Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:38 pm on 5th November 2012.

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Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 8:38 pm, 5th November 2012

I am pleased to follow Grahame M. Morris. One thing that he and I can agree on is the need to get our economy growing again. The recent growth statistics are, of course, encouraging, but there is plenty more to do. I welcome the Prime Minister’s direction to Cabinet Ministers, which he made in the early part of the parliamentary year, to prioritise growth. Our debate today focuses on the contribution to growth made by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Department made a great start with the national planning policy framework, bringing communities into the planning system through neighbourhood planning. I am delighted that in my constituency we have a frontrunner in the neighbourhood planning process. It is supported by a progressive local authority with a stronger bias towards growth, and by planners from Planning Aid. There are key ways we can get growth in our economy, and they include the development of housing and development within the built environment more generally.

I am conscious of the words of the previous Minister with responsibility for housing, who reminded us that for every 100,000 homes built, 1% is added to GDP.

Supporting the private sector, in particular small businesses, is important. I am glad that since 2010, 1 million new private sector jobs have been created to rebalance the economy, but we need to do more to help small businesses. The Forum of Private Business points out that small businesses contribute 24.9% of the UK’s wealth—a quarter—and we must do all we can to encourage them to flourish.

I would like to speak on some of the proposals in the Bill, specifically those regarding section 106 agreements, speeding up the planning process and powers to the Secretary of State. I will then conclude with one or two remarks concerning omissions and missed opportunities. On section 106 agreements, it is unfortunate that the provision is necessary, but clearly agreements made five years ago at the height of a housing boom, at the height of the market, are often too onerous for a site to come forward for development. However, I have some concerns about the measures in the Bill.

Like hon. Members from all parts of the House, I support mixed communities. Section 106 agreements have enabled mixed communities to be built, and we are no longer developing large estates of one housing type. We now have mixed housing and that provides social interaction between residents, and communities work at their best when there is a mix of people. To listen to Opposition Members, however, it almost sounds as though they expect that every single section 106 agreement would need to be renegotiated. Of course, that is not the case at all. I draw the attention of hon. Members to a development that has just started in my constituency, the Eden Park housing development site, where 1,300 new homes are earmarked to be built. The infrastructure has just gone in and building has started. The site has a long-standing section 106 agreement to provide 40% affordable housing. That has not prevented the site from being developed, and nor should the requirement, or the opportunity, to renegotiate the section 106 agreement prevent future affordable housing development.

Will the Minister clarify when the power for local authorities to renegotiate will be introduced? Will there be a requirement on local authorities to renegotiate? As Members from all parts of the House have said, section 106 agreements are already regularly negotiated. They are a contract between the local planning authority and the developer. As with any form of contract, the terms can be varied by mutual agreement, but will there be any requirement for local planning authorities to renegotiate? What has stopped negotiation taking place up until now? Have some councils been unwilling to negotiate with developers, or have developers been put off approaching the local planning authority? I would like the Minister’s reassurance that, when a developer comes forward with a request to renegotiate a section 106 agreement, there will be an evidence base when making a determination. We heard about the issue of developers coming forward looking for a better deal. One concern I have is that that opportunity to come forward for a better deal may prevent some developers from going ahead with an existing section 106 agreement that is eminently deliverable.

Hon. Members have spoken about the Bill’s impact on speed. It is clearly important to speed up the system, but we must not forget that swifter planning is not necessarily the be-all and end-all. At times, we have to ask ourselves what is more important—good planning or fast planning. Speed is not everything and there are dangers that very quick decisions on planning may lead to bad development, and bad development will last for many generations.

It is the people with homes in areas where bad planning has taken place who have to live with the consequences. If we get development wrong, it helps nobody: it does not help the residents and it will not help the taxpayer, because years down the line poor development will need rebuilding. The Communities and Local Government Committee went to Manchester and saw the redevelopment of a site that itself was redeveloped in the 1970s, when tower blocks had replaced more conventional housing. It was not successful, however, and they were demolished and replaced with more conventional housing.

People’s attitudes towards development are influenced by the quality of previous developments. That is a further reason for getting the planning decisions right, rather than necessarily speedily. If we want people to respond positively to development, they need to be able to picture good development, rather than bad development. Too often, when development proposals come forward, people picture bad development, which leads to an instinctive reaction to oppose, rather than support.