HL Deb 15 May 1989 vol 507 cc920-1

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken since 1979 to preserve and extend the green belt.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Government have resolutely upheld green belt policy. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has demonstrated this commitment by consistently dismissing proposals for inappropriate development in the green belt. Since 1979 the area of approved green belt in England has more than doubled to 4.5 million acres and now covers 14 per cent. of the total land area.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very positive Answer. However, can he say whether there have been any cases where costs have been awarded against developers within the green belt?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Secretary of State for the Environment has recently dismissed several proposals for inappropriate development in the green belt. These included proposals for a research and development centre in the West Midlands and proposals for major shopping and leisure facilities in the metropolitan green belt at Wraysbury, Berkshire, and at Bricket Wood near St. Albans. In the last two cases the Secretary of State awarded costs against a prospective developer in favour of the local authority.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, can the Minister say to what extent British Rail's Channel Tunnel link will conflict with the green belt policy, especially in Kent?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I believe that the Channel Tunnel is part of the Transmanche Link and not British Rail.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while no one would disagree that there are advantages in having a general principle as regards the green belt, the situation needs tidying up a little? For example, we have green belts and green wedges. Further, will he agree that if it were possible to make the surrounding boundaries more sensible, and if areas could be put to more sensible use, then that would perhaps not be a bad idea?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I quite agree with my noble friend. However, there is a problem in that people have tried to allow land to become derelict in green belt areas. That sets a poor example. If planning permission was granted when land was derelict it would encourage others to make land derelict.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, notwithstanding to whom the land affected by the Channel Tunnel rail link belongs, will the Government, if they feel there is risk of a grave misuse of land, consult with the local authorities involved in order to take full cognisance of their views?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will be aware, the vast majority of planning applications are decided by local authorities. In the year 1987–88, 394,000 planning applications were granted by local authorities; against that figure, there were only 7,000 appeals.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can my noble friend inform the House what the position is regarding infill sites in green belts; that is, small pockets within the green belt? Can he say whether such policy is decided by the local authority or whether the department has any specific ruling on the matter?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the basis of decision rests at the start with the district council.