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Local Infrastructure (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:33 am on 20th March 2018.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 9:33 am, 20th March 2018

I agree that communities and developers can often be pitched against each other—I have seen that in my constituency and will talk about it later. For me, it is not about who builds the houses; it is about the consent to build them in the first place. That is the challenge. We have a good planning system as a whole. I wholeheartedly welcome the Localism Act 2011, but the reality is that it has to be implemented locally in a way that works, and in my part of the world it is the council that has not taken the leadership over the past 10 to 15 years. We have not had a local plan in North East Derbyshire since 2005. I would argue, from my experience, that that is where the problem has been created, because it leads to speculative planning applications that completely undermine the cause of house building in our part of the world. There is also a failure of leadership to say where housing should or should not be built, which engenders the cynicism that can cause the kinds of problems that Alex Norris has referred to.

In North East Derbyshire we want to build new houses—people accept that we need to build more houses. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North indicated, there is huge frustration in my part of the world about the local plan. We have been without a local plan since 2005—it has still not been updated, despite several attempts. North East Derbyshire District Council is one of only 15 local authorities in the entire country being called out for failing relating to their local plan. Over the past four years that has encouraged the kind of speculative house building that hon. Members have already referred to.

The beautiful village of Ashover in my constituency has been fighting speculative housing applications for four years. Its settlement limits have been pretty consistent for 40 years, yet a field that for centuries has been used for pasture and grazing will now receive 40 houses. That is not the fault of local residents, or because those residents do not recognise that more housing needs to be built, but because the council did not get its local plan in and the five-year housing land supply could not be evidenced, which meant that those speculative applications could be pushed forward. That community had decided through its own neighbourhood plan to find more houses than will be built on that field, which it was trying to save in order to preserve the overall look and integrity of the village. I find that very sad. There are many examples of that across my constituency, as I am sure there are in others. We have to get the local plan right if there is to be consent in the first place for the house building that we all know we need.

There is also frustration about the lack of infrastructure and forward thinking, because infrastructure sometimes comes only after the house building has begun. To some extent that is a function of the planning system, which we all accept and recognise is a necessity. I recognise that capital spending on schools, health and other public services is unlocked through the provision of housing in the first place, but it is the strategic infrastructure—the next level up—that is particularly important. Some of the problems are solved by the planning process, however imperfectly, but many are not.

In my part of the world, roads and railways are a real problem. Staveley, which lies partly in the north of my constituency and partly in that of the hon. Member for Chesterfield, is a former mining town that has huge potential and is seeking to regenerate and rejuvenate over the next 10 to 20 years, building on its proud mining heritage and industrial past. It has been looking for a bypass for many years—I believe that one has been in the works since 1927. If we want the bypass to be built before the proposal celebrates its centenary, we need to shout about it at country, regional and county level, and as MPs, so that it can unlock Staveley’s potential.

Let me give another example. In the south of my constituency, just outside Chesterfield, is a stretch of the A61 that has been congested for many years—since I was growing up in a nearby village. It has experienced a significant increase in traffic over the past 10 years. In truth, it is a problem that will be difficult to solve. The county council has introduced some welcome changes through the local enterprise partnership, but they will not solve the underlying problem: a road that cannot cope with the amount of traffic on it.

The fundamental point is that even though the council has messed up its local plan and we are not building as many houses as we need in certain parts of north Derbyshire, there are plots around the A61 for up to 2,000 houses over the next 20 years, including brownfield sites for new houses on the old Biwater factory in Clay Cross and on the old Avenue coking works near where I live. Although people often do not want houses built near them, people in my part of the world generally recognise that those are the places where they should be built: brownfield sites with lots of potential that were once engines of growth in our area and can be so again. However, there is no point in building 2,000 new houses to the south of Chesterfield and creating jobs for the people in them if massive traffic jams on the A61 are going to stop them from getting between the two. We need to take a coherent approach to these problems.

The south of my constituency also used to have several railway stations—even my small village was proud to have its own station when it was a significant mining area—but they have all gone. Over the past eight or nine years, the Government have looked into improving and recreating rail opportunities and have put new investment into rail where possible—the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin, is sitting next to me. I think there is a case for a new station in or around Clay Cross. That has been an aspiration for several years, and I hope that we can make it happen.

Solving congestion on the A61, creating a bypass that has been in the works for more than a century, investigating the potential for a new commuter station in areas that will grow and improve over the coming years—these are the projects that we need to consider in my part of the world to give people confidence that we are putting infrastructure in place. Other hon. Members will have equivalent examples from their constituencies.

A few weeks ago, I took the Transport Secretary around the south of my constituency. We looked at the Avenue coking works and then went down to Clay Cross to see where the old station used to be, near Tupton. He was very interested, and I am very grateful to him for coming to talk to us about it. I understand that these discussions take time, and I do not expect solutions to come quickly, but we have to start talking about the options so that solutions can emerge in the long term. Later in the day I took him up the A61, and what happened? We got into a massive traffic jam, which did my job for me: as well as demonstrating the problem, it gave me the time to explain it. He was a captive audience, because we were sitting there moving at 0 mph—a problem that my constituents experience daily.

[Ian Paisley in the Chair]

I know that the Government are doing hugely encouraging things on infrastructure. Since 2010 they have been at the forefront of pushing the case for increased investment in the regions and spending on new infrastructure projects that will benefit millions of people—unclogging roads, building rail stations, renovating hospitals and expanding schools. To the Government’s credit, we have seen some of that in Derbyshire over the past eight years. A new train station at Ilkeston, just down the road from my constituency, opened a few months ago and is already thriving, demonstrating what can be achieved through strategic planning. Recent improvements to the M1—a key artery that serves our region and is so important for our economic growth—include an additional lane to increase capacity.

As east midlands MPs, we should be hugely ambitious about what we and our region can achieve in the coming years. The Government are making huge progress on unleashing our economic potential and building the housing needed to support it. The east midlands is often a victim of its own success and its quiet determination to get on and get going. We remain stubbornly low in our infrastructure spending, particularly on roads and rail.

I know that regional comparisons are often misused by Members of Parliament, who take narrow figures and extrapolate from them all manner of evils that have befallen their area. I have therefore used only figures that show the east midlands in a good light—what we are doing to outperform, rather than why we have such issues. However, I hope that the Minister will allow me to point out that the east midlands is the lowest funded region for transport per head of population. Much is being achieved, and more will flow from those achievements in the coming years, but just because in the east midlands we sometimes prioritise getting on with things rather than shouting about them, I would not want the Minister to think that the Government do not need to focus on our infrastructure needs and on how we can propel and power progress over the next 20 or 30 years.

All MPs have asks to make, and I am no exception. We all recognise that many others are asking for support and that some of them may take priority—I do not envy the Government their job. I am not sure that we will ever solve all the constituency issues that I have raised today, but I certainly want to see how we can mitigate and make progress on some of our congestion problems. For example, I want to work with our local councils to get the bypass moving in the north of Chesterfield and unlock the opportunity to bring thousands of proper houses and jobs there.

I know that the Minister knows that the east midlands is open for business. I know that he knows that we are doing our bit and will do more in future. However, I also hope that he will remember us when we talk about the need for further spending to continue our economic growth. We accept the need for more housing and recognise that it needs to be built in the right place, but the east midlands knows that it needs the infrastructure to support that new housing. The Government are doing much, but I hope and am sure that in the coming years they will look favourably on us and do more.