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Development Control (Protection Of Greenfield Sites)

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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4.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect from development greenfield sites in suburban areas, for the substitution of opportunity sites where there exists a presumption, in district plans, to build.
The Bill would protect green field sites in our urban areas from avoidable development. Many hon. Members represent constituencies in which there is an ever-present threat to precious open space of development by private developers. Recently, the greed of those developers and the building industry has superseded the interests of the communities that they seek to exploit. I do not for one moment suggest that private house building should be unnecessarily constrained or, in the context of the Bill, reduced dramatically. However, a balance between the private and public sectors must be struck in the interests of cohesive development and for the optimum social provision in existing communities.

Of course, that prospect is anathema to the substantial vested interests involved, which the Government have so far failed to address effectively. The result has been the consumption of green fields on a grand scale and their substitution with bricks and concrete in areas where open land is a precious asset for people who live in the vicinity. That is the main issue that my Bill seeks to address. It addresses others, but I regard that issue as the most useful starting point.

Historically, there was a series of planning safeguards designed ostensibly to protect the public from the eccentric development about which I speak. The county structure and local plans, shortly to be replaced by unitary development plans, should have been adequate to the task of developing our towns and cities in the interests of people. The former failed, and I fear that unitary development plans will fail too, unless a proper framework of law is provided outside the UDP proposals which is designed to tackle at the root one of the principal causes of urban sprawl.

My Bill addresses that problem by focusing attention specifically on opportunity or windfall sites, as they are called. These are usually sites in inner urban areas, all of which could not have been considered for housing a few short years ago. Let me say at once that I accept that the need to include windfall sites in any overall development plan is recognised by local planning authorities. I also note that the previous Secretary of State for the Environment also tentatively recognised that fact. However, in his draft response, for example, to the Greater Manchester planning conference, he qualified his position by saying:
"authorities should maintain a general presumption against the release of peripheral open land unless this can be shown to be consistent with urban regeneration, and secondly, that they should ensure that the calculation of the contribution of windfall sites to housing land should be realistic."
That signals a hopeful note, but for me it does not go nearly far enough.

In my constituency, statutory local plans came into force in 1982. Now, eight years on, aside from other factors about which I am profoundly dissatisfied, several green field sites have been unnecessarily lost to housing development. That has happened precisely because there exists only a presumption to calculate windfall sites in the land supply equation. In those eight years, many sites have become available for housing development. It could not have been foreseen that those sites would become available. In my area, three cotton mills, a colliery site, a British Coal workshop and even a cricket field, all of which fulfilled their original purpose in 1982, have or will soon become housing developments.

Therefore, it is not a matter of calculation. Those changes were unpredictable and defy calculation. It is a matter of putting in place procedures which will effectively take into account windfall sites. I argue that that can be done only at the time when the windfall occurs. That is the sole purpose of my Bill.

To put the issue beyond all doubt, I propose that, as soon as a windfall occurs, an equal deduction should be made from previously allocated peripheral green field sites. That would be done on the basis of substitution, not calculation. It would be house for house, acre for acre. Only in that way will the interests of the local community be met.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Terry Lewis, Mr. Gareth Wardell, Mr. Roland Boyes, Mr. Martin Redmond, Mr. George J. Buckley, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Tom Cox, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe and Mr. Ken Eastham.

Development Control (Protection Of Greenfield Sites)

Mr. Terry Lewis accordingly presented a Bill to protect from development greenfield sites in suburban areas, for the substitution of opportunity sites where there exists a presumption, in district plans, to build: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 160.]