HC Deb 23 June 2004 vol 422 cc1322-4
2. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

What action he intends to take following the East of England regional assembly's comments on the sustainable communities plan. [1798301

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

The Government are grateful for the work undertaken by the East of England regional assembly in assessing the infrastructure requirements needed to deliver the sustainable communities plan as part of its regional planning work. My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Rooker met representatives of the East of England regional assembly last Thursday, 17 June, and will write to them with a detailed response to their proposals once the outcome of the spending review is known.

Andrew Selous

Instead of trying to solve the housing problems of London and the south-east by ramming a vast amount of housing into only four areas around London, will the Government consider trying to spread housing growth more widely across the region, and in particular nearer to where people work, which would cut pollution and journey times? In addition, will the Minister pay serious attention to the 300,000 empty homes in and around London? Such an approach would win praise from the East of England regional assembly and the 17,000 of my constituents who have asked the Government to think again.

Mr. Raynsford

The Government are not seeking to ram housing down the throats of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. We are responding to their concerns which, I remind him, he highlighted in the House on 5 March when he said: I am well aware, as the local Member of Parliament, that there is a great housing need in my constituency … week after week, my constituents come to me because they are unhoused or very inadequately housed."—[Official Report , 5 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1216.] I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome the action that the Government are taking to meet the needs of his constituents.

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there appears to be a conflict between the position of the East of England regional assembly, which accepts the argument of the Barker review, and the need to implement those proposals somewhere? Does he not agree that the growth areas represent an opportunity to obtain balanced communities through positive planning?

Mr. Raynsford

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's positive and constructive approach to the need to ensure that we meet the unquestionable pressures throughout the south-east and the growth areas for new housing. The need for those homes, however, has to be met in a sustainable way, and it is important that that is accompanied by infrastructure investment. We are seeking to ensure that that happens, and all the discussions that are under way aim to achieve that.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con)

The vast majority of my constituents in North Essex have no idea that the East of England regional assembly exists. When they hear that it is going to start imposing housing targets for massive house building in my constituency they will be angry that it is just an extension of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. Why is the Government's regional policy so confused? One minute the Deputy Prime Minister claims that learning and skills councils will be the responsibility of regional government, but then that is slapped down by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The Deputy Prime Minister wants a Barnett formula for regional government, but of course the Treasury will not give him one. Why cannot a regional assemblies Bill be published as quickly as possible so that it can be debated, instead of the Government spending all the taxpayer's money on propaganda to promote regional government, which probably nobody wants?

Mr. Raynsford

It is difficult to know which part of the hon. Gentleman's rambling question was his priority, but our commitment is to give people in the northern regions choice about whether they have an elected regional assembly or not. His party has never given choice to people—it abolished tiers of government without giving people any say in the matter. We believe in democracy, and we believe in giving people a choice.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab)

A wide range of organisations in Milton Keynes recognise the positive approach in the sustainable communities plan to expanding Milton Keynes, meeting the undoubted housing needs of the local population and making sure that housing is affordable. In particular, may I pass on to my right hon. Friend the congratulations of t he Milton Keynes forum, the only civic—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady can do that in writing.

Mr. Raynsford

Once again, I agree about the importance of a constructive approach to meeting the need for development in a sustainable way that protects the environment and improves people's quality of life. That is our commitment, and I certainly welcome all the work in Milton Keynes to achieve our common objectives.