HC Deb 16 December 1997 vol 303 cc112-3
2. Mr. Jenkin

What representations he has received on the need for new housing in rural Essex. [19394]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)

The Secretary of State has received representations from the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). Officials in the Government office for the east region hold frequent discussions with local authorities and other bodies on housing and planning issues in Essex.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman consider that an extra 45,000 houses in a handful of parliamentary constituencies that are predominantly rural represents an unwarranted intrusion of urban building into the rural area? With our roads already clogged with traffic and severe water shortages, is not what is required completely new thinking on how to deal with housing demand in the south-east, rather than sprawling estates destroying communities and our countryside?

Mr. Caborn

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that has not happened in the past seven months and that some of the problems existed during the previous Administration. More important, the county council's proposals for the scale and distribution of new houses in Essex will be the subject of full public scrutiny. It is not central Government who determine those matters—they are determined at regional and local level.

Mr. Bob Russell

Will the Minister accept that Essex already has one of the highest housing densities in the country, and that the projections for the next 10 to 15 years show that that density will grow more than that of any other county, apart from Devon? Does he therefore agree that we should look to regional distribution of new housing and concentrate on urban renewal and brown-field site development, instead of continually going for green-field sites in the towns as well as the countryside?

Mr. Caborn

The Government subscribe to that general point of view, and we are working hard to achieve those objectives. The previous Administration issued a consultation paper, and we are reflecting on the 700 responses to it. The Government will make our position clear early in the new year.