HL Deb 05 December 1990 vol 524 cc214-48

5.18 p.m.

Lord Hampton rose to call attention to the problems that arise in determining land use in Britain today; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, there are a number of introductory comments that I need to make. It may be asked whether it is necessary to call attention to a subject so much in the public eye. Last week I had not anticipated that. We debated the Planning and Compensation Bill. Following this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will be asking a Question regarding the use of land on the site of the battlefield of Naseby.

Land is very precious today, and conflicting demands for its use often require careful consideration. I still clearly have in mind the bitter battle fought some time back as to which side of Okehampton a by-pass should be built. I look forward to hearing the Government's reply from the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. I believe it will be the first time that he has wound up a debate of this sort, just as it is my first time to open one. I gave him notice of a number of questions, and I hope that the House will bear with me if they already know the answers; I believe that the questions can be repeated with value.

I do not seek to be party political. I sincerely believe that my colleagues on these Benches talk very good sense. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, encouraged me to table this Motion. I am delighted that he, as a former distinguished chairman of the Countryside Commission, will be winding up for the party from these Benches and filling in some of the gaps that I leave. For example, I believe that he will be dealing with national parks. I am also pleased that my noble friend Lord Cobbold will deal with the difficulties concerning planning restrictions.

I should like to emphasise my use in the Motion of the words "in Britain today". In a short debate I wanted to cut out, so far as possible, a return to the disastrous effects of the felling of tropical rain forests and the problems involved in deciding whether or how to exploit the mineral resources of Antarctica. Finally, but by no means least, there is the shattering effect that the world population increase could have on the lives of every human being. We cannot and should not forget those problems; but I seek so far as possible to limit the debate to Britain.

There is also the use of the word "today". The Clerks suggested that I should leave out that word because one cannot determine anything except in the present, and Clerks in your Lordships' House are clever people. However, I asked for the word to be retained in order to emphasise how much more critical and difficult it is to determine present land use than in the time of, say, the Victorians only 100 years ago.

Recently a friend said to me in casual conversation that she believes the present situation of wars, terrorism, disease, population explosion and unwise use of the planet's resources is apocalyptic. A spokesman from Lambeth Palace said he thought that was nonsense. However, I still have a very real unease about the way, nationally, we are treating our homeland and on what we shall hand over to future generations. It is argued with some accuracy that market forces are too often allowed to bring immediate benefits but only at the cost of long-term disadvantage. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have agreed to speak today.

I shall deal first with the countryside. I have been well briefed by the Council for the Protection of Rural England —CPRE—both from London and from Worcestershire, my home county. I have also been briefed by the Country Landowners' Association. It is right to acknowledge the great influence for good that landowners and farmers have had on the countryside in the past. Long may that continue. As the CLA states: CLA believes that agriculture and agricultural policies are crucial to the future of rural society and rural land use".

I shall touch on farming, but I must leave that subject largely to the experts at this very critical time both at home and abroad. I live in a farmhouse but, as the lawyers so neatly put it, my land covers a third of an acre or thereabouts, be it more or less. When, after the gales early this year, I was asked if I had lost many trees on my estate, the questioner seemed injured when I replied that I had not many trees to lose! Mainly because of its effect on the countryside, I shall also trespass once again on the transport debate because I believe some of what has been said on previous occasions needs repeating.

Finally, I shall turn to the question of whether derelict land in cities and towns should not urgently be considered for use to ease the housing pressure elsewhere. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will deal with that subject. My noble friend Lord Sandys neatly describes part of the cause of the ceaseless demand for new houses in the countryside as "the gravel drive syndrome". Simply put, many people who in the past were content to live in small terraced houses, with a bicycle at the back, now want a detached house with a gravel drive and parking space for perhaps two or even three cars. Urbanisation follows. I shall seek some alternative to reduce the pressure, while accepting that there is an urgent need for more low-cost housing to keep humbler folk in the countryside.

In Worcestershire, the CPRE is concerned that the Secretary of State did not accept the revised Hereford and Worcester structure plan and has made several amendments which have weakened control on major planning developments. In particular, the Minister imposed an increase of over 5,000 in the number of houses without giving any precise reason. It is felt that the loss of power of the county to plan over a wider area than that of the local authority is worrying. It seems that the new powers of the local authority to consider new villages, and the obligation to plan for more housing than realistically expected, will lead to an irrevocable loss of agricultural land. The CPRE's attitude in Worcestershire is that new villages should be away from green belts—otherwise another urban fringe will be created—and should be of around 500 houses, in keeping with other villages nearby, with easy access to a railway station if at all possible. A further anxiety is that regional authorities will be responsible for, and control, too large an area.

I shall just touch on the reduction in cereal grants to farmers and the array of alternatives to compensate: set-aside, development grants and grants for environmentally sensitive areas. I hope that others with personal knowledge will deal with the effects these will have. As a non-farmer, set-aside seems seriously flawed in that it is entirely negative. In a world where many go hungry, it has always seemed strange to me that our problem today is to avoid producing too much food.

There have been a number of developments in the countryside, often in the name of tourism. Some are undesirable in themselves, though most must have planning permission, but one of the dangers that can arise is that the enterprise goes bust and the buildings are subsequently put to an entirely new use.

There has been a great rush to apply for planning permission to build golf courses—quite a lot in Hereford and Worcester county. There is no objection to them per se, but with club houses, pro's shops, hotels, roads and parking spaces they can greatly change the nature of an area. Caravan sites are an eyesore, and noisy pursuits such as clay pigeon shooting and grass track racing can disturb the peace over a wide area.

I now venture to re-examine some of the Government's transport policies because they bear so importantly on what sort of land we live in and, to quote the Prince of Wales, lest we, bequeath to our descendants a legacy of ugliness and insensitivity".

The motorists' needs or wants are only part of the problem. My wife and I used to take six hours to drive our children to Devon by the A.38, known then as "the longest lane in Britain". Today, using the M.5, we can cover the distance comfortably in half that time. That is a blessing. However, last year we visited the Wirral Peninsula where my parents lived during the war. I was depressed by the totally changed atmosphere; the vast new roads where, albeit, one could travel at speed on the acres of concrete and tarmac. Sentimentality, perhaps; but I sighed for the country lanes where I cycled happily to the farm where I worked during school holidays.

In a chapter on planning in the Liberal-Democrat Agenda for Environmental Action these words appear: We need to plan in order to reduce the use of cars, with the enormous expenditure of energy this involves".

I submit that the price is too high just to travel at speed. Less than two years ago the Government produced a colourful so-called White Paper, Roads for Prosperity, which proudly stated that, protecting and enhancing the environment will continue to be a major feature of the Government's road building plans".

The Government then announced a major new road building programme—£12 billion to be spent in 10 years. To critics, the two statements just did not add up. In reply, the CPRE listed at least 17 outstandingly beautiful areas that would suffer. I have with me a recent up-date, with a series of beautiful scenes but accompanied, alas, by the words, "at risk", "sacrificed", "under attack", "vulnerable" and "condemned". The CPRE also pointed out that the forecast of an increase in road traffic by the year 2025 of up to 140 per cent. would mean either, parked, the vehicles would need an extra area the size of Berkshire or, moving, a road from London to Edinburgh 257 lanes wide. Even the Secretary of State could see that this increase would be intolerable.

Now, in the summary of the recent White Paper on the environment, This Common Inheritance, we read on page 19: We can drive less, park more responsibly, use public transport more often, and cycle more, when it is safe to do so".

On page 11 it says: As travellers we can help by driving less and saving fuel, buying more efficient cars, sharing journeys to work, or using the train or bus if possible".

Therefore, the questions that I should like to put to the noble Viscount are these: first, can he briefly bring the House up to date on whether the policy outlined in Road to Prosperity has been up-dated and, if so, how?

Secondly, will the Government take on board the suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Robson that the use of smaller cars would be advantageous for easier parking with less need for car parks, smaller fuel consumption and less exhaust emissions? A tax incentive would surely make sense. Thirdly, can the Minister say how many civil servants are concerned with road problems and railway problems?

The Government say that they propose to get rid of about 4,000 waste disposal sites by incineration and reclamation. That is excellent, but when will that happen? I now turn to cities and derelict sites. The CPRE highlights in its response to the Department of the Environment's review of derelict land policy, that the Government have been negative about the review group's recommendations for the prevention of dereliction and the problem of dereliction on private land. CPRE estimates that 55 per cent. of derelict land is in private hands. The Government have been very hard on local authorities owning unused land, but what will they do to encourage private owners not to leave land derelict?

Derelict land policy has important links with strategic planning policies that seek to encourage the regeneration of urban areas and protect the countryside. Perhaps I may suggest a way of tackling the problem of land use which needs to be explored more seriously. It is a way of preventing the emergence of derelict and badly used land. It is called land value taxation. The name is familiar to many people and the idea has long been around. I suggest that it is time that we seriously considered its merits.

The land market is crying out for reform; but, despite the dire effects of ridiculous booms and slumps in house prices on the rest of the economy, incredibly it has been overlooked. Land is very inefficiently used with large tracts left idle especially by speculators in cities. Developers sometimes wait for whole areas to degenerate so that they can build large projects which destroy the local community. Land tax encourages organic growth in a community because it becomes uneconomic to leave vacant plots standing for any length of time.

The effective use of available land will result in cities sprawling less which also eases transport problems as people commute less. It takes pressure off the countryside and surrounding cities. It becomes uneconomic not to extend a building to the height which is allowed by planning law so that one-storey shops, as in Tottenham Court Road, will want to make more economic use of their land by building upwards. Although we may like having a low skyline, we have to choose between spoiling more of our countryside or moving upwards a little.

I accept that this is a highly controversial point, but I know that in New York, for example, higher accommodation is higher priced. A land tax works by making owners pay a tax on the value of their land and not on the value of the buildings on it. If it was introduced, other taxes could be diminished in order not to increase the overall tax burden. Land valuation is much easier than buildings-plus-land valuation as two buildings near to one another will vary more in price than the land on which they are built. So it would he simpler than the old rates system and could be updated yearly on a computer. The tax should be gradually implemented—that is to say, start at a low percentage rate and be gradually increased. When first brought in, people could estimate the value of their own land which would then be corrected when the valuers made their estimate and a rebate or a supplementary charge made.

A tax on land would provide an incentive to use it in a way which maximises the return that the owner gets on it. For this reason it would encourage building which in turn stimulates the whole economy. More housing and business space would become available so rents might fall. Because of the increased incentive to build it would be necessary for land value taxation to be part of a package with planning law so that buildings did not appear where they were not wanted. We would also have to be sure that the farmers did not suffer as the result of the introduction of this tax.

As I prepared this speech I realised more and more what a vast subject it is and how inexpert I am. It is a subject which is often brought up for discussion in one form or another. It is one which interests and concerns me greatly. I now look forward very much to hearing what other speakers have to say. I beg to move for Papers.

5.35 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for bringing this subject forward for general debate today. It is of vital importance, particularly at the present time. I speak primarily as a farmer and agriculturist and it is in that way that I look on the land. The preservation of the countryside depends very much on its use and the use made of the land. That depends not only on agriculture, which still remains the most important element, but on the way in which those who live in urban areas treat the rural areas and how much co-operation can be sustained between those two interests.

As we heard today during Question Time, the GATT negotiations are going on. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, then hinted that I had been deeply concerned and associated with agriculture in the countryside since 1934. That is when I married the Minister of Agriculture. The industry was then at its lowest and most depressed state. It was rather as it is now. Looking back, it is amazing how the industry has recovered. That has been done by its putting itself in order through inventing machinery, the use of power, co-operating with other organisations, and developing selling organisations such as the Milk Marketing Board and the Meat and Livestock Commission, which also were concerned with marketing.

In addition, the mix of urban and rural dwellers began. Homes were built in the villages, transport was improved and people began to use cars. So the rural and industrial world began to get together. That was a long time ago. Today, thousands of people live in the country and work in the towns. That is a good development. But the need to use the land for farming and rural activities remains vital. The use of land depends on what it will grow and what the public want.

It is uneconomic for farmers to grow crops which require much artificial manure or crops which are not suitable for our climate. However, much food is wanted and we can produce it better and more economically than elsewhere. I refer to dairy produce, mutton and beef from the hills and less favoured areas and vegetables and fruit of the pick-your-own variety. Underlying all production is the importance of keeping rural amenities to be shared and used by urban dwellers for holidays, weekends, sport, recreation, ramblers, and any amount of general use which fits in with the enthusiasm of the people who call themselves the greens.

These provisions are not easy to achieve; neither are they cheap. To let land go to wilderness costs nothing until you want to restore it to use. It costs enormous sums of money to restore land to the beauty with which it began. The subsidies that come to less favoured areas, which represent about 80 per cent. of the land in Scotland, Wales and northern England, are an investment which pays dividends not only in producing food, which is important, but in preserving rural areas for the pleasure of hundreds of thousands of people living in cities and towns who come to the country at weekends or for holidays and who want to live there. They enjoy it all as much as we do living there.

However, that cannot be done without financial support. Agricultural workers are worth proper wages. One could not pay them if one did not have some help. Farmers must have enough returns to enable them to bring up and educate their families. In the end, all that is shared and everyone benefits. The needs of rural areas bring employment through, for example, village schools, post offices, village shops, pharmaceutical services, doctors and many other amenities.

The demand for low-cost housing today is enormous and shows that people want to live in or near the countryside. Some transport for those who do not like cars is also needed, and village halls, where the community, both urban and rural, can meet and mix are of vital importance. All those things are part of the rural community. They are part of the preservation of land and part of the use of land.

We are discussing a subject which affects not only the land and the farmers but the whole population who come to the rural areas for the reasons I have suggested. It is up to the Government, supported by the farming industry, to see that that continues into the 1990s.

5.40 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am obliged to begin with an apology to the House. I have a long-standing engagement, a meeting in which I shall be in the chair, which was fixed nine months ago. It will me oblige me to leave at 6.30 p.m.; therefore I shall not be here for the conclusion of a fascinating debate. My noble friend Lord Dean who is to reply from this Dispatch Box has torn himself away from shadow cabinet but may not be present at the very end of the debate. There is therefore an element of Box and Cox in our representation for which I apologise, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, who introduced the debate.

There are many aspects of this vast subject on which one would find it tempting to speak. I say straight-away that I shall not speak on the rural aspects with which the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, dealt. In one sense the noble Lord is a century too late in introducing the subject for debate. If we had been debating it in this House 100 years ago we would be doing so not as a matter of interesting political or social policy. Members of your Lordships' House in those days owned most of the land in this country, as David Cannadine, in his wide ranging volume on the British aristocracy, made clear. Between them Members of this House and of another place held something like 70 per cent. of the land and a very high proportion of the wealth, both landed and industrial, although industrial wealth was a more important factor in the House of Commons. In that sense anything noble Lords had to say about the use of land would have been law instantly because your Lordships' ancestors would have had the power to determine what would happen to land in this country; and indeed they did.

As a response, my ancestors and my predecessors in the socialist movement in this century went by a very different slogan. In the words of the old song which we heard in socialist Sunday school, "God gave the land to the people". I still feel very strongly that we have retreated from the principle which ought to be foremost in our minds when we think about land use. Land is for the benefit of society, not primarily for the benefit of individual landowners, and the interests of society as a whole—the interests of all the people—should be the determining factor in deciding how land use should develop.

That, indeed, has been accepted as a non-party political point for many years, since the development of town and country planning in the garden cities in the early years of this century and from the Abercrombie plans of the war years through to the Silkin Town and Country Planning Act of the Attlee government in the 1940s. I am glad to acknowledge that we see it in the Planning and Compensation Bill which the House debated only last week. That accepts the value of structure planning and of the enforcement of effective planning and zoning laws rather than attacking it as some right-wing academics proposed in earlier years. I am pleased that noble Lords will have the opportunity to support structure planning and zoning when we debate this important Bill in Committee after Christmas.

Urban planning is however my main theme. It is clear that there will never be enough land in our urban areas to provide the homes, the space and the jobs that people want; the services ancillary to those jobs, whether retail, wholesale or of another kind; or the recreational facilities that are necessary. Not only will there never be enough space: there will always be an excess of demand over supply. The land that is available will almost certainly always be in the wrong place. This will give rise to unnecessary and unpleasant journeys, particularly for those of us who commute to and from our places of work and to and from the places that provide the services necessary for a civilised life.

In an urban environment an important consideration is the quantity of land and, as an extension of that, the value of land. Another consideration is the way in which the different uses of land are interdependent. We must seek to secure that that interdependence is benign rather than malign and that people have the opportunity for a decent life in our cities. Without any disrespect to those who uphold the values of rural life, the vast majority of the people of this country live in cities and towns. It is they who feel most acutely the clash which is inevitable over land use and over the issue of the supply of land.

I turn from the issue of the shortage of urban land to consider its value and how we can secure that such land is used effectively at economic cost to our society. There are some extreme examples of how all governments, but this one in particular, take advantage of the difference in values of land in order to shape the way they want the economy and society to go. The classic example is the roads programme of the Department of Transport. Trunk roads both in urban and rural areas are planned not along the shortest and most convenient route but along the route which costs the least. They are planned on the basis that land which is used for recreational purposes costs nothing. Indeed the Department of Transport is quite open in saying that sometimes recreational land in urban areas not only costs nothing but costs less than nothing.

An example can be found close to where I live. I refer to the part of the North Circular Road which is to be widened at Henley's Corner in Hampstead Garden Suburb. As a child I used to clamber through the tunnel under the old A.1 which carried Mutton Brook. It is now three times as wide as it was then. I think I have lost some of the bravado I had as a child of 10.

It is planned to widen the A.1 even more. And that widening is to be carried out on public open space. It is to be done, the Department of Transport argues, not only because the land has no value but because the capitalised cost of the maintenance which the London borough of Barnet has to carry out is to be held against it. Roads go where they are environmentally least desirable because of the way in which the land is valued. I could give your Lordships many examples, but probably the most offensive is that concerning Ox Leas Wood in south east London where the east London river crossing is to run partly in a cutting rather than in a tunnel. It is an 8,000 year-old wood which provides an easy but not necessarily the most direct route for the crossing. It has been chosen because the wood has no value.

Professor David Pearce, who has been the environmental adviser to the Secretary of State for the Environment, makes the very point. He has stated that the problem with environmental protection is that the environment itself has no value; sometimes it even has a negative value. It is not true that the environment, or land which is used for environmental purposes, is a free good.

Professor Pearce proposed a series of taxes, many of them admirable, for the control of pollution. I do not dissent from that. However, it is not a solution for our urban land nor for the problem which I have identified. To some extent the solution will have to be the implementation of stronger planning controls. That is what we hope to achieve by way of the Planning and Compensation Bill. But it is also to some extent a matter of openness about land ownership. I welcome the fact that the land register became open only last Monday in England and Wales, thus reviving a tradition which started with the Domesday Book in the 11th century.

However, it is not just a question of planning controls; in the end it is a question of money, but not only money. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, referred to land value taxation. I listened with care to his arguments. I hope he is not thinking that that will be a solution to local government finance. It is clear that it will not be. I am not allowed by my right honourable friend the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer to propose a development land tax, although I should dearly like to do so. It seems to me that that is the only rational solution to the problem. Indeed, my right honourable friend will not allow any of us on these Benches to propose new taxes for very obvious reasons.

It is clear that the taking of private profit from land development causes great distortions in land use and has been the main contributor to the distortion in the development—sometimes unplanned and often very undesirable—of our urban areas over the past 40 or 50 years. What is required is a combination of reform of the value of land together with continuing reform and strengthening of the planning process. The debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has been of enormous value. I am most grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to comment on the issues involved.

5.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, I greatly welcome this debate and I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for introducing it. The more I have reflected upon it, the more complex and urgent the issues seem to be. Gone are the days when Mark Twain could say to someone asking for sound advice concerning investment that they should: buy land, because they aren't making any more of it". Every day we see new parcels of land becoming available for development through the closure of mills, mines and long-established factories.

Given that we are living in a time of considerable change, there can be few places which demonstrate this fact more vividly than my diocese of Bradford.

Not only am I concerned with the industrial city of Bradford—facing as it does all manner of problems and possibilities—but the diocese also stretches north through the incredibly beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, where we are confronted with a whole host of other issues relating to our use of land.

It is in the Book of Proverbs that vie find the verse: He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment". I fear that we are often in the world of fantasy when speaking about land. The problem is that one man's fantasy is very often another man's employment, and the hopes of one group of people are the fears of another.

Like many northern cities, the city of Bradford is coming to terms with the decline of its major industry and is looking for new ways to diversify and develop. It is essential that it should maintain its industrial base. I am conscious of the large number of people who look to it for employment and for a market for their goods and services.

It is essential that cities such as Bradford have a coherent and comprehensive economic strategy. I am persuaded that the availability of land is a crucial factor in any such strategy. I speak as a theologian and therefore my ignorance of such matters will no doubt reveal itself. But surely what is needed is some form of land bank; that is, areas which have been designated and developed for industrial use, with roads and services already in place, and which are ready to welcome the would-be developer. At a casual glance, the figures of land available for development in the city seem reasonable. However, closer scrutiny reveals that much of it is fragmented and tied to various owners and intentions. There is little use in any such list of available land if there is not, alongside it, information about ownership and intention.

I am also aware of the conflict of interests that can occur on the edges of our cities with regard to green belt policies. I know of industrial interest in an area on the edge of our city which would bring, a thousand jobs to the community. It is within two miles of a large housing estate —where I spent two days last week—where there is a very high level of unemployment. However, the desired site is in the green belt—though such a description hardly gives a true picture of the space.

How do we reconcile the conflicting demands for employment (bringing with it dignity and purpose) with the equally important need for preventing undisciplined urban sprawl? In the age of the motor car, and in situations of industrial decay on the one hand and the new possibilities on the other, it seems to me that we need to look again at our use of land—not in order to shut out our open spaces, but in order to ensure that the people in our communities can live with self-respect, and earn a living for themselves and their families, and that the general economic climate within the community thrives.

I fear that potential investors may well be turned away from some of our cities because we have not fine-tuned our strategies to be sensitive to the multidimensional needs of the community. Therefore, I see a real need for industry, land and transport to be considered together. I am concerned that employment should be available within our cities, for I am only too aware of the real distress and hardship that prolonged unemployment can bring to our communities.

I move north through my diocese and find that there are problems relating to land use in almost every village. What is appropriate development in rural areas? What is the balance between the farmer and the conservationist; between the rural image and the need for employment; and between essential housing for local people and luxury developments for the retired, the commuter or those wanting second homes? In my diocese there are number of buildings which are no longer needed. They are former hospitals or schools which are set in lovely countryside. What should they now be used for? I know of a whole range of enterprising schemes that have been explored, all of which have failed for one reason or another to obtain the necessary planning permission.

A recent report said: It is apparent that beneath the surface of an idyllic illusion the social and economic fabric which sustains the Dales is in serious decline—loss of employment opportunity, lack of training, migration of labour, poor earning potential, lack of housing, loss of diversity in industry, lack of employable workers, degradation of communities and lack of social services are some of the issues to be faced". Hill farmers are under special pressure at the moment because their subsidies are being threatened. We need to realise that any major changes would have a serious effect on our rural communities, because in the Yorkshire Dales sheep farming has an unbroken tradition stretching back to the monks of the 12th century. It is a way of life which has shaped the character of the area. I doubt whether they would agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that people in the cities have needs of greater urgency.

Many people—the tourists who flock to the region —may be aware only of the lack of car parking space or toilet facilities, but I can assure the House that behind such apparent inconveniences there are vociferous interest groups.

I am also aware that within agriculture we need to be thinking on a European level. That dimension may need also to be fed into the discussions about land use that are taking place in many quarters.

I am conscious that I have approached the subject very much from a local perspective. The use that we may make of our land is something with which I am confronted every day, but I believe that what I have been saying has also a much wider perspective. I have tried to suggest that we need to be people-centred, for if we exclude people and impoverish them by our failure to use land creatively, we are building up a store of trouble for ourselves. Failure to provide appropriate housing and employment is a sad form of impoverishment and exclusion.

There is also a bottom line beyond that which concerns our stewardship not merely of the land but, more than that, of the earth and the created order. If we continue to plunder the planet at the rate we are doing at the moment, before long it will be unable to sustain us. I have heard of people saying such things being written off as incurable romantics, but nothing could be further from the truth. The romantics are those who believe that we can just carry on, and that "everything will turn out all right in the end". All the evidence suggests that it will not be so.

I have only to look around my diocese to see that enormous problems are raised by our use of land. Just a few moments of reflection reveal some major areas of confusion and contradiction. If that is true in one small diocese, then how much more true must it be for our nation as a whole. I look forward therefore to more work being done on the subject, for it is sorely needed.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Walpole

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I wish to take his statement literally and talk about problems arising from determining land use. I should like to speak about a specific planning application and to try to draw some conclusions from it. I make it clear to the Minister that I am not asking him to answer any questions about the application. I shall speak about why things happen and what we hope might happen in the future.

Of all applications in rural areas, most developments are, one way or another, at least reversible. There is one that is irreversible—mineral extraction. Whatever happens when minerals are extracted, there is a fundamental and inevitable change to the landscape. That may be why such applications are dealt with by the county council with advice from the district council, rather than is the case for most other planning applications where the procedure is the other way around.

I had the privilege—it seems now many years ago —to be chairman of the county of Norfolk planning and transportation committee. It was my responsibility to take the county structure plan through its first public examination. I admit that my knowledge of planning laws has become a little rusty. Whatever the shortcomings of that structure plan, with its updates and recent submission it is probably one of the greenest structure plans in the country. It is one of which I am proud. It states: In controlling the scale and location of all development, the County and District Councils will seek to protect and conserve the quality and character of the countryside and the landscape setting of towns and villages". The application that was before the county earlier this year was to extract 1.67 million tonnes of sand and gravel from 44 acres of good, grade two and grade three agricultural land to the south of Holt in north Norfolk over 16 to 20 years. That extraction is to be to a depth of 26 feet and would involve at least 38 lorry movements per day on C-class and unclassified roads.

Holt is a pleasant country town some four miles from the sea. It is a heritage coast to the north, and the land between the sea and the town is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The town itself is a conservation area. To the south of the town is a relief road—it can hardly be called a bypass—built on an old railway line which leaves a section of the town, including the police station, the fire station and some 100 dwellings separated from the rest of the town. To the south is a country park, owned and run by the district council, which attracts 60,000 visitors per year. South east of the country park is the Holt Lowes SSSI.

To the west and south of the town runs the River Glaven whose valley has been designated a rural conservation area. Such an area is one to which the district council must not just afford protection but must positively enhance. Within that rural conservation area, and separated from the country park by a mere B-class road, is the application site. Permission to develop it was refused in 1960. There is no proven need for gravel in the area. There are 10 active sites within 25 kilometres of the proposed site, one of which is in the hands of the proposed developer.

There is 10 years' worth of sand and gravel available in the locality. The county council has granted consent so that in the county as a whole some 13 years' worth of sand and gravel is available. Objections to the site were received from the district council (in its advisory capacity), the town council and the parish councils of the neighbouring parishes through which the lorries would inevitably pass. There has been an objection from the Holt Society. The Countryside Commission said that it was concerned, as were the Nature Conservancy Council and the Norfolk Naturist Trust, about the hydrological implications for the SSSI which borders the site. There were but two letters of support, one of which was from a haulage contractor. There were 112 letters from local residents and a petition containing 1,729 signatures was received by the county council.

The main issues were highway safety; the loss of amenity, due to dust, noise and dirt and so forth; loss of enjoyment of the country park; the impact on wildlife; intrusion and damage to the landscape; and danger to children because of the proximity of the town. The planning committee decided to make a visit. This was obviously in a blaze of publicity, after which there were additional comments from the Norfolk Society which is the county branch of the CPRE, the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist and various further letters from parish councils nearby. A letter was sent by the developer to each member of the committee personally.

The matter was put to the committee earlier last month, on 2nd November, with a firm recommendation from the officers to refuse the application on the grounds that the site was in a rural conservation area; it was too close to the town and would be detrimental to the country park and the enjoyment and peace thereof. The committee passed the application by eight votes to six, across party lines and denied that it was contrary to its policy.

When the district council advertised certain amendments because the area was in a rural conservation area, there were many more objections. When I put my name down to speak in this debate the county council had not met. It met again last Friday and changed its mind.

That is not planning; it is awful. No doubt the saga will continue and there will be an appeal. The whole affair is symptomatic of the extreme pressures put on planning departments and committees, especially if they change their minds (albeit correctly) at the last minute. It would undoubtedly lead to a legal challenge with all the expense that that involves. Somehow it should be avoided.

Perhaps we could identify certain applications—such as where the county and district disagree—on which the Secretary of State could ask for a cooling off period. In theory, last Thursday the development company could have been issued with permission to remove 1.67 million tonnes of sand and gravel and nothing could have stopped them.

Does the Minister think that a cooling off period is possible in conditions such as when the county and district councils disagree? If a decision is contrary to the new county structure plans and the new district area plans when they are in place, there should be a strong case—whether the application is approved or refused—for the Secretary of State to examine it. After all, the position last Thursday was that the Secretary of State, in theory anyway, did not even know that such an application existed. So how could he call it in? If it had been agreed, I can see no way in which, if the county agreed that it was not contrary to its policy, the Secretary of State could call it in.

Perhaps the Minister will advise me also on this. I see nothing in the Planning and Compensation Bill which is before the House which will alleviate the situation. The calling in of such an application by the Secretary of State would still be democratic, especially if a local inquiry is held. Or would it?

6.14 p.m.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, I too wish to thank my noble friend Lord Hampton for initiating the debate on this important subject. In supporting him, I should first mention that I am an active member of the Historic Houses Association and also the owner of a historic property in the home counties that is open to the public.

I wish to raise only two issues, the first of which concerns our villages and was touched upon by my noble friend. Villages are an important part of the fabric of this country, but their character is changing. The existence over many years of very strict planning laws, particularly in the metropolitan green belt but also in other parts of the country, has forced up house prices to the extent that the children of the traditional inhabitants of our villages cannot afford to live there when they grow up. They are forced to move into the towns and cities.

Village houses are acquired by commuters or, if they are further afield, as second homes for city dwellers, people who generally have less connection with the countryside. This cannot be described as the free market at work because it is not a free market, it is a fallout from strict planning control and land use policies. Longstanding family connections and links with the land are broken. The character of the village changes and diversity of population is reduced.

I know that various ideas have been suggested to deal with the problem, but so far without much success. A scheme is needed that permits limited low-cost housing to be built in villages which would be available only to those who can demonstrate a particular residential or family connection with the area.

I do not advocate uniform council estates. Too many of these already mar the appearance of our villages. Any such building should blend into the existing surroundings, using traditional building materials. Good design is paramount, but new ideas and imagination will be necessary if the cost of the accommodation is to be kept low. It seems to me illogical that villages which have been living organisms and part of our history for so long should be frozen for all time at this moment in history because of the inflexibility of our planning legislation. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give us the Government's view on this important topic.

The second point I wish to raise directly concerns the preservation of the heritage. I believe that special consideration should be given to planning applications for development that are sensible in character, where the benefit of the development (the development gain) is irrevocably linked to the endowment of a maintenance fund or private charitable trust that has been established for the restoration and preservation of a historic property. This might apply to any heritage property that has been designated as of outstanding interest.

It so happens that the heritage property for which I am responsible owes its survival to such an arrangement, thanks to the far-sightedness of the local authority involved. The council accepted the argument that the restoration of the heritage property represented very special circumstances which justified the granting of planning permission for two small residential developments, provided that the proceeds of the sale were used to endow a private charitable trust whose principal object was the maintenance and preservation of the property. The chairman of the district council, the mayor of the local town and the chairman of the parish council are all trustees. This arrangement has worked extremely well. In mentioning it in this debate I venture to suggest that the precedent might be accepted as a policy principle to be applied in other similar circumstances. I know that it would be welcomed by all those who face the enormous liability of maintaining our national heritage.

6.18 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for initiating this debate, which has covered a wide range of subjects. Without being impertinent, perhaps I may express my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for his contribution, which covered a vast subject succinctly. I found it most interesting.

I have one special concern: the gap that there appears to me to be between those of us who have always lived in the country and people who have recently moved from towns and cities, especially now that the green issue is to the forefront of everyone's mind.

Some people fail to appreciate that the countryside has to be managed. Fencing is needed to keep livestock in rather than to keep walkers out and some areas need to be sprayed at times to control weeds. Some dead or dying trees will need to be felled. However, those who manage the countryside are often criticised for undertaking such measures. Some twitchers complain if one fells a tree that has been used by a certain bird. I am sure noble Lords know that a twitcher is a bird watcher. Some trees are felled to enable more light to enter the woodland. This encourages wildlife and it allows nettles to flourish. Nettles are good for butterflies. However, these measures are often not understood by city dwellers. They complain about nettles and the fact that they cannot walk through mud.

Those who manage woodlands try to allow light to enter them but seek to leave enough cover for badger and deer to shelter in. Badger and deer abound in Dorset and Wiltshire. Even more important for woodland management is the planting or replanting of trees. I am a very small landowner but I have planted some 600 oak and cherry trees in the past three years. My neighbour, however, prefers softwoods. Again, one has to explain to visitors the need for shelters to protect trees from predation by deer. I agree that the shelters are rather ugly but they are necessary.

Those noble Lords who listen to "The Archers" will be familiar with the character of Mrs. Snell. There are many such characters around. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will encourage a better understanding between town and country dwellers, perhaps with the aid of an ongoing campaign. Such a campaign is needed to explain the problems which face landowners who do not always receive the encouragement that they deserve.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, the compass of this debate is wide and I am glad of that. It admits discussion of both the general and the particular of land use on every scale from a national park to the public conveniences that have already been mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, first, on securing this debate on an important subject and, secondly, on not being tempted to narrow his terms of reference.

The total problem of land use is the sum of many individual cases—we heard reference to one particular case just now —but the generality of the matter is surely the fact that Britain's boundaries are rigid and not elastic. Also, apart from a demand for change of use within established areas there is a continual demand—this is more serious—for change of use and a change in the national ratio of what might be called undeveloped land to developed land, whether in town or country.

I believe the pressure to gobble up undeveloped land comes —I am trying to think analytically—mainly from the combined pressures of domestic use, industrial and commercial use and roads. At one end of the age spectrum young people, especially newly weds, no longer in the main start by sharing the family home but rather expect one of their own. That is commonly a new home for mortgage reasons. Such a home requires new land. At the other end of the spectrum, many older retired people expect to live in a house that is specially constructed for the elderly, often on small estate developments. That too requires new land. With an ever-increasing incidence of house ownership, those of middle age increasingly want a house rather than a flat. That requires yet more land.

In industry and commerce current statistics show that the level of new company formation far exceeds that of bankruptcy and liquidation. Those new companies prefer in the main to operate from premises on new light industrial estates because older declining manufacturing industry sites are inappropriate and are costly to modify. Therefore they remain derelict. Such industrial estates take up new land.

In answer to a question asked some two weeks ago in your Lordships' House it was stated that of some 13 million people in employment, some 8 million work in service industries. That figure is rising. Service industries commonly require offices so the figure for net total office demand steadily rises. To meet this demand new land must be acquired or—this is often controversial—existing and familiar buildings must be modified.

The increased mobility of a car-owning society, and indeed the expectations of those who do not own a car, means that mainly new land is taken up for roads and motorways. This matter is right on the doorstep of noble Lords at the moment. To use the terms of naval gunnery, this debate is bracketed, yesterday and tomorrow, by the Committee stage of the New Roads and Street Works Bill. The first part of that Bill inaugurates the injection of private sector money into road building to increase the net number of roads built.

Yesterday it was announced that the M.25 is to become four and partly five lane. That involves taking up more land. As an aside, I urge better public transport and less emphasis on new roads which are a self-fulfilling traffic producing prophecy. The driving force for the problem of land use by roads is largely a national trend towards increased leisure time. For those in towns and cities a change is as good as a rest. That change is usually taken by getting away from it all to somewhere different and preferably open.

At this point I wish to change tack from the use of new land to problems that arise from the change of use of established land. Most of us, especially after we have taken a trip elsewhere, are reassured in some mysterious way by the familiarity of our local landscape when we return home. However, that reassurance is eroded if our local landscape, whether village, town or city, keeps changing. The development use of countryside erodes the refreshment afforded to city dwellers by a change of view and atmosphere. When it happens in our home area, whether in city, town or suburbs, it erodes the confidence we all obtain from a feeling of continuity engendered by the sight of a familiar scene when we return home. However, we must not Forget the many country dwellers who live in the country mainly because they like it. New land use alters and takes away from their natural resource, thus devaluing their perception of the quality of their own lives.

In a real world most policy, whether national or local, can only hope to satisfy most of the people most of the time. There are some 60 million individuals in Britain. Each has an individual priority list. Some people are sedentary, some athletic; some have children while some do not. Some are brutal while some are aesthetic. Land use therefore has to suit a spectrum from the nostalgia merchants at one end to the followers of an unfettered free market at the other. However, a clearly indicated centre of gravity is a strong national characteristic of conservatism along with suspicion of the new and the unknown. Consequently most of us prefer only gradual change.

All the land uses that I mentioned in my opening remarks involve relatively abrupt change. We have a deep feeling that cities are changing faster and faster and that the countryside is disappearing. If pressed into a corner, we might admit that a motorway can be beautiful and that a new building can be stimulating, but our deep-seated intuition still leads us to believe that the momentum of land use is damaging amenity and making Britain unrecognisable.

I believe that government policy in this complex field is directed to endeavouring to give the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number. At present we organise things in such a way that the Government issue regular guideline planning policy notes which are in fact mandatory and include land use. County authorities are obliged to construct and issue structure plans for their areas which indicate in fair detail the designated use of all land within their area of authority.

The majority of land use proposals pass through peacefully but if there is sufficient opposition—this may of course include opposition from a county authority—a public inquiry may be held before an inspector. Ultimately the Secretary of State may arbitrate personally. That is now the position for county authorities but since the abolition of the metropolitan authorities there are no parallel structure plans corresponding to their former areas of jurisdiction overall. Rather, each sub-area within the former metropolitan authority issues a new measure which is called a unitary plan. Therefore there are 33 borough unitary plans for London. Alas, those are not co-ordinated with each other. That is a grave shortcoming. However, I understand that the three principal political parties managed to agree a unitary plan for London as a whole last year but Secretary of State Ridley refused to accept it. Can the noble Lord who is to reply say whether there is any further news on an agreed unitary plan for London as a whole?

The problems that arise in determining land use may first be addressed by any interested party by seeking to inform, lobby or otherwise harass the DoE about views held. Thus we may seek to influence the departmental guidelines which together with local dialogue crucially influence the construction of structure and unitary plans. All land use is designated in some detail and while an unwelcome development may be appealed successfully the likelihood is that it may never even get on to the drawing board if an initial chink of a possibility does not exist in a structure or unitary plan. Lobbying town or county hall planning departments and councillors is the other means by which we may seek to influence land use policy.

So much for strategy. In terms of tactics a main plank to ensure satisfaction in most land use must surely be to make better use, or indeed in many cases some use at all, of what is already held under development so that we do not encroach on free land. There are perhaps two categories of developed land —that in current but perhaps inefficient use and that which is effectively derelict. We may be able to capitalise on the former—current but inefficient use —either by rebuilding more efficiently within current building lines or, more controversially, by building higher on the same site, or both. Depending on the scale, due attention may have to be paid to the halo effect on such aspects as public and private transport provision, shopping facilities, and so forth.

By far the most hopeful zone for improvement is the bringing back into use of land which is effectively derelict, sometimes having been derelict since the last war. One thinks of the huge Coin Street site on the South Bank where development is now at last under way but which lay derelict for 40 years. Such land is often held on a temporary licence for uses such as car parking, a common excuse being that the local authority is safeguarding it for some grand future development which it seems never to be able to afford. I live next to one such site in the republic of Islington, as we lovingly call it.

In other cases land tenure is by public, quasi-public or commercial bodies. For example, British Rail has vast landholdings arising from past operations when the network was much larger and goods traffic much greater. It clings on to the land grimly, only releasing a little here or there to balance its finances. Why? Is it lost in dreams of a past that will probably never return?

Our island may be sceptred but it gets no bigger. A legislative carrot and stick is long overdue to release our enormous stocks of derelict land for new uses. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals—whether called incentives or penalties—for making that happen. For example, do they envisage some form of derelict land tax of the type already mentioned? If not, what do they propose?

Finally, of the land uses that I mentioned in opening, only new roads will not benefit greatly from land use gained from any of the measures that I have just mentioned. However, I question again the implicit assumption that Britain needs more and yet more new roads. They only encourage more vehicles of all types whose occupants or loads would be far better catered for by spending funds already allocated for road building either on improving public transport and a return of some freight to rail or canal, or, at worst but with minimum use of land, upgrading existing roads as has so successfully been done in recent years with the A.l.

In his poem "Jerusalem" Blake, referred to England's green and pleasant land. The green and pleasant part is shrinking like ice melting in the sun. As custodians we owe it to future generations to apply a dose of the fridge if they are not to say of us, "They had so much and look what they did with it".

6.34 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, we should all be deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Hampton for introducing this debate on a subject which is of very great interest and concern to each and every one of us. As we have already heard from the wide variety of speeches on a number of different aspects of the subject in this short debate, decisions regarding land use affect each and every one of us in all manner of different ways. Therefore it is a very important subject.

When I saw the subject on the Order Paper, I thought that I might be faced with the serried ranks opposite of the Peers who own most of the land in Britain. I make no criticism of the fact that only some of them are here. If that sounds a rather barbed remark I should say at once that I believe that the great landed families in Britain who have handed down their estates from generation to generation have done an extremely good job for us. They have preserved and protected land which might otherwise have become totally despoiled. I do not say that they have always done so from the best possible motives. They have preserved the heather in order to ensure that the grouse remain there. I am not bothered about the grouse, but I am delighted that the heather is still there. For whatever motive, they have preserved the land.

One of my anxieties is that there has been such a shift of ownership of wealth in Britain wealth and land are now in different hands. When I hear of huge estates being bought by snooker players and footballers, I wonder whether they will exert the same degree of energy and care in cherishing their landholdings or whether they will do what their financial advisers tell them to do; namely, to extract every penny out of that land. The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, reminded us that that may mean extracting all the gravel or limestone or whatever mineral happens to be in the land. We are faced with very serious problems.

Land is a resource which in Britain is in extremely short supply. It is also a resource which is under increasingly heavy demands. Those are related in part to population. In this country we do not at present suffer from great population growth. The next census will probably show that the population in Britain is more or less stable and that there has been only slight growth. I would go so far as to say that if every pregnancy was a wanted pregnancy at the time of conception our population would probably be declining very slightly. That is a different subject.

We suffer from a maldistribution of population. There is a concentration of population in the South East as a whole and in major conurbations such as those in the East Midlands, West Midlands, North West, North East and the old West Riding of Yorkshire. Great efforts have been made to move some of the population from London and the South East but they have not been very successful. It is the concentration of numbers in the South East which causes the difficulties and with which the underground and public transport systems cannot cope. They were not constructed to deal with the numbers which now use them.

I do not believe that any noble Lord has any immediate suggestions as to how we can reduce those numbers at a stroke. We cannot. However, we can perhaps reduce them gradually by providing the right incentives for people to move. The Government have tried o set an example by moving parts of government departments into the regions. The DHSS has extensive offices in Blackpool and its computer division in Newcastle. The Inland Revenue has people all over the country in such places as Bootle in Merseyside.

However, that is not the way to depopulate areas such as London. Regionalisation is not achieved by shifting the typing pool from the Department of Transport 30 miles up the Thames. One has to shift a handful of people—but important people. If the headquarters of the National Health Service, instead of being in Richmond House as they now are—they were at the Elephant and Castle—were in York, in no time at all the pharmaceutical companies which supply drugs to the National Health Service would also find it wise to have their headquarters in York. The people who build hospitals would find it wise to have a presence in York. Therefore, the Government should shift not whole departments but a few important people. If the decision-takers are moved other people will move with them. That applies not merely to the South-East but to other parts of our country as well if the population becomes too heavily concentrated in small areas.

So there we have it. Land is in increasingly short supply and under constant pressure. Some of your Lordships have dealt with various aspects of this subject and I should like to talk about the recreational use of land; in other words, the use of countryside land. I had the honour some years ago of being chairman of the Countryside Commission, a body which is charged with the responsibility of enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside and also with promoting access to it for informal outdoor recreation. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, has said, rightly, that once one starts doing that, one produces conflicts. But there are always conflicts. There is a major conflict between the people who live and work in the countryside and those who seek to use it for informal recreational purposes. Somehow we have to find ways of resolving those conflicts, and I believe those ways can be found.

There is also a conflict in each and every one of us. When people go off for a day, or longer perhaps, to visit one of the national parks most tend to think, when they get there, that there should not be anybody else there. Life is not like that. When I was chairman of the Countryside Commission, I was fortunate enough to visit Hungary and was taken round some of the nature parks there in a vast area. It was a wonderful place and I was taken round by their Minister of Tourism. There was a wonderful information centre and horse-drawn carriages took visitors to the hides to look at the wildlife and so on. I said, "This is marvellous. Can ordinary people come here?" The answer was, "Oh yes, with permits." I hope that the day when people will have to get a permit to visit Exmoor or the Peak District is a very long way off, but I think we should be under no illusions about the kind of pressures under which these sensitive areas of our countryside are placed.

While I was chairman of the Countryside Commission I was visited by the deputy director—I believe that was his title—of the Yellowstone National Park in the United States. That is a vast place, as your Lordships may know. He was telling me about his catering problems and he said that they had to cater for X number of people a year. Of course I know that they do a great deal for their visitors and provide all sorts of things: they are not for people who just happen to visit. However, I had to tell him that the figure he quoted was almost exactly the same as the number of people who pour into the Peak National Park on a fine Sunday in August—and he thought he had problems!

This is the difficulty. People now need to spread leisure time. I remember that when we were debating the Shops Bill some time ago I said it was a pity that Sunday was not a moveable feast, and I asked why was everybody's day out on the same day of the week. Perhaps it might be helpful if the rest day for people could be a variable day. I do not know what the right reverend Prelate would say about that; but if we could do something along those lines to spread the load in some way, that might be helpful.

As things are, people arrive in an area of natural beauty, as I have said, and they think nothing else should be happening. But there is a conflict. These are all people who believe that they should be entitled to all the fruits of the countryside. They want food from the countryside and they want water from the countryside—much of it in the national parks. They want timber; they want minerals like limestone, and so on. They want various other things: they must have those. But they think nothing should be happening when they actually get there themselves into the area.

People must come to terms with the position and we must ask ourselves how we can deal with this. Somehow we must try to spread the load. Some time ago a market research survey was carried out by professional people in great detail, and extremely effectively, into the recreational activities of ordinary citizens. After questioning literally thousands of people, it was discovered that rather more than 60 per cent. of ordinary people—nearly two-thirds—opted by choice to spend one day a month in some kind of informal outdoor recreational activity in the countryside—not just a visit to aunty because it was a duty, but a recreational visit. That number is more than the numbers who watch football: it is more than those who take up angling and go fishing. It is a huge number. How can we provide for them? We cannot create new national parks, but we can try to spread the load.

We have tried to do that in this country. I am particularly proud of one project which has developed so well—I think that the right reverend Prelate will know of it—Groundwork. In 1979 the Countryside Commission took a policy decision. The national parks by that time had grown to such an extent that they were largely capable of looking after themselves. Therefore it was decided that the commission should devote more of its energies to trying to create enjoyable countryside amenities close to the homes of the millions who sought them. We had already done that with country parks such as the one in the Wirral which my noble friend knows which attracts many people at weekends who would otherwise pour into Snowdonia. And Snowdon is being worn away. The mountain has to be closed every year while they shovel away all the litter and indeed all the excreta from the mountain. Some of the mountain paths are being worn away. I live near the Langdale Valley and the footpath there is like a main road. The footpath gets wider and wider every year. Somehow we have to spread this load.

Groundwork was an attempt to use the kind of techniques developed by the Countryside Commission, providing footpaths, and having provided them, believing that people will keep to them and rather than walk through cornfields; providing stiles so that people will climb over them rather than breaking down dry-stone walls and so on; providing car parks on the assumption that if there is a car park people on the whole will use it rather than drive into a field and destroy crops. We should apply those techniques to the whole of a freestanding urban area.

The first area that was chosen was St. Helen's at Knowsley. It was an immense success, and as a result of that the then Secretary of State, Mr. Michael Heseltine, extended it. There was a huge meeting at Hey Hall in Lancashire, where we had representatives of all the local authorities in the North-West, Cumbria, Lancashire and Derbyshire. Six new Groundworks were established and now they are all over the country in Wales and various places, establishing greenways, linking the countryside with the urban areas, providing enjoyable countryside close to the homes of the millions who seek it. That is doing at least something towards trying to resolve the conflict with which we are all faced.

There is so much more to say but I cannot say it all. However, among the occupants of our national parks in areas of outstandingly beautiful countryside is the Ministry of Defence. I am not entirely sure that the Dartmoor National Park is the right place for firing ranges: there are three of them in Dartmoor, one belonging to the Ministry of Defence and the other two being leased to them. The leases are up this year and I hope that some of that kind of activity might stop there and perhaps go on somewhere else. I was taken to the area by General Acland and he said what a wonderful thing it was that the Ministry of Defence had a place in the national park because it had kept it free from this, that and the other. I began to think that perhaps no national park was complete without a Ministry of Defence presence and why had the Lake District not got one?

However, sooner or later the Ministry of Defence and similar bodies must look at the way in which they use land in national parks; and, as other speakers have said, so must other public bodies. Public bodies own an immense amount of land in our national parks and they do not always use it with the care that they should. I will end by saying that land is in short supply and in ever-increasing demand. It must be cherished and protected. At the moment there are too many people without sufficient integration taking place between them. We have seen government department after government department involved in this; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, has said, there are conflicts over planning decisions, which can differ from one place to another. Everybody agrees that there needs to be some kind of integration. In the fullness of time I should like to see a land-use ministry with overall control, instead of decisions being left to a whole variety of different bodies and departments. As the right reverend Prelate reminded us, I think it was Mark Twain who said: Land, yes; they don't make it any more. That is true: they do not make it any more and as time goes on we shall find that we have less and less of it.

6.49 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, may I first apologise to the House and to the noble Lord who initiated this very interesting and important debate for not being able to hear his opening speech. The debate, concerning perhaps one of the most valuable commodities that the nation owns, has been extremely worth while. How that commodity is redeveloped is of interest not only to us but also to our children, to their children and to succeeding generations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, spoke forcefully about the rural community and the support that it needs to retain a cherished and worthwhile identity. She referred to the difficulty that farmers—a vital component of that community—are experiencing and the need to attract new employment to make rural areas self-sufficient and free of the need to appeal for financial support.

I was interested in her remarks regarding the desirability of low cost housing. It is not the first time that the subject has been mentioned in your Lordships' House. I do not wish to raise the old issue of the sale of council housing. That policy has been widely accepted. In rural areas, however, the policy has been demonstrated to be shortsighted. I know that Conservative Members in another place receive letters on the issue. There is no way of dealing with the problem because much of the low cost housing in those areas was local authority owned. Irrespective of party, however, we should try to provide some assistance, if necessary financial, to encourage people to provide low cost housing. Otherwise those areas will wither and eventually die.

My noble friend and colleague, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, apologised because he had to leave. He spoke about the use of land and who owned it. He said that at the turn of the century the members in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords owned 70 per cent. of the land. That is a great deal of land. I have always taken the view—perhaps it is a rather ancient one politically—that if anything belongs to the people of a nation it is the land. I believe that in most cases the needs of the community should prevail above the needs of the individual.

One activity that I do not like to see continuing —we were promised that it would end about two years ago—is the persistent and increasing promotion by developers of private Bills in order to bypass planning procedures. I understood that there was a proposed all-party agreement that that procedure would stop. Unfortunately the ex-Prime Minister was the one person who vetoed the agreement. It was a tragic mistake for people to be able to bypass local planning committees. For all their faults, the committees tend to mirror the wishes and aspirations of the people in their areas.

I was interested to hear the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. I do not know whether he knows this, but for six years I lived at Gildersome near Bradford. I know the area about which he speaks. Perhaps I may pay tribute to the community of Bradford. The city is a phoenix that has risen from the ashes. It was in dire straits some time ago. The mining and woollen industries have been almost savaged out of existence in the past 10 to 20 years. Nevertheless, through the tremendous efforts of the community, progress has been made to make the city as attractive as it is becoming again. I now live on the other side of the Pennines—the enemy in cricket terms—but I visit my friends in Yorkshire quite often. I can pay no higher tribute than to say that the community of Bradford has done an extremely good job.

Bradford still needs help, as do most other big cities. However, the rural areas close to Bradford have an interdependence which needs recognition. The right reverend Prelate did not need to apologise for putting forward a local aspect. Most of us are the products of the locality from which we emerge. I make no apology for it. I take my name from Beswick which was, until slum clearance in the mid-1960s, the most densely populated area in Europe. It was a grid-iron of terraced houses with a mass of people working at factories very few of which were in Beswick but many of which were on the periphery. When I was a young boy I recall thinking that it was marvellous on the Friday that we broke up for the annual holiday from school to be taken in a tramcar to Heaton Park. It was the only green I saw in those days.

We have to try to achieve an understanding between people in urban and rural areas. If we are not careful a form of apartheid begins to develop. There is a reluctance in some areas to welcome people from elsewhere. I recall some years ago when Manchester had a massive slum clearance programme. It was intending to buy land in Cheshire. That was opposed by a Member of your Lordships' House—not a member of my party—who won the case. Manchester was unable to build overspill housing in that area. However, the noble Lord did not grumble about having his chemical factory in Manchester which provided him and his family with a lucrative living. That is one issue about which we have to take care.

The noble Lord, Lord Walpole, spoke about the extraction of gravel. That is not a problem relating only to the location about which he spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, will be aware that there are grave reservations about proposals for extraction in the Peak District which is not a wc rld away from where he and I come from. Such issues have to be handled carefully. People should not be allowed to ravage and rip out just as they wish. We must be careful to balance the desires of the community with the reasonable desires of others.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, spoke briefly about the important subject of tree planting. For my sins, I have planted a few trees in my not too large garden. I do not know what the greenhouse effect means other than that, in simple terms, if one wishes to retain any semblance of our existing world, it is essential to keep planting trees. I suppose that everyone who participates in such action is making a small contribution.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, described how children brought up in rural villages were being forced out because of the diminishing supply of housing that they could afford. Much of that housing is being purchased by city people as second homes. One can well understand the resentment. We should carefully consider the issue and try to build homes so that people can remain in such communities. Otherwise, as I know from what has happened in Yorkshire, once the drift starts and generations move away, they do not return. A community may wither and almost disappear.

The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, spoke correctly about the changing demands of society on the land. My children, for their own reasons, wished to be independent as quickly as possible. That has meant providing them with somewhere to live. It involves extra space. Let us consider the situation in Liverpool and Manchester. When those cities began their clearance schemes they had to move a quarter of a million people. Those people had to go somewhere. That explains the many overspill estates on the periphery of Manchester and Liverpool. Some people are surprised when I tell them that Manchester is the sixth largest city. It was once the second largest city after Birmingham. Leeds now has a quarter of a million more people than Manchester. That is because people have had to move away.

People are trying to understand the desires of others. They are coming together by agreement in preference to compulsory purchase orders, planning applications and the calling in of inspectors and Secretaries of State to referee. If mutual consent can be achieved that is far better.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, about the London experience. I shall not digress to talk about the abolition of the GLC. I was originally opposed to the metropolitan counties. As the ex-leader of Manchester City Council I was a unity man. However, I formed the view that they were doing a useful job and taking a strategic look at what was happening. I am sure that some of the delays and instances cited by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, would have been avoided and decisions would have been reached quicker.

I do not know what Mr. Heseltine has in mind because I have not seen any statements. However, there are rumours in the press that we may be subject to another reorganisation of local government based on unitary authorities. That can mean only one thing: some of the county councils will have to go. I urge caution about resorting to that decision. We must bring into existence organisations that can take an overall look at an issue and achieve agreement without going to court. There is nothing worse for stopping land development than the protracted decision-making that must be undergone in order to resolve a contentious issue. I hope that those issues can be resolved by the setting up of such organisations.

I have spoken for 12 minutes and I have tried to cover some of the points raised. Again I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for initiating the debate. The subject is most interesting and will not go away. We must continue to talk about it for a long time. It will grow in importance and will need our constant attention and watchfulness.

7.2 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for raising the subject of land use. We have heard contributions from noble Lords about a great variety of issues under this broad heading. I believe that the common theme underlying all these contributions has been the need to protect what we value most about our land while finding enough space for all our needs.

Those needs are both diverse and changing. For instance, as economic growth brings new prosperity we are seeing new trends in leisure and more people wanting to use existing facilities. Increased agricultural productivity means that probably for the first time in history we now need less farmland than we used to. The challenge is to respond to these trends in ways that protect and enhance the character of our environment and protect our rural communities.

It is a central part of the Government's thinking that growth and protection of the environment must go hand in hand. Without growth we should be unable to afford to protect our surroundings; indeed, without regeneration they would fall into sad disrepair. On the other hand, without environmental protection there is a risk that by raising our standard of living we may reduce our quality of life.

The essential mechanism in all this is of course the planning system which has been in more or less its present state since 1947. What do we have to show for this long-standing regulatory regime? The benefits that the planning system has brought are sometimes overlooked so perhaps I may briefly review them. The sprawl of our settlements has been significantly constrained. Since the Second World War the spread of our cities into green fields has been considerably reduced thanks to long-standing green belt policies. On a much smaller scale, ribbon development on roads emanating from villages and small towns has been significantly restricted. Within our towns we have seen the planning system limiting the density of residential development. The designation of conservation areas has preserved the character of some of the more treasured areas of towns, cities and villages.

It is not just a question of planning, though. The Government are taking a very active role in seeing new amenities developed. I am particularly encouraged by the initiative being pursued by the Countryside Commission in co-operation with the Forestry Commission. They are working together to encourage the planting of community forests. Not only will these provide commercial forestry opportunities but they will offer a chance to improve the landscape of the urban fringe, provide new habitats for wildlife and give us new recreation facilities. We are also considering the Countryside Commission's proposal for a new national forest in the Midlands. I could make similar points about our use of grants in agriculture, our promotion of sites of special scientific interest and other wildlife measures, or our initiatives for regeneration in the inner cities. However, I must move on to deal with some of the specific points.

First, I shall briefly review the situation in respect of county structure plans. Our proposals for the future of these plans are set out in detail in the Planning and Compensation Bill to which your Lordships' gave a Second Reading last week. I do not intend to go into great detail about the Bill as much of it was outlined last week and we shall soon discuss the Bill in Committee. I shall summarise some of the important points that have been raised today. We intend to retain structure plans as an essential strategic element in the development plan framework. We also intend to allow counties to adopt their own structure plans in future—that is after due public consultation—rather than have to submit them to the Secretary of State. These proposals have been widely welcomed.

Our decision to retain county structure plans does not of course mean that we want things to carry on unchanged. The present system has been slow and cumbersome. Many plans contain too much detail—detail which ranges well beyond the scope of strategic land use policies. Self-adoption of plans by counties will be a major step towards reducing delays. We gave advice earlier this year on what we regard as the proper scope of structure plans—the key strategic issues. That advice will be further strengthened in the implementation of the new legislation. Our proposals for the comprehensive coverage of local plans will help here by ensuring that detailed development control policies are embodied in local plans where they belong rather than in the county structure plan.

Self-adoption of structure plans will not of course mean that counties can simply go their own way. They will be expected to have full regard for national and regional policies. We are currently expanding the coverage of regional planning guidance. Once it is in place counties will be expected to have regard to it in drawing up and revising their structure plans. The Secretary of State will have full and flexible reserve powers to intervene if necessary.

Several noble Lords have argued that the scope of structure plans should be extended to embrace transport, energy use and other broad environmental issues. To the extent that these issues have land use implications it will be appropriate for counties to address them in structure plans. One example would he the interactions between land use settlement patterns and transport patterns and their implication for energy consumption. But there are major problems in using structure plans to go beyond land use to formulate policy on wider resource management issues.

As regards the question of whether structure and local plans should be treated as the primary consideration in planning decisions it is important that we should guard against over-rigidity. It is true that in one sense a development plan is the first material consideration in relation to any planning application, though not the only one. The existing legislation already recognises this and, as the Department of the Environment's recent guidance has emphasised, the Secretary of State will be guided by development plans in his decisions on appeal. But plans cannot be expected to anticipate every need or opportunity for economic development that may arise. One of the strengths of our planning system is that it permits a greater flexibility in the individual case than more rigid zoning systems found in other countries. I believe that it is important that we retain that flexibility but within the context of the considerable weight that needs to be given to the development plan framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised the subject of waste sites. There are 4,000 landfill sites in Britain which take about 90 per cent. of our waste. Landfill is often the best practicable environmental option for the disposal of all but the most difficult and dangerous wastes. Generally speaking, we have adequate landfill resources for the waste that we generate, but the sites are unevenly distributed throughout the country. There is in particular, and unsurprisingly, a shortage in metropolitan areas.

Many noble Lords mentioned housing which is an important point. One of the key aims of the Government's policy is that the planning system should continue to make adequate provision for new housing requirements including those of local people. In doing so, full account must be taken of the need to protect the environment in both town and country. We shall shortly be issuing revised planning policy guidance on housing which will reflect not only this Government's commitment to protecting and improving the quality of our environment bu t also the need to ensure that the planning system plays its part in providing the housing which people need.

The revised guidance will incorporate and expand on our planning initiative to encourage the provision of low-cost housing for local needs. Under this initiative, planning authorities may exceptionally grant planning permission for low-cost housing for local needs on land which would not normally be released for residential development. A key element of the initiative is that, before the authority gives planning permission, it must be satisfied that arrangements have been made to ensure that the housing will remain low-cost for the foreseeable future.

The present initiative is tailored to the circumstances of rural areas, as it is in these areas that there is greatest potential for using suitable small plots of agricultural land with relatively low land values. In urban areas the same situation does not apply, as sites which are suitable for low-cost local needs housing are also likely to be suitable for a number of alternative land uses attracting high land values. The department has recently commissioned a research study to assess what progress is being made under the initiative, and to identify any problems being encountered in implementing it.

We recognise that in both urban and rural areas it may be desirable that new housing on a substantial scale should incorporate a reasonable mix of house types to cater for a range of housing requirements. It may therefore be appropriate for local planning authorities to seek to negotiate with developers for the inclusion of a proportion of low-cost housing in a larger development. But policies should be reasonably flexible and should leave room for all other material planning considerations to be taken into account.

I now turn to roads. The Government are spending substantial sums on minimising the environmental impact of new roads. Statutory environmental organisations are consulted from the earliest stages of a scheme's development, when the Landscape Advisory Committee considers a scheme. By-pass schemes themselves improve the local environment by redirecting traffic to more suitable routes. All trunk road schemes are directed to avoid areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest wherever possible. The Government are committed to ensuring that in National Park areas no new trunk road is built or existing road upgraded unless there is a compelling need which cannot be met by any reasonable alternative means.

The results of joint studies between the Departments of Environment and Transport will be used to issue planning guidance to local authorities. The aim is to guide new development to locations which will reduce the need for car journeys and the distance driven, or which permit the choice of energy efficient transport. But the Government do not believe it is appropriate to curtail personal freedom to travel by car. They believe in balanced investment across transport modes, allowing the traveller freedom of choice.

Like other major projects with potentially significant environmental effects, motorway proposals are subject to environmental assessment. An environmental impact statement must be submitted to the planning authority, allowing full analysis of the environmental effects of the proposal. Environmental assessment gives planning authorities, and other public bodies which have environmental responsibilities, a better basis on which to make decisions. For developers, the process should draw their attention at an early stage to the environmental effects of their proposals so that, for example, they can amend their designs or incorporate new measures.

Roads are not just used by cars. They are used by buses, coaches and heavy lorries. Because of the increased demand for all forms of road transport, many UK roads are now heavily congested. Providing more road space will allow greater fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

To reflect those trends, the Government have increased substantially spending on roads. In real terms, capital spending alone is over 60 per cent. higher than in 1978–79. Provision for the next three years is 50 per cent. higher in real terms than provision for the last three. Work is planned to start this year on some 45 motorway and trunk road schemes. Work is under way on a further 74 schemes, at a works cost of over £1.5 billion.

This trunk road programme represents the proposed work to be undertaken and paid for by central government. Work on local roads is the responsibility of local government. Efficient local roads systems are as important for the delivery of goods and services as an adequate strategic network is for the economy as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, mentioned the threat posed to attractive landscapes by that programme. At this early stage of the programme potential routes are drawn broadly. I have every expectation that the eventual routes will minimise adverse environmental impacts of that kind. The road programme and its traffic forecast reflects the Government's basis for action. The programme is not intended to meet all demands. Failure to provide for the extra capacity would be disastrous.

Therefore, we are providing new roads but we are also looking at public transport, particularly in urban areas. The Government are encouraging greater use of public transport by supporting high levels of investment. For example, planned investment in British Rail over the next three years is over £4 billion. The figure for London Regional Transport is up to £3 billion.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, mentioned incentives for smaller cars. I agree with him on his comments about the value of choosing a less polluting means of travel. As regards his comments on incentives, the White Paper clearly stated that the Government would examine the need for fuel and vehicle tax changes to encourage greater economy.

I should mention also that outside urban areas the deregulation of bus services has increased passenger choice and bus mileage. Buses continue to be the main form of public transport and the increased provision of bus lanes and other bus priority measures can bring about advantages in economic terms. Such measures also make bus services more attractive by making the journeys faster and more reliable.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has also been asked to consider light rail schemes for certain areas. He has already approved grant aid to the Manchester Metro and, subject to various assurances from the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, he hopes that the Sheffield Supertram will be the next light rail system to go ahead.

Perhaps I may deal with some of the other points raised. Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on matters of taxation I must defer to a higher authority; in my case, my right honourable friend the Chancellor.

As regards the question of making good use of urban land, we have had considerable success in that area. In addition to our derelict land reclamation programme, nearly half of all new houses built in England over recent years have been on vacant or recycled land in urban areas. The figures for London and the South-East are even higher—58 per cent.

We have had to strike a balance. Forcing too much new development in urban areas can result in town cramming, something which now concerns many suburban areas. We recently issued draft policy guidance on sport and recreation. That stresses the need to achieve that balance and protect urban open spaces which all communities need for pleasure and recreation. Local authorities must do that through their development plans and effective planning control.

Like all noble Lords I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Walpole. I am glad that he does not expect me to respond in detail to all the points that he raised. I cannot say very much. I understand that the matter to which he referred is the subject of appeal. Nevertheless, I found it extremely interesting.

Lord Walpole

My Lords, I did not expect the Minister to respond on the application matter. That is the point; he cannot. I suggested that in similar cases there should be a cooling-off period after the decision has been made. I cannot see that anywhere in the legislation, and I was hoping to see it.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, there will be an opportunity to raise those points when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, spoke about derelict land. We already spend some £70 million a year in England on the derelict land grant. We are currently exploring measures to release more land, including placing more responsibility on those who create dereliction to put it right. The noble Lord also spoke of structure plans in London and other major cities. It is true that there are no structure plans in the main metropolitan areas, as there are in shire counties. However, we have arrangements to ensure that strategic planning issues in those areas are considered as a whole.

The Secretary of State issued strategic planning guidance for all those areas, including London, to provide a framework for unity development plans now being prepared by individual boroughs and districts. Moreover, Part 1 of each unity development plan is expected to address structural issues as they affect each individual borough or district.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, spoke of national parks. Perhaps I should remind him that the management of national parks in the first instance is for the Countryside Commission. However, the commission instigated a review of all matters affecting national parks. That will be conducted by a committee chaired by Professor Ron Edwards. The committee is expected to report to the commission in early 1991, and the commission will then make any recommendations to the department. It is for the commission to investigate, for example, proposals for new parks. The Secretary of State will look at any proposals it brings forward sympathetically. I understand that at present the commission is not considering any candidates.

I recognise that the weight of the number of visitors can be a problem. The Countryside Commission and parks authority put tremendous effort into managing the inflow of visitors to ensure that their impact on parks is limited. They also spend a good deal on maintenance. That is a particular problem with long distance footpaths. The introduction of charges is no doubt something that the review committee will be considering. We must wait and see what it recommends. I remind the noble Lord that the very size of the parks will make it extremely difficult to collect charges except in localised areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, also mentioned Dartrnoor. The forces use the land within Dartmoor and other parks, and did so long before the parks were created. I know that there are sometimes conflicts between the military and civilian uses. That is inevitable. The Ministry of Defence does its best to limit the impact of its operations on the parks. The Dartrnoor Steering Group, which consists of the MoD, the park authority, the Duchy of Cornwall and other local groups, has done much to help reconcile the various interests on Dartmoor.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, mentioned Private Bills bypassing planning procedures. Following the report of the Joint Committee on Private Bills, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport published last summer proposals for a new order-making procedure to replace Private Bills for most development projects. However, initially in the transport field further progress depends on our finding the time for the necessary legislation.

At the beginning of my remarks I said that land use is a wide subject. I attempted to cover as many points raised by noble Lords as possible; I probably have not covered them all. There is a limit to the number of subjects to which one can do justice without taking excessive time. I have no doubt that noble Lords will return to many of these issues at a future time, and I look forward to that.

The Government set out their principles in the Environment White Paper. They are most notably clear commitments to protect our environment through the planning system; conserving our wildlife habitats and extending protected areas of natural beauty. The debate provided a useful opportunity not simply to consider individual matters, but also to look at the great range of actions that are required and that are being undertaken by the Government. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for giving us the opportunity for debate.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Hampton

; My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I thank all noble Lords who took part and raised so many different and important points. The noble Viscount was extremely courteous in answering my questions. He will not be surprised to learn that I am not entirely satisfied by those answers. I do not propose to prolong the proceedings by further analysis. It remains for me to beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.