HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc324-5
2. Mr. Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy on building on greenfield sites or a ribbon development from villages and towns in southern England.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

Our policies are to encourage the fullest possible use of sites in urban areas, to protect the green belt and to avoid ribbon development. But some building on open land cannot be avoided if the demand for homes and commercial and industrial premises is to be met.

Mr. Rathbone

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the first part of his answer is reassuring, but that the second is not'? Does he also accept that structure plans, as drawn by local councils, have identified, in my constituency at least, sufficient land for development for housing beyond the turn of the century? Will he encourage builders to develop that land, encourage councils and other public authorities to make that land available, and look carefully before he gives permission for development outside those village and town boundaries?

Mr. Ridley

Yes I certainly will, but I am not the planning authority. In the first instance, the district council is able to grant planning permission, and it can do so, on some occasions, with regard to open land. My policy on appeal is as I have described it.

Mr. Steen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is sheer madness to build on greenfield sites outside towns and villages when almost a third of a million acres of land are vacant, dormant and derelict in public ownership? Should not the Government call in all structure plans that seek to eat into the greenfield sites, to ensure that all the vacant, dormant and derelict land in public ownership is filled up first?

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend that vacant and derelict land in cities and towns should be the first land to be redeveloped, but it would not be acceptable locally or right to develop a hard and fast policy. I could not agree more strongly with my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Wiggin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will, of course, always be demand for housing, but that central Government have a responsibility to ensure that the south does not finish up with concrete from Kent to Somerset? Does he agree that, in the national interest, it is important that development should be pushed further north, which everyone would welcome?

Mr. Ridley

Yes; but I make the point that I am not the only person who gives planning consent. Some 75 per cent. of consents are given by planning authorities.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is it not interesting that all this pressure for new housing development is in the south, not in the north? Is not the reason for the high level of demand the emphasis of the Government's economic and industrial policies on development in the south? If a switch were to take place towards the northern region of the United Kingdom, all those pressures would be relieved. That is at the heart of the problem.

Mr. Ridley

No. One of the main engines of this pressure is the high rating policies of councils in the north of England, which have driven businesses south, forcing people to follow if they are to obtain jobs. If the hon. Gentleman wants to do his constituents a service, he will encourage northern councils to impose lower rates.

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