HC Deb 03 February 1999 vol 324 cc996-1048

[Relevant documents: Tenth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 1997–98, on Housing (HC 495-I) and the Government's Response thereto (Cm 4080).]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I advise the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.13 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

I beg to move, That this House regrets decisions by the Government to allow large-scale development in the countryside; deplores the fact that the Government has failed to publish revised planning guidance, despite its promise to do so 12 months ago, which has led to further erosion of the green belt and greenfield sites; expresses concern at the confusion that will be caused by the role given to the regional development agencies in planning issues; and urges the Government to enhance the protection of the countryside, while encouraging urban regeneration, by ensuring an increasing share of new housing is built on brownfield sites. I make no apologies for the fact that this will be the fourth debate in a little over a year in which the House has had the opportunity to discuss planning issues, primarily the on-going destruction of the green belt, the erosion of green-field sites and the threat to our countryside. Our alarm, shared by millions of people, is at the fact that the Government refuse to act to stop the constant erosion of the green belt and green-field sites and the continued concreting over of land which, once lost, can never be recovered. That is environmental vandalism of the worst kind, and the Government seem to be paralysed into doing nothing about it.

Under this Government, the pattern has become all too familiar. The Secretary of State approves the concreting over of vast tracts of green-field land and building on vast tracts of green belt. He orders county councils to plan for more new homes, overrules his inspectors if they disagree with him and uses the courts to back up his bully-boy tactics. In the light of the Government's behaviour and record, I question whether they understand what the green belt is and why it was put in place.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns

No, I wish to make a little more progress. If the hon. Gentleman still wishes to intervene later, I will consider it.

For the benefit of the Minister, I should briefly explain that modern green-belt policy was established in the 1950s and is enshrined in planning policy guidance note 2. The fundamental aim of the green-belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. I remind Ministers that the key quality of the green belt is its permanence, and that that should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, in the case of Stevenage, the Government have allowed the building of more than 10,000 homes on the green belt and then pretended that they have protected the green belt by extending it somewhere else where it does not provide protection against urban sprawl? That is sleight of hand such has never been seen before, but this Government seem to have become adept at it.

Mr. Burns

With my right hon. Friend's distinguished record as Secretary of State for the Environment, one would expect him to be able to see through at a moment's glance the flimsy and veiled excuses that the Government use. I assure him that, later in my speech, Stevenage will not escape my notice—nor will West Sussex, Newcastle and Sutton Coldfield.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)


Mr. Sheerman


Mr. Burns

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), because I promised to do so.

Mr. Sheerman

May I jog the hon. Gentleman's memory? Those of us who have been in the House some time remember the destruction of the planning procedures under the previous Government. We knew that every appeal that was turned down by local councillors would be allowed by the previous Government, because they believed that market forces should rule and, every time, green-belt land was built on. The destruction of our countryside happened under the previous Administration.

Mr. Burns

I bitterly regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman, because of the utter claptrap that he has just given the House. I remind him that it was under the Conservative Government that we doubled the size of the green belt, leaving it almost the size of the Principality of Wales.

Mr. Raynsford

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned Stevenage in response to an intervention by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), would he care to confirm that, in 1994, when that right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for the Environment, 23 hectares of green-belt land in Stevenage were released for housing with the knowledge and approval of the previous Government?

Hon. Members


Mr. Gummer


Mr. Burns

I do not wish to get involved in an internal brawl, but I shall give way to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Gummer

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would remind the Minister, who has had the chance to refresh his memory on the point, that not only was all the release of land in Stevenage under this Government backed by the Labour council there—so was every release of land in Stevenage in the past 20 years. The Minister has had 20 civil servants to find his one point, but I remember the issue clearly because the council was so bad.

Mr. Burns

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point and I shall put the Minister's mind at rest by confirming that I shall return to the subject of Stevenage later.

Ministers do not seem to understand the issue and that is one of the main reasons for the way in which they have behaved in the past 20 months.

The Minister for the Environment displayed his ignorance of planning policy guidance note 2 when he said: The purpose of the green belt is to provide an area surrounding cities for recreation in open countryside, but as populations grow, as towns change in size, and as new towns are built, it is perfectly reasonable to intervene in the green belt if the overall impact is to increase its size."—[Official Report, 29 July 1998; Vol. 317, c. 437.] I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, but I must explain to Ministers that it is not perfectly reasonable to intervene in the green belt—on the contrary, what is happening up and down the country is totally wrong.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are talking not about Stevenage but about the land next to it, between Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth in my constituency? The Government will create a sprawling conurbation in north Hertfordshire that the people do not want and have campaigned against. It is a disgrace. To talk about 23 hectares as though it is 800 is a laugh.

Mr. Burns

My hon. Friend makes his point tellingly. He probably knows that his concerns are shared not only by Conservatives in his county but by Labour councillors.

The Minister for the Environment should consider his Department's PPG2 and learn that the purposes of the green belt are to prevent urban sprawl, to prevent towns from coalescing, to protect historic towns and to encourage urban regeneration. When we were in government, we lived up to that policy. The green belt doubled in size in our time and we left in place a designated green-belt area the size of Wales.

What have this Government done? They have certainly lived up to the Deputy Prime Minister's proud boast, which may have been a Freudian slip, when he said: The green belt is a Labour achievement—and we intend to build upon it. He and his party have certainly lived up to that boast.

The Deputy Prime Minister has given the go-ahead for 10,000 new homes on green-belt land near Stevenage. In the face of opposition from the Conservatives, a Liberal Democrat-Labour pact dragooned the proposal through Hertfordshire county council, despite the opposition of the Labour leader on North Hertfordshire district council, who said: We feel very let down. Is anyone surprised? He continued: The Government claims to be committed to protecting the environment and regeneration of urban areas and now we have them supporting plans to rape 2,000 acres of greenbelt. That is a damning indictment of new Labour actions by a new Labour council leader.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage)


Mr. Burns

The Secretary of State approved 2,500 more homes in the green belt outside Newcastle, despite there being 4,000 empty homes in one part of the city alone. That decision was greeted by the off-message hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) with the reflection that it would accelerate the decline of inner-city areas such as his constituency.

Barbara Follett

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As he mentioned my constituency several times, it is the least that he could do. If the Conservative party is so keen on preserving the green belt, why did the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), in one of his last decisions as Secretary of State for the Environment, release 50 acres of metropolitan green-belt land in Surrey and another 428 hectares to Manchester airport?

Mr. Burns

Oh dear. Good try, must do better. The hon. Lady has her crib sheet, but I am afraid that, in cases such as Manchester airport, there are very exceptional circumstances. What we decry is the fact that the Government have brushed aside very exceptional circumstances. It is now almost the norm that anyone who wants to build on green-belt land, can. [Interruption.] If the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning listens, he will hear more examples of what has gone on in the past 20 months under this Government in respect of the desecration of the green belt and green-field sites.

Mr. Gummer

Will my hon. Friend tell the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) that airports can hardly be built on brown-field sites in the middle of a city? If she fought for her constituency, no homes would be built in the green belt; they would be built on brown-field sites.

Mr. Burns

I am sure that the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) heard those comments.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central said that the decision in Newcastle would accelerate the decline of inner-city areas such as his constituency.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

The master plan that implements the 2,400 houses in the green belt is now before the Minister. I have great hopes that he will put some brakes on approval of the master plan to allow some checks and balances to be introduced so that the release of land will not compromise the regeneration of the inner city, which is my policy and that of my Government.

Mr. Burns

I am interested by that, even if it is slightly off message. No doubt the Minister heard that plea. When the hon. Gentleman at first criticised the decision by saying that it would accelerate the problems of inner-city areas such as his, he rightly, as a good constituency Member, went on to say that he would fight the proposal to the best of his abilities. I respect him for that. I suspect that the controllers in Millbank will not be thrilled but as a constituency Member he is right to fight Government proposals to do something on green-belt land that could accelerate the problems of the inner city in Newcastle.

It is owing to the direct intervention of the Deputy Prime Minister in West Sussex that the total number of houses that it has to build by 2011 has been increased from 37,900 to 58,700. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's lofty statement, planning will remain clearly under local control", to achieve the target, in defiance of the local authority, he overruled his own inspector and the decision ended up in the courts. True to form, he managed to upset, among others, the Labour leader on West Sussex county council, who declared:

This is the starkest possible illustration that the Government has no intention of trying to provide a greater share of … new homes on brownfield sites rather than on greenfield sites in the countryside. Similarly, the west midlands has not escaped the Deputy Prime Minister's attention. Up to his usual tricks, he once again overruled his Department's independent planning inspector to allow 150 acres of green-belt farmland in Sutton Coldfield to be used for development. Interestingly, the land was owned by Labour-controlled Birmingham city council.

It would be unfair to accuse Environment Ministers of not always taking a close interest in the green belt. That would be a travesty because we all know of the keen interest of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) through his assiduous lobbying of Environment Ministers and officials to promote two major schemes in green belt in Barnet—140 miles from his constituency—when he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State.

Criticism of the Secretary of State's actions has not been restricted to Labour councillors whose areas have been adversely affected by his environmentally damaging decisions. The Labour-controlled Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has been equally scathing. In its 10th report on housing last year, it described the answers that one Minister gave as, "vacuous and disingenuous". The whole report was a thinly veiled attack on the dithering inaction that characterises the Government's attitudes to housing provision and the green-belt and brown-field sites policy. The Select Committee described the proposals in the White Paper "Planning for the Communities of the Future" as, "well-intentioned, but vague" and concluded, we do not believe that they will be adequate to achieve their aims". I suspect that time will prove the Committee's analysis to be spot on.

The challenge to the Government on whether they will halt their environmental vandalism will come with the 4.4 million new households that are projected to be needed by 2016, although there are strong rumours that the DETR will revise that figure upwards to 5 million houses before Easter. The House would be grateful if the Minister could confirm in his reply whether there is any truth in those rumours, or at least clarify his position.

We have always maintained that as much of that house building as possible should be on brown-field sites. In our manifesto for the last general election, we called for a target of 60 per cent. brown-field site building. In February 1998, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition proposed that the figure should be revised upwards to 66 per cent. Interestingly, the Government reversed their position in the Secretary of State's statement in February 1998, when the right hon. Gentleman increased—

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


Mr. Burns

It is a statement of fact that the Secretary of State revised his figures upwards from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. in February 1998. Ironically, only a year before, his own junior Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), had told Planning Week that a target of 60 per cent. would be "a recipe for disaster". I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is here. Perhaps he can enlighten us on how he has managed to square his views with his boss's change of heart. I suspect that if there is one right hon. Gentleman who does not take kindly to having his policies described by one of his junior Ministers as "a recipe for disaster" it is the Deputy Prime Minister.

Achieving the 60 per cent. target needs an urgent revision of PPG3 because that guidance will set out the details of the policy and the sequential approach to housing sites. The revision was announced in February 1998, but one year on, virtually nothing has happened. No consultation draft PPG3 has appeared. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning promised it to my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) in time for his public examination, which will take place next week.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

My hon. Friend might like to know that the examination in public for East Anglia began yesterday. I will be giving evidence to it next Tuesday. On 22 October, the Minister promised me, I will ensure that he"— meaning me— has the revised PPG3 in his hands".—[Official Report, 22 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 1447.] That simply has not happened. How can certainty, which the Minister says is important, be achieved at such a regional examination without the essential guidance?

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I have some sad news for him. He will not have the consultation draft in time for his public examination. Officials at DETR said only late last week, following a telephone inquiry, that the draft that the Minister promised my hon. Friend in time for his examination is likely to appear in about a month's time.

As the Minister knows, it usually takes 12 months from publication of a consultation draft to the production of the final draft. It is likely that the revised PPG3 will not appear this millennium. The delay will have a significant impact. Housing starts are running at around 150,000 houses a year. The delay in PPG3 means that it is difficult to apply the new approach to planning permissions and development plans. The effective delay of the 60 per cent. target by a year will mean 15,000 extra dwellings on green-field sites. At a typical density figure of 25 dwellings to the hectare, that will mean that an extra 600 hectares per year will be lost to housing development.

The dithering and delays on PPG3 are a damning indictment of this Government and their approach in the past 20 months. As they dither, more building takes place on green-field sites. Their response has been too little too late. As the Select Committee points out, the Government's 60 per cent. target is weakened by phasing it in over 10 years. While they dither, local authorities and regional planning conferences are expected to apply the old figures to their plans. The Minister's hollow words about "bottom-up planning" have been exposed as a sham by the constant interference of the Secretary of State in local decisions.

Tonight, I hope that the Minister will tell the House when the draft version of PPG3 is to be produced, when the final version will be produced and why it is taking so long for the Government to revise their guidance.

Finally, on the role of regional development agencies in the planning process, interestingly the DETR's figures show that, out of a total of 103 members on the eight boards, nearly one in three are Labour placemen, with 32 members having Labour party connections, eight having Liberal Democrat connections and six having Conservative connections. It certainly seems like jobs for the boys. Notwithstanding that, it would be interesting to learn more about the role of the RDAs in planning. The legislation is extraordinarily confusing about precisely what they will do. Will they simply muddy the water by interfering in the normal process, thus bringing a system that is already bursting at the seams into greater difficulties? Will they be able to influence Ministers in any way to prevent erosion of the green belt and green-field sites? Or will they be a white elephant with no real role to play in planning, simply causing confusion, trouble and conflict between the regional planning conferences and the local authorities?

I said that, in the past 20 months the green belt had been attacked and green-field sites had been destroyed owing to the dithering and, sometimes, the direct intervention of Ministers, who pay lip service to environmental protection but do nothing to stop the destruction of the green belt. As the Council for the Protection of Rural England stated, in addition to all the damage caused so far, large tracts of green-field land in Hampshire and Devon are under threat of building as a result of Government pressure for more housing. In Yorkshire, Humberside and the north-east, there are plans to release green-belt land and green-field sites for development. In Staffordshire and around Bristol, there are plans to release green belt for development. New statistics show that there has been no increase in the amount of housing built on recycled land.

Enough is enough. It is time that the Government did something rather than mouthing pious platitudes as our countryside is turned into a concrete jungle.

7.39 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's continued commitment to protecting the countryside, including green belts, and promoting sustainable regeneration in towns and cities; recognises that the Government's decentralised and integrated policy approach, as stated in Planning for Communities of the Future, Modernising the Planning System and A New Deal for Transport, is helping to achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of urban and rural development; welcomes the Government's commitment strictly to control development in the open countryside and to increase the proportion of new housing on previously—developed land in urban areas, smaller towns and villages from 40 per cent in the mid—1980s to 60 per cent; recognises the need to replace the previous predict and provide approach to the issue of household growth with a more flexible decentralised system, involving realistic regional targets for the building of new homes on recycled land, tighter controls on urban sprawl, new regional and housing planning guidance to ensure the adoption of sustainable solutions to housing development and more rigorous and detailed assessment of land availability; and believes that the Government's inter-linked policies for urban regeneration and protection of the countryside will enhance the quality of life for people in both rural and urban areas. I particularly welcome this debate as a further opportunity to set out the Government's achievements in planning for the communities of the future. After 18 years of Tory drift and indecision, characterised first by laissez-faire, during which any development on green fields or green belt was regarded as not only acceptable but desirable by the bigots of the right, and latterly by a death-bed repentance—years in which the countryside and the green belt were sacrificed again and again by Ministers in the former Government who are now masquerading as their defenders—this Government are moving ahead purposefully with their policies of sustainable development and with a modernised planning framework. Over the past 20 months, we have made considerable progress on developing a coherent policy that reconciles the need to provide sufficient land for housing with protecting the countryside from unsuitable development.

Before I set out the Governments' policy and achievements, let us reflect briefly on our inheritance. We inherited from the previous Government a record that entirely belies their rhetoric this evening. Not only did the previous Government preside over a housing crisis, with the worst levels of homelessness and house repossessions in any years since the war, but they allowed extensive development all over the countryside. During the decade 1985 to 1995, they achieved on average only 42 per cent. of new development on recycled or brown-field sites. They were also profligate with the green belt, releasing on appeal more than 500 hectares for development in their last year in office alone, and presiding over the redesignation of a further 700 hectares in that same year.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said that, in exceptional circumstances, the release of land in the green belt might be acceptable, but let us look at the Tory record and see how exceptional the circumstances were in the Conservatives' last year in office. In July 1996, the then Secretary of State agreed the release of 23 hectares of green belt in Caddington near Luton against the recommendation of the inspector, who had recommended refusal of planning permission. In March 1997, he approved the release of 50 hectares of land at Mizens farm, Woking for a development relating to a motor car which featured in the disastrous election campaign of the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major): the wheels fell off both the car and the campaign. Two months earlier, in January 1997, 428 hectares were approved at Manchester airport.

Those decisions were made by the Secretary of State on appeal, but in that same period he was also aware of, and presided over, the following additional redesignations of green belt: in Dartford, 250 hectares approved for development; in south Staffordshire, 148 hectares; in Cannock Chase, 71 hectares; and in Solihull, 260 hectares. The total amount of green belt approved for development use in the last year of the Tory Government was more than 1,200 hectares. That is their record, so it is utterly hypocritical of them to pretend now that their record on that issue is anything other than shameful.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I was elected in April 1997 in a constituency that falls almost entirely within the green belt. I want to see Government action, not hear Government rhetoric. I shall be just as critical as the Minister of the previous Government's record, but I want action from the Labour Government. All we have heard so far is rhetoric and all we have seen is the massive extension of building on the green belt.

Mr. Raynsford

So far, all we have heard is a brief correction of the record, so as to cure the selective amnesia of Conservative Members who prefer to forget the Conservative Government's record. However, I shall go on to set out in detail the Government's proposals to provide a proper framework for planning that reconciles the pressures on the green belt and green-field land with our need to provide housing.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Speaking of selective amnesia, does the Minister recall the date 23 January 1997, when he told Planning Week that there was "absolutely no doubt" that the only realistic way to meet the housing figure was to develop new towns and settlements? Does he recall telling Planning Week that? Does he stand by that statement, or does he now regret having made it?

Mr. Raynsford

No, I do not. I recognise that there is a role for several different vehicles in ensuring that we meet housing needs. New settlements are potentially one of those vehicles and I make no apology for that. We attempt to address the issues realistically and sensibly, whereas the Opposition spout rhetoric that is totally at variance with the Conservatives' actions in office.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

That rhetoric is indeed synthetic. Is my hon. Friend aware that our hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning was recently involved in the commencement of the clearing of Seaton barracks, which is one of the many Ministry of Defence properties that we have been trying to put to use? The previous Government's record was absolutely abysmal; had they taken planning issues seriously, they would have taken the issue of former MOD sites far more seriously than they did.

Mr. Raynsford

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who has highlighted one of the positive steps that the Labour Government are taking to ensure that opportunities are grasped to bring into use currently unused sites in urban areas and brown-field land, instead of building on green-field sites.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford

I am having some difficulty meeting the objective set by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but then I must make progress.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank the Minister for giving way. Would he dispute the fact that, within central London, approximately 6 square miles of brown-field land has been identified? Most of the sites lie within the areas of Labour-controlled councils, which have refused to allow development, despite the fact that some of the land has been left lying since the second world war?

Mr. Raynsford

I do not dispute the fact that there is a substantial number of brown-field sites in London, as there are in other urban areas. It is precisely to get such sites into use that we are taking the steps that I shall set out tonight.

The Labour Government also inherited a consultation paper "Household growth—Where shall we live?", which illustrated the death-bed repentance which I mentioned earlier. It tentatively posed the question whether to raise the target for building new housing on previously developed land from 50 to 60 per cent., but set out no detailed proposals, let alone a well-thought-out way to achieve that. Since May 1997, we have set about filling that vacuum: first, by confirming the 60 per cent. target for new houses on recycled brown-field sites; and, secondly, by producing a comprehensive approach to developing our towns and cities and reducing the number of green-field sites that will be needed for development.

Mr. Burns

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford

No, I must make some progress. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me as I do so.

The Government set out our position in last February's policy statement "Planning for the Communities of the Future". We proposed to move away from the previous Administration's predict and provide approach to a new approach based on the principles of plan, monitor, and manage. We recommended devolving decision making by relying more heavily on joint regional planning conference/Government office assessments of housing requirements to ensure greater local accountability and local responsibility for deciding final figures and monitoring the outcome. We also announced our intention to revise Government planning policy guidance for housing—planning policy guidance note 3—on which a consultation draft is to be published shortly. That guidance will provide sharper and more rigorous definitions of previously used land and urban capacity, explain how the new land recycling targets are to work and explain how a sequential approach and phasing of local authority land release will work.

Last year, the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee gave further attention to the issue. After a thorough review, the Committee concluded that we were going in the right direction. However, I know that there are still people who need to be convinced. All those who have looked carefully at the way in which the future housing requirement projections are made have come to the same conclusion as the Committee: that the methodology is basically sound and there is no better framework immediately available. However, that does not prevent the flat-earthers on the Opposition Benches from raucously denouncing the figures, even though—as their selective amnesia has obviously caused them to forget—the figures were produced in the lifetime of the previous Conservative Government and published by that Government.

We want to maximise the use of previously developed land. To realise that aim, we have adopted a national target of 60 per cent. of all additional housing being built on previously developed land.

Mr. Burns

Given the fact that Government policy has changed to having a 60 per cent. target, does the Minister still stand by his pre-election statement to a magazine that to move from a 50 per cent. target to a 60 per cent. target would be a "recipe for disaster"?

Mr. Raynsford

The response that I gave, which I am happy to defend, was that plucking a figure out of thin air, as the previous Government did, was a recipe for disaster. One cannot plan by that means, although the Opposition have a lot of experience of it. They have plucked from the air figures of 60 per cent., then 75 per cent., and the Leader of the Opposition has produced a figure of 66 per cent. No one knows the basis for any of those numbers because no serious research or analysis has been conducted. The problem with the Opposition is that they can come up with only rhetoric, not substance. If the electorate are to have confidence in the political process, it is fundamental that targets set by Government are soundly based on a proper understanding of what is feasible and attainable. That is this Government's approach.

That is our baseline position—if it is possible to do better we will, but first we must establish what is feasible. We have put in place the national land use database, which will provide the first countrywide assessment of what previously developed land is currently vacant and available. Given the Opposition's comments, is it not extraordinary that, when the Labour party came into office, there was no way of knowing where the recyclable land was or how much brown-field land was available? There were no records: the Conservatives had been in government for 18 years and had taken no practical steps to implement a proper policy for brown-field development.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only were no national data collected under the Conservative Government, but local authorities had never been asked whether they had vacant land that could be recycled?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend has a lot of experience in this matter and he makes an extremely valid point.

The national land use database will be published this spring. For the first time, the database will give local authorities information from which to derive their own regional and local targets. With that information, we will expect the regional planning conferences to produce challenging, but realistic, targets for their regions.

The Government are systematically putting the mechanisms in place. The urban task force, headed by Lord Rogers, is exploring how best we can bring vacant or under-used urban brown-field sites back into use. The task force has already presented its interim findings and will report fully later this summer. It will undoubtedly provide much helpful guidance, for developers and local authorities alike, on how to make the optimum use of opportunities for recycling urban land and buildings.

We believe that higher densities for housing developments may be appropriate in suitable locations, such as near urban centres with good transport links. However, they must be designed to a high standard and provide a good-quality environment. We are not advocating insensitive "town cramming". We are not suggesting building on open spaces and playing fields in urban areas, or at very high densities, but we are suggesting making better use of land. Those who support reducing the impact of the countryside should support that approach.

Above all, the challenge is how to make towns and cities places where people will want and choose to live—a theme that will run through our forthcoming White Paper on urban matters. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set the tone by calling last year for an urban renaissance. That will need positive and proactive planning at the local level, with more imagination and vision. Focusing development back into our towns and cities will require much more creative thinking about "place making". Design will be a critical element. In many cases, it will mean the gradual remodelling of existing communities, but there will also be opportunities for larger projects, such as urban villages, of which the millennium village in my constituency of Greenwich and Woolwich will be a flagship example.

I also welcome the opportunity today to reiterate the Government's policy on the green belt. The green belt is an essential and very important tool of planning policy, and one to which the Government remain totally committed. The strong presumption against inappropriate development in the green belt also remains. Such development would be permissible only where very special circumstances justifying development outweighed the harm to the green belt.

However, we must also demolish a few myths about the green belt. The green belt is not being reduced. Since May 1997, approximately 30,000 hectares have been earmarked for addition to the green belt. That is an area three times the size of Bristol. The green belt now covers more than 12 per cent. of England.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I understand that the Minister is extending the green belt. New rural land is being taken out to add to the green belt, while land that was to have been used only in exceptional circumstances is being swallowed up. Is that not a bit pointless?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman is a little impatient. If he will bear with me, he will hear a number of remarks on those specific matters. I accept that they are difficult issues, and that they must be tackled honestly and realistically, not in a facile manner.

I have emphasised that the green belt is not being reduced. I also wish to stress that green belt does not mean green field. Green-field land is any undeveloped land. Not all green belt is free from development: often the development was there before the green belt was defined. Development proposals in the green belt frequently involve the redevelopment of previously used sites. It is established policy to try to ensure that such redevelopment yields environmental improvements, compared with the development that it replaces.

Equally, "green belt" is not a landscape designation. It does not imply an area of outstanding natural beauty. All kinds and qualities of land, including derelict sites, may be in the green belt. Most green belt is ordinary agricultural land. Less than 5 per cent. of green belt overlaps with statutory national landscape or wildlife designations.

Green belt is not a national designation: it is primarily a local designation. Decisions about the setting and altering of boundaries, or about permitting development, rest primarily with local authorities. However, the Government attach considerable importance to green belts, where they have been established. That is why we have national planning policy guidance, indicating the weight that we attach to their continued protection.

Mr. Lansley

Given the importance that the Minister ascribes to the green belt, and given his explanation of its purpose, will he communicate with Labour-controlled Cambridge city council, which proposes to swallow up green-belt land in the south of the city? Part of the land affected is in my constituency, and the council justifies its proposal by saying that the landscape would be enhanced.

Mr. Raynsford

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall come to precisely that point. The issue is interesting and difficult. There is substantial economic growth in Cambridge, where green-belt designated land surrounds the area tightly. That poses special problems, with which I shall deal in a moment.

Let us set out what green belts should be. Green belts should fulfil the objectives and purposes of PPG2: to prevent urban sprawl; to stop towns merging with one another; to safeguard the countryside against encroachment; to preserve the setting of historic towns and to encourage urban regeneration. As far as possible, green belts should, among other things, benefit the urban population by providing accessible open countryside and outdoor recreation facilities that enhance the quality of life. They will be effective in achieving those aims only if they are consistent with principles of sustainable development. Whether or not that was a guiding principle when any particular green belt was designated, it is certainly our guiding principle now.

Sustainable development means striking an appropriate balance between social, economic, environmental and natural resource considerations, and it has regard to the needs of future generations as well as the present one. Sustainability is not just about reducing car use, although some superficial commentators think that it is. The impact—positive or negative—of a development on the environment of an area must be taken into account, as must the question whether it will improve the quality of life for the wider community.

Sustainable development is about positive planning, but green belts are often used merely negatively, simply to prevent development. Some green-belt boundaries are too tight, and are then nibbled away piecemeal by departures from development plans. The Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs recognised that problem by stressing the need for the protection of the inner boundary of the green belt to prevent urban sprawl. However, it did not say how it believed that was to be reconciled with its other recommendation that the great majority of … new homes on greenfield sites should be built as extensions to existing urban areas". There is no doubt that there is an inherent conflict here, and that difficult conundrums must be faced and resolved. Green belts are meant to safeguard the countryside from encroachment, but new development may leapfrog the green belt, encroaching into deeper countryside and establishing travel patterns which involve more and longer journeys, putting further pressure on the environment. That is simply not sustainable planning.

PPG2 makes it clear that alteration of green belts should be contemplated only where alternatives in the urban areas contained by or beyond the green belt have been fully considered. While urban brown-field land suitable for redevelopment remains, we would not expect local authorities to release sites in the green belt.

Our policy document "Planning for the Communities of the Future" identified the possibility that the green belt might, in exceptional circumstances, offer a more sustainable location for necessary new development than sites outside the green belt. That is why we accepted, for example, the decision by Hertfordshire county council to take land to the west of Stevenage out of the green belt. That decision offered the most sustainable solution for the location of new development in the county. No one can doubt that it was a hard decision, just as no one can fail to appreciate the concerns of those who greeted it with dismay. It is clear that over-adherence to green-belt boundaries may lead to unsustainable outcomes, and, in the county council's judgment, a mass of indiscriminate development over a much larger area of rural Hertfordshire would have been unsustainable.

The Government are fully committed to the countryside. Indeed, more Labour Members than Conservative Members represent rural areas. Our concern must, however, be not just with enjoyment of the countryside for its own sake, but for those who live and work there. The Government are to produce a White Paper for rural England later this year. Rural England is changing, and we must respond to that change. The White Paper will set out the longer-term future for the English countryside and consider how policies on the economy, health, education, crime, agriculture, the environment and housing will support a sustainable countryside and rural communities in the future. It will consider how the prosperity and competitiveness of the rural economy can be strengthened, how development and regeneration policies can help areas in need, and how we can make sure that all people who live in rural areas have opportunities to participate fully in society.

The White Paper will be produced jointly by my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and it will involve a wide range of other Departments and agencies. We plan to issue soon a discussion document that will set out key themes and invite comments, and we will talk to a range of interested people and organisations. We will look closely at how the urban and rural White Papers can complement each other to build a clear and comprehensive strategy for the future.

The Government have a coherent planning policy programme for urban and rural areas alike, and we are putting in place mechanisms to deliver it. Our commitment to the countryside and the green belts remains as strong as ever. The Conservative motion is a shallow, hypocritical and opportunistic ploy to divert attention away from the previous Government's abject failure to set in place clear, firm policies for sustainable development and the protection of the countryside. Their record then makes nonsense of Conservative rhetoric today, and the motion should be consigned, as they were in 1997, to the dustbin of history.

8.3 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

There are good reasons for tonight's debate. At present rates of development, one fifth of England will be urban by 2050, with a green-field area the size of Bristol being built on every year. However, so far, most of what we have heard tonight has been a party political battle. It would help us to remember that the Conservative Government set the 4.4 million predict-and-provide target. Equally, the Labour Government have so far failed to get us out of it. That is why we have suggested that the Conservative motion might merely be amended to refer to the party's record as part of the problem. The Minister has more accurately represented some of the real difficulties that the Government face than did anything that we heard from the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns).

The figure of 4.4 million new homes by 2016 was the product of a Conservative Government who allowed huge green-field and out-of-town developments to take place, often after overturning local council objections. Too late, that Government recognised the problem. The Minister neglected to mention that the proportion of development on brown-field sites was rising towards the end of the Conservative Administration, but they were shutting the stable door long after the horse had bolted. Many developments, particularly out-of-town stores around the country, are all too physical evidence of that.

The Deputy Prime Minister vowed this time last year to break the mould of predict and provide. Those were fine words, but action has been slower in coming. It has certainly been slower than everyone wants, and slower than it should have been. Reports suggest that the Government are considering an increase to the original new homes figure.

In The Guardian on 14 January, Lord Rogers, who chairs Labour's urban task force, suggested that the 4.4 million could rise to 5 million based on new population projections that show higher-than-expected increases in the south and in East Anglia. Other newspaper reports have suggested much the same. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning went on record in an interview for Country Life in June 1998 to confirm that he—and, presumably, his Department—believes that the current estimates for required new housing are too low. He said: The figure of five million is entirely speculative but it will be in excess of 4.4 million. Yet, in his statement on 23 February 1998, the Deputy Prime Minister promised to abandon predict and provide, and to protect our green fields, saying: It is our firm policy to protect our countryside and revitalise our towns and cities".—[Official Report, 23 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 22.] The Liberal Democrats welcomed the emphasis placed by the Deputy Prime Minister on the need for an urban renaissance for the benefit of both town and country, and on a higher target for housing on previously developed land. We welcome the move away from predict and provide, a move for which we have long campaigned. However, the Government seem still to be confused about whether they really mean what they said.

Mr. Grieve

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with two things? First, times have changed. Over the past decade, perceptions of what is acceptable development have altered, on a European basis. Secondly, the Government have come up with the notion of sustainable development as the centre of their policy, and the figures advanced for the amount of housing required do not fall within the category of sustainable.

Mr. Taylor

It was not the Labour Government who invented the term sustainable development, but they have certainly said that they will implement the idea. I welcome that. There are questions about the figures, and I have raised my own concern. There are even bigger questions of whether policies are in place to achieve sustainable development, about where development goes and about how it evolves.

The debate on "Planning for the Communities of the Future" took place almost a year ago. So far, however, the Government's strong rhetoric has not been matched by strong action. The real failure contained in Labour's amendment to the motion is their failure to recognise that action has not been taken. As Tony Burton, assistant director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said in The Times at the end of January: We are living in a policy vacuum. While Prescott talks about urban renaissance and the best use of recycled land, green fields are being built on. No new planning policy guidances have been issued. We are told that the new draft PPG on housing will be published soon, but it has not been produced yet and it has taken too long. Without scrapping existing planning guidelines and starting over, little can change. Meanwhile, applications are still dealt with on the old predictand-provide basis and on old structure plans based on premises in place under the previous Government. Those plans will remain in place for many years to come unless the Government come up with a fast scheme to revise them.

How far have Ministers succeeded in preparing regional planning guidance that will allow local authorities to review their development plans quickly? Labour is still passing the buck. The Government claim to be decentralising planning control, but they are continuing with business as usual. In Hampshire, the Government pressed the authorities involved in the Hampshire structure plan to increase planned housing provision for 2001 to 2011 from 44,000 to 56,000, in line with regional planning guidance. That is an old decision, based on old policy.

The Deputy Prime Minister himself has forced Devon to accept house-building targets that will reduce large areas of the county to urban sprawl. Countryside near Broad Clyst, the National Trust village near Exeter, and in South Hams, between Dartmoor and the sea, will be desecrated by thousands of new homes.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions issued a statement on 1 April 1998 outlining the implications of the White Paper, "Planning for the Communities of the Future", for the development plans and regional planning guidance currently under review. The statement on transitional arrangements straightforwardly, and rightly, admits that the full implications of the White Paper cannot be felt until RPG and structure and local plans have been reviewed around the country. None of the good words can possibly turn into action for years to come.

Without the right planning rules and financial incentives, the good words may make little difference in the long run. There is a need to move forward. If the Government believe all that they have said about protecting the countryside, and that their new approach will make a real difference, it is time that they put in place mechanisms to allow councils to take decisions on the new basis instead of on the policies for which the Government have rightly criticised their predecessor.

The White Paper also contained a statement on green-belt land, with which it is difficult to disagree. It said: There might exceptionally be benefits in releasing for development indifferent Green Belt Land, if that means protecting better quality land elsewhere". The Minister highlighted the dilemmas there, and he was right to do so.

However, the principle of green belt is that, once allocated, it provides protection on which people can rely. If new green-belt land is allocated, that is a bonus, but we are not talking about a mathematical equation. It is not all right to add land here at the expense of land developed elsewhere. The green belt is intended to provide genuine protection for the countryside around developed areas, preventing urban sprawl, not to be altered at will.

If the Government genuinely believe that much green belt was wrongly allocated in the first place, it is far better to review the matter as a whole and consider it independently, by means of a commission, an inquiry or whatever, than to take ad hoc decisions, tearing up protection and justifying that by additions elsewhere.

We have seen that happen in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the unitary development plan proposes the development of 2,500 executive houses and a business park on 480 hectares. Earlier, reference was made to the 2.5 square miles of green belt west of Stevenage in Hertfordshire which was released last year for 10,000 houses. The Minister is right to criticise the previous Government's record on release of green belt. Clearly, the previous Government was at least as culpable and arguably rather more so. Nevertheless, that is the biggest single release of green-belt land ever and does not appear to match up to Labour's rhetoric.

Nothing can be guaranteed altogether, and these are difficult issues, but development should be exceptional, certainly not large scale and commonplace, as it was under the previous Government and still is now.

In June 1998, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the Government's policy has added an additional 30,000 hectares of land to the United Kingdom's green belt. Adding new land to the green belt is easy. Any Minister can do that simply with a stroke of a pen. It is resisting its future development that is the issue, and, on that, the Government are failing in their own terms.

Green-field and green-belt sites are still being developed as before, local councils are still being encouraged to build more homes than they think they need, and Labour is still umming and ahhing about whether the figure of 4.4 million new homes stays, increases or is dropped altogether.

The Liberal Democrats believe that there is a straightforward package of measures that the Government should adopt to stop unnecessary development in the countryside and revitalise our towns and cities. The two go hand in hand and the Minister was right to say so.

The revision of PPG3 could and should have been completed earlier. That would have provided a clear sign in national planning guidance of the change in approach, and would have immediate effect by now. The Government are in favour of that change, and that is welcome, but it is still unpublished, even in draft, and the final version is probably 12 months away.

We advocated a stop to controversial major new development plans and approvals until the new PPG3 is published. That would ensure that the Government's plan, monitor and manage strategy became a reality within months, not years, but it has not happened.

In the White Paper "Planning for the Communities of the Future", the proposed new regional planning system leaves the DETR to produce the projections and the regional planning conferences to produce the guidance, but the Secretary of State has the final say as to whether the figures are acceptable. We are not really moving from predict and provide; the Government are simply disguising their own role. That allows the Government to pass the buck under the guise of regional decision making, but to have the final say if they do not agree with the plans—a factor that will rest heavily on the shoulders of those given that responsibility at regional level.

In the same document, the Government aim to raise the proportion of new homes built on previously developed land from 50 to 60 per cent., but state that a national target may not be meaningful at regional or local levels. Perhaps so, but how will the Government co-ordinate the regional targets in order to ensure that they all add up to the desired 60 per cent. nationally, or is it a target for which the Government will not accept responsibility, arguing that, unfortunately, decisions were taken at a local level that they did not want, but they did not intervene because they were decentralist?

Changing planning policy is part of the way to achieve that, but we need to recognise that financial and social pressures are also involved. The Minister asked for the Liberal Democrats' suggestions. I agree with what the Government are arguing for, but I am pointing out that they have not done it and, until they do so, they cannot deliver. Changing planning policy is only part of the solution, and I want to deal with a couple of fundamental points before I finish. At the moment, it is far cheaper and less risky, and so more profitable, to develop green-field sites.

That financial imperative is probably as big as any planning ones. Developers will repeatedly put in applications until local opposition is worn away, in the hope that they will eventually make the profits. The profits are big enough to allow them to do so. Therefore, we need to introduce a levy on the windfall profits made on green-field development, levelling the financial playing field between development on green-field and brown-field sites. That would reduce the financial advantages of developing green-field sites, and raise funds that should be earmarked for local environmental improvements and the decontamination of brown-field sites, helping with the costs of developing them.

Mr. Gray

Liberal Democrats are always on about levies on green-field sites for green-field development. Does he agree that, if such a measure were in place, all that would happen would be that those houses which are built on green-field sites would be more expensive—larger, middle-class, executive-style homes? Developers would not care in the least about a green-field levy. It would be an incentive to build on the green-field sites that the hon. Gentleman seeks to protect.

Mr. Taylor

I do not see that the fact that it would be more expensive for a developer would be an incentive to build on those sites. Those funds would be used to reduce the costs of building on brown-field sites, equalling out the playing field that is currently weighted towards the green-field sites.

In addition, building on green-field sites is positively encouraged at present, and re-development discouraged, because no value added tax is charged on new development, whereas the refurbishment of empty homes and offices carries the full rate. That urgently needs changing. Re-balancing VAT to provide an equal VAT cost on re-development of derelict buildings and green fields, bringing one down and putting the other up, at no net cost to the Exchequer, could dramatically change the financial picture, yet there are no new economic instruments from the Government. I am glad to say that Lord Rogers urban task force has, in its interim report, recommended them.

I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come forward with proposals in the Budget. I am sorry if I sound a little negative, but, so far, the Chancellor has been extremely slow in coming forward with any environmentally friendly and sustainable changes to taxation policy. In fact, recently, he won a grey ribbon award for his bad record on the environment, so I am not optimistic. If they do come, we will welcome them, and they will help to achieve the 60 per cent. target—which is unrealistic without them—and move us towards the 75 per cent. target that the Government round table on sustainable development, and the Lord Rogers task force, suggested.

We must also address the fact that many people want to leave urban areas because the policy in cities and towns is going wrong. Tackling the problems of a derelict environment, high crime levels and poor schools is fundamental if we are to persuade people to stay in our cities. We should bear in mind that Britain is unusual in seeing large numbers move out of the inner urban areas. In much of the rest of Europe, cities are popular places in which to live because of planning and the lack of dereliction.

I should have liked to have mentioned the problem of second homes, but I have run out of time. I would say to the Minister: get rid of the council tax discount; look at introducing planning controls, which already exist for offices and should exist for the conversion of family homes into second and holiday homes and, finally, look at the 800,000 empty properties in Britain before planning to build unnecessarily on green-field sites.

8.19 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) demonstrates what the Liberal Democrats are so good at—facing in two directions at the same time, supporting the country and the town—but his saving grace is that he does it always with a smile.

I welcome the debate. It is a pity that it has been such a long time since the Conservative party last initiated a debate on planning. I cannot remember, when the Labour party was in opposition and the Conservative party was in government, a passionate devotion to planning in the green belt, but I am glad that we are having the debate. This is the 12th planning debate—Adjournment and otherwise—that I have attended. Under the previous Government, it was usually through an Adjournment procedure that we got to discuss planning.

I am delighted that we have at the Dispatch Box two Ministers who have a grip on the subject, who understand the problems of the planning system and who are so passionately committed to the green belt. I welcome the work that they have done over the past 18 months, and I know that they will continue to produce thoughtful and appropriate policies that will meet the needs of local communities.

I am not surprised that the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), has run away. He came to make a little statement and then left. That is what he did to the planning system and the green belt—he made a few statements, did a few photo calls and then abandoned the system. This was the man who introduced PPG6 and PPG13 during his term in office, two policies that also faced in different directions at the same time. They were criticised by the present vice-chairman of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), in his capacity as the chairman of Asda. I do not know what he is going to say tonight, but I hope that he will repeat some of the criticisms that he had when the Conservative party were in government.

Of course Labour is passionately committed to the green belt and the countryside. It is a very strong commitment, which is why so many Labour Members are present to speak in the debate. The previous Government neglected the green belt and ignored any ideas that could have supported it or our cities.

It is sheer hypocrisy for the shadow spokesman to condemn this Government for what they have done. The Minister was quite right to read out a list of crimes committed by the previous Government against the green belt. It is a list of which the Conservative party should be ashamed. It is hypocritical for Conservatives to pretend that they support the green belt. We know that they have to pretend because most of them are now in marginal seats, and the Liberal Democrats are close to capturing many of those seats. We understand why they say those things—no doubt their local newspapers are also covering the debate—but we have an absolute commitment, reasserted by the Minister, by which we will stand.

I have only a few minutes in which to speak because I know that many colleagues want to contribute to the debate, but I must mention the importance of modernising our planning system and perhaps put a couple of points to the Minister so that he is aware that we support what he has done in respect of planning, but hope that he will take the modernisation procedures forward.

It is important that we examine all the PPGs that have been issued so far. One of the criticisms that I have of the planning system is that there is no firm body of planning law. Those who advise councils and others when applications are made have no consistency. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell, who said that the Government should be criticised for not publishing more PPGs. We have had too many PPGs, and the process needs to be streamlined. We need to examine those that have been passed so far and see whether they are consistent. A number of those issued under the previous Government were not, which is why we have the problems that we have.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that he missed my point. We need to update PPGs, not add to their number.

Mr. Vaz

If that is what the hon. Gentleman said, I apologise. He is absolutely right. We need to update our PPGs, and that is why I have previously suggested the creation of an advisory committee to advise Ministers and the Government on the inconsistencies in our planning system, especially the PPGs, so that, before they are issued, they can be made consistent with the planning law that goes before them.

The only people who seem to be able to understand the complicated nature of planning law are the planning silks, and we all know how well they do out of the planning system. Why should it be that the only people who benefit from the planning system are the lawyers? I say that as a former lawyer, although not a planning lawyer. The fact that the system is complicated makes matters much worse.

There needs to be consistency and firmness in the system but also flexibility. It is important that developers also know what the present planning system is. Part of the work that the Government have done has been to convince big developers such as the retailers of the importance of developing within city centres. Some of the big supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway understand that, when we say that they have to pass a sequential test, we mean it. We are not going to do what the Conservative Secretary of State did, which was to say that he supported a sequential test but then not follow through. Those developers are told that they ought to develop within city centres and within existing communities. To be fair to them, many have come up with innovative schemes to ensure that there is development within city centres.

When I go home at night, I pass the development on the Finchley road, which has been led by Sainsbury. It has been beneficial because it has brought businesses into the local community, and it is a pleasure to shop in areas of that kind. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) has left the Chamber, but what Boots has done for the centre of Harrow encourages people to come there. That means that we do not have to have development outside.

We want people to move into our city and town centres, not to move out of them. I see that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), a former Environment Minister, is sitting on the Front Bench. Under the previous Government's policy, it was sad that our town centres were abandoned rather than celebrated. We need investment in our town and city centres so that they are safe places in which to live and work.

Anyone passing Marble Arch and the Edgware road late at night will see exactly the kind of vibrant, inner-city area that we want to see developed. The shops are open quite late into the night; people walk around quite safely; and, although not all the cafes are open in January, the area has the atmosphere of which continental cities are so proud.

Delay is still inherent in the planning system. I know that it was inherited—[Interruption.] It is no good the shadow Minister nodding; it was under the Conservative Government that the backlog developed. Their failure to appoint inspectors and to get planning inquiries moving caused the backlog and delay. We need more inspectors and a more efficient planning inspectorate so that, when applications are turned down, there can be a much quicker resolution of the problem.

I do not know whether any of the Conservative Members present speaks for Hampshire, but, in Mitchell Deva, a community has been under threat for the past five or six years because no one will make a decision as to whether houses can be built in the local area. That causes enormous distress and concern to local people, so let us try to get rid of the delays inherent in the system.

Secondly, the planning system is still very costly, and the only people who can use it are the developers who have a great deal of money. We need to bring the cost down. Some inquiries, such as that into the fifth terminal at Heathrow, go on for years. Despite the enormous cost of the T5 inquiry, we all know what is going to happen in the end. Clearly, local people need to be able to put their case. Perhaps they could be funded through the planning system so that they can get the kind of barristers that some of the big developers use, but let us see an end to those large and long-winded public inquiries.

I welcome the planning role for the regional development agencies. The Minister is right—the regional conferences will enable many of the problems to be dealt with at the regional and local level. That is the way to operate. Instead of having Whitehall dictate what should happen in our regions, local people should work together.

Finally, I commend the work of the urban task force. The Government were right to put someone as eminent as Lord Rogers into the chair of the urban task force. He is one of the foremost architects of this century. He is committed to ensuring that we celebrate our towns and cities. The task force is going to our major towns and cities to take evidence and to listen to the good practice of local Labour councils. That is because all Labour councils have done good work. That having been done, the task force will produce a report that will enable us to have a good urban policy—that is something that we should support.

I look forward to receiving the task force's report because the key to protecting our green belt is to ensure that development occurs on brown-field sites in the cities. It is no longer a question of the bankrupt contest between town and city. The way to resolve these problems is to ensure that we examine ways in which our urban renaissance can be developed so that there will not be development outside urban areas. That is the best way to plan for prosperity and to plan for our people.

8.31 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

I am grateful to be able to speak tonight solely about West Sussex and to invite the Minister, after what I thought was a deplorable performance from the Government Dispatch Box on such a serious matter, to deal sensibly and seriously with the points that I shall make. I shall speak in the context of the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. and hon. Friends. I shall focus my remarks on the grave anxieties that are rightly and understandably felt by those who live in my constituency of Mid-Sussex and in West Sussex more generally.

As the Minister may or may not know, West Sussex has some of the most beautiful and romantic landscape in Britain. However, under present Government policy, not one green field is safe in the area. Every settlement feels that it is under pressure. In East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill, local people are extremely anxious about the Government's monstrous decisions. This is a wholly unacceptable and thoroughly bad state of affairs. It happens also to be environmentally unsustainable.

I shall remind the House of exactly what has happened in West Sussex. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who so carefully and sensibly set out the case.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames

No, I will not.

There is no disagreement in West Sussex, as the Minister knows, that there will have to be development. Mid-Sussex is at the heart of a prosperous, growing and ambitious county. All parties in West Sussex agreed on a structure plan, which was approved by one of Her Majesty's inspectors at an examination in public in May 1997. It was a well-researched, well-documented and careful piece of work by the county, the district and the parish councils. It related to the overall environmental and economic situation in West Sussex.

The Deputy Prime Minister, in what was a monstrous decision, overturned his inspector's report in December 1997. The right hon. Gentleman has imposed, in addition to the 37,800 houses which the county council had agreed to build, 13,000 houses on the county.

Mr. Blizzard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames

No, I will not give way.

The Deputy Prime Minister has ordered West Sussex to ignore his inspector's assessment, and by central Government bully-boy tactics, he has chosen to exceed the environmentally safe capacity of West Sussex. The truth is—the Government have deliberately ignored it—that the infrastructure in Mid-Sussex especially, and in West Sussex more widely, cannot cope with such a level of development.

The new houses will put impossible pressure on schools and social services that are already hard pressed. This will follow on from West Sussex having suffered an appalling local government settlement this year. Equally, there will be impossible pressure on hospitals and roads. Already in Mid-Sussex I have almost every week a request to visit schools and other facilities where life is made impossible by the burden of traffic and the growth of it around schools, for example, where there are seriously dangerous situations developing.

Central government—even the previous Conservative Government—have not put enough money into roads in West Sussex. The present Government have not only failed to put enough money into roads, they have cut the programme altogether. That flies in the face of other Government policies. I shall quote an answer that was given to me by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. My question was to be answered on 25 January but the hon. Lady was unable to provide an answer on that day for reasons that I understand. She had to have three extra days to answer it. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken to encourage an environmentally sustainable economy in Britain. The Economic Secretary replied: The Government's approach to sustainable development is based on four broad objectives", the fourth of which was the effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources."—[Official Report, 28 January 1999; Vol. 324, c. 349–50.] If the Minister thinks that the Government are providing effective protection of natural resources and the environment in West Sussex, he is gravely mistaken.

Within the context of the motion, I shall say a word or two about the green belt and its impact. This was the only part of the Minister's speech in which he said something of interest. Much of Surrey and other home counties is designated as metropolitan green belt. The effect of this is to restrict the outward growth of London and to constrain severely the expansion of many of the settlements within the green belt—for example Redhill and Dorking.

Protecting the green belt can and has pushed development pressures into other areas, especially those just beyond the green belt—for example, the northern part of West Sussex where my seat is located, and, among others, Horsham, Crawley and Mid-Sussex. Green fields in those areas, without the protection of green-belt status, accordingly and inevitably come under greater threat from development. The Government are reluctant to extend green belts beyond those areas already designated.

In West Sussex the structure plan policy—that of the structure plan that has not been overturned by the Deputy Prime Ministeraims to protect strongly and forcefully the remaining strategic gaps that are crucial between settlements—for example between Crawley and East Grinstead, Crawley and Horsham and Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill. At present, the Government do not think that such local designations—strategic gaps—should protect land as strongly as national designation such as the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

I urge the Government to take seriously the request to enable greater protection to be afforded for counties such as West Sussex in the situation that I have described, and to enable greater protection by placing on a par with green belts strategic gaps and other similar local designations. That is vital if the Government are serious about trying to protect the character of areas where pressure for development is at its strongest.

Paragraph 236 of the excellent report of the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs states: Environmental protection and sustainable development should be put at the centre of policies on the location of housing. To my intense sadness and regret, the Government have not done that. No doubt, the previous Government were also seriously at fault. As the Minister rightly said, planning is an extremely difficult matter. However, in terms of the protection of the countryside, West Sussex has suffered what amounts to environmental vandalism. I want the Government to reconsider the consequences of their actions because their steps are, and will continue to be, hugely damaging to the environment.

If the Government persist with what amounts to a gross betrayal of the West Sussex countryside, we must ensure that more is done to improve the design and layout of new developments. I very much agree with one or two points made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) about the reform of the planning system. I want much tighter designation of architecture, design and layout.

I am delighted that, in June last year, members of the Select Committee visited the Duchy of Cornwall's remarkably interesting project at Poundbury in Dorset. They also visited the millennium village in the Minister's constituency, which is another fine example of new ideas. I hope that the Government will pay attention to the lessons of Poundbury. West Sussex county council officials paid a visit there in November and came away very impressed, as I had been on an earlier trip.

No one is suggesting that all new developments should look like Poundbury—of course they should not—but we need to take on board that what was dismissed as an irrelevance by the know-all practitioners has now been accepted as best practice in the layout and design of new settlements. We must learn that the requirements of environmental quality, layout, architecture and harmony must be much more strictly fulfilled if we are to accept the horrific level of planning that is suggested. Best practice should include thoughtful and sensible principles on planning and architecture. Poundbury has achieved a remarkable success and I hope that the Government and planners will be much tougher on builders about those principles.

I urge the Government to reconsider their actions in West Sussex. Of course there has to be development, but the Deputy Prime Minister's decision to overturn the inspector's report was monstrous and has led to great unhappiness and concern in my constituency.

8.41 pm
Mr. Cohn Pickthall (West Lancashire)

Almost all of my constituency is in the green belt, and that has prevented Greater Manchester from physically merging with Merseyside. That fact alone is sufficient to make me daily bless the vision of those in the post-war Labour Government who made the green belt a reality.

In speaking about my green belt, I speak also about the green belt covered by the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), which shares the same characteristics and problems. This will be an "on the one hand, but on the other" contribution to the debate because I believe that neither a totally defensive nor a totally 0invasive policy on the green belt is acceptable.

First, it is important to point out that the green belt is not homogenous. It varies in its geological and agricultural characteristics and very much so in its proximity to, or remoteness from, urban settlements. In my part of the world, the green belt is mostly flat peat land and reclaimed marsh. It is mostly AI agricultural land and most of the industry is horticulture and the production of field vegetables of an extremely high quality.

Despite the variety in green-belt characteristics across the country and the different levels of pressures on the green belt in, for example, the south-east around Greater London compared with Lancashire, the underlying purpose of that land is the same. As PPG2 says, that purpose is to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas and to prevent towns merging; to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment; to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns and to assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. It is worth reminding ourselves of those objectives, as it is worth reminding ourselves of the first sentence under "Designation" in PPG2, which says: The essential characteristic of Green Belts is their permanence. Within the parameters of what development is allowed in the green belt, land usage is a different matter, and I shall return to that point in a moment.

I want to place on record my deep appreciation for the stout defence of the principles and objectives of the green belt put up by West Lancashire district council and, in particular, the stubborn resistance of the chairman of planning, Bob Pendleton, to the despoliation of the green belt. However, those like myself who have had the good luck to live and work surrounded by the green belt—in my case, for over 30 years—are badly placed to object in principle to the natural desire of those in Liverpool and Manchester to move into the areas that we so much enjoy.

One of the things that worries me about Opposition Members' total concentration on housing and planning in the green belt—I understand their anxieties—is that behind it lies the substratum opinion, "We have got into the green belt, thank you very much; we are all right. Pull up the drawbridge. We do not want anybody else in here with us if we can possibly help it."

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has very properly and crucially yoked, by violence, the preservation of the green belt and green areas generally with the need to upgrade and improve our urban environment. I urge the Government to pursue that relationship relentlessly, and I am sure that they will.

There is more capacity for developing brown-field sites and for living above shops; there are more redundant Ministry of Defence and Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions sites, as well old hospital and old asylum sites to be developed; there is a vast amount of unused Railtrack land. Planning and taxation obstacles to such development possibilities can be adjusted to speed up such acceptable development, while as much development of the green belt as possible is slowed down. My right hon. Friend has proposed a target of 60 per cent.—that has been much debated, so I need not go into it. I believe that that can be achieved, and improved on. I said at the outset that there are huge differences in land characteristics and usage between green belts. I want to flag up some of the problems faced by my constituents. The survival of economic activity in the rural areas of West Lancashire depends on an intricate and delicate web of interdependence in the horticultural and field vegetable industries. In order to challenge, or to integrate with, the power of major retailers, which I am glad to see are represented in the Chamber, growers must adapt their buildings and become more efficient in transporting their produce. Farmers must adapt their buildings to meet animal welfare needs, among other pressures. Restrictions in green-belt regulations make that process exceedingly difficult and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, extremely protracted. It is absurd that local growers and hauliers are often unable simply to park their vehicles on or close to their land because hard-standing counts as building development. Several small growers in my constituency have closed down precisely because of that.

Changing buildings directly to meet the demands of supermarket buyers can also prove so protracted and difficult that contracts are lost. Many local authorities, particularly mine, have been stung by the fiddling of planning permission for so-called agricultural dwellings to the point that they are reluctant to grant any such permission. Absurdly, that has led to them making judgments on the commercial viability of projects—something that local councils are not fitted to do. Constituents of mine are trying to diversify from pig farming—who would not if they had the choice—by buying a redundant plant nursery and bringing it back to life. That nursery is in the green belt and has no dwelling attached to it. The project could well fall through due to obstacles to planning permission in such circumstances.

On the other hand, some of the activities allowed in the green belt are proving to be a different problem. Sprawling golf courses, for which permission is granted because they are part of what is considered acceptable use, sports centres and a proposed crematorium and graveyard in West Lancashire are all as bad an intrusion into agricultural green belt as small factories or extended horticultural units, and certainly as bad as housing development. A proposal to convert a redundant commercial unit in a tiny hamlet into a smithy was turned down because it was deemed not to be agriculture related.

Most problems with residential caravan sites, the creation of new farm roads and alternative use of redundant farm buildings will be common to all green belts, but problems that might be especially acute in horticultural areas require particularly sensitive handling, which is not always enhanced by green-belt regulation. That handling is of course best understood and undertaken locally. I am enthusiastic about the role to be played in this process by regional development agencies. I do not share the fears and cynicism of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). I very much hope to see elected regional government in the next Parliament which has an overview of such matters.

I am aware that there is a contradiction in what I have said. I have learnt to contradict myself very quickly; it saves my wife the trouble. I have argued the defensive case, which would be strongly in support of the integrity of the green belt, and, at the same time, I am arguing for more local flexibility—not in terms of the extent of the green belt, but the land usage within it and permissions for that.

Local authorities are much more likely to be able to judge the genuineness of the need or the demand for development, especially in relation to local commercial need as well as housing. Specifically, local authorities are most likely to be able to make sensible judgments about infill in "washed over" villages and hamlets. Remarkably, in Lancashire, surveys of parish need for new homes often produce the information that there is no need, but that never prevents the owners of a large garden or spare plot from conjuring up amazing arguments to prove the need for, or the reasonableness of, what they are doing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East said, it is the people with the money who can command the planning silks, who always seem to get their way in the end.

How do we square the contradictory pressures that all hon. Members who represent green-belt areas experience? Whatever else it did not do, the Opposition's chronic over-egging of the case for preservation of the green belt in recent months, which might well have buried the case for its conservation, has brought into the public domain the Government's more detailed ideas about green-belt policy and countryside policy as a whole. Many of us have returned to the Labour party policy document produced before the general election, "A Working Countryside", for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) has not had sufficient credit.

For my constituency's green belt, the devil is always in the detail. Given the natural reluctance of a council to get embroiled in lengthy and expensive appeals and wrangling with landowners' barristers, it is easier for the council to say no, full stop. In many cases planning applications are passed to and fro between district and county councils.

Some time ago, I suggested to my local council that one way forward might be to self-impose an absolute limit on the amount of green belt that it would allow even to be considered for suitable development. I envisaged a tiny proportion, perhaps 0.1 per cent., but that would still representing a significant amount of possibilities. That would allow the identification of relatively degraded land, and of unsightly, unused farm buildings, as well as the identification of key small sites for the parking of produce merchants' vehicles, for the erection of small appropriate commercial units and so on.

As things stand, the pressures on industrial and commercial land in Skelmersdale—a new town well inside the green belt—are now such that, this year, the council is planning to release a large tract of land on the edge of the town, formerly designated to come into the planning ambit in six years' time. A more flexible overall policy might have enabled us to avoid that. Although it is good that Skelmersdale is at last starting to grow after years of being trodden on by the previous Government, it is regrettable that it can do so only by spreading into attractive open countryside in what is still the green belt, with the development of an industrial estate.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friends the Ministers are taking green-belt issues seriously and responding to the concerns that my hon. Friends have been expressing for a considerable time. I look forward to the work of the new RDA for the north-west. I and my north-west colleagues have already had fruitful and encouraging contacts on those issues with Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, the chairman designate.

I commend to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the massive amount of work done by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) in the countryside, and the work done by the Back-Bench rural affairs group, which I trust will inform the debate on the forthcoming rural White Paper. It would be a pity if the Government started re-inventing a wheel that we have already done a good amount of work to fashion.

8.54 pm
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

It is an honour to be called to speak in the debate, not least because I was privileged to serve on the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, whose 10th report on housing has been so much discussed and praised this evening. It is also an honour to serve behind the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who regrettably is not in her place but whose robust views on the subject were clearly laid out in the report, and whose robust views on most subjects go to great lengths to embarrass her own Government. I am always proud to serve behind her, and I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that.

I should tell the Minister for London and Construction that it was not I who described him in that disgraceful way in the Select Committee report. As I was the only Conservative Member serving on the Committee at that time, he must deduce that it was someone from his own side who came to that disgraceful conclusion. On that person's behalf, I apologise for it, although, if one listened to the Minister's speech this evening, one might gain some insight into why that conclusion was reached.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). I shall have a little to say about the north-west and the north-east of England later in my brief remarks. I know that several hon. Members want to take part in the debate, so I shall try to restrict myself to one specific point about my constituency and two or three general points.

With regard to my constituency, North Wiltshire is threatened by the ever-westward expansion of Swindon. For example, it has recently been decided that 5,000 houses are likely to be built in what is known as the front garden of Swindon, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown). If that is allowed, it will be a touchstone of the Government's attitude to building. There will be an inexorable growth towards my villages of Lydiard Millicent, Purton and Wootton Bassett, which are terrified that Swindon will encroach upon them and engulf them.

The Secretary of State will no doubt read the report of this debate tomorrow. His attitude the growth of Swindon will be taken as a touchstone in our view of the entire matter when the Opposition—I fear that it will be the Opposition who call it—call the next debate, which will be the fourth that we have called on the subject since we came into opposition.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will offer some constructive comments about how we can move forward. Does he agree that one possible way forward is to examine the density of housing that we should build on brown-field land, and to regenerate our towns, as the Government have outlined?

Mr. Gray

I agree with the hon. Lady. I know that, around Swindon, there are many brown-field sites. I hope that the Secretary of State's strengthening of the rural buffer zone that protects my constituency from Swindon may force developers into the centre of Swindon to develop precisely the kind of sites that the hon. Lady describes.

On a more general point, the Secretary of State seems to be like a rabbit. It may be hard to imagine him as a rabbit, frozen in the headlights of an on-coming Land Rover driven by the developers, but his inaction over the past 12 months suggests that. He simply does not know what to do about the 4.4 million households that we are told that the nation will need between now and 2016. I believe that the latest projections from civil servants may be as high as 5 million households, rather than 4.4 million, as we had all hoped.

As I speak from the Back Benches, and therefore speak with no authority of my party or anyone else, I shall suggest a few ideas to the Secretary of State for dealing with the problem of all those households.

Politicians of all parties go to great lengths to say how much they support the family, how strongly we believe in the family and how we must keep families together, although, in party political debates, we often argue that the Labour party seems less committed to families than we are. None the less, most politicians of most parties go to great lengths to support the nuclear family, and argue that, through taxation and other measures, we must keep the family together.

However, the vast bulk of those 4.4 million households are not nuclear families. We need more and more houses, not because the population is expanding, not because we are all having babies, but because more and more families are breaking up. Most of the 4.4 million homes needed will be for single-parent families. I hold nothing against single-parent families. Nevertheless, it is true that we are talking, not about a growth in the population, but about significant social changes in that population.

Perhaps the nation might like to consider the proposition that, if we restricted the availability of housing, that might encourage more families to stay together, or more youngsters to stay at home for a longer time, or more families to look after the elderly after they have finished living in their own houses.

Barbara Follett

Is it not true that the growth in the number of households is caused by longevity? More people are living longer and they are living alone.

Mr. Gray

That is true; longevity is one of many reasons. However, the growth in the number of single-parent families is a key factor—divorce is causing a rise in the number of households. Even if the hon. Lady is right, my point is that, in the old days, families tended to keep their old folk with them. Allowing an ever-aging population to live alone in large houses is not necessarily the best way of using our diminishing housing stock. We should not build on green-field sites in order to leave old ladies in the family home where they have always lived—although I respect the fact that they may wish to continue to live there.

The second fundamental issue involves a self-fulfilling prophecy. In areas such as North Wiltshire or Swindon, successful businesses create employment and attract many people to the locality. The businesses then expand—for example, Honda recently announced the creation of an extra 5,000 jobs in Swindon—and someone says, "Gosh, look at all those jobs; we must have more houses to accommodate the employees". Consequently, more businesses locate to the area.

In the meantime, there are 800,000 empty houses in Britain. Some 100,000 of them are in the public sector—they are the responsibility of local authorities, housing associations and other public sector bodies. We are not using 100,000 public sector houses. If asked why that is so, most people would say that it is because the houses are not in the right places. That is correct: those empty houses are not in Swindon. The people who fill the 5,000 jobs with Honda will not live in any of those 800,000 houses because we have no empties in North Wiltshire. I think I am correct in saying—the hon. Member for South Swindon will correct me if I am not—that there are few empties in Swindon. Those empty houses are in the north-east and the north-west—as the hon. Member for West Lancashire pointed out.

Mr. Drew

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the need for an effective regional policy. When he was adviser to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), what suggestions did he make with regard to such a policy?

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman may dress it up as effective regional policy, but my point has nothing to do with a top-down regional policy or RDAs saying, "Here is what you guys down there must do." I am talking about restricting the availability of housing in areas such as mine. That will force businesses to locate in the north-east and the north-west of England and people will go to live in those areas and occupy the empty houses. That is a straightforward market-driven approach to solving the problem—it has nothing to do with RDAs, regional policies and all of those things that the Labour party loves.

It is an economic self-fulfilling prophecy that, because the south-west and south-east of England are prosperous, they must be allowed to become even more prosperous and we must allow more and more people to live in those areas. We tell ourselves that, as a nation, we have a duty to provide houses for people where they want them and at prices that they can afford. I suggest that, if we chose to restrict the availability of housing in the south-east and the south-west—as well as in other popular areas—businesses would perhaps locate to where housing is available; where there are empties and brown-field sites.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

In Cambridge, an over-provision of jobs and an under-provision of homes leads to the development of unsustainable policies. People live outside my constituency and drive to work because public transport is poor. That causes huge traffic congestion and air pollution in the city. and that is much less attractive than having more homes that we need in the city.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Lady is absolutely right: that is a very good point. It reminds me that the Minister failed to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) about development around Cambridge. Perhaps the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning might like to address that issue in his winding-up speech.

Ms Drown


Mr. Gray

I am concerned that, if I take many more interventions, I may overstay my welcome.

My third general point was also touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). We take a curious approach to town planning in this nation. We presume that everyone wants to live on the outskirts of town—the outskirts of Cambridge, for example, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) has suggested—and in cul-de-sacs, which, for some reason we all love. We also presume that everyone wants to live in two or three-bedroom semi-detached houses with two bathrooms and preferably two garages, but a large number of those 4.4 million households are single-parent families that might well prefer to live in the centre of town and in more densely populated areas, for example in the centre of Swindon, near the railway station, buses and shops.

The presumption that we all want to live in suburban England, down a cul-de-sac, has been challenged most noticeably—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex correctly said—by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in his ground-breaking development in Poundbury, which the Select Committee so much enjoyed visiting. That is a truly sustainable development: he has shops, houses and factories, all within walking distance of each other.

That is what town planning ought to be about. It should not necessarily be about huge, useless cul-de-sacs where people need a car to get to the shops, to school or to work. Poundbury gives us some messages and the report goes some length towards saying that we ought to consider carefully some of the lessons to be learned from it.

I hope that it does not take another 12 months for the Secretary of State to make some useful moves forward. As in so many other policy areas, he keeps telling us what he will do, he keeps setting up new bodies and he appoints yet another noble Lord to write a report about something, perhaps a working party or a committee.

I very much hope that it does not take the right hon. Gentleman another 12 months to drop some of that useless rhetoric and start living up to what he has been saying all this time. He should start helping out the people of Devon and the people of Swindon, who are so threatened, as well as the people in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and the people of Stevenage. All those people are so threatened by the development that the Secretary of State is allowing to happen.

I call on the Secretary of State to drop the empty rhetoric, drop the committees and drop the working parties and get stuck into turning down some of these disgraceful applications.

9.7 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

I am pleased that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) is keen on the dispersal of industrial development and prosperity from the wealthier areas to the less prosperous parts of the country, such as my constituency, but I am not convinced that his methods would necessarily work.

At the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman spoke about rhetoric. The rhetoric that we heard at the beginning of the debate only confirmed my belief that what happened after May 1997 was that the Conservatives woke up. When they had surveyed the wreckage, they realised that virtually all that they had left were their shire heartlands. They thought that they would work on the principle of consolidating what they had and therefore tried to present their party as the party of rural England, and they could only say England.

The Conservatives neglected to notice that there are 175 rural and semi-rural Labour Members of Parliament, which is more than the number of Conservative Members. Since May 1997, our Government have been presented in a series of attacks as the destroyers of the green belt and the despoilers of the countryside. The Conservatives have thrown in a bit about beef on the bone and a bit about fox hunting and have tried to present that as the end of rural life as we know it. That has left the ordinary people who live in the rural areas very cold. Nearly two years on, we can see that those attacks are completely without foundation and that there is no truth in what they allege about the Government.

Those attacks seem to be based on the proposition that the green belt has to be some absolute and that the best way to protect the countryside is to freeze it in time: "Thou shalt not ever build in the countryside." Thus, a hollow argument that is no use at all to those involved in the serious business of trying to plan at local level has developed. I want to show how that highly simplistic approach is pointless and not in the best interests of the countryside and rural people.

I share what I am sure is the view of most hon. Members who are in the Chamber—that it is important to protect the countryside and green belt—but I want to show that real situations are far more complicated than the Opposition have described, by presenting a few examples from my constituency. We all want a sustainable countryside. To achieve that, we must sustain village life. People in my constituency who have lived in villages all their lives tell me that they want some homes in their villages so that their grown-up children can remain there instead of having to move away. There must be some scope for well-thought-out growth in villages to accommodate those people.

Everyone wants to keep village schools, which tie rural communities together. If young people have to move out of villages to towns to find somewhere to live, there will be no children to fill the village schools and they will have to close. It is the same with shops and other services.

Village life needs transport, and the Government are giving many villages a lifeline for the first time. The county of Suffolk, which contains my constituency, has had well over £1 million, and many villages have a bus service for the first time.

If we want a sustainable countryside, we must sustain farming as an industry. Our farmers are challenged by world movements, reform of the common agricultural policy and many other changes. We agree that farmers will have to diversify into other commercial activities, but to do so they may need planning permission, and all too often planning applications are given a blanket refusal. Farmers and country landowners have told me that they want flexibility in the planning system to enable them to continue farming and to operate commercially in the countryside.

We also need to sustain a rural economy and ensure that there is work in the countryside for the people who live there, so that they do not all pile into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). A classic example in my constituency a few years ago was a proposal to turn an old country hall into a brewery. Thankfully, St. Peter's brewery is now a successful, small company—people may have seen its beer in the supermarkets. It had a tremendous planning battle. It was thought that there would be noise, disturbance, smell and light, but in fact it is a good example of a rural enterprise. We need to encourage such ventures, and not require people to overcome so many obstacles.

My constituency is a mixture of urban and rural areas, so we must think of the quality of life in our towns and not just in the countryside. Even with a bottom-up approach, as favoured by the Government, and with brown-field development taking priority, there will have to be some expansion. If we allocate only the minimum amount of land, we get the cramped estates of the past that offer poor living conditions without facilities for the people who live in them. They have only the obligatory little rectangle of grass with a swing in the corner to satisfy planning conditions.

In the recent round of allocations in the local plan, my authority decided that it wanted quality. We allocated more land than was necessary, so the developer was able to acquire and hand over to the public new, large parks and new playing fields. With a little imagination in the planning process, green space is protected for the people.

Government policy on playing fields and open spaces is very strong. Only a few weeks ago, new guidance was issued ensuring that all applications to convert an open space or playing field have to be called in. I know how strict that policy is, because in Bungay in my constituency, the community wants part of a site for a doctor's surgery to serve a vital need. The site is not used as a playing field. People would have liked that planning decision to be made locally, but there has had to be an inquiry. I give that example to show the Government's commitment to protecting open space, and to make a plea for flexibility when doctors' surgeries are at stake.

Some developments are essential, but it is rather unpleasant to live next door to them. For example, we need a sewage disposal plant in my constituency to ensure the bathing quality of our coastal areas, but who wants to live next to a sewage works? Surely the best place for a sewage works is in the countryside, but that counts as development. People who are against all development in the countryside say that such plants cannot be built there, but where do we put them? Anglian Water want to put a plant right next to a village.

All the people in the village of Corton are, rightly, up in arms at the thought of having a sewage works on their doorstep. The place for a sewage works is further out in the countryside where it can be landscaped. In fact, sewage works in the countryside protect it, because nobody would seek to build housing estates in the area.

In East Anglia, the same thing happens with turkey farms. Bernard Matthews has to raise turkeys before he can employ people to turn the turkeys into food. The company adds huge value to the East Anglian economy, but every time it wants to erect large sheds for the turkeys—they are not battery turkeys, because they can run around—it faces huge opposition because of the smell. However, those sheds are very important for the local economy, so some development in the countryside must be allowed.

We should use brown-field sites first, for both housing and industry. In Lowestoft, the main town in my constituency, there are acres of waterfront land where factories have closed and nothing is happening there. It is important that we regenerate such areas and locate industry there, instead of taking up green fields outside the town for new factories and businesses. However, some external support must be provided to enable development of those brown-field sites. I am pleased that English Partnerships has shown some interest in my area, but it will take a lot of support from Government to achieve regeneration of such areas.

I am pleased that the Rogers task force is compiling a register of sites because, if we are to address the question of the dispersal of industrial activity and prosperity, we must have an oversight of each region or sub-region. If we do not develop brown-field sites in a town that needs development and at the same time allow green-field development in another town some 20 or 30 miles away that has no brown-field sites, we will not use up all the brown-field sites. We must consider that approach to the planning system to ensure that, within a sub-region, all brown-field sites are used up before new green-field sites. That is only a crude way of expressing the issue, but it is one idea for a dispersal mechanism. If we can achieve that, we will have a planning system that stimulates regeneration, instead of standing in its way, and that protects the countryside, in a way that has not been achieved before.

9.17 pm
Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

I am delighted to speak tonight on an issue that threatens to herald one of the great environmental disasters of the 21st century unless we address the matter early. We are examining changes that are irreversible and it is for that reason that they pose such a great threat. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who is no longer in his place, illustrated vividly the terrible tragedy that potentially faces West and Mid-Sussex, parts of the countryside that are a national treasure and irreplaceable. His point was not only that we risk losing the countryside, but that, today, communities in that countryside are living under the threat of development. That is a way of setting community against community. The decisions to be made could be regretted by generations to come.

Conservative Members, especially those new to the House, like myself, fully recognise that what we are saying today reflects a change in thinking that is not unique to this side of the House. It is a consequence of the learning that has taken place from the erosion of the countryside in the past two decades. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) raised the question of supermarket development, and I stress that I am not here tonight to speak for the supermarket retailing industry. However, as the hon. Gentleman raised the issue, I would point out that it is important to recognise that the supermarket industry has, for the most part, welcomed the tightening of planning restrictions, which is good for the industry and for the community.

More important, the hon. Member for Leicester, East noted that, as a consequence of that tightening up, market forces have ensured that people in the retailing industry have turned their minds with ingenuity and creativity to solutions using brown-field and town-centre sites. That would not have arisen without the tightening-up under the previous Government. The same analogy should be applied to housing, where tightening up restrictions on green-field sites—not only green belt—will result in the same ingenuity in architecture and development.

Mr. Drew

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I would not put words into his mouth, but is he saying on behalf of the companies with which he is associated that they no longer intend to pursue their existing planning permissions outside town centres?

Mr. Norman

I explained that I am not here to speak for the supermarket industry, my interest in which is well known. It would not be appropriate to use the time of the House to pursue that when other hon. Members want to speak.

I want to discuss countryside issues, especially in my constituency, which is a spa town in a part of the country already facing saturation development. There is extreme congestion pressure and pressure on infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. We must recognise that other Government policies, such as the restriction on new road building and the cancellation of the A21 dualling project, have increased the pressure from congestion. Those policies fly in the face of encouraging new housing development, notably the building of 125,000 new homes in Kent.

In his opening remarks, the Minister claimed that the projections for the requirement to build some 4 million new houses are incapable of challenge. We all know that that is not the case. Good evidence on projections was submitted by Professor Glen Bramley to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. He said: Nevertheless, the household projections have attracted increasing attention and a range of critical comment, some at least of which cannot be lightly dismissed. No Conservative Member pretends that we do not need to build new houses; we recognise that we do. It is a question of the extent and nature of the new housing developments required.

The assumptions of the new projections are open to question. We must recognise that straight-line projections based on demand such as this are first based on the assumption that we have to meet the demand as it appears; supply has to meet demand without any change in life style being sought, as mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). We are approaching the point where that form of development is no longer sustainable. Life styles, modes of living, development and architecture will have to adapt accordingly.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

The hon. Gentleman is a fellow Kent Member. Given what he has said, what did he think when, in 1996, the Tory Government forcibly increased the house-building target in Kent over what Kent county council had wanted?

Mr. Norman

I have already explained that this is today; we are talking about the future and the threat to the countryside now. We fully recognise that some past judgments might not be made in the same situation today.

It is important to recognise that the projections are high risk. They assume the continuity of today's life style. Important assumptions about migration and immigration are made. The requirements of immigrants are particularly important to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). They also assume a continuity of vacancy rates, which run at 4 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire said. A reduction of vacancy rates, compelled partly by market forces, to, say, 2 per cent., would result in 471,000 new homes being taken up, or about 10 per cent. of the total requirement. That shows that the projection is far from sacrosanct.

When the Secretary of State approved 2,500 new homes on green belt in Newcastle, there were already 4,000 empty homes in the Newcastle town centre area. Instead of giving permission for green-belt development, we must apply pressure to encourage architects and developers to find ingenious solutions in town centres. We would thereby solve half of the problem without sacrificing the countryside.

We must recognise the fragility of the projections. They are not certain. No one can predict with any degree of certainty what will be required in 2016. That is why green-belt and green-field developments should come last, not first. We should not give permission for new settlements in the countryside now. If they are required, they should follow on in a decade or so.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire also put forward a powerful argument for the nature of the new houses required. The projections do not show that we need hundreds of pastiche, new family houses in the countryside. In fact, 80 per cent. of the new household requirement is for single-person households. As Labour Members said, those include elderly people. Some of the dwellings will perhaps be for single-parent families and some will be for single people and students. Single-person households do not require houses in the countryside or on the edge of towns in green fields. Ideally, they require housing within the existing community. A greater density of housing and a re-configuration of the accommodation will be required in those communities. That is contrary to the effect of the Government's policy on new green-field development. Our best chance is not to give permission now and release land for green-field development, but to oblige developers and architects to find solutions in town centres.

Finally, the cost of green-field developments to the community and the public purse in the long run has an enormous multiplier effect, which is not necessarily the case with developments in towns. What was once a village called Paddock Wood in my constituency is now the major development centre in Tunbridge Wells. Migration into Paddock Wood is not from Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding community and does not consist of single person households. The development is for families moving from London and the Medway towns to Tunbridge Wells and the Kent countryside. The impact is not merely the loss of income-generating families to the Medway towns and the metropolitan conurbation, or the decline in school rolls in the city centre. We will have to build new schools and roads in Paddock Wood and the surrounding area, which will be a cost to the public purse. Green-field development is not merely environmentally destructive: it is a great deal more expensive and it is inappropriate to the requirements of single-person households in the Government's projections.

The Government claim to have moved to a decentralised approach to planning and housing requirements. In so far as that is the intention, it is welcome, but it has not happened. The London and south-east regional planning conference, Serplan, covers an area from Oxford to Folkestone. That is not local or decentralised. Regional is not local or democratic. There is no effective accountability and it is not likely to work.

In conclusion, I urge the Government to hear the plea of all those who are deeply concerned for their communities and the countryside. We recognise that thinking has developed and changed on the issue and we call upon the Government to move with the times so that their actions match the rhetoric. This evening, we have heard heart-felt pleas from Conservative Members and a great deal of eloquence, and not merely from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex.We must recognise the risk of permanent destruction of the countryside. We must also recognise that developments proposed for the countryside will not meet future needs and that rethinking is urgently required.

9.29 pm
Barbara Follett (Stevenage)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate, to set the record straight on the reasons for the development to the west of Stevenage, and to outline what Hertfordshire county council intends to do to implement its structure plan in a responsible and sustainable fashion.

First, I have to repeat what has already been said: the 4.4 million target figure was a Conservative target figure and Hertfordshire county council was told that it had to provide the space for 65,000 houses by 2016. From 1994, Hertfordshire struggled to do that and it eventually found space for 54,000 houses on brown-field sites in towns and villages, but the problem of space for the remaining 11,000 houses proved intractable.

There was a proposal to build between Royston and Aston, which lie to the east of Stevenage, but that would have merged the two, to their detriment. There were also proposals that we should fill in Fairlands park, which is a recreation park in the centre of Stevenage, and use those few recreation sites we have in an already overcrowded town to provide brown-field sites. Anyone who knows the cost to the social fabric and the other consequences of overcrowding will realise that those were not sustainable options.

Finally, Hertfordshire county council decided reluctantly that it would have to build 1,000 houses in Hemel Hempstead and 10,000 to the west of Stevenage, close to the railway line and the A l(M). Those two developments would take up 800 hectares of green belt. To prevent the concreting over of England and the merging of Hitchin and Luton, Hertfordshire decided to put 5,400 new hectares into the green belt. That is a net gain of 4,600 hectares to the Hertfordshire green belt, which now totals 86,000 hectares. I do not know why Opposition Members think that that is irrelevant.

Mr. Heald

The point is that Hertfordshire had a consultants' report that said that every single one of the 65,000 houses could be provided within the envelopes of towns. Then, Labour-controlled Stevenage borough council offered to take 10,000 houses. That offer was grasped. Does the hon. Lady agree that, when considering the green belt, it is important to recognise that the land between Hitchin and Luton that is to be designated as green belt is prime agricultural land that is protected anyway?

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not make a speech during an intervention.

Barbara Follett

I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's point. The reason why Labour-controlled Stevenage council was not keen to have the houses built within the envelopes of towns was that they would be built mainly within the envelope of Stevenage, which is already overcrowded, and on the recreation park that I mentioned.

We hear a lot about 10,000 houses being built to the west of Stevenage. Phase 1, which should be complete by 2011, accounts for only 3,600 houses, and there is the potential for a further 1,400 houses to be built after 2011. There is no certainty that the other 5,000 will be built, but they will be built only if they are needed. I shall outline what Hertfordshire county council wants to do with the development west of Stevenage.

Hertfordshire has a proud history. It is where the first garden cities were developed by Ebenezer Howard—Letchworth in 1903 and Welwyn Garden City in 1919. Through the development west of Stevenage, Hertfordshire wants to build another garden city. Under the garden city 2000 project, the council has conducted a lengthy consultation with local people, especially those who are against the development. Last weekend, at the John Henry Newman school in my constituency, 330 people met for two days to draw the outline plan for the development and to discuss what it could and should contain. I welcome that initiative by Hertfordshire county council, which is exactly what the Government want to encourage, as it involves local people in local plans at an extremely local level. We are putting in place measures to preserve the environment and to ensure that the countryside and the town merge.

I know that Conservatives are as concerned as I am about the erosion of the green belt. I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and I know that his views are sincere. I shall work with him to do as much as possible to make the new garden city development a good one.

However, we know that the problem is serious. It is predicted that, overall, there will be 23 per cent. more households in Britain by 2016. There will be 29 per cent. more households in the eastern region, where my constituency is situated, and 29 per cent. more in the south-west.

Mr. Blunt

Does the hon. Lady accept that those projections are amenable to change by social and fiscal policies?

Barbara Follett

I do, and I know that the auditor's figures show that the projections can vary by as much as plus or minus 3 per cent. The projections are difficult and not particularly reliable, and, at some stage, we must consider how they can be reformed. However, we have to work with the figures that we have. I would welcome a more sensible and measured debate about this very emotional and difficult problem. I deplore the mindless and hectoring fashion in which certain Conservative Members—notably the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns)—introduced the debate. His manner demeaned his office and degraded his argument. I had hoped for better.

9.37 pm
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

It is a pleasure on this guest appearance to see that the Government are fielding such a distinguished team. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning apparently has a new role as First Minister for England, while the Minister for London and Construction is a putative but bashful candidate for mayor of London. Such luminaries do not often share the Front Bench to reply to a debate. I have been looking up, in the Evening Standard, all the non-endorsements for the Minister for London and Construction in the campaign that has not yet started on his behalf.

I regret that the Deputy Prime Minister is not present, but I know that he will be extremely familiar with the inner city, because he flies over it so frequently—no doubt on his way to a spot of wealth creation.

Dr. Ladyman

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Curry

No, not for the moment, although I will later.

The House agrees that, if we are to save the green belt and do our best to ensure that development in the countryside is minimised, we must be serious about developing the inner city. The two go together; they are not options.

If we are to recapture the city and reuse the land, we must do it without starting from the basis of illusion. There is a belief that, if one improves schools and transport in the inner city and makes sure that the streets are safe, people automatically will want to live there. Some will, and doing that much will make it easier for people to live there. However, a strong aspirational element is also at work, as the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) pointed out: people want to move out of such areas because they consider that that will better their condition and, perhaps, their status. That has happened throughout our history, and politicians must be careful before they decide that there is a point at which that process must be brought to an end.

The city must be made to work. A long time ago, I read a book by Jane Jacobs called "The Death and Life of the Great American City". It is one of the great formative books on planning. Her central thesis was that the city had gone wrong because we had started dividing it up into different functions. As a result, we lost much of the cohesion—the informal supervision of people—that obtained in the middle of a city. We had been required to police and manage the city because we had denied the community the ability to police and manage the city itself. If we can get back to some of those concepts in our development, we will save ourselves a great deal of trouble. It is an expensive business, and it would be foolish to pretend that it could be done easily or on the cheap. Lots of land in cities is contaminated, having had gasworks on it. The Minister for London and Construction represents Greenwich, and he will know better than most the history of munitions and chemicals and the sheer amount of work required to put land right.

We must make sure that we have the right players, playing the right game. The players are the Government, through their regional proposals and their planning rules; the new development agencies which are about to come into existence; the local authorities; housing associations and voluntary groups; and the private sector.

I agreed with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor). The figure of 4.4 million hovers over our debate like a dark and threatening cloud. However, that figure reflects what is happening in our society—longevity, divorce, people who have never married. I would love to be able to wish the figure away and to think that it is fundamentally wrong, but all the history suggests that it may be too modest rather than too great. We may be lucky to get away with that figure.

That is an example of how aspirations run up against the needs of the wider community. The devolution of decisions to the regions will not help matters. That does not alter the problem; it merely alters the number of people who can take decisions. The danger is that we are passing the parcel. The places where people want to live and the places where the used land exists do not coincide with all the happy convenience that the Government would wish.

I used to go around the country to find people saying, "Let them live in Liverpool." There was an enormous enthusiasm for living in Liverpool among people who knew that they would never be asked to do so. It is amazing that Liverpool has not been repopulated at colossal speed, given the enthusiasm of people to send others to live there. The hon. Member for West Lancashire has pointed out, however, that some people may actually want to move away from Merseyside, an area that is depopulating.

We must recognise the real problem. The achievement of individual aspiration sometimes comes up against the interest of the community. The whole planning problem is about how we get those two things into sensible equilibrium. The community itself often wants sensitive economic development: people in the area around Cambridge would not want not to have the economic success that has happened there, but it has brought its problems. Planning is about reconciliation, compromise and equilibrium.

At the same time, people have palpable concerns. When people set up home in a new environment, it is natural that they become defensive about it. My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) have talked about the sheer sense of permanent uncertainty that surrounds people, and about the sheer length of time it takes before decisions are taken. There is also a sense of despoilation of the very environments to which people move, and the resulting choking of services. Often, the environment that is being quit is not improved, and the environment to which people move is also degraded. That is the worst of both worlds.

The Government can do some things to accelerate the process of making inner cities more developable and livable, an idea that lies at the heart of their argument. We do not have to wait for Lord Rogers to decide.

First, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire said, there is the value added tax on house repairs. There is 17.5 per cent. VAT on 800,000 empty homes in England and Wales, but zero VAT on building on green-field sites. Not all those homes are where people want them to be, but they should be coupled with sensible social housing policies in areas such as the north-east. Frankly, there is a persuasive case for stopping building new social housing in Newcastle, given the empties there.

Secondly, housing associations are major players in the city centres and their permitted purposes could be changed to encourage them into regeneration. They should get out of social security, and into economic development, building more houses for the marketplace and for selling. They are in business, they are successful and they bring in private sector funding. They are capable of developing economic regeneration in the cities.

Thirdly, we should see an accelerated programme of housing transfers, perhaps to community trusts. Transfers do not have to go to the private sector or to housing associations. That notion was regarded as scandalous when the previous Government introduced it, but people in Liverpool, Manchester and other places are falling over themselves to have houses transferred because they know that there is no ghost of a chance of the Exchequer providing the public funds that would put those houses in order.

What about allowing local authorities to keep a proportion of the business rate for specific economic regeneration programmes, provided—[Interruption.] I say this knowing that the Government have just said that they do not intend to return it for at least 10 years, because local government has been let off the chain and decanted into its gilded cage by the Government. How about a little bit of business rate for economic regeneration programmes, provided that they are in partnership and provided that they lever in private finance, at least on a one-to-one basis? Then they could keep that bit of extra business rate. When the Government talk about local government's community role, they will be giving it some of the means to deliver that.

How about going further and allowing local authorities to levy a small supplementary rate, with the agreement of business, subject to a ballot, to use for economic regeneration—for surveillance cameras and street improvements?[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. The right hon. Gentleman is addressing the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are enjoying it."' Well, perhaps hon. Members will enjoy the speech in silence.

Mr. Curry

I would hate to have been greeted entirely in silence. I do not mind terribly from which side of House the silence and which side the noise comes.

This is a Government who are supposed to be liberating local government. I am trying to give them one or two hints on how they might manage that. So far, it is all rhetoric and little action, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who is the Government Whip on the Local Government Bill, will be able to testify.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was right when he talked about planning delays. They are enormous. It can take more than a year for an inquiry to get under way, even after a call-in. That freezes development comprehensively. The Government have had nearly two years to start getting that right and it is about time that they did so.

If the Government are serious about regeneration—another matter that is also very much part of the DETR's patch—and about local government playing a central role in that, they should revise the local government finance system and its indicators, so that they are less a reflection of the static side of a community and look forward to the dynamic that a community is supposed to be undertaking. At the moment, that is not the case, and local authorities find it difficult, when they really wish to be ambitious—few of them do wish to be ambitious—to carry that through into practice.

The Government need to ensure that education action zones and other such initiatives are co-ordinated with the regeneration programmes so that the right hand knows what the left hand can do. If the Department for Education and Employment can be elbowed, kicking and screaming, into the regional office structure, that would do a lot of good.

The regional development agencies will be in charge of medium-term planning and the regional planning will be on the longer term. Those need to work together. Getting the local authorities and the development agencies on the same side, pushing in the same direction, will not be an easy task. They will have to have a focus. If they try to spread their efforts everywhere, they will do nothing but irritate over a wide area. If they are sensible, they can be effective; but they will have to make difficult choices to do that.

The Government spend much time telling us of their aspirations. They spend a great deal of time setting up one group and another group. Meanwhile, we have hesitation, fragmentation and the total absence of joined-up thinking. Here are some simple measures that the Government could undertake rapidly that would put substance on their aspirations. The Opposition have the aspirations, but for the moment the Government have nothing but empty rhetoric on a subject crucial to masses of British people.

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

The contribution of the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) was spoiled at the end. It has been good to listen to him. I do not know how the Opposition passed the hat around this afternoon to determine who would reply to the debate. I hope that what the right hon. Gentleman said will begin to be reflected in Conservative policy. When he was talking about taxation, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) went white, because he could see it costing his old business a few bob. When we read Hansard tomorrow, we shall be able to contrast the opening contribution from the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who said that he was initiating the fourth debate on behalf of the Conservatives, with the winding-up speech, and we shall see quite a difference.

To put the record straight, the motion is ill-informed because the regional development agencies will not be involved in land use planning. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon mentioned that. Those agencies are not involved in land use or transport planning; they will be left in the democratic process and will be done through the regional planning guidance.

I shall deal first with the 60 per cent. target in respect of previously developed land. I must tell the Liberal Democrats that we have been systematically examining land use, transport and spatial planning to make sure that, when we publish our proposals, which we will do on PPG 11, PPG12 and PPG3, they will all dovetail and that is exactly what the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) was asking for. I assure him that the consultation process, which has been wide and in depth, will ensure, once and for all, that we get it right. We are dealing with some very difficult problems. The Opposition have been playing gesture politics, whereas we are genuinely trying to tackle the structural problems that we inherited from the previous Administration.

Let us go back a few years and consider the arguments deployed by people such as Lord Tebbit, who told people to get on their bikes, come to the south-east and get a job. Well, people did that in the 1970s and 1980s, and there is now tremendous overheating—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) went on the rabbit run—or was it the chicken run?—from Crawley. No doubt, he has added to the housing demand there.

We will meet our 60 per cent. target, and we will do so by having, for the first time ever, a land use database. Yes, we will be reflecting on what Lord Rogers is doing in the task force; yes, we will be introducing new regional planning proposals; and yes, we will have land use change statistics. When all that is done, we will not only meet the 60 per cent. target, but go further and make sure that each region has the ability to make sure that happens.

The only way we shall end predict and provide is by putting proper planning practice into operation. We will make sure, through the regional development agencies, that we address the under-utilisation of the economies in many parts of the United Kingdom, and England in particular. Unfortunately, another legacy of the previous Administration is that no English region outside London is performing, in wealth creation terms, to the average of the European regions in respect of gross domestic product per capita. Cornwall in the south-west is down to 69 per cent. of the EU average; Merseyside is down to 72 per cent.; and the whole of the north-east is down to 80 per cent. That economic deficit is the Conservative legacy that we are trying to tackle. It was in part the result of the type of policy pursued by Lord Tebbit when he encouraged people to get on their bikes. We will be following through in terms of those planning guidance documents—

Mr. Lansley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Caborn

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman because I gave him a promise when I spoke previously on these matters.

Mr. Lansley

The Minister is on exactly the right point, and I am grateful to him. He is repeating his speech of 22 October, but not the point where he promised that he would provide a draft of PPG3 by the time our examination in public was taking place in East Anglia. That examination is occcurring now and the hon. Gentleman has not kept his promise. Where is his draft PPG3? How can the sequential approach be applied to regional planning guidance in the absence of the Government's illustration of what it means?

Mr. Caborn

I can give the hon. Gentleman an answer and offer him an apology that I did not get out a draft PPG3 before the examination in public in the eastern region. The hon. Gentleman has made about the best contribution this evening from the Opposition Benches. That shows the shallowness of the Opposition's arguments. I accept that we have not brought out PPG3. However, I am sure that, when it does come out, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it dovetails into an area that we have been examining extremely seriously—introducing regional planning guidance that will integrate transport, land use and spatial planning.

The process has proved a little more difficult than I envisaged a few months ago. However, we will get it right. We will ensure that we do not have the mistakes that we had in the past, which were made by previous Administrations. I hope that, in the next few weeks, we shall bring out planning policy guidance notes 11, 12 and 13. As for PPG3, I think that we will be responding positively by giving tools to local authorities to ensure that the sequential test, as embodied in PPG6, is in PPG3 as well. There will be a comprehensive review of that planning, as we promised in "Modernising Planning". We shall also consider how we can factor in the spatial planning perspective that comes from the European Union.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

If the Minister takes the view that the 60 per cent. target for brown-field sites cannot be given over to each individual authority, which it surely cannot, what mechanism will the Government use to ensure that, overall, that target is reached?

Mr. Caborn

As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister gave that commitment, and we are genuinely working towards it. When we came into office, we were amazed, given the previous Conservative Government's rhetoric on brown-field sites, that there was no land use databank to tell us what brown-field sites we had in the United Kingdom. The lack of hard statistical data on which to base any decisions was amazing. Those data were not in the Department. We have had to go systematically through the information that is available and we shall bring that in. We hope that the database will be available to us by the end of March. That will be a starting point. We are thankful to local authorities that have enabled us, through English Partnerships, to make this progress.

The Opposition's motion amounts to hypocrisy. I can tell the House that 50 per cent. of all out-of-town space developed since 1950 was built in only five years—1985 to 1990. I shall finish by setting out the record of the Conservative Administration. During every one of the last years of the decade that the Conservative party was in power, there was a net loss to the green belt. I shall set out the figures in reverse order as is done in Miss World competitions. No. 4, 1989–90, an overall 35 hectares were lost. Who was responsible for that? The answer is the right hon. Chris Patten. No. 3, 1990–92, 100 hectares were lost. Who was responsible? The answer is the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). No. 2, 1992–97—[Interruption.] The Opposition can have it whether they like it or not. During 1992–97, 170 hectares of green belt were lost. Who was responsible for that? The answer is the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). No.—

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 320.

Division No. 55] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fabricant, Michael
Allan, Richard Fallon, Michael
Amess, David Fearn, Ronnie
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Flight, Howard
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Foster, Don (Bath)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fox, Dr Liam
Baker, Norman Fraser, Christopher
Baldry, Tony Gale, Roger
Ballard, Jackie Garnier, Edward
Beith, Rt Hon A J Gibb, Nick
Bercow, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Blunt, Crispin Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Boswell, Tim Gorrie, Donald
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Gray, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Green, Damian
Brady, Graham Greenway, John
Brake, Tom Grieve, Dominic
Brazier, Julian Gummer, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Browning, Mrs Angela Hammond, Philip
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hawkins, Nick
Burnett, John Heald, Oliver
Burns, Simon Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cash, William Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Chidgey, David Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Chope, Christopher Hunter, Andrew
Clappison, James Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Jenkin, Bernard
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Collins, Tim Key, Robert
Colvin, Michael Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Cran, James Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Curry, Rt Hon David Lansley, Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Leigh, Edward
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Letwin, Oliver
Day, Stephen Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Lidington, David
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan, Alan Livsey, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Loughton, Tim
Evans, Nigel MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Faber, David McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Soames, Nicholas
Maclean, Rt Hon David Spring, Richard
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McLoughlin, Patrick Steen, Anthony
Major, Rt Hon John Stunell, Andrew
Malins, Humfrey Swayne, Desmond
Maples, John Syms, Robert
Mates, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
May, Mrs Theresa Taylor, Sir Teddy
Moss, Malcolm Tonge, Dr Jenny
Nicholls, Patrick Townend, John
Norman, Archie Tredinnick, David
Oaten, Mark Trend, Michael
Öpik, Lembit Tyler, Paul
Ottaway, Richard Tyrie, Andrew
Page, Richard Viggers, Peter
Paice, James Walter, Robert
Paterson, Owen Wardle, Charles
Pickles, Eric Waterson, Nigel
Prior, David Webb, Steve
Randall, John Wells, Bowen
Redwood, Rt Hon John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Rendel, David Whittingdale, John
Robathan, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Wilkinson, John
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Willetts, David
Ruffley, David Willis, Phil
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wilshire, David
St Aubyn, Nick Yeo, Tim
Sanders, Adrian Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Tellers for the Ayes:
Shepherd, Richard Sir David Madel and
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Mrs. Caroline Spelman.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Allen, Graham Canavan, Dennis
Ashton, Joe Caplin, Ivor
Atherton, Ms Candy Casale, Roger
Atkins, Charlotte Cawsey, Ian
Austin, John Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Barnes, Harry Chisholm, Malcolm
Barron, Kevin Clapham, Michael
Bayley, Hugh Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beard, Nigel Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bennett, Andrew F Clwyd, Ann
Benton, Joe Coaker, Vernon
Bermingham, Gerald Coffey, Ms Ann
Berry, Roger Cohen, Harry
Best, Harold Coleman, Iain
Betts, Clive Colman, Tony
Blears, Ms Hazel Connarty, Michael
Blizzard, Bob Corbett, Robin
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Corbyn, Jeremy
Borrow, David Corston, Ms Jean
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cousins, Jim
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cranston, Ross
Bradshaw, Ben Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cummings, John
Browne, Desmond Cunliffe, Lawrence
Buck, Ms Karen Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Burden, Richard Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Burgon, Colin Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Butler, Mrs Christine Darvill, Keith
Caborn, Richard Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hassle)
Dawson, Hilton Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Doran, Frank Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dowd, Jim Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Drew, David Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drown, Ms Julia Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kelly, Ms Ruth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kemp, Fraser
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Khabra, Piara S
Efford, Clive Kidney, David
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kilfoyle, Peter
Ennis, Jeff King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Etherington, Bill King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kingham, Ms Tess
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fitzsimons, Lorna Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Flint, Caroline Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Flynn, Paul Laxton, Bob
Follett, Barbara Lepper, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foulkes, George Linton, Martin
Fyfe, Maria Livingstone, Ken
Galloway, George Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gardiner, Barry Lock, David
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Love, Andrew
Gerrard, Neil McAllion, John
Gibson, Dr Ian McAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCabe, Steve
Godman, Dr Norman A McDonagh, Siobhain
Godsiff, Roger Macdonald, Calum
Goggins, Paul McDonnell, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McGuire, Mrs Anne
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mackinlay, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce McNulty, Tony
Grogan, John MacShane, Denis
Gunnell, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Hain, Peter McWalter, Tony
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McWilliam, John
Hanson, David Mahon, Mrs Alice
Herman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Mallaber, Judy
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Healey, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heppell, John Marshal-Andrews, Robert
Hesford, Stephen Martlew, Eric
Hill, Keith Meale, Alan
Hinchliffe, David Merron, Gillian
Hoey, Kate Michael, Alun
Home Robertson, John Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Alan
Hoon, Geoffrey Miller, Andrew
Hope, Phil Moffatt, Laura
Hopkins, Kelvin Moonie, Dr Lewis
Howells, Dr Kim Moran, Ms Margaret
Hoyle, Lindsay Morley, Elliot
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mountford, Kali
Humble, Mrs Joan Mudie, George
Hurst, Alan Mullin, Chris
Hutton, John Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Iddon, Dr Brian Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Illsley, Eric Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Norris, Dan
Jamieson, David O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jenkins, Brian O'Hara, Eddie
Osborne, Ms Sandra Snape, Peter
Palmer, Dr Nick Soley, Clive
Pearson, Ian Southworth, Ms Helen
Pendry, Tom Spellar, John
Pickthall, Colin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Pike, Peter L Steinberg, Gerry
Plaskitt, James Stevenson, George
Pollard, Kerry Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pond, Chris Stinchcombe, Paul
Pope, Greg Stoate, Dr Howard
Pound, Stephen Stott, Roger
Powell, Sir Raymond Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stringer, Graham
Prescott, Rt Hon John Stuart, Ms Gisela
Primarolo, Dawn Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Radice, Giles Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rammell, Bill Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rapson, Syd Timms, Stephen
Raynsford, Nick Tipping, Paddy
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Touhig, Don
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Trickett, Jon
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'hon SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooker, Jeff Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rooney, Terry Vaz, Keith
Ross, Emie (Dundee W) Vis, Dr Rudi
Rowlands, Ted Walley, Ms Joan
Ruddock, Ms Joan Ward, Ms Claire
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wareing, Robert N
Ryan, Ms Joan Watts, David
Salter, Martin Welsh, Andrew
Savidge, Malcolm White, Brain
Sawford, Phil Whitehead, Dr Alan
Shaw, Jonathan Wicks, Malcolm
Sheerman, Barry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Shipley, Ms Debra Wills, Michael
Short, Rt Hon Clare Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wise, Audrey
Singh, Marsha Woolas, Phil
Skinner, Dennis Worthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wray, James
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Jane Kennedy and
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 160.

Division No. 56] [10.14 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Beard, Nigel
Ainger, Nick Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Begg, Miss Anne
Allen, Graham Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Atherton, Ms Candy Bennett, Andrew F
Atkins, Charlotte Benton, Joe
Austin, John Bermingham, Gerald
Barnes, Harry Berry, Roger
Barron, Kevin Best, Harold
Bayley, Hugh Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel Efford, Clive
Blizzard, Bob Ellman, Mrs Louise
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Ennis, Jeff
Borrow, David Etherington, Bill
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Bradshaw, Ben Flint, Caroline
Brinton, Mrs Helen Flynn, Paul
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Follett, Barbara
Browne, Desmond Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Burden, Richard Foulkes, George
Burgon, Colin Fyfe, Maria
Butler, Mrs Christine Galloway, George
Cable, Dr Vincent Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell-Savours, Dale Godman, Dr Norman A
Canavan, Dennis Godsiff, Roger
Cann, Jamie Goggins, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chisholm, Malcolm Grocott, Bruce
Clapham, Michael Grogan, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hanson, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Healey, John
Clwyd, Ann Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Coaker, Vernon Hepburn, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Heppell, John
Cohen, Harry Hesfort, Stephen
Coleman, Iain Hill, Keith
Colman, Tony Hinchliffe, David
Connarty, Michael Hoey, Kate
Corbett, Robin Home Robertson, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hoon, Geoffrey
Corston, Ms Jean Hope, Phil
Cousins, Jim Hopkins, Kelvin
Cranston, Ross Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, John Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hutton, John
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Iddon, Dr Brain
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Illsley, Eric
Darvill, Keith Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Denham, John Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Doran, Frank Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dowd, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Drew, David Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Drown, Ms Julia Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kemp, Fraser
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Khabra, Piara S
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kidney, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Quinn, Lawrie
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Radice, Giles
Kingham, Ms Tess Rammell, Bill
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rapson, Syd
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Raynsford, Nick
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Laxton, Bob Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lepper, David Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooker, Jeff
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Emie (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rowlands, Ted
Lock, David Ruddock, Ms Joan
Love, Andrew Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McAllion, John Ryan, Ms Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Savidge, Malcolm
McCabe, Steve Sawford, Phil
McDonagh, Siobhain Shaw, Jonathan
Macdonald, Calum Sheerman, Barry
McDonnell, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McGuire, Mrs Anne Shipley, Ms Debra
McIsaac, Shona Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Singh, Marsha
Mackinlay, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
McNulty, Tony Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
MacShane, Denis Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mallaber, Judy Snape, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Soley, Clive
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Southworth, Ms Helen
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Spellar, John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Steinberg, Gerry
Martlew, Eric Stevenson, George
Meale, Alan Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Merron, Gillian Stinchcombe, Paul
Michael, Alun Stoate, Dr Howard
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Stott, Roger
Milburn, Alan Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Miller, Andrew Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Moffatt, Laura Stringer, Graham
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stuart, Ms Gisela
Moran, Ms Margaret Sutcliffe, Gerry
Morley, Elliot Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Mudie, George Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mullin, Chris Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Timms, Stephen
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) Tipping, Paddy
Naysmith, Dr Doug Touhig, Don
Norris, Dan Trickett, Jon
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Hara, Eddie Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Palmer, Dr Nick Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pearson, Ian Vaz, Keith
Pickthall, Colin Vis, Dr Rudi
Pike, Peter L Walley, Ms Joan
Plaskitt, James Ward, Ms Claire
Pollard, Kerry Wareing, Robert N
Pond, Chris Watts, David
Pope, Greg Welsh, Andrew
Pound, Stephen White, Brian
Powell, Sir Raymond Whitehead, Dr Alan
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wicks, Malcolm
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Prosser, Gwyn Wills, Michael
Purchase, Ken Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise Audrey Tellers for the Ayes:
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony Mr. David Clelland and
Wray, James
Wyatt, Derek Jane Kennedy.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Green, Damian
Allan, Richard Greenway, John
Amess, David Grieve, Dominic
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Gummer, Rt Hon John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Hammond, Philip
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Heald, Oliver
Baker, Norman Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Baldry, Tony Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Ballard, Jackie Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Beith, Rt Hon A J Horam, John
Bercow, John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Blunt, Crispin Hughes, Simon (Southward N)
Boswell, Tim Hunter, Andrew
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brady, Graham Jenkin, Bernard
Brake, Tom Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Brazier, Julian Keetch, Paul
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Browning, Mrs Angela Key, Robert
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Burnett, John Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Burns, Simon Lansley, Andrew
Cash, William Leigh, Edward
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Chidgey, David Lidington, David
Chope, Christopher Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Clappison, James Livsey, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Loughton, Tim
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey McIntosh, Miss Anne
Collins, Tim Maclean, Rt Hon David
Colvin, Michael Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Cran, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Curry, Rt Hon David Major, Rt Hon John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Malins, Humfrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maples, John
Day, Stephen Mates, Michael
Donaldson, Jeffrey Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan, Alan May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, Iain Moss, Malcolm
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Nicholls, Patrick
Evans, Nigel Norman, Archie
Faber, David Oaten, Mark
Fabricant, Michael Öpik, Lembit
Fallon, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Fearn, Ronnie Paice, James
Flight, Howard Paterson, Owen
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Pickles, Eric
Foster, Don (Bath) Prior, David
Fox, Dr Liam Randall, John
Fraser, Christopher Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger Rendel, David
Garnier, Edward Robathan, Andrew
Gibb, Nick Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Ruffley, David
Gorrie, Donald Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Gray, James St Aubyn, Nick
Sanders, Adrian Tyrie, Andrew
Sayeed, Jonathan Viggers, Peter
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Walter, Robert
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Wardle, Charles
Soames, Nicholas Waterson, Nigel
Spring, Richard Webb, Steve
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wells, Bowen
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Sir Raymond
Stunell, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Swayne, Desmond Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Syms, Robert Wilkinson, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Willetts, David
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Willis, Phil
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wilshire, David
Taylor, Sir Teddy Yeo, Tim
Tonge, Dr Jenny Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David Tellers for the Noes:
Trend, Michael Sir David Madel and
Tyler, Paul Mrs. Caroline Spelman.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the Government's continued commitment to protecting the countryside, including green belts, and promoting sustainable regeneration in towns and cities; recognises that the Government's decentralised and integrated policy approach, as stated in Planning for Communities of the Future, Modernising the Planning System and A New Deal for Transport, is helping to achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of urban and rural development; welcomes the Government's commitment strictly to control development in the open countryside and to increase the proportion of new housing on previously—developed land in urban areas, smaller towns and villages from 40 per cent in the mid-1980s to 60 per cent; recognises the need to replace the previous predict and provide approach to the issue of household growth with a more flexible decentralised system, involving realistic regional targets for the building of new homes on recycled land, tighter controls on urban sprawl, new regional and housing planning guidance to ensure the adoption of sustainable solutions to housing development and more rigorous and detailed assessment of land availability; and believes that the Government's inter-linked policies for urban regeneration and protection of the countryside will enhance the quality of life for people in both rural and urban areas.

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