It is difficult for me to comment on a particular local plan. More generally, if there is clear evidence that things are changing in an area, it would be appropriate and sensible for the local authority to conduct an early review. That is as far as I can go.
As my hon. Friend said, identifying housing need is only the first step of the process. Once the need has been assessed, the local planning authority must prepare a strategic housing land availability assessment to establish realistic assumptions about the availability, suitability and likely economic viability of the land to meet the identified housing need over the plan period. It is expected to take into account the policies of the framework, including the environmental constraints.
National policy is clear that planning must take into account the different roles and characters of areas, and recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside. Policy also states that to promote sustainable development in rural areas, houses should be located where they will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities. As my hon. Friend and others have said, and as I know from my visit to his constituency, much of the countryside is rightly loved and cherished by local communities.
The green belt is a legitimate constraint on development. It is listed as an environmental constraint within the national planning policy framework. That answers my hon. Friend’s question about whether a housing target is a special circumstance for developing on the green belt. The Government attach the highest importance to protecting our green belt. The new guidance that we published in October re-emphasises that importance. We are clear that green belt boundaries should be established in local plans and should be altered only in exceptional circumstances, using the local plan process of proper consultation and independent examination. If Leeds city council undertakes a green belt review, it will need to present robust evidence to the planning inspector and not come unstuck at examination for not doing the proper background work, as did Ashfield district council and Solihull metropolitan borough council.
Our protection of the green belt also extends to planning decisions. Most types of new buildings are inappropriate for green belt land and are, by definition, harmful to it. Such developments should not be approved except in special circumstances. Each planning case has unique facts and a unique context, and it must be determined on its own merits, so we cannot create a list of special circumstances. However, our planning guidance makes it clear that unmet housing need, including need for Traveller sites, is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friends that timely and robust infrastructure provision is vital to delivering sustainable development. Local authorities must focus on that issue. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of development and the need for infrastructure to support development are material considerations in deciding whether individual applications for development are appropriate.