HC Deb 18 November 1997 vol 301 cc131-2
2. Mr. David Heath

What plans he has to review the methodology used to calculate anticipated housing need in non-metropolitan counties. [14842]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

The methodology used to produce the latest household projections for the regions, counties, metropolitan districts and London boroughs is set out in "Projections of Households in England to 2016" published by the Stationery Office in March 1995. That methodology has been subject to extensive public scrutiny. My Department is continuing to examine the extent to which household formation is affected by economic and social factors, in line with recommendations in the 1996 Environment Committee report on housing need.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. Does he accept that everyone agrees that there must be enough houses for local people to live in, but that not a single local authority in Somerset—I am sure that we are no exception to the rest of the country—believes that the inward migration figures without employment are sustainable, that brown-field sites are available in rural areas, and that our green-field sites should be taken up in a suburbanisation of Somerset? Will he change his view?

Mr. Prescott

The matter is under consideration by the regional planning council, whose projections are 11 per cent. more than the councils in the area accept. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, such matters are decided by a panel that is set up to consider the disagreement between the regional planning council and Somerset council. As soon as the panel reports, I am sure that it will make its recommendations to the council. It is to meet first in January.

There is clearly a conflict between inward migration and the control of the figures for housing. If housing were allowed to develop in line with the figures recommended by the regional planning council, that would avoid some of the difficulties by limiting the number of houses available and increasing the cost of houses in an area where inward migration becomes a problem.

Sir Peter Emery

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, if the figures that are projected for Devon are accepted, the increase in the population of Devon will be approximately 30 per cent? That is an impossibility, if we are to keep the country heritage of the county. All Members of Parliament, irrespective of party, ask the Government to reconsider.

Mr. Prescott

The Government are always involved in considering such figures, but the regional planning council examines all the considerations to be taken into account and arrives at those figures. We do not limit people's movements in this country; people are free to move where they wish, and we must try to meet their requirements for housing. That brings us to the conflict between green-field and brown-field sites, about which there is so much controversy. Those are matters for public debate, and the debate is clearly under way.

Mr. Yeo

Does not the Secretary of State understand that the Government's refusal to raise the 50 per cent. target for the proportion of new homes to be built on previously developed sites will not only destroy huge areas of beautiful countryside, but reflects the fact that this Labour Government neither care nor understand anything about rural life?

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the Government's position. We have adopted the figure of 50 per cent. set by the previous Administration; the previous Administration aspired to 60 per cent. in brown-field sites; and the round table on sustainable development suggested 75 per cent. We are reviewing the options under the Green Paper on household growth that was produced by the previous Administration. There have been more than 700 responses and the Government have not yet taken a position on the matter, except to endorse the present 50 per cent figure. We think that right and proper. We think it right to have proper consultation, as we are doing. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman got it wrong.