HC Deb 23 November 1983 vol 49 cc307-9
7. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has issued any clarification of his draft circular to local authorities on green belt policy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I refer my hon. Friend to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) in the Adjournment debate on Friday 18 November 1983. I am considering the many useful comments made on the draft circular. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am as committed as any of my predecessors to preserving a strong green belt policy.

Mr. Miller

I thank my right hon. Friend for that assurance. Is he aware of the deep anxiety in my district and county about an especially vulnerable area of green belt in north Worcestershire, which is subject to attack from neighbouring authorities which are making proposals in their structure plans for development in our area? Is he further aware that there is anxiety about my hon. Friend the Minister calling in an application for development on the ground that more houses, rather than fewer, should be built in the green belt?

Mr. Jenkin

I have already made it abundantly clear that the draft circular is intended to strengthen, not weaken, green belt policy. I have taken careful note of the many comments made by my hon. Friend and others. I recognise their anxieties and am considering whether it would be right to issue a second draft circular so that there can be no doubt about the Government being committed to a strong green belt policy.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most effective ways in which to reduce pressure on green belts is to encourage greater public and private investment in cities? Does he agree also that improving the quality of life there would reduce the pressure on people to find a better environment beyond the city limits?

Mr. Jenkin

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Flannery

Do it then.

Mr. Jenkin

We are doing it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will visit the enormously successful London docklands development. Between 1975 and 1982, two houses were built for sale. Now, thousands of houses which are being built are being sold before they get to the footings. It is one of the most successful examples of inner-city regeneration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to visit it. Perhaps he will advise his local authority to do the same sort of thing.

Mr. David Howell

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the problem is not so much his underlying intentions, but the ambiguity of the original draft circular about the concept of the green belt? Will he take that into account in any redrafting? Will he accept that, when examining the pressure on housing in the south-east, his first priority should be—I think that he just said this—to look to the eastern side of Greater London, where there is room for a whole new city? Does he agree that he should look there rather than put additional pressures to develop on green belt land?

Mr. Jenkin

I accept my right hon. Friend's criticism. The original draft was widely misunderstood. That is why I think it might be sensible to issue a second one to make the matter abundantly clear.

On my right hon. Friend's second point, I draw his attention to the extremely important letter that I wrote to my noble Friend Lord Sandford as chairman of the Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning about the effect of the M25. We intend that that road will shift some of the heavy pressure on the west of London to the east of London, where there is indeed ample room for development. I commend that letter to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Penhaligon

How many of the Secretary of State's right hon. and hon. Friends opposed the original draft as they understood it?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman will know that, rightly, a number of my hon. Friends expressed the anxieties of their constituents because there had been some wild misrepresentations in some quarters about what we announced, and now that our intentions are clear I am sure that my hon. Friends will be enormously reassured.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are good reasons why there should be a relaxation on building in some areas? At the same time, as has been said, there are real and grave doubts about the erosion of the green belt. In the circumstances, is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement today will be welcome, and will he make it clear and explicit that there is no intention of eroding the green belt as we know it?

Mr. Jenkin

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that specific expression of our intentions.