§ 3.8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
rose to call attention to the need for housing in the south-east in the years to 2016; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should inform your Lordships that I am chairman of SERPLAN, with no pecuniary interest! I am sure that we all look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I should like to take this opportunity to clarify SERPLAN's position regarding future development in the south-east following the publication of the Crow Report.
As noble Lords may know, SERPLAN comprises all the planning authorities in London and the south-east: county, unitary, district and the London boroughs, representing about 18 million people—a region approximately the same size as the Paris region.
220 For over two years SERPLAN has been involved with some enthusiasm in producing a sustainable strategy for the south-east. A considerable amount of member and officer time and money have been expended. We also went through a major public consultation exercise before submitting our draft regional planning guidance to the Government. That draft version of the regional planning guidance was submitted to the Deputy Prime Minister last December. We welcomed the principle of a public examination into regional planning guidance and we were impressed also by the five weeks which were devoted to that purpose.
We had no illusions that our strategy was perfect—we have always been open to constructive criticism—but members and officers and, indeed, many people in the south-east, were outraged by the way in which Professor Crow, chairman of the public examination panel, in his report to the Government, set aside SERPLAN's draft regional planning guidance and substituted his own. There is a strong view that Professor Crow has gone well beyond his brief and has not appreciated the new relationship between central and local government implicit in the proposals which the Government have made for modernising regional planning.
There is also widespread concern at the attitude adopted by the panel towards the concept of sustainable development. The draft regional planning guidance is broadly in line with government policy. Professor Crow, however, has described sustainable development as something which is "fashionable". We have not spent two years developing a sustainable development strategy for the south-east just to be fashionable. We are of the view that our strategy is a genuine and largely successful attempt to put sustainable development at the heart of new regional planning.
The Crow report largely echoes the case put forward by the development industry to encourage continued rapid growth to the west and south of London. SERPLAN recognises the vital importance of the south-east to the national economy, but the panel's report brushes aside the problems of congestion and pressure on services and infrastructure already being experienced in those parts of the south-east. Such an approach to economic development would have the ultimate effect of choking off economic growth and prevent the region from realising its full economic potential by bringing forward development opportunities elsewhere in the south-east.
The Crow report also proposes a massive increase in house building, a grand total of 1.3 million new dwellings for the period 1991–2016. This proposed provision is higher even than the Government's own household projections of 1.1 million.
The extensive greenfield requirement implied by proposals for housing provision on this scale would remove the pressure on the development industry to seek out urban opportunities on brownfield land and thereby undermine the achievement of an urban renaissance. Such over-provision would also give the 221 green light to future migration into those parts of the south-east already experiencing severe development pressures at the expense not only of the poor areas of the north of England but also of the less favoured parts of the south-east, such as south east Kent and parts of the south coast, as well as areas of London.
SERPLAN has published its response to the report of the public examination panel and I have deposited copies of the report in the Library of the House. That document sets out the main points of criticism, the nightmare vision proposed for the south-east by Professor Crow, and reaffirms our members' and officers' commitment to SERPLAN'S sustainable development strategy for the region.
The objective is to achieve a more sustainable pattern of development and bring about an urban renaissance by making better use of previously used urban land and buildings and by promoting greater use of public transport.
Traffic congestion is a growing problem. To ensure continued mobility, demand management will be necessary, as well as measures to achieve a shift from use of the private car to better use of public transport and for the integration of the transport system with land-use planning.
We are in favour of economic growth. Indeed, one of the main themes of the strategy is to encourage economic success. What we propose for those areas to the west and south-west of London which are experiencing high levels of economic activity is a strategy to deal with the resulting impacts and pressures on the infrastructure. At the same time, we seek to rebalance the regional economy in favour of those areas which we describe as "priority areas for economic regeneration", such as east Kent and the south coast—to which I have already referred—as well as Thames gateway, which still offers further potential for regeneration.
We aim to make housing provision for the region by meeting housing need and taking into account affordability and accessibility in line with the more sustainable approach of "plan, monitor and manage", rather than "predict and provide", an approach which John Prescott—I nearly said Lord Prescott—has already declared "dead". The Crow report has put forward an alternative that will fail to meet housing needs; that will compromise a range of other policy objectives, including attempts to secure urban renaissance; and that will have repercussions for infrastructure provision as well as for public expenditure.
Professor Crow's approach to housing provision is underpinned by his belief that economic growth, particularly in those areas experiencing economic pressures, should be unconstrained unless there are overriding local environmental reasons. Congestion and labour supply problems are not regarded by him as a constraint on development. Earlier in my speech I referred to how such an approach to economic development would in reality stifle economic growth in buoyant areas of the region and reduce the economic potential of the region as a whole.
222 The aim of promoting an urban renaissance lies at the heart of SERPLAN's proposals and is in line with Government policy. The commitment to maximising the re-use of existing buildings on previously developed land is reflected in the national target that 60 per cent of additional housing should be provided in this way.
During my visits round the region I have seen many good examples of urban renaissance, three of which I should like to refer to. In the London Borough of Camden, a railway goods yard has been turned into beneficial housing use with affordable rents—excellent; in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, the Action Trust in South Leytonstone has regenerated a blighted site, knocking down early 'seventies housing blocks and replacing them with a wide range of terraced housing; and near the docks in Southampton, in the St Mary's area, a lot of rundown housing has been changed into an urban village, once again with mixed tenures, which appears very successful.
Much of the provision for new housing will be for single-person households. Many of these young people seek a high-quality urban lifestyle, with all the facilities and opportunities for social contact that that can supply. This is a growing proportion of the population, which requires a very different kind of housing from that offered by the traditional suburb. That is why SERPLAN—which incidentally came up with the urban renaissance concept when it began drafting its strategy at the beginning of 1997—is strongly in support of many of the ideas being put forward in the report of the Urban Task Force.
The key aims of SERPLAN's strategy are to provide for sufficient and adequate housing to meet the needs of people living in the south-east and to take account of affordability and accessibility.
The baseline level of housing provision—862,000 dwellings between 1991 and 2016—is no more than a starting point. The scale of housing provision against which our draft plan should be judged is 892,000–914,000 dwellings. The aim is to be responsive to needs as they arise, and as they change, and thereby to ensure that everyone has the opportunity of a decent home.
It is very clear that there may be a need for additional provision to be made for housing. If that proves to be the case, it will need to be brought forward and quickly cascaded through the development plan process. Local authorities have expressed confidence that this is something that can be done, and work is going forward on the mechanics of "plan, monitor and manage".
If everyone is to have the opportunity of a decent home, however, it is crucial that provision is made for a range of dwelling types and sizes in order to meet the needs of all sectors of the community, including those unable to compete in the market. This will require strengthened powers for local authorities to specify and control the range, type and tenure of all dwellings. Our aspirational targets for affordable housing is not less than 40 per cent of the total provision in the rest of the south-east, up to 2016. This amounts to 370,000 dwellings.
223 Professor Crow rejects a regional target for affordable housing and instead prefers to rely on increasing the overall level of housing provision and allocating the necessary land. Building detached, five-bedroomed, executive housing on greenfield sites, as many house builders wish to do, will not address the real housing needs in London and the south-east. The "trickle down" theory does not work for housing. SERPLAN's approach of "plan, monitor and manage" provides for housing needs as and when they arise and, with the backing of affordable housing targets, gives much more chance that it will be households in need that benefit from increases in housing supply.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships one final example, Brighton, where people from London are buying up large period houses in that town, which were formerly divided into flats for letting. The landlords are attracted by the once-and-for-all gains to be achieved, but the result is an acute shortage of accommodation to let at a reasonable rent in a town where that kind of accommodation is very much in demand. The numbers-led approach to housing does not respond to need.
What I have tried to indicate in opening this debate in your Lordships' House is that housing needs in the south-east are both varied and complex. The nature and distribution of housing needs in London and the south-east will not be met by a crude process of massive provision on greenfield sites, which would certainly result in the kind of damage that I have described.
On the contrary, it requires the measured and focused approach of "plan, monitor and manage", which enables local authorities to address specific needs in their areas as they arise and change over time. But it also requires local authorities to be given strengthened powers and the means to be able to do so. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, to be able to thank him for raising this matter, and to congratulate him on the manner in which he introduced what is a very complex and important subject. I have known the noble Earl for about 40 years, which is a long time. I have great admiration for his contribution to public life, especially in matters of local government and planning. Because of his long and great experience, we should very much take to heart what he has told us today. Indeed, I agree with most of what he said.
The Crow report states that sufficient housing should be made available for all who wish to live in the south-east region. I must ask the question: is that for all time? I point out that if it is for all time, there is going to be a period after 2016, and if it also applies to that period, I fear that the south-east really will be covered in concrete and housing. I am not at all sure that that will be a good thing, and the question should be considered very seriously indeed.
224 Additional housing between 1996 and 2016 is what is proposed, and it is to be a large addition. However, we are already one-fifth of the way through this period, so house building during the remainder of the period is likely to be rather frenetic. Infrastructure services will not be able to develop in time to cope with all the additional people. I refer especially to transport. Planning authorities will be under extreme pressure to give consent to unsatisfactory schemes. Far from improving our towns, villages and countryside, we are likely to be left with ill-considered and bad projects which, under normal circumstances, would not have been agreed.
So much additional housing not only poses a threat to the countryside, it also affects urban areas, especially if densities are to be increased. There is a need to maintain open spaces in towns as well as in the country. Indeed, perhaps it is even more important in towns so that a good quality of urban life is preserved. However, this additional building will put pressure on urban planners to allow overbuilding on sites which ought to remain as open land for the people of those areas.
Perhaps I may give an example. I live in Reading. Already there is pressure to develop the Kennet meadows for housing, which, as a matter of fact, are floodlands. That has been resisted until now, but under the Crow plan, pressures will increase further and eventually no doubt the developers and builders will get their way. Indeed, they will keep on putting pressure on urban areas such as Reading within the south-east region. Further, towns like Reading will be put under twin pressures. First, they will need to provide more housing within their boundaries, and, secondly, they will have to cope with transport and other infrastructure problems from the new rural settlements, such as Grazeley, just outside their area. Quite frankly, if Reading is to deal with the transport problems arising from that, it will need to demolish houses to provide more roads to give access from those areas into the town. There are real dangers to be faced.
Furthermore, I remember a time when Maidenhead was under great pressure to build estates on floodland. Eventually the planners gave in. What happened, of course, was that there was great flooding in the Maidenhead area. The developers and builders had already made their profits and had gone away quite happily. However, it was the public, through taxation and through water charges, who had to put that right. I fear that those kinds of pressures will be increased if the Crow report is accepted by the Government; I hope that it will not be. What is certain is that at present the urban areas do not have the resources to meet these demands. I feel sure that the Government will not put their hands in their pockets to provide the money that will be necessary to deal with this additional development.
The panel has accepted that all housing demands in the region should be met. It uses projections for new household formation to back up its case. But there are both social as well as economic reasons for this need. For example, additional housing need has been generated by a higher divorce rate and family 225 breakdown, which have been encouraged by government attitudes—I refer not just to this Government but to the previous government as well—towards the family and marriage and, indeed, by the expectation that in many cases the additional housing required will be provided by public authorities. The Government themselves have encouraged additional family formation.
The Government's approach to the family should be designed to keep families together rather than to drive them apart. That should figure in housing strategy. For example, taxation should encourage marriage and stable partnerships. Employment is a key component of any housing strategy, as the noble Earl pointed out. But that really does require intervention by central Government: not necessarily in the way it was done in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but certainly by making other regions excellent places in which to do business and nice places in which to live. I realise that the panel believes that this kind of approach is old fashioned, but some better, nation-wide strategy wild have to be adopted if the United Kingdom is to avoid a situation where large areas will increasingly be grossly underpopulated while others are grossly overpopulated.
I hope that the Government will take note of what was said by the noble Earl and of what will be said during the course of the debate, and kick the Crow report right into touch.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I want to concentrate on one aspect which the noble Earl, to whom we are most grateful for initiating the debate, mentioned in the course of his speech. I refer to the growth of younger single-person households in London and the south-east, which is a very important aspect of the problem to which the noble Earl drew attention. Of course, it is not the only issue but it is a crucial one. I should Id like to put a little more flesh and blood, if I may put it that way, on the important points that he made.
I have had a look at the tables of household projections. I do not wish to bore noble Lords with the figures—they are all there in the tables—but I have calculated that of the total of 2.8 million single-person households in Lon don and the south-east by the year 2021, around 35 per cent—about 1 million—will be single people under the age of 45. It is on that group that I should like to concentrate.
The noble Earl was right to say that very many of those people want the buzz and excitement of the city centre. Last year I chaired a discussion of the Foundation for Science and Technology. Quite a number of those young people were asked about living and working space: in the millennium. They said that,they would wish to live near city centres in multi-purpose buildings, containing leisure and service facilities as well as domestic and possibly some employment features, with extensive use of information technology to ease contact with families, friends and business contacts. Such a lifestyle would offer the greatest choice of leisure and work opportunities".226 That echoes entirely what the noble Earl said in his speech. More recently—at the end of November—I was privileged to hear the speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, to the British Property Federation. He said that the clue to getting more building on brownfield sites lies in taking a different attitude to densities. I ask noble Lords to hang on to that point because I believe it to be one of the keys.
How is the solution to be found for these younger single-person households, bearing in mind the need for higher densities? At Christmas time perhaps it is right that I should mention CASPARs—not Melchior or Balthazar, but CASPARs, City Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents. I had not heard about CASPARs until my attention was directed to them. They are an invention of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I should like to quote a few words from Richard Best, the foundation's director. He said:The time is now right. Demographic, environmental, financial and social reasons suggest central urban sites should be developed for private rented housing. The biggest growth over the next couple of decades will be in single person households. 'Singles' are the natural market for city centre renting".Mr. Best went on to refer to "thriving mixed communities."
The foundation has researched and developed the concept of CASPARs. Its research has been carried out in Birmingham and Leeds but the findings are equally relevant to London and the south-east. The foundation makes three points. It states that such accommodation can best be provided in converted buildings rather than in new ones, recycling buildings which have outlived their present purpose but could be converted into apartments of that kind. It has established that they should be able to be provided without subsidy. Indeed, Mr. Best's article suggests that there are quite good returns—better than one would be likely to get on the stock market. Some excellent examples already exist. At a recent reception in the House I sat next to the president of Redrow Homes. That company is now building this kind of accommodation in London. It can be done.
What are the indicators? First, the preferred location for these places is in or near city centres. It is not in the suburbs and it is most emphatically not on greenfield sites. Secondly, security is hugely important. With all the electronic aids now available, that can be provided economically. Thirdly, they should not be furnished, because people like their own furniture. But it is best to have the buildings provided with some basic fitted furniture. Fourthly, they should have economic heating. There should be one-bedroom flats for those who can afford only one bedroom, but the point was made to me very firmly that some of the more affluent groups would prefer two bedrooms. Fifthly, some communal facilities are necessary.
I believe that such accommodation addresses one of the social problems of this group of people in our society—loneliness. These are perhaps people who have had a relationship but it has broken up and they are facing living alone. They do not want a separate house in an impersonal estate, but they want 227 somewhere where they can have some kind of a social life and make friends. We must be careful; we are not creating hostels. The Rowntree research makes clear that that is not what is sought. It must be the kind of housing where the occupiers can, to employ an Oxbridge expression, sport their oaks; where they can go behind their own front doors and be assured of privacy but where they are also able to share some common facilities. CASPARs are a reality. They ought to form a part of the concepts of planning authorities seeking to grapple with the problems of the growing population in London and the south-east. In some cases that is happening already.
I asked a leading firm of chartered surveyors: what is the obstacle to getting more of this kind of housing built? I was told by its head of research that, over everything else, it has to do with the attitudes of planning authorities. They simply do not understand this kind of development. They must. I hope that the Government will draw this matter to the attention of every planning authority in London and the south-east. Then we may make some impact on the problem.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue. We all need a decent home. Few in this House or anywhere else would dispute that. But when it comes down to the detail of how many homes need to be provided, where they should be, and for precisely whom, matters become much more controversial. Nowhere is that more true at present than in the south-east.
The south-east is already densely populated. Its transport and public services groan under the pressure of a booming economy. It also contains very attractive green belt which everyone wants to protect. But the south-east will not achieve its economic, social and sustainability goals unless we build the right homes in the right places for the right people. That is the challenge that we are debating. It is a challenge to all of us as politicians, whether at national, regional or local level.
Many voices and reports are contributing to this debate. There is SERPLAN, made up of the region's planning authorities, which proposes that, up to the year 2016, some 650,000 new homes are needed. The Crow report adds 64 per cent to that figure; it states that some 1.1 million additional homes will be required. The Government's figures indicate a need for slightly fewer than that. The Crow report is somewhat controversial. I am sure that we shall hear more about it during the debate. It recommends that the target for new housing on recycled urban land and the use of other buildings and redundant land should be reduced. Also, it is not clear whether the Crow report, although committed to housing need, wants targets to be set in the same way as is suggested by SERPLAN.
The Government have yet to give their considered response to the Crow report. The Council for the Protection of Rural England would like to see the 228 whole of the Crow report scrapped. It wants to see a system based more on local and regional planning, with strong account taken of sustainability and environmental factors. Social housing providers—I declare an interest as vice-president of the National Housing Federation—emphasise the need for targets for affordable homes. I believe that the Government have previously recognised that, because they have strengthened planning guidance in this area.
The time allowed for this debate is short, and it is impossible to go into detail on this vast subject or cover every area. My noble friends on these Benches will add some of that detail in their contributions. My noble friend Lady Hamwee will concentrate on planning issues, an area in which she has considerable expertise. I want to concentrate on two areas: the need for affordable homes, and the opportunity for maximising the use of derelict land and buildings.
Affordability is not merely about building four-and five-bedroomed homes on greenfield sites, which seems to be the direction that is often run by market forces. The proportion of lower paid workers, mainly in the service and public sectors, is increasing. Such workers find it difficult either to compete effectively in the tight housing market of the south-east or to gain access to social housing.
Households in the market sector in the south-east consume similar types of housing to households in the rest of the country, but pay a greater proportion of their income on housing costs. Income for income, mortgage payments are on average 24 per cent higher in the south-east than in the rest of England, and private sector rents are 20 per cent higher on average. So, although people in the south-east sometimes have higher incomes, the extra amount is often not enough to offset the increased cost of housing.
That means, for example, that teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen—all the essential workers needed in a thriving economy—often cannot afford to enter the housing market in the south-east. It means that children will often have several teachers in a term. That is particularly true in London. It means a greater use of agency nurses and a shortage of workers in many of our key service areas. That is why, as other speakers have emphasised, it is important that any future housing provision in the south-east takes account of affordability.
I now turn to the subject of empty properties and derelict land and buildings. The Empty Homes Agency estimates that there are some 950,000 empty residential properties in the south-east which have been vacant for more than a year. Many will be re-rented, and some will come back into use as a result of movement in the housing market. But many will remain empty. They are a blight on the local neighbourhood and at the same time deny people the homes that they need. But those figures do not include the many tens of thousands of new homes that could be created in the wasted space above shops and in redundant shops and offices and other buildings—buildings which, in planning terms, are not presently classified as residential.
229 The Empty Homes Agency has produced an excellent report, New Homes in Existing Buildings. What emerges from that report, and from the report of the urban task force under the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, is the need to harmonise VAT on refurbishment and new build. The difference between the two is a real block in many cases when trying to bring empty homes and other empty buildings back into use; and it does nothing to discourage builders from regarding greenfield sites as their first choice. A second crucial point is the council tax treatment of long-term empty property. It cannot be acceptable for it to be cheaper to keep a property empty than to have someone living in it. I do not believe that the use of empty property and derelict land and buildings is a panacea in terms, Of the matters that we are discussing, but it could play an important part. It is important that we develop planning and change financial regimes so that, wherever possible, we can maximise the contribution of that sector.
In order to solve these problems, we need political will and co-operation. There must be an understanding of how housing need affects everyone. But what is not required is political posturing, nimbyism or endless debates, often heard on the radio and in another place, about who did what, and when. People outside do not want a cheap party political debate on this matter. They want constructive debate. They want to find a way forward to solve some of the difficulties that we all face in the south-east. Experience tells me that our debate today is likely to be constructive, measured and informed. I look forward to listening to the remaining speakers.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for initiating the debate and those who have spoken so far. In the collection of memorabilia at home there is an RIBA Pugin Memorial Medal won by my father in 1937 when he was a student at the Edinburgh College of Art. Twenty-nine years later he was awarded a doctorate at Edinburgh University for a study of the provision and use of space in European housing, comparing northern with southern. So it is from the context of this family formation and from the perspective of the diocese of Portsmouth, which consists of south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, that I want to address your Lordships for the first time today.
I know that in some of the observations I shall make I have the support of other Church leaders in my area, including my close friend and colleague, the Roman Catholic Bishop of` Portsmouth, Crispian Hollis.
There is indeed a need for new housing. That leads me to ask the same questions as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock has just asked: what kind, for whom and where? In the urban areas of the diocese of Portsmouth, Portsea Island and Gosport, the percentage of housing classified as unfit is 7.2 per cent, 12,900 homes. That is higher than the average for the south-east region, which is 5 per cent.
230 We also have a growing problem of homelessness. Not far from where I live in Fareham there is a hostel for 100 people made up of lone-parent families and some refugees from Afghanistan, Kosovo, Georgia and Russia. They have been placed there by social services from all over the south-east. There are, moreover, hostels for young people and single men and women in the city of Portsmouth. That city has among its postcodes the poorest in the whole of the south-east. On the Isle of Wight, in Ryde and Newport, the major challenge is the lack of social housing for the homeless. Many have to be put in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Alternatively they are the hidden figures for whom, if I dare say it, there is no room in the inn at any time of year. Two hundred and fifty more houses need to be available per annum, over and above the 100 vacancies that usually occur. I know that the authorities and the housing associations on the Isle of Wight are working hard to improve the picture.
But what of the creation of community? In parts of Portsea Island some of the urban villages of the 19th century have proved wonderfully resistant to many of the negative social pressures towards fragmentation in recent times. That is largely because local neighbourhoods had their own facilities from the start: schools, churches, parish halls, shops, places to have a meal, fish and chip shops and the like.
But when we compare that scenario with two different developments—a large council estate in Leigh Park, north of Havant and the village of Whiteley, west of Fareham—there are, it seems to me, some important lessons to be learnt. Leigh Park was begun in 1947 originally for 2,000 homes. It now has 30,000 residents. It was built with no infrastructure, apart from schools and churches. It received its first dedicated library two years ago and for work or leisure it is essential to travel.
Whiteley, on the other hand, is a different social area altogether—a 1990s development of well designed housing units which have sprung up in a rather piecemeal fashion. There is now a school and a church congregation hard at work on a building project to which the sharing churches are giving every encouragement. But the village centre is on the edge of Whiteley and there is no good road system. That creates a problem in terms of access to work and shopping. Many people love the area and its accompanying wildlife; others have given up on the lack of amenities and have moved elsewhere.
Many of those questions are replicated elsewhere, including in the north-west at Manchester where I worked for six years. None of the questions is insoluble. Environment shapes the way we behave as well as the way we develop or do not develop collective trust which can enable us to look at new problems imaginatively—problems which highlight what human beings are, our inherent dignity as well as our inherent weakness.
I conclude with an illustration from when, as a boy, I eavesdropped on one of my father's site visits. It became a case study in the thesis to which I referred 231 earlier. We were in France, at the post-war Unité d'Habitation block of flats in Nantes designed by Le Corbusier, now part of architectural history. It was stylish for the time and every cubic centimetre was milked for its potential use. The dining room, in French fashion, was the place of gathering and lingering, unlike in this country with northern and southern housing having different styles and approaches. The local infrastructure was not bad for the time.
I shall never forget coming out of the elevator and being faced, not with a corridor, which is what I expected, but what amounted to a small open street. This reflected Le Corbusier's desire to try to form an urban village community. He had had that inner street painted white, but the flat dwellers had soon asked for it to be painted dark. They did not feel like an urban village and they did not want to be up there either.
The provision and use of space is a vital part of architecture; it is also a living spiritual force. I very much hope that the future planning of different kinds of housing for the south-east might reflect some of those considerations and those yet to be expressed in this debate in order to construct and reconstruct our built environment.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Alexander of Weedon
My Lords, it is my privilege and pleasure on behalf of the whole House to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his articulate and compelling maiden speech. The right reverend Prelate brings to our work immense, wide-ranging experience in the Church, much of it at grassroots level. He is also a talented author on spiritual issues. I see that the title of one of his books is, All the Company of Heaven. He will recall that Disraeli said, on his elevation to this House:I am dead; dead, but in the Elysian fields".I hope the right reverend Prelate will enjoy the company, but even more I hope we will have the opportunity to hear him on many occasions.
This topic is of great importance to the needs and quality of life of future generations. The issues are acute for the south-east, the most successful part of our country, but they have real resonance for other areas. The south-west is but one illustration of a region which has problems with current anticipated targets.
My own interest is as a member of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development, set up six years ago in the wake of the Rio summit, to give direct advice to the Prime Minister on environmental issues of wide-ranging importance. The panel is chaired by the distinguished environmentalist, Sir Crispin Tickell, and we have the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, as one of our members.
We have looked at many topics. High on the list, regularly, has been the concern about successive projections of housing needs and their implications. We were long sceptical of the "predict and provide" approach to projections which led to the view that we should need 4.4 million new houses by 2016. So we 232 naturally welcome the reduction to 3.8 million by 2021. The recent projections are no doubt conscientious, but the change indicates the need to keep them continuously under critical and, indeed, sceptical review.
The south-eastern region has the ambition to be the economic hot spot of Europe. That is perfectly legitimate. But it carries with it the inevitable corollary that gravitational pull will lead to a growth of population. "How do we cope with demand?" is the critical question in this debate. Our panel has consistently considered that a dramatic effort of will is needed by government if the demand for housing is not to cut a further swathe through the precious countryside of our island.
It has long been accepted that housing development cannot simply be left to market forces. The green belt is a clear recognition of the need for government intervention; so is all the town and country planning legislation. It is welcome that the Government set targets for the amount of housing to be built on greenfield sites: first, 50 per cent and then 60 per cent. However, I wonder whether I am alone in thinking that this commitment has been a little more muted recently and may in practice turn out to be somewhat wobbly.
Developers obviously often prefer greenfield sites. What financial advantage is there currently to do otherwise? Take simply, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, the wholly anomalous position in regard to VAT. New buildings are exempt but VAT on the cost of conversion of residential building is charged at 17.5 per cent. In its fourth report in February 1998, the panel said:The Government has indicated that it is keen to promote the use of fiscal incentives and that it will give consideration to ways of applying them to land use. For example, the rating of VAT on greenfield sites and the refurbishment of derelict homes might be harmonised. The panel hopes that action in this respect will follow".By October 1998 we had the Government response:The issue of the comparative rates of VAT on new build may also be of relevance, as the panel suggests, although VAT changes are constrained by European Union law and the demands of sensible tax design. These proposals are being considered by the Government in the wider context of the relevant policy".There followed the familiar rubric:Final decisions on taxation are, of course, a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer".How wonderfully illuminating! Lest the Eurosceptics—if there are any among us—should seize on this comment as one more illustration of the shackles imposed on us by the wicked bureaucrats in Brussels, I remind the House that only recently the French Government announced that VAT on conversions would fall to 5.5 per cent.
The panel returned to the charge in its report in January 1999:A major outcome of the proposed urban and rural White Papers should be the use of brownfield sites for development purposes rather than permitting the further erosion of the green belts".233 That has proved too much for the Government. Ten months on, that report has received no response at all.
By contrast, those who are really affected by the problem responded with speed to the report of the urban task force chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers. It was under no illusions. To bring brownfield land back into use is critical and difficult. One obvious impetus is to refuse access to greenfield sites, but that is not enough. Tax incentives are critical as the experience of the United States in the reclamation of urban areas demonstrates. It has even been proposed that there should be a tax on greenfield development and vacant brownfield land and an increased level of tax on vacant property.
If there were a tax on greenfield land it could be hypothecated to provide extra funds to cross-subsidise development on brownfield sites. I do not suggest that solutions are easy or that all of those that have been floated are right, but they raise the correct issues. They recognise that fiscal intervention is necessary to take account of the environmental costs and benefits of building sufficiently to incentivise the regeneration of urban areas. Without this we shall get nowhere.
The Government are not insensitive to the media. I conclude by quoting a comment in a recent editorial in The Times:The Government still clings to the forecast that 3.8 million homes will be required by 2021. But this prediction owes more to astrology than to sound reasoning … if more land is required for development, surely all brownfield sites should be considered first? Tax breaks might even be offered to tempt developers towards such areas. Free thinking is welcome. The development of Britain's green fields is not".I believe that t his is one of the issues by which the Government will be judged long term and that concrete action is called for now. I look forward to the Minister indicating in his response what the Government will do.
§ 4.06 p.m.
§ Lord Sawyer
My Lords, I also thank the noble Earl for initiating this. debate. I enjoyed his speech and agreed with much of what he said. Recently, I was elected chairman of the Notting Hill Housing Trust. We concentrate on London and the home counties and are one of the largest housing providers in the region. We house people from a wide range of income groups. Experience tells us that good housing goes hand in hand with economic prosperity. We have found that the most sustainable growth is often linked with existing communities and that the key ingredient is to ensure that we build balanced communities rather than seclude the rich in their own guarded enclaves or banish the poorer households to the socially excluded housing estates. We must apply that principle to future housing strategy in London and the south-east.
The housing capacity study for London makes a projection of 381,000 new homes in London by 2016 but only 20 per cent of them are what we regard as affordable housing. Clearly, that is insufficient. I agree with the noble Earl that the target for affordable housing at which we must aim is nearer 40 per cent. I emphasise the overwhelming need for greater housing 234 provision of all types in the south-east. I refer to affordable housing that will allow more middle income professionals, such as teachers and nurses, to work and live in London and the south-east. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, if we do not provide homes where people want them or near to where the jobs exist, we fail to face reality.
London and the south-east are growing and will continue to grow. It would be foolish to dampen this prosperity. If we restrict the growth in employment in the south-east it will not be to the benefit of other regions. The renaissance of the English regions will come from their wealth creation and a spirit of enterprise, not the application of a brake on the economy of the south-east. We need growth in all our national resources to be able to improve the quality of life for all. We need proper economic development plans for Scotland, Wales and the regions of England to tackle unemployment and housing demand, and the growth in the economy of the south-east will be linked to the growth in the supply of housing.
In many cases the new households will be created by local people who want a place of their own to house their families. These new households will be the saving grace for many of our communities. We can all see what happens otherwise. Many villages cannot now support a local shop or even a bus stop. Those who seek to deny any new housing also deny their neighbours the future support of an active community. Of course, some new housing development will raise questions. We must treasure our attractive countryside. We understand why people are so concerned about new development. Our experience at Notting Hill tells us that new development can be seen as a positive change rather than a negative threat.
We have responded to local views and, as a result, have learnt two important lessons. The first is that it is naive to believe that we can go on eating up greenfield sites. Too much of our housing industry has grown fat by pushing culs-de-sac into the countryside. Many people now react against that. We do not want housing that is considered to be an imposition or is resented by local communities. We have found that housing development which is part of organic growth and the renewal of neighbourhoods is far more likely to be successful. We should re-use existing buildings and previously developed land wherever possible. Clearly, this is bound to be a key factor in the sustainable growth of London and the south-east. If we fail to do this, there will be even more pressure from London on the housing market outside the immediate area of the south-east.
It is right to concentrate on brownfield sites, and housing organisations such as the Notting Hill Housing Trust have shown that it can be done. It requires vision and commitment to turn rundown sites into good housing. If we can do this in our building plans for the south-east, growth will not be so painful; in fact it can and will be beneficial.
The second lesson we have learnt is that housing developments work best when we build a balanced community. The success of this is shown in the make-up of our most treasured neighbourhoods. In our 235 cities, town centres and successful villages we see a mix of different households, income groups and people coming together to form communities. This is a powerful lesson for our future. In our new developments, provision of a range of housing for different income groups and a range of tenures should be the aim. No longer should we build housing which excludes people from society. All new developments should include some housing for those with middle incomes, and some for the lower paid.
Finally, we need planning policies and powers which encourage the development of attractive housing. If we can grow in that way, people will see new development as a positive change. Not only is it possible to build the housing needed but, if we do so, we shall also find that growth can also be seen as desirable. This debate has demonstrated wisdom, understanding, experience, realism and compassion by those participating. I am confident that the Government will provide an encouraging response.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I declare an interest as the president of the National Home Improvement Council.
As have all previous speakers, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for raising this issue at this time. Like all who are taking part in the debate, I have read the Crow report and, as I went through it, my concern mounted. It seemed to me to ignore the Government's brown-site policy. It showed a remarkable lack of concern on the subject of congestion, no apparent interest in urban renewal, and an indifference to the progressive erosion of greenfield sites—in fact the very opposite view about future development from that expressed by those who have spoken today and many others in this country. It has thrown into doubt the real needs for housing in the south-east. Perhaps I can best contribute to the debate by citing a practical example of what might happen if the erosion of greenfield sites were to proceed.
I live in an area of West Sussex known as the Weald Vale to the west of the market town of Horsham. In that area, there are four villages: Broadbridge Heath, Slinfold, Barnes Green and Southwater. Christ's Hospital school, which is in the vicinity, owns a large amount of land currently under cultivation. As part of the proposed development for housing, it has offered to sell 275 acres for such development in order to accommodate up to 3,000 houses.
Christ's Hospital school is an eminent school with a record of charitable work, taking on many pupils who cannot afford the full costs of their education. It is already well endowed; and, if the transaction took place, it would become even better endowed and I am sure that it would put the money to good use. However, at the same time consideration needs to be given to the impact of such a development on those who live in the area.
236 At present we are short of road space. There is congestion, even with the current population. So there would have to be much more work done on roads, quite apart from the building of the 3,000 houses.
There is a water shortage. In answer to a recent question, we were told that Southern Water would provide for the extra demands. As someone who has lived there for many years, I can only ask: why has it not met existing demands, let alone some future substantial increase in demand?
Gas, electricity and sewerage connections would have to be built. The local rail station is very small. No doubt it would have to be extended, as would rail connections. Schools and hospitals may well be required additionally. At the very least, all this work could take a decade of disruption which those who live there would have to endure—and the end result would be that a carefully nurtured area of market town and rural villages would be destroyed for ever and replaced with urban sprawl.
It might be argued that the prolonged misery of the few is justified in the interests of the many. I should like to question whether that is so. At present nearly 15 per cent—that is, 2.8 million—of the homes in England are in a state of major disrepair, according to the latest English House Condition Survey. Is it desirable to stimulate the further abandonment of such properties with their replacement with new homes elsewhere? Britain already has more derelict housing than other parts of western Europe. Is that trend to be accelerated?
I come now to the fiscal point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon. It is about time that the extraordinary VAT disparity between improving existing housing and building new housing was changed. This can be done under European Union rules, as the noble Lord pointed out. It would be perfectly in order for the Government—indeed, I believe that the Commission is recommending it—to reduce the rate to 5 per cent to apply equally to new house build and conversions—and conversions play a large part in the whole spectrum. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred to it in relation to the provision of accommodation for young people wanting single accommodation. So a major step forward could be taken in harmonising the rate of VAT at a lower level, and probably with no loss of revenue to the Treasury.
Urban renewal has been mentioned. We need to balance the estimated needs of the south-east with the situation that exists elsewhere in the country, a point mentioned vigorously by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
I believe that there is an alternative strategy to that implicit in the Crow report. It would consist of house refurbishment and conversions with fiscal incentives—and so much housing in this country requires such treatment; urban renewal; concentration on brown site development, and the minimisation of greenfield development with fiscal deterrence. I believe that a combination of those policies would meet the housing needs not only of the south-east but elsewhere in the country also.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I declare some interests. First I am a former chairman of the CPRE. Secondly, although Suffolk is not in SERPLAN, I am President of Suffolk Preservation Society. Thirdly, I am a Suffolk fanner with green fields which I have no intention of seeking any permission to develop. Fourthly, I am in the process of converting redundant farm buildings into dwellings.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for having this debate at the right moment. His achievement of getting agreement between, I think, 138 different local authorities cannot be underestimated. The Government are being asked to judge between SERPLAN and Professor Crow's panel, which suggests that the south-east can and should accommodate 430,000 more houses than SERPLAN believes to be possible. Professor Crow believes that Sussex alone must have an extra 137,000 houses, which is 55,000 more than SERPLAN proposed. Sussex is a dramatic, well-known and beautiful county and it will have many lobbies to protect it. I wish them well. Essex, whose subtle beauty is as important as it is unknown, is being threatened with an extra 150,000 houses, which is 66,000 more than SERPLAN proposed.
The decision to he made is hugely important. If it goes wrong, it will have a knock-on effect for the Government's policy in a wide area. Not only will it do great damage to the countryside, but it will screw up the Government's urban renewal policy throughout the Kingdom; in the north as well as in the south-east. It will imbalance the Government's growth policies.
We know that Mr Prescott has had one or two little local difficulties with the transport side of his house. We are benefiting because we now have the lead Transport Minister in this House. We look forward to discussing the issues with him on many occasions. However, we have been told by the Government—and I accept what they tell us—that Mr Prescott will retain control of the big picture; he will make the main decisions. I want to tell Mr Prescott, through the Minister, that this is the big picture; this is one of the big decisions. I hope that Mr Prescott will take personal responsibility for this crucial decision.
To some extent, Professor Crow represents the philosophy of the Town and Country Planning Association, which has had close links with the interests of the house builders. We all know that house builders prefer to build in greenfield sites. They are more economic and easy to build on and therefore make life simpler. You cannot blame them for that view, but you have to recognise it and bear it in mind. The Town and Country Planning Association was reared in the tradition of new towns, a tradition which some of us would say is responsible for the urban decay in many of our city centres. It likes to play on the big scale, indulge in grand planning and "play Monopoly"; what I would describe as the "Legoland mentality".
Let us consider how the huge figures—more than 1 million new houses, which is a 64 per cent increase on the SERPLAN prediction—are arrived at. First, 238 the predictions start with the demographic predictors (who were originally lodged in the basement of Marsham Street) putting forward the pernicious philosophy of "predict and provide". I do not blame this Government for that; the previous government had it, too. However, in March last year, we were told by Mr Prescott that "predict and provide" is dead and I saluted him for it at that time.
I want to refer noble Lords to a series of articles written by Simon Jenkins which appeared in various newspapers. He knows more than I ever shall about planning and development, growth and the quality of life in this country. Therefore, I do not apologise for quoting briefly from an article which appeared in The Times on 3rd November. He stated:Whitehall officials periodically gurgitate something called a 'rate of household formation'. Using census data, they count numbers reaching marriageable age, divorcing and living longer. They leave out anything they cannot count, such as numbers of asylum seekers or internal migrants. They do not regard second homes as 'households', or take account of such economic factors as youth unemployment, house prices, rents or shifts in housing benefit. In statistics, only what is countable counts.This half-baked prediction of household formation is then, by sleight of hand, converted into a 'need' for the same number of houses … Worse, because census data is available locally, the number of houses 'needed' can be neatly broken down by county. House builders thus claim government authority to demand new land, preferably green fields, for their buildings".He goes on to say:To speak of this 'trickling down' to meet housing demand from single households is like subsidising the caviare counter at Harrods to relieve malnutrition in the Gorbals".I believe that the real requirement is to recognise that the so-called "housing need" should be met by combining the market and the people's determination of environmental standards required for us, for our children and for their children. Therefore, once there is a limit to the number of houses that can be built without destroying our countryside, the market will decide where they should be.
If that means that many new houses are not built in the south-east, that is the right answer. I support my noble friend Lord Jenkin in his remark about the need to utilise more redundant buildings. That would be perfectly possible and much cheaper. It can be reasonably economic, too. I have recently converted a redundant granary of mine to a one-bedroom dwelling. Admittedly without taking into account the site value, the rent provides about a 7 per cent return on the cost of the conversion. I believe that that is a reasonable return.
I do not need to take account of the value of the site because I do not want to sell it and as it was a redundant granary it was of no current value to me. I believe that in undertaking such conversions one is fulfilling a social purpose as well as enhancing the environment.
Now that our farming industry is in crisis, I hope that the Government are not tempted to bail out part of that industry in the south-east by allowing it to sell off blocks of green land for housing at huge profit. 239 That would be an immoral and unfair decision. The farmers who most need help are not even in the south-east.
I hope that Mr Prescott will take the whole issue seriously. The protection of rural England, for which the CPRE can take much credit, has been an acute political issue since the young and angry Clough Williams-Ellis wrote his England & The Octopus in 1928. If the Minister does not have a copy, I shall give him one, provided that he promises to read it!
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, that was a fair offer and I hope that the Minister is able to accept it.
I am delighted that 15 Members of your Lordships' House will debate housing from a range of angles. I have taken part in housing debates with only four or five speakers. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, is to be congratulated on his luck, first, in winning the ballot and, secondly, in deciding that this topic needed airing.
I am not a Member who can argue about precise figures. I am not a professional or competent to argue about the figures; I am a politician. However, I speak from experience. I was first a member, then chairman, of a housing committee and I know that a number of noble Lords speak from such experience. I defy anyone who has had to get down at the mucky end of housing not to say how much we should pay for a big house, or for land or how we can keep people out or bring them in, but to say how we should provide for those at the bottom end of the pile. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, say that we need affordable housing. Many Members of this House can afford to buy a bigger and better house, but if I speak on behalf of anyone, I speak for those who want adequate housing at a reasonable rent in the area in which they have grown up, which meets their needs and which provides a home in their community. It is not easy. When I listen to and understand what the Minister and his colleagues will have to do, I see that they are not going to satisfy everyone. There are different imperatives.
I plead one credential; I am joint president of the Association of London Government. I am not the only one in this House; the other joint president is the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who has vast experience at all levels in government, including at the very top. We try to represent the views brought to us by the London boroughs. The Association of London Government is calling for £300 million per year additional funding for the next three years to invest in 15,000 homes for the public sector; £50 million from the discretionary part of the Housing Corporation's approved development programme; for the Government to increase the current cost limits for acquisitions in the private sector and for repair of existing properties; and for the Government to give greater weighting to homelessness. Such initiatives would be appropriate as part of the Government's latest attempt to tackle homelessness.
240 In addition, the ALG is calling for a cash injection to meet the extra drain on councils' spending due to the costs of tackling homelessness; and for powers to allow London boroughs to make long-term—that is, of more than 10 years—leasing arrangements. In requesting the introduction of such provisions, it is not a foreign voice, but simply illustrates that when we look at housing, land and the future, different groups of people in this country have different agendas.
The debate has been conducted in the best of all possible spirits. People have put forward their point of view without rancour, sometimes with passion, but always with sincerity.
There are a number of things the Government can do to ease the situation. They need to develop better strategies for dealing with pressures that are national responsibilities, such as those relating to asylum seekers and refugees, which often fall disproportionately on London. Not much can be done about that problem; it must be tackled, but the burden on people who live in London can be eased. A review of options for reducing economic migration to London is needed. It has been said more than once that London is a magnet. We cannot change that; that is how it is; but we need to develop strategies to deal with that particular situation.
The consequences of the failure to meet those needs will include increased social exclusion; more people being housed in inappropriate and expensive temporary accommodation; and increased homelessness. If someone asks me whether I am in favour of more initiatives rather than fewer, I am in favour of more. I have had more than 40 years' experience of one kind or another. I have been responsible for as many mistakes as anyone else. We are now having to put right many mistakes, over which I presided at local and other levels. No one has clean hands in that matter; no one is beyond recrimination in the debate.
I turn to the amount of money spent on housing. I happen to be the chairman of a body called the United Kingdom Co-operative Council, which co-ordinates the broader co-operative movement. We produced a pamphlet entitled Realising the Potential,.in which we drew attention to the development of the co-operative housing sector. We pointed out that as a nation we spend less on housing than any of the 13 industrial nations which are members of the OECD. Between 1985 and 1996, we invested an average of 3.5 per cent of GDP in comparison with 6.3 per cent in Germany, 5.1 per cent in Italy and 5 per cent in France. Football and cricket are not the only league tables of which we are at the bottom. It may be a British disease, but it can be improved.
Much of the demand for housing can be met by using brownfield sites. In 1995, Price Waterhouse published a report on co-operative housing which showed that affordable housing is better managed and maintained if tenants are directly involved in its control and management. Within the panoply of provisions there is a sound case for greater attention being paid by the Government and others to the value 241 of co-operative housing. There is great value in it. No one should doubt the Deputy Prime Minister's commitment to improving housing provision. The quality of the house in which one lives is probably a more basic matter. When I came into politics, housing was way up on the agenda. It has slipped. How and why has it slipped? Has it slipped because there is more affluence, because there is more indifference, or because there are other things on which people want to spend their money? I do not believe that anyone here has the answer, but I hope that the Minister takes heart from the fact that he has a number of friends all around the House who want to see him and the Government succeed in this difficult task.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, I share with other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken today gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for raising this subject. His experience in local planning is a match for anyone's, if not more so. I was a member of SERPLAN under his chairmanship and found the whole process extremely interesting. The point of view he expressed would be widely supported by a number of people, not least the 150 or 200 people who gathered in a hall in Leatherhead on a wet Friday evening, who I am sure would have cheered him to the rafters—to use an old-fashioned expression.
I should like also—unfashionably, and slightly incorrectly—to say how glad I was to hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, whom I knew when he was in a rather less superior but none the less extremely valuable position as the parish priest in Guildford. I believe that we shall all enjoy hearing from him in days to come. I shall not repeat the many criticisms made or queries raised in the context of the Crow report, but I hope that the Government will respond to three major concerns raised.
First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who emphasised the importance of housing as part of the well-being of the family, the individual and the community. I most sincerely believe that if we can tack le some of our worst housing, which includes poor housing in the south-east, we should do a great deal to improve the health—quite apart from anything else— and the general sense of well-being of the people who live in those houses. It is a powerful point to which I hope the Government will respond.
Secondly, I am concerned, along with others, about the balance between the development of the north, or for that matter the south-west, and the south-east. Those are broad categories and I know that one should not be too general, but I am trying to put my points briefly. I hope that the Government will respond to that concern.
Thirdly—I do not believe that this concern has been clearly articulated, although it lies behind much of what other noble Lords have said— I raise concerns over the way in which the public inquiry was handled. The drafting of the report on the inquiry appears to put into jeopardy the whole system of planning 242 established in this country and the Government's own recently enunciated policies which should guide that planning process. I hope that there will be a general response from the Government on that matter.
In the few moments remaining, I want to concentrate on the environmental aspect of the problem. People talk about the south-east as though it were some protective little enclave whose residents never want to see any change or development, or anything to spoil its pretty little green fields. People talk about "leafy Surrey". Since the Second World War, the south-east has absorbed housing equal to the size of London. If the plan goes ahead, the south-east will absorb a further amount of housing equal to the size of the Isle of Wight. Do not let us kid ourselves. Development in the south-east has continued, is continuing and no doubt will continue. Everyone understands that.
The question is how we can tolerate increasing amounts of concentration in population in what is already one of the most heavily populated areas in the whole of Europe. I believe one probably has to go to Holland, or possibly the suburban areas around Paris, to find so large an area with such a heavy density of population as one finds in London.
Of course, I know most about my own county and I shall concentrate on that. There is now very little left of Surrey which is not either built on, green belt, an area of outstanding landscape value or an area of outstanding natural beauty. Almost all the land which has not been built on falls into one of those categories. That is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to find a mechanism for introducing low-cost housing into Surrey. Meanwhile, the county has two-and-a-half to three times the national average of traffic. I support my noble friend Lord Ezra, who asked how we shall deal with people moving in and out of the Horsham-Crawley area—that whole area, which spills over into Surrey, which has been designated by the Crow report as a growth area. How shall we cope with the transport needs of that huge development? Does not the development in that area both presuppose that there will be a second runway at Gatwick and make that second runway more likely?
The decisions on the siting of development have enormous implications far beyond what is simply the local plan. Unfortunately, in this country we do not have a national airport strategy. In the absence of such a strategy, every existing airport is in danger of exponential growth, particularly the airports in the south-east immediately adjacent to London. I believe that there are some doubts as to whether the approach adopted by Crow does not predispose towards an expansion of Heathrow.
Therefore, transport, tranquillity and, finally, quality of life are all important issues. People want to establish their headquarters buildings in Surrey. They want to bring their executives and lower management to live in the county. When asked why they want to do so, business people reply that it is because of the qualities of the environment, which the exaggerated housing figures could help to diminish. My guess is 243 that that is also the case in many other areas in the south-east. We must not kill the goose which laid the golden egg.
§ 4.44 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for introducing this debate. Indeed, in many ways at the beginning of the afternoon he expressed all the concerns which exist about the Crow report. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I hope that the Government will take note of his very considerable experience in local government and planning matters when they give consideration to whether or not to amend SERPLAN's proposals.
I recognise that there is a need for planning policies which will ensure the continued prosperity of the south-east and the growth of its economy, and that that prosperity can be enjoyed by those who live and work in the south-east. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that it is difficult to know what should be the precise figure for new housing. However, I believe that we can all recognise an extreme case; a case which is so extreme that it deserves to be rejected. I believe that that is so with the housing forecasts and figures put forward in the Crow report.
I believe that there should be a speedy and outright rejection of the report with regard to housing numbers. I say that for a number of reasons. As previous speakers have already suggested, were the Government to prefer Crow to SERPLAN, they would fly in the face of the wishes of the local authorities and the regional planning body in the south-east. That will be at odds with the Government's own stated objective, which is to see greater power and responsibility exercised regionally.
Some in the United Kingdom believe that we are light years away from seeing central government trust local authorities to work individually or collectively, as in the case of SERPLAN. That is not a prerogative of one particular party; it comes simply with being the government at Westminster. However, in this instance the Government can prove that there is a real change abroad by rejecting the report.
As other noble Lords have said, Crow represents a return to predict and provide—a method which has been derided by the Secretary of State. It does not meet the objectives of brownfield sites. Sadly, it seems to have little regard for the environment. The south-east may be seen, and may see itself, as the powerhouse of the nation. However, its residents are entitled to assume that in pursuit of that goal or the maintenance thereof, some regard is had to the conditions which will prevail if development on the scale suggested goes ahead.
In the debate on the gracious Speech I drew attention to the fact that a commentator had estimated that the number of houses proposed by Crow would, if lining a single street, stretch the 7,200 miles from London to Hawaii. Clearly, the green belt is under threat, however much the authors of the report may seek to say otherwise. That seems especially to be the 244 case on the borders of the metropolitan area, precisely where it is most needed. If noble Lords are in any doubt, perhaps I may quote one sentence. I accept that quoting out of context can be invidious, nevertheless I shall read one sentence:Since at least 40 per cent of new development will be on greenfield sites, it is inevitable that some will have to be on the urban edge and in many parts of the region this means in the green belt".That sends a most unfortunate message. If the urban sprawl is increased into Kent, Surrey and the other neighbouring counties of Greater London, the problems will be multiplied over an even larger and more unmanageable area than Greater London already comprises. Development on the scale suggested is not at the margin. It is not about trying to obtain a slight gain here or there; some sensible in-fill development or to obtain affordable housing in existing communities; in some cases, it means doubling the proposed development in the different counties: from some 35,000 houses in Surrey to 77,000, and from nearly 100,000 in Kent to 150,000. Once planning policies are altered to allow the houses to be built, the commissions will come through very quickly.
Local authorities will not want to be on the losing end of planning appeals. The houses will be built long before the transport and other infrastructure and facilities are in place. I submit to your Lordships that the impact on transport facilities and infrastructure will be enormous. Already, unsuitable roads are subjected to heavy and damaging traffic, and public transport leaves much to be desired.
The report talks about supporting improvements to public transport. But that and other infrastructure improvements take time and money. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, on the radio the other day repeating the statistic that it takes 14 years from the inception of a road scheme to its completion. I can tell your Lordships that the tramway in Croydon was a gleam in our eye in 1986 and it will open, we hope, next year—and that had a fairly straightforward passage. All those things which are needed to accommodate more people take a great deal of time and money.
I live in what some of your Lordships may not describe as a village but what we describe as a village; namely, Warlingham. It is on the edge of Greater London and within Surrey. Every year, the roads around that village lose more and more of their banks. Every year, another few inches are lost from the village green as a result of the depredations of traffic and deliveries to supermarkets.
Lastly, I ask the Government to look at the two questions that the authors of Crow stated were never far from their minds as they conducted this examination:Do you want the economy of the South East to stagnate or at any rate to perform at less than its full potential?Do you want the planning process to frustrate or at any rate do less than it could to assist the desire of people to have a decent home to live in?It seems to me that those two questions are loaded, to say the least of it and that if you take a different view from Crow, it means that you are in favour of 245 stagnation or frustration. I should like to know what is the evidence that the economy will stagnate without that level of development. There are already many people living in those counties who would like jobs and economic growth for their own needs, not necessarily for the attraction of new people.
Decent housing has been talked about this afternoon by many noble Lords. Like them, I want to see that provision. But I do not want to see the additional houses comprising four or five bedrooms, three bathrooms and two garages, which is all too often the answer 1.o development.
Even if social housing policies are rigorously enforced, as other noble Lords have indicated, in my submission, it is not right for such housing to be away from the established centres.
I submit that the report raises more questions than it answers; creates more problems than it solves; undermines local responsibility; shows a lack of understanding of the conditions which exist and which will be exacerbated if it is adopted; and has a truly old-fashioned disregard for concerns about the environment.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I should declare two current interests. First, I am president of the Town and Country Planning Association, although I am not here to speak for that association this afternoon. Secondly, I am a prospective candidate for the Greater London Assembly and London will be very much affected by the south-east regional planning guidance.
From these Benches, we have chosen to focus our first contributions on need. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for framing the debate in that way. My noble friend Lady Maddock talked about a number of needs, including key service workers who are priced out of housing. That is something which my colleague, Susan Kramer, our mayoral candidate is making very much her own subject.
It is a multi-faceted subject. That is inevitable because people are complex. A multi-faceted—dare I say, joined-up?—approach is needed, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said. I have always supported an approach to planning issues which does actually plan; which does not provide a straitjacket but which looks ahead realistically. I am extremely comfortable with the plan, monitor and manage approach so long as it is not forgotten that the first element is planning.
It is my ambition also to achieve the greatest public participation—democracy involving the public without, of course, forgetting the role of government to lead. I am fascinated by the comments on the operation of the new-style panel, getting away from the adversarial approach and being open and participative.
Therefore, it is a pity that part of the panel's recommendations. the part which has hit the headlines, was not thrashed through during that process. But that perhaps is a matter relating to the process and not necessarily relating to the outcome. As 246 other noble Lords have said, it is important that we should not cling to polarised positions and not revert to an adversarial approach. It is all the more important that the process which leads to the decisions of the Secretary of State is dealt with in as transparent a fashion as possible. Certainly, no one can say that we are not now having a debate, although I am aware of how the general debate is concentrating on numbers rather more than on meeting need.
The noble Earl described the bottom-up approach taken by SERPLAN. I, too, was a member of that body for some time. We have not yet found an effective way of debating at local level strategic issues such as overall housing need. It is much easier to engage a community on subjects like local greenfield areas, sadly too easily confused with green belt. It is not nearly so easy to have a debate which deals with overall numbers and need, numbers which many of us cannot comprehend. I use the analogy of a committee which is likely to spend a lot longer looking at spending a few thousand pounds on a small traffic—management scheme than it is on spending many, many millions on some major infrastructure development. That is because it is so difficult to get one's brain round how one spends millions, as it is about how one houses millions.
SERPLAN is not a strategic body although its members and its officers struggle manfully to work cohesively, and I pay tribute to the noble Earl in that regard. To deal with regional strategic issues, we need regional strategic government, not officials who are part of the central administration.
What is the context for the debate? As has been said, there is the need for affordable homes; the connection between homes and jobs; the objective of urban renaissance; escalating house prices, which are of such concern at present—and I wonder whether limiting house building will do anything to control prices; transport congestion, to which my noble friend Lady Thomas and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred; and a concern to recognise the importance of our countryside and our open spaces in our towns, as well as outside them.
The core strategy of RPG identified by Professor Crow's panel comprises, as he says, seven essential and necessarily intertwined elements. Time precludes me from going through all of them but I shall mention three: the prospect of a decent home, affordable homes, planning now having regard for the sequential test with which your Lordships are familiar; securing a prosperous and attractive countryside; and, last but not least, urban renaissance, which in the report is extended to suburban areas.
Of course, the report has gone further, with detailed recommendations about APLE—areas of plan-led expansion. This debate is quite agricultural. That raises the question of whether we have yet worked out how the sequential test should be applied and, in particular, how far ahead we should plan. Is it possible to plan to lay the groundwork without firm commitment and without raising the temperature of the debate in such a way that the future development, 247 whatever form it might take, has so distressed people and polarised views that it makes it quite difficult to plan ahead?
The London Planning Advisory Committee sounded sensible notes of warning when it considered the report, supporting some parts of it and disagreeing with others. I shall mention just one comment. It suggested that SERPLAN's baseline figure for housing need is not adequate as a basis for the rest of the south-east's provision but also that the panel's other extreme would have untenable consequences.
No one argues with managing development. The logic is that if we anticipate that development cannot be contained in towns, should we think calmly about whether it needs to be concentrated on limited areas of greenfield sites? After all, the urban task force itself suggested that in the south-east only 39 per cent of development could be sited on brownfield land.
I believe that if we do not think about those issues we shall leave the way open for incremental development which causes such difficulty through its piecemeal nature. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ezra, who used the example of the Christchurch Hospital land, although, interestingly, I read Professor Crow's report as seeking to avoid that scenario.
The logic is that we should also look at what people do and where they live as part of the same picture. Professor Michael Breheny's recent work, undertaken for the Town and Country Planning Association, is interesting. He advises that,The new job centres are suburbs, small towns and rural a reas"—that may not be news that we want to hear. He continues,Thus, for example, market towns, with a high quality of life. with none of the dereliction or social problems that tend to be associated with a manufacturing past … have tended to prosper … At the same time, work is becoming increasingly feminised and professionalised"—I hope noble Lords will forgive the jargon. That will have an effect on the decline of full-time jobs and the places where jobs are to be found. Professor Breheny's conclusion is that,the changing geography of jobs is profoundly counter-urban".That may not be welcome news, but I believe that we have to take the matter seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, talked about the need to assess where jobs will be found. It has been put to me that reducing jobs in Wokingham will not transplant them to Whitehaven. I agree with the noble Lord's regional approach.
Similar work—although I have not yet had an opportunity to read more than the press release—has come from the Performance and Innovation Unit, suggesting that we have to look at the issue of work in countryside areas. I do not believe that that amounts to building over the countryside, but it relates to addressing the issues.
When I first became involved in politics I was struck by the power of a point made to me on the doorstep: "I am all right, I have a home, but I really do not know 248 where my children will live". Twenty years ago or more that statement was forceful; now it is even more forceful. Society and government at every level have to answer that need.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, I must explain that I am here in place of my noble friend Lady Byford who, sadly, is not well. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in wishing her a speedy recovery from what, I believe, is a nasty bout of flu.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his speech and hope that he will find time to contribute to debates in the future. I greatly enjoyed his contribution today. I believe the right reverend Prelate summed up the debate when he said that it is a question of what kind of houses, for whom and where. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for the chance to join in this most opportune debate. His approach was one of authority and common sense. He has started us in the right direction.
As an elected member of a local authority I had to deal with housing problems, as did the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. It was heart-breaking to listen to the situations of some people which brought home to me the importance of having one's own front door. Yesterday morning the "Today" programme interviewed the chief executive of Locate in Kent. That organisation works with its French partner in Lille and with Eurotunnel Developments to attract particularly Far Eastern companies to set up at either end of the tunnel.
A number of points emerged, including, first, the fact that Far Eastern companies see Kent as the gateway to the UK and from the UK into Europe. Secondly, the south-east has to compete with the regions as government prefer new jobs to be located in areas of high unemployment in the rest of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Thirdly, it was stated that grants are available to attract firms to Kent.
As we have heard, some population specialists say that 1 million plus new homes will be needed by 2016 in the south-east. That must be based on greater numbers of elderly living on their own, greater numbers of single-parent families, lower mortality rates, lower marriage rates and inward migration. Can the Minister state what proportion of that 1 million plus homes are likely to be filled by people moving into the south-east over the next decade and a half? In his Answer of 30th November, at col. 718 of the Official Report, the Minister said that most of the current inward migration is from London. Can he say what proportion of that number are people who retire to the area and what proportion are people who are filling new jobs?
It would be interesting to know how many homes in each of the regions served by regional development agencies are empty and what proportion belong to local authorities, to various government agencies and departments and to private owners.
The business of attracting jobs to areas of high unemployment has been going on for a long time. It has been made more urgent by the decline in 249 traditional industries such as shipbuilding, coal, steel and heavy engineering. I understand that thousands of jobs in the textile industry are now coming to an end in the Midlands and the north. Furthermore, the crisis in agriculture is hitting family farmers who lose their homes when they leave their jobs. All of those people need new jobs in the communities in which they live.
One argument over devolution concerned the need to ensure that measures to attract jobs to Wales and Scotland would not merely move them from existing locations in England. Can the Minister explain what rules have been put in place to prevent that? Can he also tell us what measures are being taken to ensure that existing jobs do not move within England from one region to another as grants encourage companies to abandon old sites, leaving them for future generations to clean up?
If we are to have new jobs and more people in the south-east, it will be necessary to have more homes. That is obvious. Steps must be taken to ensure that planning permissions given in the next decade will result in housing suitable for those who will want to live in them in 2016. As the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said, we need affordable housing. It is no use building 4 to 5 bedroom, three-bathroom and triple garage houses on half an acre if, in 15 or 20 years, the need will be for 2 to 3 bedroom units to accommodate those who can no longer climb the stairs or weed the garden.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, spoke about single-person households and the fact that there are 1 million in Landon and the south-east. He spoke of how their needs are different. Such people get a buzz from city centres and he told of the exciting projects of Redrow Homes in converting buildings.
Where there are large numbers of houses there needs to be adequate infrastructure, as so many noble Lords have said, including the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and my noble friend Lord Bowness. The wise words on global warming indicate that the south-east will become increasingly wet in winter and dry in the summer. Who will assume the costs of piping potable water in and storm or flood water out? The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, posed the question whether Southern Water would accept the responsibility. Or would government be expected to do so from central funds when problems began to show?
There is also a need for infrastructure to cope with transport needs. The 10-year plan unveiled by the Deputy Prime Minister is no more than 10 years' expenditure at current levels. Is it anticipated that funding for the roads, railways, buses, trams and trains, adequate to cater for the occupants of over 1 million plus homes, will come out of that figure? Or is this something the Government will be expected to provide from central funds when the deficiencies begin to show up? Where there are 1 million plus new homes there will normally be rather a lot of children. Part of the infrastructure requirement therefore will be for maternity units, nurseries, schools and play areas. Will those costs be met by the property developers or is that 250 something the Government will be expected to provide from central funds when nature's blessings begin to show up?
An obvious extension of that train of thought is the requirement for new facilities generally—for libraries, hospitals, for old peoples' homes. Many of the services will be provided by the local authorities through the standard spending assessment, but who will provide the capital for the buildings? Or is this too something that the Government will be expected to provide from central funds when needs must?
I fear that further house building in the south-east will take the form of a cycle which goes something like this: the Government provide grants to attract new jobs to the south-east; houses, factories, commercial premises will all be built in the south-east; houses, factories, commercial premises elsewhere will be empty. The Government have to find extra money to build roads, hospitals and so forth in the south-east. The Government have to find extra money to alleviate the results in the south-east of global warming—and so on.
I have not even mentioned the pressures on wildlife and prime agricultural land that the building of 1 million plus homes could cause. The south-east is host to a number of species which are not to be found in many other parts of Britain; for example, the yellow-necked mouse, the serotine bat, the large tortoiseshell butterfly and the pasque flower. How does the Minister propose to fit 1 million plus houses, two new national parks, countless factories, shops and offices and mile upon mile of roads and railtrack into this area and protect and preserve its wildlife and amenity value? Will the Minister provide the figures of grade 1 agricultural land which will be sacrificed directly to the concrete mixer?
A decent home of one's own is a goal we all share, and one that we all want for everyone. The contributions to today's debate have been informed and have shown the expertise and experience that exists in your Lordships' House. The debate has highlighted many issues and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for initiating this debate and for the wide range of contributions to it. As other noble Lords said, we are grateful for the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who reminded us graphically that often community and human values override and are more important than even the best laid plans of planners and architects. That is a lesson we can learn from this debate which, not entirely but to a significant extent, concerned numbers as much as quality and community.
Serious and difficult issues are involved. It may be sensible for me to start by reminding your Lordships of the way in which regional planning guidance now works and therefore the context in which the numbers 251 have emerged and, not so much in your Lordships' House but in the media and elsewhere, been subject to slightly over-excited commentaries.
In general, the new system of regional planning guidance has been broadly welcomed across political parties and throughout the country. Instead of being chopped-down statements of generality, we intend that from now on the planning guidance should embody an agreed spatial strategy for each region. They will be agreed with the many different interests and agencies within the region, with the regional planning body in the lead. They will need to integrate all the issues to which the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and others referred—transport and economic planning generally—into a much more sustainable approach. Each RPG under this process is then subject to a public examination of the kind carried out by Professor Crow in order to ensure that all the main issues are dealt with openly and transparently.
A key feature of the arrangement, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, indicated, is one of partnership, bringing everybody into the process. It involves listening to residents, businesses and those who provide services in the region. A great deal of conflict is involved which must be reconciled; for example, the demands for growth and prosperity must be reconciled with aspects of the quality of life in the south-east, as indeed with other areas.
Without disparaging the difficulties in other parts of the country, the south-east faces a much more complex set of pressures than other regions. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others in respect of SERPLAN for the way in which members and officers implemented the new procedures in preparation for the RPG. SERPLAN played a leading role in the formulation of regional planning policy and enthusiastically piloted the new procedures.
Under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, SERPLAN has given the south-east a distinctive voice and, to a large extent, as other noble Lords have said, brought together various interests in the south-east. In responding to a central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, SERPLAN brought to the forefront the concept of sustainable development. The Government support it in putting that at the centre of what we are trying to do.
There is therefore a great deal of common ground between SERPLAN and the Government, contrary to what one may believe from reading the newspapers. We are both concerned to see sustainable development at the centre of any plans for economic growth. There is general agreement that we cannot go on building in the laissez-faire pattern which has occurred in recent years, above all in the south-east. We may have to concentrate on more limited areas and a more structured approach. Nevertheless, it is also the case that in the wider debates since SERPLAN published the draft RPG, some issues need to be addressed in relation to the SERPLAN approach and about which we ourselves may have anxieties.
252 The SERPLAN draft RPG was subject to public consultation and public examination. The position now is that, following public examination from Professor Crow, it is necessary for the Deputy Prime Minister, as the Secretary of State, to consider the panel's reports and all the representations on SERPLAN's draft RPG. We will then publish in the new year proposed changes to the RPG. Again, that process will be subject to full consultation.
That is the process. The panel report was a report on the public examination, and a wide range of representations have already been made. It is not the case that the panel put forward, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, suggested, figures which were significantly higher than those that were making representations to them. Indeed, some figures were significantly higher than that. Part of the problem of dealing with the figures is that to some extent today, and certainly outside this Chamber, Professor Crow has come in for a great deal of personal criticism. That is inappropriate. He was doing his job in this context.
However, the Government are not bound by the panel's view, nor indeed the view of SERPLAN. We will be giving careful and detailed consideration to all the recommendations before we make our views known. Planning the future shape of the south-east is a major undertaking. There is bound to be controversy; there are bound to be differing views and we should respect each other's views to enable us to reach as broad a consensus as we can in this context.
The role both of SERPLAN and subsequently of Professor Crow had to be seen in that context. In the south-east, as in the rest of the country, we are using these public examination panels. We have a panel of 10 independent persons, including Professor Crow, who chair those examinations and those on structure plans and make recommendations. Consideration of how effectively we can deploy our resources of those scarce people over the busy period next year led to an announcement by the Minister for Planning that Corrine Swain will chair the Yorkshire and Humberside examination rather than Professor Crow.
In relation to the south-east, it must be said that there is an absolutely huge demand for housing in the area. This is a reflection of the buoyancy of the region, the standard of living of its inhabitants and, indeed, the investment that is being made there. Most of the demand comes from the needs of those who are already living in the region forming households and having families.
We owe it to those in the south-east, as we do to those elsewhere, to ensure that they are able to secure decent housing. Shortage of housing is one of the reasons why prices in the south-east are beyond the reach of many. Even in the most prosperous parts of the south-east there are still substantial areas of poverty and deprivation. If the costs of housing are driven too high by shortage, there is a danger of more people becoming excluded because they cannot access satisfactory housing. Many people already find it very difficult to live near their jobs and that aggravates the problems associated with transport and infrastructure.
253 As I said, the majority of this demand comes from pressures within the south-east itself. There is also migration into London and into the rest of the south-east. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, asked me for precise figures in relation to the migration and I shall provide her with them in more detail by letter. The vast majority of people moving into the south-east come from the London area rather than from the rest of the country. Although it may be true that there is some small drift from other regions, it is not a massive north/south drift or a north/south divide which is being reflected and which is somehow manifest in the pressure on housing in the south-east; it is more London and the Internal pressures within the south-east. There are, indeed, movements out of the south-east into other neighbouring regions.
As far as concerns putting this into the national approach to regional policy, our policies for the regions aim to bring the less prosperous regions up to the standards of the best. Indeed, in response to my noble friend Lord Stoddart, that remains the strategy adopted by this Government. Our main instruments for this are developing planning measures region by region and the powers that we are giving regional development agencies. We are allocating expenditure to them in a way which provides more resources to tackle the problems in the north so as to try to provide greater employment and investment opportunities.
We also recognise the important role that the regional development agencies have in all parts of the country in supporting regeneration, including regeneration in the south-east, and in shifting some of the balance and, therefore, the pressures within the area. For example, there is much more pressure in the western part of the south-east on housing and on other infrastructure than there is in the eastern part. There are also areas of derelict and previously contaminated or work-out land, such as the Thames Gateway, which could do with substantial further development. There are also parts of the south-coast, like Hastings and Sandwich, where again there is not only deprivation but also a need for more substantial housing and infrastructure.
As I said, and as other noble Lords have indicated, there are serious problems about the approach taken by the panel and. its implications as regards the pressures on housing in the south-east. There are also problems in relation to SERPLAN's original proposals; for example, there appears to be a view built into the SER PLAN figures that fewer households will need separate dwellings than has been the case in the recent past. In other words, there will somehow be a slow-down in the growth of families and consequently in family life. We do not quite see the justification for this and it is something that we need to consider. We need to consider both propositions in the light of such questions.
We need to ask what will happen to households if insufficient housing is provided. If real needs are found to exist, how will they be provided for? Alternatively, will there be a huge backlog that cannot be met which will show itself in rising prices and, therefore, further exclusion? Our approach to all of these pressures is 254 that we have to plan, monitor and manage the system and that we must do so with a high degree of regional consensus to meet the legitimate future needs. We need to do so as scientifically as possible, while bringing with us as many people as possible. We cannot do so by astrology or by simply accepting "predict and provide" figures; and certainly not by accepting the figures of house builders and developers.
Contrary to the more extreme reactions to the panel's report and their association with the Government, we are certainly not taking a "predict and provide" approach. We need to consider a wide range of factors. We are looking for a sustainable future. Similarly, we cannot leave local authorities to do it on their own. Indeed, that would be subject to the normal wrangles at that level. Structure and unitary plans have to be brought together and local authorities will have to do this within a framework that we have to give them. We all need to set out a way forward in the regional guidance as a clear basis for future development planning, subject to monitoring and management and bringing all the authorities concerned together.
It certainly does not mean that the Government are blindly following Professor Crow's recommendations; it means that we need to take account of them and the points raised. In particular, we need to look at a new assessment of the needs of the area and the capability of the south-east to deliver more housing, including conversions, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and others, have said, and an improvement in the housing stock. We must also look at new developments. It is not sensible for the south-east to do what it has far too frequently done in the recent past; namely, allow very substantial development of so-called "executive housing" to spread in a poorly-planned fashion, largely into greenfield sites.
Over the past 20 years such developments have perhaps caused a high level of anxiety in the towns and villages of the area. I do not believe that we should continue to go down that road. Few authorities have seriously considered the alternatives to moving onto greenfield sites. We have made clear our commitment in the south-east, as elsewhere, to move from the current figure of around 50 per cent to a60 per cent development of brownfield sites within the south-east.
As concerns were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and, I believe, by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I should point out that we are also committed to maintaining a green belt. There has been a fair amount of scare-mongering in this area. The green belt needs to be maintained and there should be no inappropriate development on it. That does not necessarily mean that the current boundaries have to be ossified for good; indeed, there will be a few exceptional circumstances. However, during the period of this Government so far over ten times as much land has been, or is proposed to be, added to the green belt as against that which has been lost or is proposed to be lost. This is the approach we are taking to maintain the robustness of our greenbelt policy.
255 There is another factor that needs to be considered and it is one that has been alluded to; namely, that the south-east has been building at some of the lowest densities in the whole country. That is one of the reasons why so much has spilt over into greenfield sites. On the one hand, there are many people saying that land is so precious that we cannot build on it—at least not to the extent that we are already doing—and, on the other hand, there are developers and authorities who are making little attempt to build more economically and sensibly. We are also talking about smaller households and smaller families in this context. As I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, there is a complete mismatch. It means that the housing requirements are actually using more land in the south-east than is necessary. Indeed, if building continues at the present rate, the size of those houses laid together would stretch a lot further than Hawaii.
It is not sensible for us to be building in that way in the south-east. We need to plan for a wider range of housing with much smaller units and less lavish provision for the car in residential layouts. We must look at sustainable patterns of development, which will also restrict the pressure on transport and other infrastructure. That is not to say that what we are going in for—my noble friend Lord Stoddart was slightly worried about this—'is "town cramming". We are going in for an effective and planned approach to urban renaissance, greater efficiency in the use of land and a greater part of the new development occurring on brownfield sites.
The guidance that we have produced in PPG3 and PPG13 is already clear and will be reflected in our wider polices for urban and rural areas. This fits in very well with what a number of noble Lords said during the course of the debate. We do not accept the view of the panel that a 50 per cent rate of development on previously developed land is the only one that is feasible in the short term. We are committed to the higher figure of a recycling target of 60 per cent. We are committed to bringing brownfield sites into housing use. We are also committed to developing empty property and unfit property, although there are far fewer empty properties in the south-east than in most other parts of the country.
We are also committed to making sure that the housing that we provide is accessible and affordable, as my noble friends Lord Graham and Lord Sawyer and the noble Baronesses, Lady Maddock and Lady Thomas, have said. It is key that our young people are able to access housing. It is key that our service employees who may not be high up the income scale can access housing. It is important that every family has access to a decent home. Planning policy has been changed already to give local authorities the tools to require a more sustainable mix of housing. Authorities in the south-east must not continue to prioritise greenfield or sprawling executive estate-type housing. Our policy must be to increase the re-use of brownfield land. We have the recommendations from the Urban 256 Task Force of the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, which provide further measures which we can pursue in that direction.
Local authorities, of course, have a key part to play. My honourable friend Nick Raynsford has recently announced that £187 million of capital resources have been awarded to local authorities in the south-east for investment in housing. That is a massive increase of over 50 per cent on the previous year. These increased allocations have been made through the housing investment programme and will give authorities in all parts of the region the opportunity to make real inroads into the backlog of repairs and to improve their stock in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested.
Many of the points which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others on promoting urban regeneration, including the issue of high density, low cost housing, are currently being considered in the context of our preparing an urban White Paper in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers. We are pursuing a rigorous programme of analysing those proposals and of research. As is already clear, there is considerable scope for towns in the south-east to improve their town centres and to provide the housing that is required.
Noble Lords will not expect me to comment on the various taxation proposals which have been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, but they will all need to be considered in this context. I note that I am approaching the limit of the time in which I may speak and therefore I shall finish. We have had a good debate. I think that I have made it clear that at this point the Government endorse neither SERPLAN's nor the panel's approach. The Government have a number of queries in relation to both of those. However, it is vitally important, politically and for the future of the south-east, that so far as possible all responsible parties in the south-east should reach a consensus on this matter which reflects the real needs of the south-east and the varying pressures on different parts of the south-east. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we ought not to allow ourselves to develop polarised positions on this matter. I assure noble Lords that my department, and above all my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, are committed to getting this right. My right honourable friend will take a little more time to present the Government's views and for the views of others to be taken into account.
This is one of the most difficult planning issues which the country faces at this point. I am grateful for the contributions of all noble Lords and in particular for the initiative of the noble Earl in introducing this debate and for all the work he has done on SERPLAN prior to that.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
My Lords, I have about three minutes in which to say a few words. I believe that the debate has been a great success and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. 257 I was particularly interested in the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. He understands the concept of sustairtability. I hope that he will agree with the following definition of sustainability; that is, meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That is an important definition.
I was delighted to hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He referred to Leigh Park, Havant. I was chairman of the planning committee that gave permission for those 2,000 houses. I could not know the area better as I visited it many times. However, much more importantly, the right reverend Prelate said that behaviour is related to environment. That comprises a bigger problem than merely planning.
The Minister explained the planning guidance process and referred to the common ground between SERPLAN and the Government. I realise that he could not say much more than he did today. I was grateful for the way that he summed up the position. I look forward very much to the Government's response for my own sake. for all noble Lords' sake and for SERPLAN's sake. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.