HC Deb 18 December 2000 vol 360 cc12-4W
Fiona Mactaggart

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he intends to make an announcement about Regional Planning Guidance for the south-east. [143600]

Mr. Raynsford

Earlier this year, the Government published for consultation proposed changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for the south-east. We have listened to comments made and strengthened our policies for delivering an urban renaissance, providing affordable housing, avoiding profligate use of land, promoting a living countryside and encouraging development to the east of London in Thames Gateway.

We have given local authorities the tools they need to achieve this. Our planning guidance for housing (PPG3) contains a clearly-stated presumption that previously-developed land and existing buildings will be re-used for housing before consideration is given to developing greenfields. The draft revised RPG will set a target for the south-east that 60 per cent. of additional dwellings should be provided by recycling land or converting existing buildings.

We have separately published advice on better design of development and on undertaking urban housing capacity studies. We have also made available (initially for comment) guidance on how to manage the release of land in such a way as to minimise unnecessary loss of greenfields to development.

A particular concern expressed by respondents to the previous consultation was about the availability of affordable homes in the region. We agree that affordability is of key importance, not least to maintain economic growth in the south-east. The draft revised RPG now provides stronger guidance on the provision of affordable homes. We also set out measures to help increase the supply of affordable homes in the Housing Policy Statement made to the House last week and especially the Government's proposals to introduce a new Starter Home scheme to help around 10,000 key workers, particularly teachers, nurses and police officers, buy their own homes.

Moreover, we are significantly increasing resources available for housing. We are doubling funding for the Housing Corporation's Approved Development Programme between 2001–02 and 2003–04 to support new social rented housing. In additional, there will be more than £360 million spending next year by housing authorities in the south-east outside London.

In our Proposed Changes in March, we made clear that we rejected the rigid "predict and provide approach" taken by the Panel chaired by Professor Crow which conducted the public examination into the draft RPG. Nor could we accept the proposals of the regional planning body (SERPLAN) which did not take proper account of the region's future housing needs. We proposed to provide 43,000 additional houses on average each year throughout the region outside London. This compared with the 55,000 dwellings a year recommended by the Panel and the local authorities' (SERPLAN) proposals for 33,000 a year.

We have now decided in the light of consultation to revise the proposed housing provision downwards to an average of 39,000 a year, at least for the next five years. As a result of our policies, backed up by the new tools we have recently announced, we intend that no more land should be used for housing than SERPLAN assumed would be required in planning for 33,000 additional dwellings a year. After 2006, it is likely to be necessary to plan for the higher figure of 43,000 individual dwellings to meet housing needs but that will be a matter for review under our flexible 'plan, monitor and manage' approach. The review will take full account of the proposed studies on the potential growth areas of Milton Keynes, Ashford and the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor.

We asked SERPLAN to advise on how the proposed rate of housing provision should be distributed across the region. That advice was not forthcoming. We have therefore proposed in the new draft RPG a county distribution in line with that set out in the existing RPG9: that took account of the need to regenerate the Thames Gateway which is a continuing aim. Comments are invited on this proposed distribution by 12 February 2001.

Copies of the draft revised RPG and accompanying documents are being distributed to those who participated at the Public Examination earlier this year and those who responded to the public consultation on the previous document, "Proposed Changes to Draft RPG9". Copies have also been placed in the Library and made available to Members representing constituencies in the region.