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Conservation Areas

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

Planning policy guidance note 15, which deals with planning and the historic environment, sets out the Government’s planning policy in regard to conservation areas. Conservation areas represent a key part of the Government’s desire to preserve and enhance areas of historic importance, and planning policies reflect this.

Does my hon. Friend agree that since they were introduced in the 1960s, the now more than 8,000 conservation areas have greatly enhanced our environment and preserved and maintained local areas? Will she encourage in councils the rejection of the notion that because some historic buildings have gone in particular areas, they should not be accepted for conservation area status? Will she in particular encourage the acceptance of Bebington village as a conservation area and seek to protect the conservation area of Port Sunlight?

I entirely agree that conservation areas are important for protecting and valuing our historic environment. Conservation areas and the wider historic environment should be recognised in the context of local authorities’ work, particularly in their local development frameworks. Whether a local area should be made a conservation area is, however, a matter for local decision, and I am sure my hon. Friend will continue to campaign vigorously and represent his constituents well on the matter.

In accordance with Government planning policy, in 2004 100 per cent. of new homes in south Buckinghamshire were built on brownfield sites, but is the Minister aware that every one of those brownfield sites was, in fact, a garden? Does she accept that the definition of brownfield sites is not relevant in this case, and that gardens should be exempted from the definition to remove such a crazy anomaly?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, as I am, that there was a full debate on the matter only the other week—

Hon. Members are always entitled to raise the matter. It is important that we develop more homes and that those become available for people to live in. We know that there are pressures in the south of England, so we need to continue to consider all options and all the issues that affect them.

The new Secretary of State challenged planning policy head-on in a conservation area in her own constituency when she opposed the building of a block of flats at Markland Hill. Now that the right hon. Lady is responsible for planning policy, will the Minister urge her to use the benefit of her own experience to reform planning law and restore powers to local people over where and how we get the additional housing stock that we need?

Of course it is important that local authorities have appropriate decision-making powers in such situations, and of course we are always looking at and reviewing how these issues are dealt with and what needs to be taken into consideration. But any planning decision must have regard to what is appropriate in a particular environment, so the planning policies have to take those into account and give the local authorities the opportunity to make the right decisions in particular areas within a framework guidance.