Skip to main content

Land Use

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when, following consultation, he intends to publish a circular on planning and agricultural land.

We are giving very careful consideration to the comments that we have received on the draft circular "Development Involving Agricultural Land" and hope to publish it soon.

I knew that it was a tricky question, but I have a feeling that it was actually a plant.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in West Norfolk which is, after all, one of the most beautiful parts of the country, there has been some concern about the recent announcement in respect of development on agricultural land. Will my right hon. Friend make it crystal clear that the announcement will not lead to any additional development and, indeed, that it will probably lead to better planning decisions? Will he also make it clear that it will not lead to an increase in the number of planning applications granted on appeal in respect of land outside village development guidelines?

I apologise to my hon. Friend. I received a message that he would not be here. I am delighted that he is, because it gives me a chance to answer his important question.

I hope to publish the revised circular soon, but we are taking account of all the comments made to us. No change will alter the basic fact that planning permission will be required for all developments on open land, although we intend to substitute the need to have environment and countryside objectives in mind as well as the agricultural quality of the land. That does not mean that 85 per cent of the land will be opened up to controlled development of any sort, either in west Norfolk or in any other beautiful part of the country. It could mean that there will be better planning decisions about the use of the small amount of land that has to be taken. I hope that that will be the result.

What account is the Minister taking of the recommendation of Friends of the Earth that priority be given for public house building and for the planting of deciduous trees? Does he agree that the planning arrangements for agricultural land and its protection have served our environment well?

With that last point, I entirely agree. As I have said, I hope that the new circular will result in even better planning for the use of land. On the first point, I imagine that the hon. Gentleman meant public housing rather than public houses. There is a conflict in many district councils between the refusal to give planning permission for more housing and their desire to build more houses themselves. That is a conflict for the local authorities to resolve.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pressure for building on the green belt and on agricultural land is partly due to the fact that we have not yet done enough to recycle urban and fringe land? Will he confirm that perhaps 47 per cent. of all new house building last year was on recycled land, but that much more can still be done to build on land in the inner cities, on land held by local authorities and other statutory undertakers? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to make every effort to ensure that the private sector is aware of urban development grants, derelict land grants and all the other initiatives introduced by his Department?

I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said, with one tiny exception. Last year, 47 per cent. of all development was on recycled land and 45 per cent. of all housing development was on such land. That is the best figure that we have ever achieved, and I hope that we shall be able to do even better in the future. It is remarkable that we have managed to use old land for 47 per cent. of all development.

Order. Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) refrain from holding private conversations?

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that his draft circular included no provision whatever for the protection of the countryside for environmental purposes outside the green belt, the areas of outstanding natural beauty and the national parks? In view of the representations that he has received, will he give an assurance that protection for environmental and conservation purposes will be extended to the whole of the countryside?

The hon. Gentleman's premise is wrong. The original draft of the circular gave the very protection that he seeks, but my colleagues and I are considering whether the English language can be made clearer so that even the hon. Gentleman can understand it.