My Lords, never let it be said that we do not range widely in our discussions. “Three acres and a cow” was, of course, the mainspring of the distributist movement, which enjoyed some popularity in the late 19th century and again in the 1920s. I have not heard it discussed for a long time, and the noble Baroness who brought it to our attention has allowed us to reflect on history.
I shall speak to Amendment 228A, in the names of my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lord Addington, but having heard those who tabled Amendments 227 and 228, I support those amendments as well. Amendment 228A would create a statutory obligation that a land-use strategy, if adopted, should be taken into account in the development plan documents and the planning decisions of all planning authorities. It is worth asking: what would be the point of it if it did not enjoy that kind of notice?
As has been said, we are embarking on a period of considerable uncertainty in agriculture. We are changing from a long-standing regime to a new one, and in that change, planning authorities would be much assisted by a land-use strategy. If they adopt it as far as relevant in their development plans and use it to determine competing land uses, they will produce valid and consistent policies and informed decisions on such planning applications as come before them.
There is one particular area in which planning authorities will need to be consistent and informed. If the present Government’s announced policies in relation to the provision of housing are to be achieved, there is little doubt that local authorities and planning authorities will be under severe pressure to permit residential development. Volume housebuilders prefer green fields. They do not like brownfield sites because of the problems of land assembly or access, and they certainly do not like contaminated land because of the considerable expenditure involved in making it suitable for construction.
If, as a result of a land-use strategy, there were to be multiple applications for housing development on what had been farming land, which had become available because of retirement or on other occasions, planning authorities would bless the day that they had a land-use strategy as part of their statutory obligations. Some of these issues will, of course, be resolved by a constructive approach to land banks. I know that that is not part of our considerations and that we have been promised details of a policy document in due course, but I just want to say, from some professional experience, that if we can find a way of using land that is currently banked, the pressure on the countryside will be very much reduced.