Green-belt Land

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17th September 2012.

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Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale 2:30 pm, 17th September 2012

What his policy is on the protection of green-belt land.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

What his policy is on altering green-belt boundaries.

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Conservative, Esher and Walton

What steps he is taking to protect the green belt.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition’s agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.

Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale

As we all know, Rochdale is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the United Kingdom—[ Interruption. ] Can the Secretary of State assure me and residents of Rochdale that we will not have to swap some of our green-belt land for house building?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

For a moment I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to put that to the vote; I would have been on his side.

The Planning Inspectorate looked at Rochdale metropolitan borough council’s core strategy, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, consultation ends next Monday. It was extended to allow consideration of the proposed release of 55 hectares of green-belt land on the South Heywood development, but that has now been excluded from the core strategy. The inspector looked at the proposed removal of that area from the green belt, tested the council and found that plans for making such an exception were not sufficiently robust. If hon. Members have any doubts about the importance of the green belt, they should see the hon. Gentleman, who can testify to the policy’s stringent nature.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

As the Secretary of State will be aware, on 2 September the Chancellor said that local authorities should swap parts of green-belt land for other land to encourage housing development. In light of what the Secretary of State has said today, will he clear up the confusion about what is and is not green-belt land by firmly repudiating what the Chancellor said on 2 September?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

What I have said is absolutely compatible with what the Chancellor said; there is no difference between my views and those of my right hon. Friend. We have said from the Dispatch Box that a proportion of the green belt is former brownfield land—a disused quarry, for example, or a scrap yard—and the national planning policy framework envisaged careful consideration of those boundaries. Does it not make sense to get those kinds of sites back under development, and protect and enhance the green belt?

Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab Conservative, Esher and Walton

I understand that the Government want to legislate further to streamline planning as part of their economic growth strategy. Elmbridge in my constituency is 57% green-belt land. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the proposed legislation will not contain any new proposals that might weaken protection of green-belt land, and, critically, that planning inspectors will have no right to trump local democratic decision making?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I have good news for my hon. Friend. Based on calculations, it is not 57% green belt, but 60%.

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

It is as the right hon. Gentleman says.

Of course we are not looking to affect my hon. Friend’s constituency. The green belt is immensely important. It is a green lung and prevents major conurbations from bumping into one another.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to diminish planning inspectors’ powers over those who are democratically elected?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend must have come across some grumpy planning inspectors. By and large, they are there to introduce the national planning policy framework, and to ensure that decisions are made in accordance with it. Local democratically elected representatives have a duty to look to the well-being of their constituents not only now, but in future. There must always be a balance, but the green belt remains very safe.

Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will not alter the definition or designation of green belt?

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

North Leeds, too, has some of the most beautiful green belt, which is hugely important to the whole city. I welcome the Secretary of State’s clear statement today, but does he acknowledge that developers continue to target attractive greenfield sites while brownfield sites exist that are desperate for development, and that that needs to be addressed?

Photo of Eric Pickles Eric Pickles The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend will recall the national planning policy framework, which makes it clear that previously developed areas should be given development priority.