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Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:35 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 9:35 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, in his Amendments 128ZA and 128ZB. I, too, thank the Minister for accepting the amendments in advance of this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on his sterling work over several years in flying the flag for new settlements and new garden villages—small new towns, if you like. These can achieve all the objectives of good design, sustainability and sensible land use and produce significant numbers of new homes. I commend the work of the Town and Country Planning Association over the whole of the past century in promoting the benefits of new towns and new communities. I hope their hour has come, or nearly so.

As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has explained, building a settlement of 1,500 to 5,000 homes with a well-formulated master plan all in one place means that land does not have to be found haphazardly in dozens of little parcels. Instead of evoking protests in 100 places where local people object to seeing 20, 30 or 40 more homes built in their area with no extra infrastructure, lots more traffic and no social gains, the new settlement can generate a greater number of homes with all the necessary transport and community facilities built in.

How is it that a new community of this kind can achieve so much? The answer is that if the acquisition of one substantial, well-connected site can be achieved at a fraction of the price of dozens of small sites, the long-term value captured by this process will fund high-quality, mixed-tenure, mixed-use, well laid-out homes with all the ancillary requirements—cycle paths, car clubs, shops, GP surgeries and plenty of green space. The market value of one big site where there is no prior expectation that development will be permitted is indeed dramatically lower than for 100 plots where there is a presumption in favour of development and for which a huge price must be paid for each one. The landowner of a big site can still expect a huge uplift on agricultural value. Capturing and gently releasing the land value was the reason why the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn did so well, leading later to the establishment of the new towns.

It is more difficult to apply the same technique to urban extensions where the land already has a relatively high value, although there are excellent examples of this, such as the Duchy of Cornwall’s Poundbury on the edge of Dorchester and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Derwenthorpe to the east of York. Now is the time to take the concept of a master-planned new community to free-standing new settlements, and to do so on a more ambitious scale than we have seen for decades.

These amendments are not in themselves the basis for a programme of new garden villages. They are a first step down this road and an expression of hope that the Government will get behind a significant pipeline of such developments in different parts of the country. They start the process of creating a framework to make things happen, updating and refining the old new towns and development corporation models which now need to be adapted for the 21st century. They are needed because the whole process must not be so difficult and complex that nothing actually ever happens. The amendments aim to get the balance right between pressing forward with all speed and ensuring that there is meaningful public engagement in the process.

I am clear that proposals for a new garden village or garden town must be locally led and part of the local plan-making process; otherwise there will be huge opposition, as was the case with the eco-towns that failed to get going, from those who object in principle and will see this as a centralist, anti-localist, top-down imposition on local communities. These large-scale new developments need to be firmly within the local plan process which ensures that the local authority is in the lead and guarantees proper citizens’ rights alongside the creation of powerful development corporations that can deliver fully sustainable new communities.

When the amendments were originally proposed in Committee, they included the proposal that when the Secretary of State makes an order for the creation of a new settlement following consultation with local people and businesses, local authorities and others, the order would be subject to parliamentary approval via the negative resolution procedure. I am delighted that, as prompted by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the amendment now switches this to an affirmative resolution. This does not diminish its importance in terms of ensuring the opportunity for public input of routing the whole process through the local plan framework, which itself provides extensive opportunity for input by interested parties.

As we enter the final furlong of this Bill’s Report stage, I am delighted that we have positive amendments here to propel one really important way of achieving quality and quantity in the new homes that this country so badly needs and deserves. I support the amendments.