HC Deb 30 October 1984 vol 65 cc1169-70

4.1 pm

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to preserve the existing areas of Green Belt land covered by the present regulations from a change of status which could lead to a reduction of Green Belt areas. I am grateful for the opportunity today of moving a Bill which introduces a short amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, so that the House of Commons would be consulted formally during the decision-making process on certain major developments involving planning applications for areas of confirmed green belt land.

The precious green acres of our small and highly industrialised country are constantly under pressure for development into housing or industrial estates. We lose about 50,000 acres of green land each year and reclaim only about 10,000 acres, yet there are about 113,000 acres of derelict land in Britain, of which about 85,000 are reclaimable. Much of that land lies in the urban industrial sprawls created by the haphazard locations resulting from our first industrial revolution.

It is vital, in the present situation of a tragically high level of unemployment, to achieve the reclamation of that land and to provide jobs in the reclamation process and in the factories built on the reclaimed land. However, the ease and cheapness of developing new housing or industrial projects on green field sites creates more pressures on green belt land.

Legislation controlling development provides for restrictions through the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, but gives the Minister a final say where projects of natural or regional importance demand an apparent exemption.

After the system of planning application, refusal, appeal to the Minister against the refusal, public inquiry and the inspector's report, the Secretary of State for the Environment has the final decision on the project. He can make that decison independent of Parliament.

My proposal would insert minor amendments in section 9(4) of the Act so that after the word "person", where the Act allows the Secretary of State to consult outside bodies in considering a structure plan, my Bill would add and in relation to any proposed alteration of the green belt provisions of a structure plan under new section 10 of this Act, the Commons House of Parliament". The new section 10 would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the Commons, and would read: The Secretary of State shall not approve any proposals to alter the green belt provision of any structure plan unless he has consulted with, or considered the views of, the Commons House of Parliament in relation to these green belt provisions". By limiting those provisions, my intention is to see them invoked in only a very few cases of major national or regional importance.

Such a project in my constituency is the proposal by the West Midlands county council to site a huge high-tech factory site in the green belt near the National Exhibition Centre. That site is confirmed in the structure plan as green belt and is in the very vulnerable 6-mile gap between Birmingham and Coventry, despite the availability elsewhere in the west midlands of about 2 million sq ft of derelict or other land.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who is supporting the Bill, tells me that the same pressures exist in his area for development in green belt land near Plymouth. Other hon. Members tell of similar pressures, so we can be sure that it is a national problem requiring the involvement of Parliament.

The Bill would, of course, aid Ministers who, however sympathetic, sometimes have to make horribly difficult decisions. I pay tribute to the sympathy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who have listened to my reasoning on my own constituency matters on the site with great care. I am sure that the end decision will also be taken in the full light of the many representations made to them. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for being present to listen to my speech in asking leave to bring in the Bill. From the presence of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am fascinated to see that my Bill has commanded an even better attendance than I expected.

Let us ensure that Parliament can help the Minister and guide his decision where the balance of helping new enterprises and the creation of new jobs must be held against the need to make the green belt real and long lasting and to ensure the reclamation of land that is useless and derelict. Where there are better alternatives, such as the redevelopment of derelict, Land, our planning procedures must not encourage the easy options and obvious attractions of fresh green sites.

I have quoted an example in my constituency. There are areas in the west midlands where industry is accepted—indeed, expected—and where the infrastructure and job skills exist.

The lure of virgin sites is obvious, and where the decision is a fine balance it would seem to be more democratic for the House to debate the issue and for the constituency Member to have an opportunity to state his case, either on the Floor of the House or in Committee. To consider the release of green belt land as a mechanism for achieving a higher degree of stability ignores the evergreen—and legitimate—eagerness of developers to choose the easiest and most cost-effective solution to finding new housing or industrial sites. The green belt must be stable and absolute, and any exceptions which, by their very nature, are of special importance would, I believe, justify my proposal in the Bill that they be brought to the attention of the House.

It is my view that the House would have to consider only a small number of such projects. I should certainly be happier to sit in Committee on them rather than on the many statutory instruments that happily engage hon. Members on Wednesday mornings.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. kin Mills and Mr. Anthony Steen.

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