing need.
Having listened to Conservative Members today, I urge them to get in touch with the leader of the Conservative group in Leeds, who followed a duplicitous and dishonest policy of opposing that development while demanding the protection of the green belt. Tough choices are necessary in such matters, and we supported the development in order to protect the green belt.
I have a few additional points for the Minister. I hope that PPG3 will not be weakened, because it has been crucial in developing a sequential approach to housing development—brownfield first; greenfield later—and we should try to strengthen it.
Matthew Green discussed PPG7. Although PPG7 was brought in to revive the rural economy, it is used like a blunderbuss. It should not be used in metropolitan districts—it was used to introduce agricultural activity on the doorstep of one of the biggest conurbations in Leeds. In that case, a factory was built on the green belt in my constituency solely to promote agricultural or rural revival. That was totally inappropriate, and I hope that we examine that point in the future.
Village design statements are very popular in my constituency, and they should be given even greater weight in the planning process. I should especially like to mention the residents of Bardsey, who spent vast amounts of time developing their village design statement and finished up losing a big battle on mobile phone masts.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Countryside Agency has just stopped giving grants to communities to produce village design statements as part of the vital villages scheme? I hope that he regrets that as much as I do.
I do regret it, although I welcome the fact that we introduced the policy. Perhaps it will change. However, I do not want to be like the Liberals by facing both ways at once.
Another aspect of urban sprawl is that when driving on motorways or major roads, one sees redundant trailers and lorries parked in fields with huge advertising signs on them. That adds massive clutter to the countryside, but nobody ever seems able to do anything about it. It is not only local firms that put them there, but multinationals such as IKEA and McDonalds.
We all tramp round the streets delivering leaflets—at least, some of us do; some people pay to have it done—and we can see that something that makes a real difference to the feel of an estate is the presence of trees. Our planning legislation should enforce the provision of trees in public spaces. There is nothing like trees for breaking up the straight lines of buildings and giving variety and colour to an area, as well as for promoting wildlife.
I hope that the Government will continue to encourage bringing life back to our cities. A classic example is the great city of Leeds. Twenty years ago, one would steer clear of the city centre, especially on a Saturday night; now, it is absolutely packed with people. It is a lively place and people are living in it. We should do more to encourage that, because the more people live in the centre, the more pressure is relieved on the edges in constituencies like mine.
We should continue to have tight planning regulation. I do not want us ever to be like the countries with poor planning regimes that lead to hideous sprawl and inappropriate developments, which many of our constituents see when they travel. I could mention several countries, but I do not want to fall out with them, because they might not allow me to visit them in future.
Thanks to this Labour Government, the whole basis of urban and rural land use policy is far more coherent and based on sound principles. Now that we have got coherence back into the system, our job is to continue to move forward.
Certain aspects of this debate are of great and grave importance to my constituents. In Sutton Coldfield, we are groaning under the weight of vexatious and unwanted development proposals. We have made some progress over the past year, but it is no thanks to the Government. I am pleased that the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Yvette Cooper, are on the Front Bench today, because they both have some understanding of the problems. Indeed, on the day that the Minister was promoted, he responded to my Adjournment debate on a similar subject. He recently agreed to meet me and a senior councillor from Sutton Coldfield to discuss the issues. I have also indulged in a great deal of correspondence with the Under-Secretary, some of which is ongoing.
I want to make three specific points in supporting the motion ably proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes. Overall, my key point is that far too few decision-making powers are in the hands of the local community and that the planning system is slanted too much in favour of developers. We have to rectify that situation in the interests of our constituents.
First, brownfield development is taking place in areas where no one expected or intended that it should.
There is a great deal of difference between wasted and undeveloped industrial land, which needs to be cleaned up and returned to productive use, and the sort of back gardens about which Colin Burgon and I exchanged views a moment ago. The confusion between infill in the back gardens of houses and industrial development land causes enormous upset and great vexation to people who live in my constituency and similar communities. We all know what brownfield development is meant to be, but the concept has been greatly abused through lack of a clear interpretation.
Secondly, communities, through local authorities, must have more power in decision making. It is proposed that three bungalows on Little Sutton lane in a lovely part of Sutton Coldfield be demolished to make way for a large number of flats. Everyone opposes that. The three local councillors and I are opposed to it and up to 1,000 people who live in the area have said that they do not want the development. However, the developers are back after being turned down. They can take informal advice from the planners and they threaten to appeal. My constituents are defeated. We cannot match the way in which developers push through proposals, using the well-known weapon on appeal of a slick London barrister. The developers bank the money and move on, and my constituents are left with the disruption and misery caused by a process that should not lead to the results that often ensue.
Once one or two such developments occur in an area, people wake up one morning and find that its character has completely changed. The effect of great density in an area such as my constituency on doctors' surgeries, schools, parking, roads and so on is incremental and immense. We do not oppose the Government's point about the need to build houses or the density arrangements. However, in a city such as Birmingham, those houses must be built in the right area and the authority must be able, under the law, to discriminate between an appropriate and an inappropriate area.
In my constituency, developers presented a proposal for Brassington avenue, which is in the heart of Sutton Coldfield. Although many of us welcomed the original proposal, as soon as that welcome for good sense about density was made public, the developers upped the number of flats that they wanted to build and lost the sympathy of the area and the people who had initially examined the proposal and genuinely believed that it might prove appropriate.
Thirdly, I set the Government a test of their sincerity about the green belt. Peddimore will be a familiar name to the Under-Secretary. It is a site that was removed from the green belt under my predecessor, Lord Fowler, and made a site of regional significance in the west midlands. That was done on the ground of prospective enormous inward investment by the electronics industry. However, it never materialised. The result of a unitary development plan inquiry was devastating. The inspector not only found in favour of the arguments that I and others in my constituency presented and dismissed the council's argument, but made it clear that the council had not even assembled a proper argument.
The Labour council in Birmingham is trying to subvert the inspector's ruling through the draft regional plan and ask the Under-Secretary and the Department to leave Peddimore as a site of a regional significance outside the green belt. The test for the Under-Secretary and the Department is to listen to what all those people who attended the inquiry said. Let the Under-Secretary hear the authentic voices of local communities speaking for the areas where they live and return Peddimore to the green belt. There is no user for the site and no case for its being out of the green belt. Alternative, much better sites exist and there is a damning case against its current status. I urge the Under-Secretary to examine the evidence carefully and ensure that Peddimore goes back into the green belt.
I have been relatively brief about an enormously important subject in Sutton Coldfield. We must ensure that local communities have a much better defence than currently exists. I detect some sympathy for those views from the Under-Secretary. I hope that she will redouble her efforts to find ways of ensuring that the planning system can provide that defence to local communities, which are far too exposed.
First, may I pay a compliment to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning? Unfortunately, I was unable to be present for the first part of his speech, which I shall read with great interest in tomorrow's Hansard, but the latter part I entirely agreed with. He has a great grasp of the important issues we are discussing today.
I heard all the speeches from the other Front-Bench spokespersons, and I take issue particularly with the Liberal Democrat, Matthew Green, who, on the one hand, said that planning should not be too centralised and, on the other, that people do not want to live in silos. Unfortunately, local authorities, to some extent, are silos. They can deal only with matters within their boundaries. Central Government must have a role—
I have nothing against central Government; indeed, I strongly support them and their planning role. They need enough power to do the job properly. My constituency of Luton, North has a desperate housing shortage. We are running out of brownfield sites and we are doing our best to put as much housing as is reasonably possible within the borough boundaries, but we need to expand to house people. We are talking about people on the council house waiting list, not those in large houses. They are the ones who need homes; we need social housing.
The word "planning" greatly appeals to me. It has a socialist flavour of which I entirely approve. Of course, the great advance was made by the post-war Labour Government and the Silkin Act, and we owe them a debt. I am fully in favour of planning—sensible planning—and indeed a central role. Only central Government can solve the problems we have in Luton.
Like many other areas in the south-east, Luton has a serious housing problem. There is a shortage of housing, as well as a shortage of affordable housing, and we need more council housing in particular. There is a similar situation in many other areas. We need to build reasonably near to Luton, but we also have to build in other local authority areas. I have discussed these matters with Andrew Selous, in whose constituency some of the new houses will undoubtedly be built. Some of my constituents may finish up living in his constituency, over time. [Interruption.] They are fine people and I want them to be properly housed in decent homes, wherever they live.
Clearly, planning law is designed to have a negative effect—to prevent development where it is inappropriate—but it also ought to have a positive aspect so that it promotes development where it is appropriate. To the north of my constituency, there are areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and areas that should not be built on, but there is also pretty average farm land that is entirely appropriate for new housing.
My hon. Friend's use of the word "positive" brings me to my feet, and I very much agree with him on that. Does he agree that, rather than approaching these matters involving housing development and the sustainable communities plan as a threat and something with which to generate fears, which is what the Conservative motion seeks to do, we can be positive and confident about the many interrelated social, economic and environmental benefits that will flow from a strategic look at those issues and which will help society?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for his intervention. If we are to have more housing, the logical place to build it is around existing large towns, especially towns such as Luton, which are below a critical mass at which they can become more interesting. We have heard about the splendid city of Leeds, which can sustain theatres. I was going to say that it can sustain a successful football club, but that would have been unfortunate.
Nevertheless, big cities can sustain much more interesting facilities than medium-sized and larger towns such as Luton. Luton and Dunstable, together as a conurbation, cannot yet sustain facilities of the kind that I want in our area. I look forward to the expansion of our conurbation to such a size that it reaches the critical mass at which we will be able to have a big, successful football club, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a professional theatre.
That is what I am looking for, and I like to think that my constituents agree that Luton could become an even more exciting place if it was larger and we also had decent homes for our people.
There is much to be said for the Government's plans, and I entirely agree with their approach.
A point I have made to local authorities in my area, to people who live there and to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is that we should build the benefits into new housing developments. Small spinneys and woodland areas could be made into green corridors forming a link with the existing conurbation. That would make life much more interesting for everyone in both places, and would preserve what is best in the rural element of urban areas. One of the great successes of planning is our preservation of green areas in towns. Certainly there are some nice parks in Luton, and we want to preserve them.
I entirely agree that we should build an element of greenness into new developments. The problem is that in areas such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell and my own constituency, gardens are being filled in, and the concentration on new housing is eliminating the rural, green aspect that we value so much.
Local authorities in my area strongly agree that green areas should be preserved and green corridors created.
I have not much time left. I want to make one or two important points. In recent months I have had some conversations with house builders. I asked them whether they were interested in building on brownfield sites; no, they were not. Were they interested in building social housing? No, they were not. Were they interested in contracting to build for local authorities or housing associations? No, they were not. What they were interested in was building on greenfield sites where they can get the development value and build expensive executive homes.
The Government must intervene to ensure that that does not happen. There must be a much greater role for the state at local and national level to ensure that we build the houses that are needed, not those designed to bring big profits to builders. If that means a degree of subsidy to reinvent and recreate the great local authority housing of the past, which housed so many of my friends when I was young, so be it. I am a strong supporter of good local authority housing development, and I believe that it must have a major role in the future.
We must stop the house builders, the developers and the free marketeers ruining our countryside and making it a place where many of my constituents will never be able to find houses because they will be unable to buy, and where a small minority of people will live in large executive homes. Low-density housing will do nothing to introduce some sort of equality and social justice.
There are many more points that I would like to make, but perhaps that will suffice for now. I strongly support the Government's position, and will vote against what the Conservatives have proposed.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Hopkins. Given the limited time, I hope he will excuse me if I do not pick up all his points.
In an intervention on the speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes, I pointed out that over the last 25 years the population of our country had increased by 4 million, but so had the number of households. That reveals a dramatic change in our country's demography. Let me give one or two more statistics. The number of lone-parent families has doubled in the last 35 years. The number of single-person households is now 30 per cent. of the total. Conversely, the number of households consisting of married couples and children—what we regard as the typical British family of yesteryear—has fallen from 33 per cent. of the total to 20 per cent. I mention those figures because it is certain that whatever problems we may have in meeting the housing aspirations of the people of our country in the next few years, the task will become immeasurably more difficult.
Let us also remember two other factors. First, in the last 25 years, car ownership has increased from 14 million to 27 million; and, secondly, we are becoming an ageing population. That has occurred not only because we are living longer—due more to medical science than to the Government, though I sometimes doubt whether Government Members realise it—but because of the falling birth rate. We need more dwelling units and, apparently, smaller homes.
I do not believe that there is any all-embracing, single, simple solution. We need different approaches and different policies for different areas. I should like briefly to outline my seven-point policy.
First, green belt policies have been the undoubted success of post-war planning policy. I believe that they should be inviolable and that Governments should support them. On the one hand, they have prevented towns joining each other, and on the other, they have prevented ever-increasing sizes of conurbations.
Secondly, we should place even greater emphasis on the use of brownfield sites. One problem is that so many of them are contaminated, making it more expensive to prepare the land for housing. Those sites also tend to be based in areas where building is more expensive than elsewhere. The Government have made changes to section 106 agreements, whereby in return for certain planning permissions being granted, the developers make contributions for the benefit of the community. I believe that the revenues from section 106 agreements should be put into helping developers with the extra expense of developing brownfield sites.
Thirdly, it is possible for us to be much more imaginative. In the old days, we used to think in terms of high-density development and building multi-storey blocks of flats in cities and large towns. However, the ingenuity of architects and planners now suggests that it is possible to have higher-density, low-level development. I would like to see the Government choosing sites in our great cities and very large towns and holding a competition for the design and layout of high-density development. The high standards of health and security that we demand would have to be met and "defensible spaces", to use the modern jargon, provided for people to live in. The winning schemes should be built. After people were invited to assess them, they could readily be sold off at a considerable profit.
Fourthly, we need a firmer policy to protect our pleasant suburbs. Too many impersonal blocks of flats have been allowed to replace pleasant houses, and too much unrelieved "tarmacadaming" for off-street parking has been allowed to replace gardens. Providing more places for cars as well as building more flats has been a problem.
Fifthly, we need to encourage the conversion of more existing non-domestic buildings—warehouses, old mills and so forth—into providing homes. Interestingly, in my part of the country, the value of homes is higher than the value of offices. Some suitable offices could be transformed to become housing stock.
Sixthly, we must have minimum development on greenfield sites. I am not na-ve enough to suppose that no such development will take place, but it should be a last resort and occur only when it can be shown that there are no more suitable brownfield sites in the area. It should be possible, on a village-by-village basis, to look at smaller communities and settlements to see whether sensible development could make them more viable. That could mean that the local sub-post office does not have to close and that a bobby on the beat and a doctor could be based there locally. A village could thus be transformed into a more economically and socially viable unit.
My seventh point is that we need a more imaginative policy to reverse our declining urban areas, particularly in the north.
Finally, the motor vehicle has changed the way in which we live as well as having a profound effect on our town planning. Why do we not earmark areas in some big cities in which people may live, provided they do not own a vehicle when that is their choice? We might be surprised to find that many people, especially those in our great cities, would like the option of not having a car, yet being able to live in a quieter environment. It is key to making our inner cities and town centres decent, safe and attractive places once again. We need enthusiasm, imagination and commitment; and would it not be wonderful if we could get all-party agreement on how to go ahead and achieve that?
I want to focus on my constituency because it reflects many points made by hon. Members, especially those made by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell in the context of his constituency. Fareham's population has expanded significantly. In 1961, 58,000 people lived in the borough of Fareham and by 2001 the figure had grown to 108,000. Most of the development has taken place in the west of my constituency, and in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—especially—it was well planned and environmentally friendly. However, brownfield sites are now being used to intensify development, especially in the western part of Fareham.
Nursing homes have closed and have been replaced by large blocks of flats. A block called Paxton court with 24 two-bedroom flats is being built to replace only three bungalows on Locks road in my constituency. Last week, there was a planning application to build 53 flats in five blocks, with car parking and access, on the site of only two or three houses in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield identified the problem of more intense development taking place in already well developed areas. The pressure on such sites is continuing not only in the west of my constituency, but in other parts, because the council is required to build more houses to meet the Government's planning targets.
It was interesting to note that the Minister for Housing and Planning referred to one of the last brownfield sites in Fareham. Some 1,650 hectares of land have been transferred from the ownership of the Department of Health to that of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is a former hospital site, and although part of it has been developed as a hospital, much of it consists of green fields. I will be intrigued to find out whether one of the last remaining green areas in the west of my constituency will remain as a place where children can play, or whether the fields will be built upon under the stewardship of that Department.
Why is there such an intensity of development in my constituency? Hon. Members referred to PPG3 and its guidance on population densities. The increase in the density of housing to 30 to 50 dwellings per hectare is leading to more intense developments on relatively small plots of land, so 24 flats are being built on the site of three bungalows and their gardens. More flats are being crammed into such areas.
The classification of brownfield sites to include residential homes must be examined. The Government's adviser on density said:
"They made very large gardens in the 1930s and it is possible to sub-divide the plots with alleys and paths to introduce denser development".
Such an increase in population density is occurring in my constituency, and the Government are keen for that to happen.
An issue that arises from density of development and the focus on brownfield sites is the change of areas' characters. Park Gate, which is in my constituency, is a mixed residential, office and light-industrial area.
However, the demand for brownfield sites for housing makes it very attractive for businesses to close down and sell their land, or to convert light industrial and commercial premises for the purpose.
That is what is happening, but there is no debate in the local community about the nature of the area. People who may be able to walk to work now will be forced by the change in use to drive to work. That will put pressure on the already crowded roads in the west of my constituency.
The increase in the density of development also places pressure on the existing infrastructure. I return to the example of Paxton court, where 24 flats have replaced three bungalows. The amount of traffic on the roads will be between six and eight times greater as a consequence of such intense development of so-called brownfield sites, but the transport infrastructure in the area—both the local main roads and the M27—is already suffering a great deal of pressure from existing developments. Increasing the intensity of residential development and using more brownfield sites will add to the pressure on the transport infrastructure.
The Government have held no end of inquiries and reports. The south coast multimodal study was the most recent, but there is now to be a further study of transport needs in south-east Hampshire. Those inquiries merely put off the decisions that need to be made if the transport infrastructure is to be improved in my part of the county.
The increase in intensity of development has not increased the stock of affordable housing available for the doctors, nurses and teachers needed to cater to the needs of the growing local population. In part, that is because the price of the sites being used has been bid up—the pressure to develop on brownfield land has meant that developers have to pay higher prices for land. Those increases have been passed on to the people who buy the flats.
Flagstaff House is a development on the site of a former nursing home. A one-bedroom flat there costs £150,000—six times the average earnings in Fareham. The increase in housing density does not equate to an increase in affordable housing to meet the needs of key workers who might wish to live in the area.
The intensity of development and the strains being placed on the infrastructure mean that there is much opposition in the local community to the impact of the planning process. People are starting to feel disfranchised from the process, and to believe that the local council is almost powerless when faced with central Government planning guidelines. If we are to restore confidence in the integrity and transparency of the planning process, we must ensure that local people are able, through their local councillors, to influence more of the decisions that are taken about the future of their communities.
That is not happening at the moment. It is important that we reconnect people with the planning process. People in Fareham are asking for a fairer deal.
I begin by declaring my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, as I have an interest in a family property and building company. I also want to apologise to those Back-Bench Members of all parties who have not been able to contribute to the debate. I know that they will be frustrated, but it is inevitable that Front-Bench speakers will want to explain what they say in attack or defence, and that they will take many interventions.
Matthew Green suggested that, in future, it might be appropriate for the House to spend more time debating policy planning statements. I agree, as planning is a major issue in many constituencies. Many constituents are affected by it, yet most policy planning statements are not discussed here before they go out to local authorities for consultation. I think that the usual channels should consider whether those statements should be discussed more fully in Parliament, both when they are introduced and later, when we can see how they affect the communities that we represent.
Earlier, there was a little spat about rural planning, when it was clear that there were differences of opinion. We should spend more time in the Chamber on such matters, as that may be the best way of securing a holistic view from Members of Parliament.
In this short debate, we have heard some very good contributions. Colin Burgon talked about the big conversation and being the voice of the north. His main concern was ensuring that the communities he represents were not joined up to the urban sprawl of the city of Leeds, which takes in many rural and semi-rural areas. We heard a thoughtful speech from Mr. Hopkins, who glowed when he mentioned the word "socialism". He wanted to make Luton an even more exciting place than it is at the moment, and strongly defended the Government's policies.
We heard a traditional and thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman, who made seven points—unlike President Wilson, who had 14 points. It would be worth the while of the Minister for Housing and Planning to read those points—he was not in his place when my hon. Friend spoke—because they included some very good ideas for the future direction of development. We also heard some good contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban).
This debate is about town cramming and housing density. The Minister laid great emphasis on the fact that he wanted to increase density and there are certain parts of the country where higher density development is appropriate. In my own constituency, there are one or two former industrial sites near the quay and the former port that could be developed at higher density, and could include more affordable housing. However, PPG3 and the revisions of it in March 2000 are having an unintended consequence. Many parts of my constituency contain family homes with large gardens. What happens is that developers pick streets that used to be middle class, family areas, they buy up two or three homes together or make a large offer to one resident, and then they put in an application for high-density development. As Poole is a seaside resort, the applications tend to be for flats. After the developers get one property, they try to get others, so often multiple applications are made. As a result, the communities feel disfranchised and frustrated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said.
The consequence, as property after property is turned into flats, is that all the people who protested that they did not want the character of the area to change decide to sell up and move out. That means that the essential nature of the area changes. An aerial photograph of Poole would show mainly trees and gardens, but we are gradually losing trees and gardens and in their place we have higher density development. However, that development is not in affordable housing, but in expensive flats, many of them second homes.
We are losing family homes, trees and large gardens, so the nature of my constituency is changing. That theme is also apparent in Meriden, Sutton Coldfield, Fareham and some of the leafier suburbs of London. It perhaps affects Conservative Members more, because of the nature of the constituencies that we represent. In the past two general elections, the Conservative party was hard hit and the leafier suburbs and rural areas are just about the only ones where we have some representation. In any case, high house prices and the Government's pushing of higher density development through PPG3 have combined in a pincer movement on my constituents.
Planning committees are pushed, by PPG3, to allow higher density developments in the face of great opposition, and they are now demoralised and upset. The planning department in Poole has told me that the development control officers in the Sandbanks, Canford Cliffs and Parkstone areas have to be rotated—like officers on the Russian front—because of the stress caused by residents telephoning and e-mailing when an application causes great concern.
That is a feature of Britain. It is certainly a feature of the suburbs and it is changing the essential character of our towns. That is why there is legitimate concern about how PPG3 is implemented.
We all believe in some degree of national guidance, but I wonder whether there is a way in which one could be more specific about what is and is not appropriate for high density in a local area. My party believes that more of these decisions should be made locally. The only way to sort out the detail and to decide what is and is not appropriate for development is to give more powers to local authorities.
Perhaps areas should be designated as low-density areas in a particular borough or urban area to save its essential character. As it is, people tend to make areas of a borough conservation areas where that is not necessarily appropriate, because they feel that may be a means to ensure that density levels are lower.
Essentially, that is the charge that we make against the Government. Statistics and figures are bandied across the Chamber, but much brownfield development is on urban land that was a garden or a drive, or had been previously the site of a bungalow, now demolished. That is our legitimate concern. When my constituents hear that the Government, in their push for higher density, are commissioning a further study from Cambridge university's Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies, which is spending £1.75 million to look at even more ways to encourage density in suburbs, their natural reaction is to think, "Goodness, there will be more pressure on us to increase density where it may not be particularly appropriate."
That is why the Opposition are on the attack today. Our communities feel that they are under pressure and are being threatened. Many of our citizens feel angry and disenfranchised. The consequence of that in the long term is not good for politicians. When planning committees, residents and even MPs feel that they cannot have any impact on what goes on in communities, and that national circulars, Government inspectors and regional officers have more impact on their towns, we are in great difficulty.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hayes covered many issues, and I will not repeat a lot of what he said, but there is concern about how the sustainable communities plan will impact on some areas of the south. Although building over green fields is something that one has to do, the Government have planitis—they seem to have a plan for everything, largely by extrapolating and assuming that the trends will continue, making the situation in many of the areas under great pressure rather worse.
The other day, I was talking to the leader of Kent county council. He says that quite a lot of land there is appropriate for housing, but that there is not the infrastructure—
The Minister says that, but Kent says that the Government are not being so proactive in establishing that infrastructure. We must have balance—we must have infrastructure as well as development. Many people in our communities are concerned that the two do not go together—people get the development first, with all the downside and the difficulties, but they do not get the infrastructure later.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, for example, is concerned about the sustainable communities plan. It says:
"Growth on this scale could devastate the countryside in a region already under severe pressure. And it could further damage declining urban areas which desperately need investment and attention—not just elsewhere in the region but right across the country."
The south-east is under great pressure. The Government need to think again. The Thames gateway makes sense but some of the other plans are rather too ambitious.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings made a compelling point on the green belt, which is a great legacy of the Conservative Government of 1955—Duncan Sandys introduced it. It was meant to save land for the long term. It was not meant to be a temporary thing that could be moved at the will of a Government when people felt that it was no longer relevant. At the moment, green belt is being built on where there is already development pressure and green belt is being added where there is no pressure. Doncaster may be a lovely place but I do not think that it faces the same pressures as areas in the south-east.
That is an issue of real concern.
My hon. Friend made powerful points about Barker. The report did not take the latest census material into account: there are 900,000 fewer people in the UK and 720,000 empty homes, 300,000 of which are in London. There is a very good argument for looking into the management of our housing stock and freeing up that stock before we build on green fields across the country.
There is legitimate anxiety about the changes in our communities. I understand the Government's concerns about affordable housing and the need to increase density in certain areas, but in fact what is happening is that many leafy suburbs, and some rural areas, are undergoing substantial change. That is causing great concern to our constituents and the problem must be dealt with; otherwise the anger that already exists will grow. We need a more flexible approach than the Government have shown so far.
I hope that my colleagues support our motion, because the House should make clear its view of the Government's policy.
We have had an interesting debate. Matthew Green raised issues about planning policy guidance. He may have heard the Deputy Prime Minister on the radio this morning; my right hon. Friend made it clear that we are not changing the approach to out-of-town developments. Nor does the draft planning guidance mean reducing support for affordable housing in rural areas: quite the reverse.
My hon. Friend Colin Burgon described the value and importance of the millennium village in his constituency. As his neighbour, I can testify to the importance of that programme, which is regenerating the coalfields area with a new approach to mixed development and the building of mixed, sustainable communities.
Mr. Mitchell raised concerns about his constituency, many involving planning cases, on which, as he knows, I cannot comment. I shall deal later on with some of the broader issues that he raised.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hopkins set out clearly the pressures on housing in his constituency. He made a powerful case about the need for more development and housing in the south-east.
Sir Sydney Chapman made some important points, many of which I agree with, about the value of good design and the potential for city centre redevelopment. Mr. Hoban complained about development and greater density, while simultaneously complaining about affordability in his constituency. That very much epitomises the issues we face in London and the south-east.
I want to pick up some of the points made by the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), and will start with the issues raised about the green belt. Opposition Members have professed grave concern for the green belt, yet figures published by the previous Conservative Government showed that, in the 1980s and the 1990s, they slashed the green belt. The Labour Government have already increased the amount of green belt and we have made it clear that we need to protect the overall level of green belt in every region. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out earlier today, that is a "darn sight better" than the Conservative party managed to do.
As Opposition Members know, we have also increased the proportion of new houses built on brownfield sites. So far, the Thames gateway scheme has involved more than 80 per cent. brownfield development, with a density of 37 dwellings per hectare. That substantial brownfield development is a good thing.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that we should go back on the sustainable communities plan and that he does not support the four growth areas. I fear that is yet another example of Conservative Front-Bench Members not talking to each other, because what did the shadow Chancellor tell the Medway Messenger last week? On a visit to the Thames gateway, the right hon. Gentleman said:
"We should be proud when we carry forward major schemes like this."
The Government are indeed proud to be taking forward the Thames gateway development to provide much-needed homes for people who live in London and the south-east.
Let me deal with gardens. It is Chelsea flower show week so it is a good time to champion gardens. I point out to Opposition Members that nothing has changed for Britain's gardens. The definition of "previously developed land" has not changed. In 1975, under the category "Residential", the national land use classification included
"houses, flats, sheltered accommodation where residences have separate front entrances and adjoining garages, gardens, estate roads and pathways".
That definition was used by Conservative Governments for 18 years, and it included gardens.
The figures on the proportion of brownfield development produced by redeveloping existing residential areas—knocking down houses and rebuilding—has remained broadly unchanged for many years.
The hon. Member for Poole made slightly more thoughtful points about increasing density undermining the character of certain areas, but planning policy statement 3 and PPS1 strongly stress the importance of design. Local planning authorities, frankly, should take a much more assertive approach to the quality of developments, the quality of life in an area and design issues. Greater density does not necessarily produce a decline in the quality of life—quite the reverse.
There is a fundamental problem with the Conservative party's position on planning. The hon. Member for Ludlow was right. The Conservatives do not want to build houses in the green belt. They do not want to build houses as infill. They do not want to build them in the countryside. They do not want to build them in towns. They do not want to build them anywhere. They say that we should put more houses on surplus employment land. We agree. That is why we are changing the guidance, but that will not solve the problem—all the jobs that we are creating have to go somewhere, too. Admittedly, if the Tories got back to office and returned to their boom-and-bust approach, they might create rather more surplus employment land, but I presume that that is not the strategy that they had in mind.
The last time that we had an Opposition day debate on housing, I said that the Conservatives did not have a grasp of the figures and that their sums did not add up. They wanted to build more affordable houses and cut the housing budget by £400 million. Their sums are bad enough, but it seems that their spatial reasoning is pretty ropey, too. Last time, I pointed out that houses cost money, that they do not grow on trees and that they do not fall from the skies. Now, I have to point out that houses take up space. They have to be built somewhere. They cannot be built in the sky or in trees.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that he wanted incremental, gentle development. He was presumably referring to the low levels of building that we saw for too many years. That will simply not provide the homes that we need—the homes that he said that he wanted to provide to anchor people for life's journey. The Conservatives have a strange position. They admit that there are problems with affordable housing and rising house prices, but they then seem to go into complete denial about the relationship between housing prices, housing demand and housing supply. The Tory economic record in practice was abysmal, but at least they used to manage the rhetoric of supply and demand. Somewhere in their years in opposition, they seem to have ditched even any pretence of economic analysis, to fall back on good old nimbyism instead.
The analysis in the Kate Barker report was very clear on the relationship between housing prices and supply. An overwhelming array of evidence and analysis shows the need for more homes to be built. Various figures have been quoted, and one published assessment stated that housing need would grow by an extra 170,000 every year, owing to household growth. What document did that come from? It was not from the Barker review or the sustainable communities plan, but from the Green Paper on housing growth, published in 1996, by Tory Ministers. In 1996, they thought that household growth would be 170,000 a year. Now, they think that there will be no household growth at all. In 1996, the then Secretary of State, Mr. Gummer, wrote in his foreword to the Green Paper:
"So let us not take refuge in the fond hope that all this will not actually happen."
Household growth is already happening. Household supply has fallen too far. We need more homes. The Tories should face up to facts and support the development of sustainable communities. Frankly, if they had done that 20 years ago, we might be in better shape right now.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Madam Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House applauds the Government for maintaining the amount of Green Belt in England and its pledge to maintain or increase the amount of Green Belt; notes that development of previously developed sites for housing has a crucial role in meeting local needs for housing in the Green Belt and welcomes the Government's crackdown on urban sprawl, by adopting a sequential approach to the release of land and planning growth where it is needed; supports its proactive approach in improving the sustainability of rural communities; applauds the Government's success in achieving its previously developed land target early and increasing average densities of new development, which have helped to take the pressure off green fields; applauds the Government for introducing new planning policies in PPG17 to protect open spaces of value to the local community; and praises the Government for introducing the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to improve the speed and quality of decision making and place sustainability at the heart of the planning system, and for its new emphasis on community involvement, ensuring local people's views are an integral part of the plan making process.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to raise the issue of ballot papers in the European and local government elections in the Hazel Grove constituency. Unlike other hon. Members, who have come to the House to say that their constituents have not received ballot papers, I have come to the House to say that my constituents have received ballot papers and that they have been issued with the wrong ones. In two polling districts of the Bredbury and Woodley ward in my constituency, electors have received ballot papers containing forms for the local government elections in the Edgeley and Cheadle Heath ward, which is in the constituency of Ms Coffey.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will appreciate that that is causing grave confusion to electors in not only my constituency but that of the hon. Member for Stockport. Have you received representations from Department for Constitutional Affairs Ministers that they want to come to the House to explain what will happen next? If not, will you use your good offices to encourage them to do so at the earliest possible moment?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the light of your ruling that you have not received such notice, if the position remains the same tomorrow, will it be in order for the procedures of the House to be used to make a request to Mr. Speaker for the relevant Minister to come to this House and answer a question about the matter?
It is a related matter, but not the same matter. I seek your guidance because it is important for hon. Members to be aware of the procedures of the House given the extraordinary chaos that is developing across the whole of the north of England with regard to postal ballots.
If a request to the Speaker's Office is placed this evening as a matter of urgency, will it be considered tomorrow morning—if no opportunity arises this evening for a Minister to come to this House—so that the Minister can come to make a statement on a matter that most of us are extremely concerned about?