This chapter in this part of the Bill proposes to do fundamental damage to a planning system which has, for better or for worse—there have been ups and downs—served this country well since 1947. The hon. Member for Henley began his speech with a reference to the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, and then made a brief reference to the development levy. It was a pejorative and partisan reference which did not take account of the serious debate that politicians of all colours have engaged in about how it is possible for a community to capture a proportion of the development gain that is derived from changed use of land to fund necessary social or environmental infrastructure. His party engaged in that debate and introduced section 106 as a mechanism for capturing a proportion of development gain for that purpose. It now proposes to extend the community infrastructure levy, which was introduced by the previous Government.
There is a serious debate about how, in the public interest, we should seek to capture an element of the gain from development for public and community benefit. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have given serious and thoughtful consideration to the matter rather than making a brief partisan reference.
The hon. Gentleman’s only other reference to 1947 was that rather overused anecdote about Silkin’s visit to Stevenage. If we think back to that time, Britain was just recovering from the devastations of war. It was seeking a new house building programme to ensure there were homes for people who were either without a home at all or living in grossly overcrowded conditions, particularly in cities such as London, which had suffered huge bomb damage and had had no development at all during the war years.
Most sensible people recognised that there was a need to plan for new housing, and that that planning should not simply be based in the existing cities, and that using the example of eminent planners, such as Ebenezer Howard, who devised the concept of new towns and garden cities, we should look at ways to create better quality environments and better homes. But, no––the hon. Member for Henley focuses on the self-interested and affluent of Stevenage, who did not want any more homes built in their area. There could not be a better illustration of the thinking of the hon. Gentleman and his party—hostile to housing if it happens to come to an area where they or their supporters live. I am afraid that that is one of the fatal flaws at the heart of the policy.
The policy is based on a seriously flawed analysis, which I shall expose, and on the substitution of rhetoric and blind faith for empirical evidence. When the hon. Gentleman offered to give us proof that his system would deliver more homes, I think that most of us hoped for some hard evidence, rather than the wishy-washy reference to acting as an adviser for developers to persuade communities that a development would be in their interest.