HC Deb 24 October 1986 vol 102 cc1501-3

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maude.]

2.19 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I am grateful to have this opportunity to address the House and particularly grateful to so many of my hon. Friends for coming in to listen to this important debate on the future of south-east Dorset. I understand that we may be interrupted by other business in about 10 minutes.

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for being present to listen to a matter which is of overriding concern to my constituents. It is customary to try to link one debate with the previous debate. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development did not mention the excellent work which is being done in the Sudan by British railway locomotive engineers in restoring to working order some of the steam engines there. That gives me the opportunity to apologise —while my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) is on his way to the Chamber, in case my hon. Friend the Minister is wondering why I am discussing this —for the fact that I had to forgo the pleasure today of being in Barry in south Wales to name a 9F locomotive in order to be here to do what I consider to be even more important than that.

I make no apology for raising again an issue which I was able to raise on the Adjournment on 12 June 1985. The future of south-east Dorset's environment is fundamental to my constituents. Since that debate, Dorset county council has produced a first review of the south-east Dorset structure plan. I have to tell my hon. Friend—I hope that it is not his fault—that there is growing disillusion among the people of south-east Dorset about whether their views count for anything in the consultation that takes place from time to time about the future of the environment in which they live.

The chairman of the county council's planning and transportation committee, in her introduction to the document, says: Before making any decisions, they"— that is, the county council— will consider fully all views which are expressed to them by those concerned for the future of South East Dorset. The council may well "consider", but what my constituents want is not consideration of their views but acknowledgment of their views and action in accordance with what they believe they are entitled to expect from the Government and their county council.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that we are awaiting the result of one of the most controversial and contentious planning applications that has ever been seen in Dorset put forward by the Carroll group. It is contrary to the present structure plan and to the Government's declared green belt policies. It is opposed by all the local authorities— Christchurch, Wimborne and New Forest —as well as by the Dorset county council, and it has outraged local opinion. A great deal of store will be set in Dorset by the Government's final decision on that application.

But the latest threat comes not from an application from a developer but from proposals put forward by the county council itself in the first review of the south-east Dorset structure plan. In the past few weeks my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North and I have been innundated with concern about and objections to the county council's proposals. There is almost numbed shock in our part of Dorset and almost universal opposition to what the county council proposes.

The only friends which the structure plan proposals seem to have are a handful of the county council's officers, a handful of Dorset county councillors and one or two district councillors. But the elected councillors who support the proposals are very shy indeed. I would not mind if elected councillors had the courage to stand up and support what they think should be done, but that, I regret, is not the luxurious position in which we find ourselves.

The fact is that the plan as put forward by the county council is being blamed on the Government. The purpose of this debate today is to probe just how much truth there is in assertions by county council officials that they have put forward a plan that they know to be disliked and unpopular, not because they want it and not because the people want it but because they believe that it is essential in accordance with Government policies emanating from the Department of the Environment.

We in Dorset spent 18 months in long earnest discussion about the structure plan which was finally approved by the Secretary of State for the Environment in 1980. It was a compromise plan but it was accepted locally and by the Department. That plan has been overtaken by events outwith the control of the local authorities most affected.

There are two main causes for the rape of the 1980 structure plan. First, appeals by developers against planning refusals, particularly by Wimborne and Christchurch councils, have overwhelmed the housebuilding levels set down in that plan. We are told constantly by the district councils, particularly Wimborne and Christchurch, that they have lost control over their own environment.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

They have all lost control.

Mr. Adley

We should all take note of the problem. It is serious if local government cannot control its own planning environment.

Secondly, the policy for housing starts in Dorset has been statistically ravaged by Bournemouth's deliberate policy to build, build, build, regardless of the structure plan.

I have statistics relating to the five district councils in south-east Dorset. The five areas are Bournernouth, Christchurch, Poole, Purbeck and Wimborne. The structure plan proposals for housing starts in 1976–86 were 3,600, 3,200, 8,400, 1,200 and 4,600 respectively. The actual completions in Bournemouth, instead of 3,600, were 8,492; for Christchurch, instead of 3,200 they were 3,637; for Poole, instead of 8,400 they were 10,350; for Purbeck, instead of 1,200 they were 1,326; and for Wimborne, instead of 4,600 they were 7,083. The percentage overbuild in those years was 135 per cent. in Bournemouth, 14 per cent. in Christchurch, 23 per cent. in Poole, 11 per cent. in Purbeck and 54 per cent. in Wimborne.

The difference is that Bournemouth has been deliberate whereas the results in other areas are mainly caused by overturning planning refusals.

I shall not weary the House with statistics for the rest of Dorset, but planning overruns on this scale should be of concern to us all. The plan is as much the Minister's, since it was approved by his Department, as it is the local authorities'.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), in his eloquent and straightforward manner, has described the proposals in the structure plan review as "an environmental disaster." I echo his words.

Dorset county council claims that it is operating at the behest of the Department of the Environment and in accordance with Government policy requirements. That is why the proposal in the 1980 plan for 35,000 new dwellings has become 62,000 new dwellings.

We need to probe the Government's attitude towards the creation of structure plans by county councils. For that reason I have given my hon. Friend the Minister a list of 10 questions which I propose to ask him this afternoon. It is now 2.29 pm, so before I start to read them out I shall continue to preamble until 2.30 and start again after the Foreign Secretary's statement.

There is irrefutable evidence that Dorset county council is blaming the Government for having to produce thoroughly unpopular and unnacceptable proposals. I have given notice of the 10 questions to my hon. Friend the Minister. If they are fully answered they should satisfy those people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North about where the blame lies for the production of these wholly unwanted and extraordinarily unpopular plans.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.