Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:16 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton 3:16 pm, 3rd March 2020

It used to be said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but our suburbs are now changing. We have mixed communities. The targets that local authorities are under and the deregulation of planning means that castles in the air are springing up round our way, literally changing the physical form. It might have been called high-rise hell in a different age. London’s highest building is not in the square mile. It has just been approved by the Ealing planning committee and will be 55 storeys in North Acton. Because our capital is girdled by green belt, literally the only way is up. The sky is the limit. Tall buildings raise a range of questions on space standards and air quality. Post-Grenfell we have all heard horror stories of cladding and fire safety. Of the 551 buildings approved last year in London, 450 were residential, with 24 in Ealing, but that is dwarfed by 64 in Greenwich. Groups such as Stop the Towers argue that the new buildings are changing the low-rise, low-density nature of suburban Ealing, and the new developments all seem to come with youth-oriented marketing. One wonders how many more vibrant quarters Ealing can take, particularly as we have an ageing population everywhere. Demographically we know that very soon a majority of the population will be over 60, and people in social housing who come to my surgery want rehousing to the ground floor because of mobility issues. People in their suburban semis, their huge piles, want to sit on those because the new developments are too small to have the grandchildren round.

At the other end of the age scale, in North Acton there is a thing called the Collective, which involves co-living. The Telegraph describes it as the future of renting. There are huge communal spaces, brunches, daily speakers and live music, but tiny accommodation designed for celibacy. [Laughter.] It is not cheap. One has to be in work and able to afford £1,000 a month. So what is my solution? I urge the Minister to take seriously my proposal to have a suburban taskforce. We have crumbling infrastructure and older housing stock alongside hideous towers. He could take a multi-dimensional approach. His predecessor was very warm towards this, but, alas, he has been shuffled off the ministerial coil. May I have a meeting with the Minister? A whole bunch of us, including Conservative Members, want to take this forward to save our suburbs.