Housing (Hampshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 10:26 am, 25th October 2005

First, I declare an interest in a family property and building company, which is listed in the Register of Members' Interests.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hoban on securing today's debate. I suspect that if there is to be a theme throughout the Parliament, it will involve many Members from areas that are being encouraged to grow by Government diktat asking the Government for guarantees and reassurances about infrastructure.

Sarah Teather made a good speech; I did not disagree with anything in it. She made the good point that people examine the benefits and costs of development and they think that it is something done to them rather than with them. Although one would not expect any national Government not to have a view about housing growth and a national strategy, the balance that we have is altogether wrong.

Local councils and local government should have a larger say in what happens to them at local level. That is a policy on which we fought the last general election. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but there needs to be a proper balance in the decision making and public policy area, so that local communities have rather more say.

I have great sympathy for Hampshire county council, which is essentially instructed to try to deal with the demands from central Government. A total of 122,000 new homes, with 80,000 in the south Hampshire area, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is a lot to accommodate for a county that has grown substantially over the past 20 or 30 years.

I acknowledge that for a lot of that period we had a Conservative Government and that some of the concerns that people have about the level of growth are to do with the fact that past development has quite often led to problems of a lack of resources, decent roads, doctors' surgeries and schools. This morning, we heard a litany of concerns that infrastructure has not yet caught up with the development that there has been over the past 20 years. A £1 billion deficit was cited. Therefore, there is bound to be great concern when people look ahead and see proposals for new towns and substantial growth. They will be concerned about what that means for them and their immediate local community.

The starting point for this debate is what has and has not happened in the past in terms of infrastructure. We have to be concerned about the level of future development. The South East England regional assembly and the eastern area commissioned Roger Tym & Partners to examine the infrastructure costs of development. The first report, which covered the south-eastern and eastern counties, recognised that the level of housing development expected by the Government would need £45 billion of infrastructure. It identified with that a deficit that is already about £8 billion, and that does not take into account all the transport schemes that will be needed. My hon. Friend mentioned transport; a lot of what we have to discuss when housing is built in an area are the roads, railways, buses and so forth that are needed so that people can move around in that area.

The south-eastern counties are keen to make their views about the real costs of development in their counties known to the Government. I hope that the Minister will say that there will be a proper dialogue both with SEERA and with the county and borough leaders from the south-east, to ensure that there is such development.

Councillor Keith Mitchell is chairman of SEERA. He stated in a letter to me that SEERA had

"been at great pains to make it clear" to the Government

"that such levels of development are conditional upon the timely delivery of the necessary infrastructure before or in parallel with the housing".

That is a key point.

My hon. Friend made it clear that if that infrastructure were not forthcoming, he would expect the Government to slow down the housing allocations, because these two developments go hand in hand; transport and other major infrastructure schemes have to be carried out before or at the same time as the major housing developments. If they are not, we will end up not with a sensible and balanced development, but with a lot of problems in the south of England.

The Government seem to be set on their course of predict and provide. It appears to me that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is embarking on the last great crusade of central planning. That will leave communities with real costs, unless we get assurances from the Government that the necessary investment will be forthcoming.

We recently had a debate on the Thames Gateway. Because of its brownfield sites and the nature of the development there, building in that area will be very expensive. I asked for some reassurances about the level of investment there, and the Minister reeled off some of the £6 billion investment that the Government had already committed for that development. I would hope that the Minister could clearly set out—if not today, then in a letter to the Members for Hampshire constituencies—what sums the Government have committed to underpin and sustain the development that they expect the county to undertake, because that will be a key issue for all local Members.

The south-east is a large area and, as my hon. Friend said, it is expected that one in five of the new houses will be in Hampshire. Therefore, this is a key issue, and I suspect that unless the Minister answers the major concerns of Members representing constituencies in that county, they will come back and raise them time and again. Because of the long-term consequences of not providing what is necessary to accommodate this sort of growth, many people will be queuing in surgeries and writing to Members to encourage them to have endless Adjournment debates.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give us answers. I hope that she can reassure us about the level of investment that is needed. I would also like her to reassure us that the development will be joined-up—that the ODPM will combine with the Department for Transport to ensure that we have proper, sustainable development.