HL Deb 02 July 2003 vol 650 cc877-9

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take to recognise and commend examples of brownfield development where environmental considerations have been well served.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the principles of sustainable development require that, when brownfield sites are being developed, they meet environmental as well as economic and social considerations; they must all be taken into account. That applies to the regeneration of former coalfields, for example, as well as to urban regeneration. The Millennium Communities Programme and the Queen's Awards for Enterprise play their part in raising awareness of what can be done.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, which clearly demonstrates that the Government and public agencies are committed to this good cause. However, does my noble friend accept that there are many superb examples of achievement in the environmental transformation of what was dereliction, and that far too little attention has been paid to the particularly good examples that can be found throughout the country?

Does my noble friend the Minister also accept that it might be a jolly good idea if, either at regional or national level, we developed the means of recognition and attention, if only to encourage further progress in this important field?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that a number of significant achievements have been made in the area. By mainstreaming those environmental considerations, we would anticipate far more to be done. I referred in my first Answer to the role of the Millennium Commission and its Communities Programme in pointing up good examples and also to the Queen's Awards for Enterprise. In addition, there are green flag schemes. My noble friend is probably right to suggest that we should consider wider ways of communicating best practice and promoting centres of excellence in that area. I shall certainly take his points back for consideration.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord is about social ethics. It is also about affordable and cheap housing. I encourage the Government to take further steps, because it is urgent that good local practice, such as in Havant, north of Portsmouth, is blazed around the country to prevent the kind of economically and ecologically undesirable outcomes that we would otherwise see.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate offers another dimension to the need to generalise and promote awareness of best practice and make it more available both to local and planning authorities and to private developers in those areas. An effort is being made by all departments involved to ensure that that should now happen.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, have the Government considered a system of awarding commendations for excellence in protecting the environment on the lines of the awards for export achievements which have existed for many years?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Queen's Awards for Enterprise can include awards for environmental achievements. It may be that much more needs to be done in that field.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, will the Government ensure that brownfield developments, where they are planned in large urban areas, will include a substantial proportion of green space? Does the Minister recognise that that will moderate the harshest effects of global warming on the health of people in urban areas, which are especially severe in heatwaves and episodes of high pollution? I declare an interest as vice-president of the National Society of Clean Air.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend in that capacity and to the society. It is true that it is important that the possibility of green public space should be taken into account in planning decisions. It is also true, however, that a number of the brownfield urban sites present problems in the sense that they are rather too small to make any significant contribution to large new public spaces. In total, that is a dimension which should be taken into account.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I declare an interest as the patron of the Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development. The adequate recognition of best environmental practice, particularly in the housing field, is very important. Without it, the extra costs that those houses often incur will put developers off building them. Should not such recognition be seen as one of the tools in their armoury for justifying why they are developing best environmental practice?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, encouragement is certainly given in planning guidance and in the discussions between planning authorities and developers to make more use of sustainable building techniques and to use resources more sustainably in all such developments. The most obvious example is in the Millennium Village. In considering major developments such as the Thames Gateway, and so on, the Government will also bring to bear the need to ensure that the building is carried out to best sustainable and environmental standards.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, how are the Government getting on with the total amount of brownfield sites that are still underdeveloped? I am thinking of the original Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. In Leicester, we have seen a lot of development, particularly around canal areas. That has brought benefits, not only to the inhabitants, but also to the canal and its wildlife. Do the Government receive updates on what progress is being made in developing brownfield sites?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am familiar with the development to which the noble Baroness refers. The waterways are now being used as a catalyst for development, whereas 20 years ago towns and cities turned their backs on the waterways. British Waterways and the Environment Agency have played a major role in partnership with private enterprise to turn some of those apparently brownfield sites into some of the more desirable areas of the city. That is a good example of how everybody is acting together to develop those areas.

We have a general monitoring process for the overall development of brownfield sites, as do the planning authorities. It is true that we have hit the target of having 60 per cent of housing development on brownfield sites.

Lord Bridges

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are over time.