HC Deb 19 November 2003 vol 413 cc759-60
4. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

What his policy is on building on and around areas of outstanding natural beauty in Sussex. [139310]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill)

Planning policies and development control decisions affecting areas of outstanding natural beauty should favour conservation of the natural beauty of the landscape. In all cases, the environmental effects of new proposals will be a major consideration, although it will also be appropriate to have regard to the economic and social well-being of the areas and their communities, including the provision of adequate housing to meet identified local needs.

Tim Loughton

As the Minister knows, building land for houses in the coastal strip of Sussex is in short supply, wedged as we are between the sea and the downs. Many speculative development proposals are going through on appeal for building on the ribbon of land right up to the downs, adjacent to AONB land. Is he aware that the position will be made worse if the national park designation of the south downs goes through, and the AONB status of areas that fall just outside the national park boundary is revoked? What will he do to make sure that those vulnerable green areas are not concreted over in short order?

Keith Hill

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the matter, but I hope to be able to reassure him. The national park will become the planning authority, should the proposal go through, and it will acquire jurisdiction over planning applications from the local planning authorities whose areas include areas of outstanding natural beauty. Of course, local planning authorities are already constrained in their planning policies by the rigorous standards applied to planning applications in areas of outstanding natural beauty. To that extent, the position should not be changed by the national park proposal.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

The right hon. Gentleman knows well the difficulties that exist in West Sussex, with the number of new houses that have been imposed on the county by the Deputy Prime Minister. Will the Minister reconsider the extraordinary number of new houses that West Sussex is being asked to accept, and will he have regard to the fact that these developments are wholly unsustainable by his own definition of sustainability? What will he do to reduce the number?

Keith Hill

The Government are in regular discussion and negotiation with local authorities on these matters, but the hon. Gentleman must bear it in mind that London and the wider south-east constitute the motor of the economy. The housing growth that the Government anticipate responds very much to indigenous growth in housing demand, as well as inward migration factors.