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Infrastructure

Part of Opposition Day — [17th( )Allotted Day] — Horsemeat – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 5:18 pm, 12th February 2013

I point out to the hon. Lady that in 2007, under her Government, the Infrastructure Planning Commission granted the decision to build Howbery park, against much opposition from local residents, on the green belt, on the basis that the Strategic Rail Authority said that it should be situated just about there. However, not a shovel has been turned on that development —the previous Government did nothing about it. I do not see why we should not have a strict rule that infrastructure must be placed exactly where it is needed, not where a developer happens to want it, which may lead to a situation such as that in Alconbury, which ended up with the Trojan horse of a business development park because it never got the rail links it was promised. That is not what we should be doing with our infrastructure. It should be in the right place and linked to the right work force.

If we are going to allow the development of much-needed housing, we should also look at why we have 142,000 unimplemented planning permissions that have already been granted. Across England, the figure is up to 400,000. Our priority should be to look at what has already been granted and ask why it was not built in the first place or why it was not built according to the planning permission that was granted to it, as in the case of Alconbury. If we do not make sure that infrastructure is correctly located, future generations will judge whether we had proper stewardship of our countryside.

We should examine historical permissions, both for large-scale infrastructure developments and large housing developments, that have not come to fruition. We must not just speed up the planning process and churn out more permissions that can be banked for five years, because that does not help the economy by ensuring that development happens where there is economic need and where there are people who can take up the job opportunities that are created.

A clear-sighted strategic decision-making process that was more “steady as she goes” would give investors confidence that they would not end up with permissions granted but never see the developments delivered properly in the way that was envisaged. If people want to get involved in strategic rail, there are many spin-offs such as people working on the site and promises of additional infrastructure upgrades to support the development. However, all those things fail if the developer never puts a spade in the ground and does not deliver the site as it was envisaged. All the potential jobs that are linked to such planning permissions never actually happen.

That has happened under previous Governments, and not only the last Government. However, the Opposition are now arguing that we should rush through more planning permissions and accuse this Government of dithering. I ask the Treasury to please be a bit more cautious and not to do what the previous Government did in allowing loads of permissions to be granted that never deliver what they should deliver. We should consider applications slowly, cautiously and carefully to ensure that instead of a developer pushing the area where he would like to build, developments are built where we want them to be built and where communities want them to be built. That would be in the best interests of this country as a whole.

To return to the site in St Albans, it will not benefit my constituency one jot to have a rail freight interchange. It would probably benefit Sundon quarry and the surrounding area because of the jobs that it would create, but it would not benefit my constituency if it happened in Radlett. I hope sincerely that the “minded to grant” decision is suddenly reversed to match the original three refusals, because those refusals were sensible. Two of them came under the previous Government, so I hope that Labour Members would approve of them as well. The harm that will be done by that development certainly does not justify its going ahead, especially where an authority slightly further up the road would like to have such development, very much as Geraint Davies said his area would.

We should encourage development to go where communities would welcome it, and where it fits in with our with our bigger, broader strategic plan for the economy of this country.