HC Deb 12 June 1991 vol 192 cc901-2
12. Mr. Andrew MacKay

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met Serplan—the South-East Regional Planning Committee—to discuss county structure plans; and if he will make a statement.

Sir George Young

My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment met the chairman of Serplan on 1 August last year and I met the chairman on 14 February this year. On both occasions the discussion covered a range of topics, which included county structure plans. In addition, both my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State and I addressed a Serplan conference on 6 March this year.

Mr. MacKay

Has my hon. Friend seen the press release from Serplan, which says that the committee questions the demand forecast for aggregates and suggests that his Department's estimates are considerably exaggerated? If so, will he confirm to the House that Berkshire county council's draft mineral plan—it will considerably affect my constituency as there would be huge mineral developments in Crowthorne woods, which would be quite unacceptable to local people—can and should be thrown out? Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no need to treat the Department's suggestions as absolute guidelines and that they will not affect future appeals?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right that the two matters should be regarded separately and that the first should not have a bearing on the second. I make it clear, however, that the forecasts of 7 May are not Government forecasts but independent forecasts put out for consultation and that the Government have emphasised that they would like to hear the views of the House and of local authorities about whether those forecasts are correct. We are also concerned about their potential environmental implications and are urgently considering other ways of getting the aggregates that the country needs.

Mr. Bellotti

What will happen to the county structure plans when the counties are abolished? Is not this the time for the Government to consider that matter and—bearing in mind the very valuable role of Serplan—to look towards a regional tier of government so that these valuable matters can be properly addressed?

Sir George Young

The Government have no plans at all to introduce another tier of regional government. On the hon. Gentleman's first question, any reorganisation is some years away. In the meantime, it is important to put the existing structure and local plans in place. If there is a need to adjust the planning machinery in the future, that will be the time to introduce legislation.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

When my hon. Friend met representatives of Serplan to discuss structure plans, did he give them any indication that his Department was reconsidering its policy of requiring district authorities to earmark a five-year supply of building land? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if that policy is continued, it will inevitably mean overdevelopment in home counties such as Berkshire?

Sir George Young

I am well aware of the strong feeling of many Berkshire Members about the regional guidance housing figures. I emphasise that they are guidance figures. They are not inflexible and they remain to be tested in the process of the structure plan reviews. I think that I am right in saying that Berkshire is in the process of reviewing its structure plan. No doubt when we receive its revised plan later this year we shall have an opportunity to look at it—in particular in the light of fresh figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys which are due out shortly.