General Practice: Large Housing Developments — [Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 29th March 2022.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Minister for Housing) 10:40 am, 29th March 2022

The hon. Member will not have to wait too long before hearing which vehicle will be used; I hope it will be in a couple of weeks.

I want to touch on the issue of transparency. We have introduced infrastructure funding statements, which give people the opportunity to see what councils have done, but we can and must do more to give confidence to residents. That brings me on to community engagement.

As hon. Members will know, changes to the levy system are by no means the only improvement we want to bring to our planning system. One of the reasons why new development has not always been matched with tangible improvements to schools, nurseries or GP practices is that it has not always been easy for local residents to scrutinise applications or to make their voices heard. We need a faster, more responsive planning system, fit for the modern age. That means embracing digital technology and encouraging more residents to voice their views on what is being built in their community, and where.

I know that some of our previous proposals generated significant debate, to say the least, and it is therefore right that we paused for thought and took stock of different voices from across the planning sector and beyond, but on this ambition we are determined to make headway because we believe that it will result in more real-world improvements to services, which hon. Members all want to see.

My ministerial colleagues and I hope to announce a way forward soon so that the planning system supports our wider mission to level up communities in Bedfordshire and right across the country. The key point is that, at its heart, communities must be involved. Communities and neighbourhoods should be shaping the places in which they live, so that we have beautiful places with the necessary infrastructure and a democratic system that also considers environmental improvements. Neighbourhoods should have a big say in all of it.

Colleagues raised a number of other points. My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers never misses an opportunity to raise housing targets with me. She knows from our conversations and meetings that I understand the issue. If she will allow me, I will come back to her in due course. My hon. Friend David Johnston has also been quick off the mark to come to see me to discuss the issues in his constituency. Again, I understand them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough talked, quite rightly, about wanting to support new housing but that we should be building places where people want to live, not just huge dormitory estates. There has to be a sense of community. My hon. Friend Richard Fuller asked me to double up with the Secretary of State after his report—I will make sure that I do that for him.

I will see my hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory later today to discuss the issue of second homes and its impact on those working in the public sector. I hope we will have a constructive meeting. My hon. Friend Robbie Moore talked about towns I know well. My mother-in-law lives in Addingham, so I will get an earful from her if I do not get this right.

My hon. Friend Rob Butler talked rightly about the stark increase—from 16,000 to 26,000—in the number of patients at his surgery. That is absolutely an area we need to look at carefully. He also talked about all of the different funds that are available. I think that that is one of the most confusing issues, and it is something that I would like to address as we go forward.

The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich talked about the new levy. We are currently working with local authorities, providers and industry to ensure that the levy works for everybody.

In closing, I reiterate that I have heard loud and clear the concerns of hon. Members. The frustration of our constituents when large-scale new developments are green lit and local services become increasingly congested is palpable for us all. I hope I have clearly set out what we have already done to address that, through local plans, NPPF and section 106 agreements. I have also reiterated that we intend to go much further, by creating a more streamlined, smoother planning system, which levels up infrastructure and local services in every part of the country. I say to my hon. Friends that I am committed to working with all of them to ensure that we can make that vision a reality.