Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great privilege to open this Second Reading debate on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), in whose name the Bill stands. Sadly, he cannot be in the House today, because of commitments to fight for the interests of his constituents in Sussex, but that should not take away from the importance of the issue or lead anybody to conclude that the Bill is not widely supported by hon. Members, and, in particular, by those in the south-east and other parts of country that face excessive housing development.
The purpose of the Bill could not be clearer. The south-east faces unprecedented and unwanted pressure for new houses. The infrastructure is already creaking, and there is grave concern about the implications if many new houses are built before the infrastructure is improved to accommodate them. That is one of a number of issues that concern hon. Members. In particular, I draw attention to the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) will introduce to change the designation of gardens from brownfield sites, which is currently causing extreme problems in many parts of the country and particularly in the south-east.
The Bill requires a full audit of existing or planned infrastructure in areas in which significant housing development is planned. It has been introduced because there is growing concern that the Government plan for massive house building in the south-east will lead to a substantial deficit in the region’s infrastructure. Local authorities in the south-east earmarked by Government for significant amounts of new house building estimate their individual infrastructure deficits to be about £1 billion each. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) will be familiar with that figure, as it was calculated by his district council. The cost of providing adequate infrastructure for the Government’s house building targets for the south-east has been more formally estimated at £45 billion at least.
In March 2006, the South East England regional assembly submitted the south-east plan to Government, recommending an additional 28,900 new dwellings a year as sustainable housing growth for the south-east. For many of us, that figure was already much higher than we believed the region could sustain. However, as the consultation period on the south-east plan closed, the Government published a report examining the impact of building up to 60 per cent. more houses than was suggested in the already controversial SEERA plans. Typically of the Government, the report was published on the Government office for the south-east website without adequate attention being drawn to its presence there.
There is therefore a real concern that the Government are determined to impose even higher levels of house building in the south-east than SEERA had itself suggested, which, as I have said, many of us felt was already too high, especially given that recent legislative changes mean that the Secretary of State now has a veto over all stages of the planning process, from regional strategy to local plans, even after examination in public. That brings even greater focus to our concerns in these matters.
Government spending on our infrastructure is already woefully inadequate. The community infrastructure fund is a mere £295 million for London and the wider south-east. Compare that figure with the figure I gave earlier of a £45 billion infrastructure deficit across the south-east in general. If that is not bad enough, there is also the worry that the current system of section 106 agreements will soon be replaced by the Government’s new system of planning gain supplement. This new system will siphon off the majority of development gains into a central fund for strategic infrastructure. That is new Labour-speak for the Treasury, and yet another example of funds being taken away from the south-east to be distributed to other parts of the country.
Last year, the south-east county councils commissioned ICM to carry out the largest-ever survey of public opinion on the south-east plan. The headline result is stark indeed. The survey revealed that 60 per cent. of people in the south-east are not confident that the supply of infrastructure in the region will keep pace with new house building. The percentages of people saying which types of infrastructure should be given priority come as no surprise: 48 per cent. said that NHS hospitals should be given priority; 48 per cent. also said that priority should be given to public transport; 31 per cent. said that it should be given to major road projects.
The Bill would force a serious rethink about where the infrastructure is weakest and it would require a full audit of existing or planned infrastructure in areas where significant housing development is being proposed.
Is the hon. Gentleman genuinely suggesting that the Government in perhaps the Lee valley or the Thames Gateway are not doing what is necessary by laying down the foundations of good community projects and infrastructure, including housing, parks and libraries, to create the new communities that are desperately needed in my area of London?
Of course there will be some parts of the country that the hon. Lady may be more familiar with than I am where the Government are investing in that infrastructure. I am saying that, more generally across the south-east, that infrastructure is already lacking and that unless steps are taken now to address the problem, with hundreds of thousands of houses being proposed, the situation will become catastrophically worse.
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way.
I am trying to understand the nub of the Bill; I am struggling somewhat with that. As I see it, there are not many new proposals in the Bill that are not already part of what has come through via the ODPM Select Committee, which sets out things that the Government are doing. Is the nub of the issue the number of homes that are being built? Does the hon. Gentleman wish to say to people who are on my public sector housing list, and who have been for about 18 to 20 years, that they can sit and wait because we are not prepared to build any more houses?
If the hon. Lady is having trouble understanding the Bill, I have two proposals. First, she could read it—to do so might be helpful to her. Secondly, she might listen to the debate before she starts intervening, because I shall now come on to exactly the matter that she raised.
We realise that the Bill would not prevent what we consider to be the Deputy Prime Minister’s disastrous legacy of housing development in the south-east, but it would make it much more difficult for the Government to impose those new houses without proper provision being made for the infrastructure necessary to support them. It would lay bare for public scrutiny the deficiencies in Government thinking and planning.
It might be helpful if I gave an example from Braintree, which until recently was one of the fastest growing towns in Britain. Two of our community hospitals have been closed down, and the land has been sold off but a new community hospital has still yet to be built. That has caused enormous frustration in a town that is growing very fast. In addition, we have had electricity blow-outs in many of our new housing areas because the proper infrastructure was not put in place for there to be sufficient electricity supplies to the new houses.
My hon. Friend, with his usual intuition, has predicted my next point. Any south-east Member could tell a similar story because all of us face the same sort of problem: enormous pressure for house building without the necessary infrastructure in place. Indeed, many aspects of that infrastructure are getting worse.
I wish to make a point in response to what the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) said about community hospitals. I hope that the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) agrees that we are moving away from having smaller unit hospitals because the advice of health professionals these days is that we want hospitals that can cover all the needs that people have and that have all the diagnostic equipment that people need. A plethora of new community hospitals is not the answer to the situation we face.
Crowborough and Uckfield in my constituency have two incredibly popular and well supported community hospitals, and the hon. Lady would be very brave if she were to come and say that they should be closed down. If that is truly a statement of the Government’s intentions, it is very worrying indeed, and it would cause profound concern.
I want to move on to some specific points on the health service, but if the hon. Lady wishes to intervene later, I will of course give way again.
The Bill would require an audit in specific areas. In terms of health care, to accommodate additional housing growth it has been calculated that almost 1,300 additional acute beds and more than 600 general beds will be required over the next 20 years in the south-east alone. To pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark), in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex there will be a requirement for an additional 500 acute beds and almost 300 general beds over the next 15 years. In total, that equates to six medium-sized new hospitals being required in the greater south-east over the next 15 to 20 years. But far from increasing investment in health care, the current structure is under intolerable stress. The massive debt accumulated due to the chronic underfunding in Surrey and Sussex strategic health authority is leading to service reconfigurations across Surrey and Sussex, and those moves go against the public feeling that more, not fewer, services are required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has been a fantastic champion for saving the health facilities at the Princess Royal hospital, Haywards Heath and the Queen Victoria hospital, East Grinstead. Without his perseverance, determination and commitment, the situation would undoubtedly be even worse than it is. Further south, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is leading the campaign to preserve the maternity, paediatric and specialist baby services at Eastbourne district general hospital. There are even worse proposals for downgrading the accident and emergency facilities, with at least part of them being moved to Hastings, which is causing profound concern among local communities, Members of Parliament and the ambulance service.
The hon. Gentleman talks about chronic underfunding. Although I do not wish in any way to question the difficulties that the health service in his local area seems to face, will he at least admit that there has been a massive increase in NHS funding over the past seven or eight years, including in his area, compared with the level of funding under the Conservative Government?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will endeavour to ensure that I am not tempted by further interventions away from the Bill’s Second Reading.
Secondly, there is the issue of water resources. The south-east is one of the driest regions in Britain and has high rates of per capita consumption of water compared with other English regions. Inevitably, demand for water resources will increase as a result of population growth, a decreasing average household size and growing use of water-intensive appliances. The current water restrictions in the south-east resulting from exceptionally dry weather have brought a requirement for new house building into sharper focus. I find it inconceivable, with about 10 million people in London and the south-east facing a hosepipe ban and the continuing possibility of standpipes this summer, that the Government have not reduced their house-building plans for the area. Those houses will all be built before a single new reservoir can be built.
I have already been generous in giving way, so perhaps the hon. Lady will make her own speech in due course.
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report on water management recently considered water infrastructure in relation to the Government’s house-building targets. Many of its findings are particularly damaging. It says that
“the ODPM failed sufficiently to consult the water industry directly—or to give due consideration to the water management implications—when formulating the Sustainable Communities Plan and selecting the growth areas.”
The report also said:
“It is worrying that the housing growth plans have not in many cases been factored into the water companies’ long-term plans due to the way in which Government have initiated the planning.”
Thirdly, the Lords report recommends the provisions in the Bill, urging that
“the Government consider making water companies statutory consultees on applications for developments comprising a number of properties that exceeds a given threshold. It would also be desirable to make the Environment Agency a statutory consultee on water supply issues in these circumstances.”
The irony is that the Government will allow water companies to raise prices to meet the enormous cost of providing new water infrastructure—a double blow for residents in the south-east, where people are effectively being asked to fund the infrastructure for houses that they do not even want. Even the Government’s preferred think-tank believes that current policy has been conceptually flawed. The Institute for Public Policy Research commission on sustainable development in the south-east noted in its final report:
“Only with significant water efficiency savings in existing and new homes, and the timely provision of new water resources, will there potentially be enough water to meet rising demand for new housing and domestic consumption.”
Flooding is the third issue. It is now nearly six years since devastating floods affected 10,000 people at the cost of £10 billion. According to the Environment Agency, 5 million people in 2 million properties are already at risk of flooding. More than 40 per cent. of people are unaware of the threat and 30 per cent. do not have adequate insurance cover. One of the worst towns affected in the flooding of October 2000 was Uckfield in my constituency. Nearly six years on, no money has been spent on new flood defences. We have had pledges, a reception at Downing street, ministerial visits, consultants employed and even the drawing up of a model that showed miraculously that if water is poured into it, it comes out somewhere else—but not a single pound on flood defences to prevent a recurrence has been spent. Yet Uckfield is expected to accommodate hundreds more houses over the next few years, with more concrete and more drains putting more water in the self-same rivers.
Despite planning guidance directing development away from areas at risk of flooding, inappropriate development is still occurring. Data from the Environment Agency for 2004 show that 34,000 new homes are envisaged within the indicative flood plains in local plans and that in the south-east growth areas, 30 per cent. of development sites planned for 2016 to 2031 will be in flood-risk areas. That is yet another aspect that has not been assessed and addressed.
Fourthly, there is transport. The total transport infrastructure in the south-east is estimated to be £21.3 billion. Increases in traffic congestion and pollution are cited by residents in the south-east as their two top local priorities, but there is no sign of significant improvement. There has been a legacy of underspending on transport in Britain and further public spending will be tighter in the coming years. By 2010, road traffic is expected to increase by 23 to 29 per cent. in England and by more than 25 per cent. in the south-east compared with 2000.
There is specific evidence to show that congestion in the south-east acts as a brake on new development. For example, a total of 13 junction improvements on the M1, the M11, the M20, the M3, the M27 and A3(M) are necessary for proposed developments. However, those improvements are subject to highways authority holding objections. The A2 outside Dover is now the only stretch of single carriageway main route between Carlisle and Italy. East Sussex has no motorway and there are only 12 miles of dual carriageway in the county. Vital improvements in dualling the A27 along the south coast have been abandoned or put on hold.
On top of that, there is the problem of maintenance backlogs. The average county council has an estimated £200 million to £300 million worth of maintenance work to do to bring highways up to a satisfactory standard by 2026, but poor financial settlements mean that the necessary work cannot be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has continually highlighted the traffic problems around East Grinstead. I was born in East Grinstead and a bypass was being discussed even then. Indeed, it has been talked about since the 1920s. Although the town’s population has doubled in my lifetime, the A22 through the town remains a disaster. I support my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex and for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in saying that the town cannot take more houses without improvements in the road, and that any solution must also be a solution for the surrounding communities, such as Forest Row in my constituency and the villages in East Surrey.
Let us consider rail. Concerns about overcrowding, especially on commuter trains in the south-east, constitute the most common complaint that the Office of Rail Regulation receives. Although some improvements have been made, 4 per cent. of rail passengers into London in 2004-05 were still without a seat. That figure will increase further with additional house building. Along with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), I have been working with the county council to examine the case for reopening the Uckfield-Lewes rail link, which would not only provide an improved local service but open up a strategic new link to the south coast. Despite thousands of new houses being imposed on us, the Government will not put one penny piece into that key infrastructure project.
The message could not be clearer. The Government expect the south-east to bear all the pain of the new houses but none of the gain of improved infrastructure. If we could prevent the unwanted new houses being built, we would love to do that because they will destroy areas of remarkable beauty for ever. However, the Bill is not about that. If the Government are determined to impose such huge numbers of new houses, against the wishes of local people, the least they can do is establish the investment that is needed in the infrastructure to accommodate them, and the Bill provides for that.
The measure requires local planning authorities to consult a range of authorities: the health authority to ensure that GP and hospital services can meet the additional demand; the relevant water companies and providers of sewerage and waste services to ensure that they can meet the additional demand; the education authority to ensure that local schools have adequate capacity; and the highways authority and Network Rail to ensure that there is capacity on the road and rail networks.
The Bill is eminently sensible and commands great support in areas that face the greatest housing pressure. It is an urgent measure and I hope that it will be given time to proceed today. I urge hon. Members to support it.
My situation is similar to that of the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) in that there is a lot of new build in my local authority area. However, my constituency is urban and we have a lot of new build because we are surrounded by the green belt, which acts as a straitjacket on all the open spaces in the London borough of Redbridge, to such an extent that, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the population in my borough, especially in my constituency. The Conservative council in Redbridge has given planning permission for 33-storey and 21-storey tower blocks, and many additional housing units are being built.
My electorate, which was 78,000 at the election, will increase to about 82,000 in the next three or four years and will probably reach 90,000 10 years from now. I therefore face considerable pressure. Problems involving changes of circumstances and a lack of facilities apply equally in urban areas, with one exception—the beautiful Valentines park, where Essex used to play their cricket.
We had a problem with finding additional school places, but a long campaign was run over many years by a local residents association against the development of a former sports field for a new primary school. The council has just compulsorily purchased that sports field to build the new school. In fact, we are having two new primary schools built. However, we will also need a new secondary school in the near future, and I have absolutely no idea where the land for that will be found. Our existing schools are all full, and I regularly see constituents in my surgery who are being told that they must take their children to schools in the north of the borough, four or five miles away, where there are places, because there is none in the south of the borough.
We all face such problems due to rapid population change. I would like to point out to the hon. Member for Wealden that it is predicted that the population in England will increase from 50.1 million in 2004 to 55.8 million in 2026. That is an increase of 11 per cent., or 5.7 million people. London’s population is now increasing after years of decline, and it will continue to increase because of London’s success as a global city and the great success of the economic policies of this Government.
We face a real problem, however. There is insufficient land in London to provide housing for all the people who are already in desperate housing need, including those in the London borough of Redbridge and other boroughs who are in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. I have constituents who have been placed in my borough by Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham councils because they cannot find housing for them in their own boroughs. For several years, my council was placing people in guest houses in Southend-on-Sea out of season in order to deal with the emergency housing needs of so many homeless people.
We need new housing. We need the new housing in the Thames Gateway, but we also need it in other areas. The hon. Gentleman’s speech was a little like the curate’s egg: parts of it were good, and parts were very bad. The bad parts illustrated to me that the Bill is not all that it seems, and that it represents a very sophisticated form of nimbyism. It is saying, “We want to carry out an audit, and when we find that the facilities are not there, we will stop the houses being built in our area.”
People in urban centres such as my constituency do not live in a green and pleasant land. We have the dark, satanic mills—except that they are no longer mills but rows and rows of houses, because manufacturing industry has gone and the landscape has been transformed. Nevertheless, we do not have the same green and pleasant areas that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has, yet the building will go on in our areas rather than elsewhere in the region. I suspect that many of the people who live in his constituency get on the train and come into London to work, earn their nice salaries from working in our capital city and go back to their homes and enjoy their environment.
Many of my constituents suffer as a result of the lack of space and the congestion caused by the growth of the city, but we have to recognise that nimbyism is a threat to the vast majority of people living in urban areas. Someone must speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves, and do not have sophisticated pressure groups and campaigns to preserve this or stop that. Although the hon. Gentleman made a number of valid points, he also made a number of sophisticated nimbyist points.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have conducted various surveys to forecast the number of homes that will be needed for our growing population. An inevitable consequence of changes in lifestyle and the ageing population is the fact that we have more and more single households. Between now and 2026, the number of households will grow by 209,000 a year, and 72 per cent. of them will be single-person households. But we are not delivering 209,000 homes a year; in 2004-05, the most recent year for which we have statistics, we delivered only two thirds of that number—168,000. There is a gap.
People are having to live in overcrowded accommodation, with friends or relatives or in temporary accommodation because they cannot obtain the housing that they need. The private rented market has not provided enough homes to meet the social needs of people in all categories. We therefore need social housing, and a mechanism to ensure that it is provided throughout the country, not just in certain areas. That necessitates a proactive approach from central Government, consulting and, I hope, in co-operation with, local authorities. In London we have a Mayor with planning powers, and what he does is very important, but we need a national strategy. The brunt should not be borne by those of us who live in urban areas, or in new areas such as the Thames Gateway.
We can do some valuable things. Yesterday I spoke at a public meeting organised by Friends of the Earth in the neighbouring constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge). She and I were both on the platform. A representative of Barking council talked about the borough’s interesting plans to deal with the huge increase in its population as part of the Thames Gateway development. There will be about 140,000 new homes, or housing units, in the Thames Gateway. Many of the homes in Barking will be built at a higher level than the town centre. The hon. Gentleman talked about flood plains. Although these homes are being built on a flood plain, they will be in less danger of flooding than the existing ones.
The new housing will enable us to do something about climate change. We can introduce solar panels, and district heating schemes. We can use the surplus water from power stations: when the water has cooled them, it can be used for district heating schemes. Enormous gains can be made from modern, technological housing development. We do not all benefit from living in areas containing 17th-century and 18th-century cottages; any that existed in Ilford have long gone. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Ilford was just a little hamlet, an adjunct to Barking, where the abbey was. The only buildings of any great age in my constituency are the hospital chapel, a fantastic building that dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and Valentine’s mansion, which dates back to the end of the 17th century. My constituency, like many others, only had a few thousand people 120 years ago, and then the railway came. As a result, my borough has a quarter of a million people. Further growth and urbanisation of London followed as the suburbs linked together, and we ended up with a global city.
Change is inevitable, and we need to manage that change. Last December, in response to the Barker review of housing supply, the Government published several documents, including a consultation document on the planning gain supplement, which contained several interesting proposals, including modifications to section 106. That also raised the issue of whether it is right that people derive private benefit from huge increases in the value of their land and in their ability to make money, effectively at the public expense, while a mechanism is not provided for the public to benefit in return. The community, not just the private interest that is fortunate enough to own land in an area of development, needs to benefit.
The Government’s response in December 2005 set out a commitment to provide more homes for future generations and an ambitious package of measures to help people into home ownership and to increase social housing, which is vital. When I was young, I lived in a council house—
My hon. Friend is still young.
I thank my hon. Friend. Everything is relative. She is younger than me, but we will not go into that.
When I was younger than I am now, many years ago, the area where I was growing up, Hainault, in the Ilford, North constituency, had a large body of social housing. There was a huge estate. Since the 1970s, almost all the houses have been sold. Compensatory social housing has not been built in the London borough of Redbridge. Since the Labour council of a few years in the 1990s, a policy of housing association developments has been in place, but the total number of social housing units is only a few thousand.
Every week at my advice surgery, people complain about shortages of housing. They say that they bid for a property under the choice scheme, with a glossy booklet produced by the east London councils. After checking, we find that there were 250 bids, and that the constituent is, say, number 37 or 64 on the list. The constituent says, “What is the point of bidding?” We contact the council, and the council officers issue a standard letter—I know what it will say before I read it—that there is a scheme, people can bid and the constituent is entitled to do so. That is it, unless, there is some overriding medical need.
I have quite a lot of large families in my constituency, and I was told that, apart from new build, only about four or five local authority or housing association properties with four bedrooms become available in the borough every year. There might be 40 families with overriding medical needs, yet they will not get one of those properties. We need new housing to meet those social needs and we cannot allow selfish nimbyism in certain areas to prevent the majority of people from accessing the housing that they require. Not everybody has the ability or resources to purchase a property. We therefore need mixed tenure—joint ownership, shared equity and so on. Above all, we need to build properties for people to live in, and we need them in areas where we have the land, access and communication.
We also need sometimes to create new communities. The hon. Member for Wealden referred in error in his interesting speech to Essex and motorways. My constituency has the Redbridge roundabout, which is the second most polluted area for particulates in the air, according to the Evening Standard survey two years ago—
I will relate my comments exactly. The M11 in Essex comes down to the Redbridge roundabout, and along its route communities have been growing. Throughout Essex and Cambridgeshire, one can see hamlets and new housing all along the motorway. The M11 has provided a means for new build and new communities. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that improved road communication in his constituency and elsewhere would be good, but would he campaign against a motorway going through the beautiful countryside, the virtues of which he was extolling? Perhaps he would. I would welcome an intervention if he wishes to intervene. Obviously not; I will carry on.
The Government have an ambition to raise the level of house building in England to 200,000 a year by 2016. That is a big ambition, but in the 1960s we built far more than that a year. Many of the properties that we built at that time—we must learn the lessons—have had to be knocked down because they were tower blocks and not very good, but we desperately need the housing and transport infrastructure, particularly if London is to maintain its position as a global city. In that context, Crossrail is vital, and I look forward to the Bill going to the other place very soon.
The hon. Gentleman was listening and he heard what I said. I said that his Bill is an interesting, sophisticated form of nimbyism. His speech was a curate’s egg. I am endorsing some of what he said, but I also have concerns. Those who are against new housing and who are nimbyish will hide behind aspects of the Bill, because they see it as a way of delaying, prevaricating and stopping the housing development that is so vital.
We need to ensure that new homes are built in areas where they are needed. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to look at the infrastructure and at water supply. I agree that there is a serious problem of water shortages in London and the south-east, but the main cause is the water companies and their massive leaks, which waste far more water than could be lost through an hon. Member with a leaky tap.
I agree. There is a hosepipe ban in parts of my borough but not in others, because two water companies—Essex and Suffolk Water and Thames Water—operate in the London borough of Redbridge. We need to take a serious approach to the water companies, because it is a disgrace that water charges increase while those companies continue to waste our water through leaks—
I appreciate your words, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Government’s housing and planning policies are set out in planning policy guidance note 3, which was published in 2000, and in the draft planning policy statement that is to replace PPG3 later this year. An essential part of PPG3 is a move away from the old-fashioned predict and provide approach, which seems to underlie the Bill, to a planning, monitoring and management approach. Local authorities and central Government must use much more forward planning and, in that respect, I have some sympathy with some of the comments of the hon. Member for Wealden. Forward planning is needed in relation to both housing and capacity, both existing and planned and thought must be given to the provision of schools, doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and other infrastructure.
We also need to take account of the potential for unexpected developments. For example, the number of people in work affects the amount of traffic on the roads. In the days of Conservative Government, when we had 3 million unemployed, far fewer people were travelling to and from work, so there was less traffic and less congestion. Under the Labour Government, people are more prosperous. There are 28 million people in work, more people own cars and drive them to the supermarket to shop or on holiday. The downside to higher levels of economic activity, as I pointed out to Friends of the Earth last night, is that, sometimes, that affects our ability to meet our targets on carbon emissions and other targets. However, I do not want to live in a world where we all go back to living in caves—or the Conservative version, where we have 3 million unemployed. I would rather have a Labour Government and high employment and prosperity, but recognise that we have to manage the consequences.
That is why we need planning. That is why sometimes we have to say to local communities that it is all very well their saying no to this and no to that, but there is a greater good and a greater need. The residents of two streets might not want a school to be built opposite them because they think it will generate traffic, but we have to take account of the families living in the 30 surrounding streets who have children who will attend that school and benefit from its existence. That, of course, is when we have to take on board the wider community interest. The same arguments apply nationally, as well. For that reason, I welcome the fact that the Government are going to revise their planning policy guidance and I look forward to the outcome later this year.
We need to create mixed communities. I hope that we have moved away from the ghettoisation of poor people and people in social housing. Many of the new housing developments in my borough mix different housing together. Under the rules laid down by the Mayor of London and agreed with central Government, a proportion of social housing has to be provided in all new housing developments above a certain size, but clearly there are ways in which developers get round that. They find smaller units and try to get under the threshold. We must make sure that people of all kinds can get housing in the areas where they need to live.
One by-product of that is the impact on our economy. In the debate on the previous Bill, we talked about public service workers and protecting emergency workers. They need protection and they need to be prevented from being obstructed in their work, but they also need somewhere to live. In London, we increasingly find that people who work in our health services, and our police, teachers and firefighters—people who work in the whole range of public services—cannot afford to live in the boroughs where they work. They have to commute from a long way out because of the lack of social housing or affordable housing in the big cities. That is not a healthy development, because, apart from anything else, it means that people do not necessarily relate to the communities in which they work, because they do not live there. We need to get a balance. I am not saying that we should tell people where to live—far from it. There should be freedom of choice, but people should have that choice. They should have the ability to purchase a property or to pay the rent in the areas where they wish to work.
In my borough, there are young teachers who spend their first three or four years after qualifying working in our primary schools. Then they look for promotion and immediately move out of the London borough of Redbridge and the excellent schools in Ilford to some other part of the country, because they can afford the housing there and they cannot afford it in their current area. We lose their experience, which is not good for continuity or the needs of young people.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest difficulties that both of our communities face is high private rents? They would more than cover the mortgage of an individual. People who are being forced to live in private rented accommodation in our communities because of the lack of availability of public sector housing often find themselves in a poverty trap and cannot work, despite wanting to, because they cannot afford to work and pay the private rents.
My hon. Friend is right. That is the biggest problem. When someone is paying £230 or £260 a week in private rent for a three-bedroom property, which seems to be about the going rate in my borough, they have to have a large income to afford it. The problem is that people get trapped. People who want to work cannot get off the benefits cycle. As soon as they get a job, their housing benefit is reduced and they are in a situation in which working has become almost useless to them in terms of bettering their life.
The planning system has an important role to play in ensuring that the housing market is flexible and responsive to these needs and that we can provide homes for all the people in all our communities, including those who are trapped and paying extortionate private rents. Some people become trapped in other ways. A couple might move into a social housing property when they had no children, or one child, and then expand their family so that they end up with three or four children but are then unable to find a property in their area within their price range, become subject to the whims of the housing association, and cannot find a property to transfer to near to where the children are at school. That is a dilemma that I hear about regularly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that London has the highest rates of overcrowding in the country? There has been a 20 per cent. increase in overcrowding since 1991. The only way in which we can deal with that and with private rents in a market-driven way is to address the supply of public sector and private sector housing to drive down rents and increase the affordability of tenancies.
I agree. I therefore welcome the various initiatives recently introduced by the Government. They are not sufficient, but at least they are a step in the right direction. I also welcome the issuing of the code for sustainable homes, on which there was a consultation that ended in March. That code is to be strengthened to improve the environmental sustainability of homes so that when people move to a new home it is not of poor quality but subject to high standards. The Government are going to revise the code to ensure that energy efficiency ratings are made mandatory for new and existing homes. That will help poorer people because it will reduce their fuel bills. There will also be minimum standards of water efficiency and measures to ensure that builders and people in the building trade must have the highest standards and not engage in jerry-building and competing on the basis of low quality.
Many things can be done to ensure that we meet the needs of our communities. We must consider energy and micro-technology. Wind turbines, which are popular, should be put not only on the houses of people with lots of money in the countryside but on those of people in cities where that is sensible and sustainable.
Yes, I know a lot about delaying tactics and am grateful for the recognition. Cunctator is my nickname.
I believe that the promoter of the Bill has the best of intentions, but it is misguided and will not help to deal with the problems of my constituents. It is unnecessary because there are already many different forms of planning that take account of these needs. We do not want a static picture that relates only to the current situation. Foresight is needed, as we must consider the future. We need, too, to build in flexibility to accommodate the unexpected, including changes in world energy prices and the economic cycle. We need sophisticated measures to take into account a range of issues and, although the Bill is well intentioned, it is not necessarily the best way forward.
Finally—hon. Members will be pleased to hear that word—may I refer to measures that are already under consideration, including water management. The Department for Communities and Local Government is working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at water resources and the needs of new communities. That work should be strengthened so that the water companies deliver their commitments over a 25-year period or longer. We must make sure that new homes are built in areas that are environmentally sustainable. It is not just a question of water but of other resources in the region.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that sustainable communities should provide a community-based infrastructure which, however, was not provided in the docklands in the early 1990s? Homes were provided, but not schools, hospitals or any community facilities at all by the London Docklands development corporation. The Government have recognised the folly of such activity—
I shall avoid delving into the history of the docklands, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I agree with my hon. Friend.
There is already statutory consultation on regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks by the Environment Agency and water companies, and planning authorities will have more statutory powers to require water companies to consult on the management of water resources in future. Such powers are overdue but, hopefully, they will be introduced next year.
Other measures are in hand to look at the question of household growth, and that should be taken into account when water companies consult Ofwat about pricing and so on. It is essential to take a coherent, planned approach to many of those things, and it is not sufficient to look at them purely in the local context. We need, too, to emphasise the need to save water—a subject I have already touched on—and we need to make sure that statutory bodies, including Government agencies and Departments, consumer organisations and the Consumer Council for Water take part in the consultation to ensure that the correct decisions are made.
The new code for sustainable homes must ensure that builders and home owners are given guidance on ways in which they can improve existing properties. It is all very well dealing with new build, but people who build conversions and extensions, or otherwise change their properties, could install solar panels or mechanisms to use waste water to irrigate their garden. Such measures are small steps, but they make a huge difference. I should add, in passing, that if everybody was told to take their televisions off standby and disconnect their mobile phone chargers from the socket, they would save a lot of electricity.
I hope that, over the coming years, we will see a significant increase in the amount of housing and home building. It is urgently needed. I hope that some of it will continue to be in my constituency, but I also hope that we will not be put in a straitjacket and that all new developments will not take place in already overcrowded areas that suffer from traffic pollution, congestion and a shortage of public open space, parks and leisure facilities. I hope that we will be able to say that the country as a whole is benefiting as well as making a contribution to the building of sustainable communities and decent homes for all.
It may not be generally known in the House of Commons that at the Conservative party parliamentary away-day, I won one of the chamaeleon awards for the biggest contribution to environmental affairs for my extensive role in nature conservation work. I say that because listening to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) is, for me, something like a near-death experience, and when I was wondering why, I remembered that gapes is a fatal disease in grouse.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman’s role today is to act as a logjam, but I have seldom heard more nonsense talked, even on a Friday, about a serious Bill, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) is the promoter and I am pleased to be a sponsor. The Bill was admirably and expertly introduced by my good Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) who, together with me and many other local Members of Parliament, is involved in a campaign that could not be further from the vices attributed to us by the hon. Member for Ilford, South. Indeed, it will be the answer that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) uses, if and when she has a moment to speak.
A number of us—my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, and my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the chief executives and leaders of the district councils—went to see the Minister for Housing and Planning to talk about the problems associated with infrastructure and housing targets. We explained that we were not against more housing and understood the need for further and more affordable housing in the south of England, but she accused us of being nimbys, not wanting the housing and so on.
May I lay to rest the suggestion that the Bill is a plot to stop the building of more housing? It is a plot to prevent the Government from imposing housing targets on areas of the south-east which are already creaking and do not have the infrastructure to cope with the housing that we already have, that which we are going to get and that which will be imposed on us in the future. Let us dispel the impression created by the 50 minutes of drivel from the hon. Member for Ilford, South and return to a first-class Bill that is trying to do something very important—that is, to secure the quality of life for people of all backgrounds and all walks of life.
The picture portrayed by the hon. Gentleman of some downtrodden urban minority struggling in the inner cities, as opposed to people who spend their entire lives in traffic jams, is pathetic. I agree that the problem is a national problem. It cannot simply be looked at locally. The Bill is a serious attempt to devise a national procedure for an audit of the infrastructure, so that what his Government have always promised can, unusually, be made true, and infrastructure will keep pace with housing development.
I first raised this question years ago. In 2000 I went to see the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), who was then a Minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and is now the Prime Minister’s admirable Parliamentary Private Secretary, to discuss the real problems caused by the creaking infrastructure in my constituency and other constituencies such as Wealden, East Surrey and Horsham—the places that we know best, which are struggling to cope with further housing. At that time, I participated in serious discussions about the infrastructure deficit.
My hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs, for Chichester and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) all wanted to be here today, but they are attending meetings to try to save some of the most important assets in the health service in the south of England, St. Richard’s hospital in Chichester and Worthing hospital, which are in danger of being downgraded. That illustrates the vital importance of health infrastructure, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden has mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden was generous in his comments about the campaign that we have fought in Mid-Sussex to preserve vital services at the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath and the Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead, which is particularly well known to him. Incidentally, the Government have not even consulted the health service on major housing targets. No one has bothered to consult the NHS on plans for the future. If anyone had, the strategic health authority in my area would not be starting another consultation, which will lead to further recommendations to cut services.
I want to relate the Bill to one particular problem in my constituency. We must provide about 14,100 homes in Mid-Sussex between 2006 and 2026. The plan is to build some 2,500 of those homes on a greenfield site in the beautiful town of East Grinstead in addition to a further 2,000 homes in the town, making a total of up to 4,600 houses in one small market town, which is out of all sense of scale and proportion. The plan has been subject to a planning consultation, which has just ended, in which it attracted almost universal objection from local residents, who are extremely anxious. I anticipate that the result of the consultation will be a strong no to what the council has had foisted on it and is having to propose.
As I have said, the plan would result in about 4,500 new houses in East Grinstead alone, which would result in a new population of more than 11,000—3,000 extra schoolchildren, 1,600 extra school places, 1,500 pensioners, a requirement for 5,000 jobs, 2,000 extra commuters and 6,000 extra cars on the road. To put the matter in context, that development does not include a single penny of Government funding for infrastructure to maintain my constituents’ quality of life under such a huge weight of development.
The Minister may have heard of the Gatwick diamond, which is an economic zone. There is a proposal to build 41,200 houses between 2006 and 2026 in the Gatwick diamond, which is more than 2,000 houses a year. That level of activity is almost twice that of Ashford and similar to that of Milton Keynes. Both Ashford and Milton Keynes receive enormous public support and help for building infrastructure to keep pace with the development of homes. No help at all is available in Mid-Sussex from the Government. At present, the infrastructure charge per house is likely to be about £46,000. How will that help affordable housing? How will people be able to afford house prices that will sustain such an infrastructure spend?
Another consideration is water. A distinguished environmentalist who sits on the Labour Benches said to me yesterday, “There are 14 million people in the south of England at present living under a hosepipe ban. A massive increase in housing development is proposed. Where do the Government expect the water to come from?” How can this be called sustainable development?
No, I will not.
Does the Minister have any idea of what sustainable development is? When I asked a parliamentary question three years ago—I was seeking a definition of sustainable development—the answer was, “I will reply to the hon. Gentleman shortly.” There was not even an answer. Since then, what sustainable development means has changed according to the whim of the Minister at the time.
There is a water shortage. There is great anxiety about the quality of water, about the treatment of sewage, about the quality of life and about roads, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden rightly said. The exit turn of the A23 to East Grinstead is already running at full capacity. Just up the road at Horley, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), there is a development of 2,000 houses. The occupiers of those houses will use the A23. There are 4,000 houses to be built at East Grinstead. The exit turn of the A20 is already running practically at capacity. I assumed that it was a national asset and that the Highways Agency would want to pay for it. Not a bit of it. It is to be paid for by the developers. How are developers to pay for the exit turn of the A23 and improvements to the A264 and the A22, build a relief road, build schools, create green places and build all the other things that make a civilised, viable contribution? How is all that to be provided just by the developers, without any contribution from the Government?
I say to the Minister, “You cannot go on willing on the south-east a scale of development which is intolerable environmentally.” By any definition of sustainability, environmental security and of all the other things the Government witter on about, what they are willing on the south-east of England is utterly unfeasible. There needs to be an audit of the infrastructure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only his constituents, my constituents and the constituents of other Conservative Members but many constituents of Labour Members, including Labour voters, will be distressed and disgusted by what is going on in the House today to try to thwart a piece of legislation that is both environmentally important and important for all our local communities?
My hon. Friend makes an essential point. The Government’s intentions are clear. The speech by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) was a disgrace and will be noted by constituents throughout the land who have a vital interest in their quality of life, that of their children and that of their grandchildren. Terrible harm will be done to the environment of the south-east because of what the Government are willing on us.
I have in my hand a letter from the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury dated 10 February 2000. It was written after I had raised questions with him and had asked for an audit of the infrastructure in mid-Sussex and wider Sussex. He said:
“Again, I can offer an assurance that this will be one of our principal concerns once a decision is taken on numbers of new houses to be built is resolved. There is no question of planning for new homes while excluding planning for the range of services required to build thriving communities.”
That has been shown to be a bare-faced terminological inexactitude. It has not happened, and it is not happening. The Government are not doing what they promised to do. They have not backed with plans and Government money the additional infrastructure required to sustain the level of housing that the Minister and her hon. Friends are demanding.
Other Members want to speak, so I do not wish to go on—as I could do—except to make two further points. This is a terribly serious matter. The environment cannot be played with like a toy, at the political whim of whoever happens to be in power. It needs to be at the heart of development in the south-east of England. At present, the Government are denying that, and they are destroying much of what has been built up over the years.
Decades of unsustainable development has put our region’s environment under significant pressure, and that makes the Bill even more important. Development is not always bad. Indeed, it is often good; it can be good for the environment, as long as it is in the right place, well designed and well supported by properly funded infrastructure. Without planning for water supply and sewerage, waste disposal, flood risk management, proper roads and railways that function, communities simply cannot function. The quality of life of my constituents in East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and the surrounding areas, which are the engine room of the economy of this country, inevitably will decline.
The current infrastructure in south-east England is struggling to cope with existing demand. The most careful planning is needed to accommodate the proposed number of new houses. The Minister nods her head, but that is not happening; there is no plan whatever to support the infrastructure in and around my constituency with Government money. There is no plan. All the money has gone to places such as Ashford—to what are called the growth areas. If these developments go ahead as planned, there will be very serious consequences for the environment of this country.
The decisions that need to be made are very difficult. They involve a whole series of issues, which are all connected to one another, and constitute the most formidable challenge for Government policy and for the lives of our constituents throughout the country. They include climate change, pollution, biodiversity, the countryside and water. They also involve all the other things that go to make a civilised life: how we deal with waste; how we enable our people to travel to work; how we enable our children to be educated, and where they play; the quality of public space and our whole urban landscape; working and living patterns; and the fact that the natural landscape of this country is about to be concreted over. Other issues include traffic jams, juggernauts in rural areas, the balance between road and rail, carbon emissions, demographic change and the supply and affordability of housing.
It is just not possible to separate those issues. They have to be addressed in the round. That is why the Bill is so important: it would make the planners conduct an audit of infrastructure in every regard, in order to understand whether there is the local infrastructure to support the kind of development that the Government are willing, and the housing that we do indeed need in our constituencies to accommodate people—to enable people to continue living in such areas and to enable people new to those areas to buy homes.
It is not possible to docket such issues in one Government Department or under one heading. It is a disgrace that they are being dealt with in the current disjointed and dysfunctional way. The Minister must report back to her Secretary of State that they need to get a grip of that, and understand that such development cannot be just handed down by diktat without any thought or concern for the quality of the lives of those on the receiving end of the Deputy Prime Minister’s odious plans. The problems are not just environmental, social, or economic, but all three at one and the same time. The way in which we think about and handle those problems will have the most profound effects on our financial prosperity, our society, our environment, and above all, on the quality of life of not only all our people living now, but those to come in the future.
The Bill is concerned with the tension between two groups in our local communities that has been reflected in the past two speeches that we have heard. The first group are those who need homes, but find that they cannot get them because of a substantial housing shortfall, especially in urban areas. The second group are those who are living in areas in which they do not want further and more intensive development. It is difficult to balance those two groups’ concerns, and that is something of which I have experience.
When I served as an elected member on the Trafford local authority in the north-west, I represented a town-centre ward for nine years. That part of Trafford is a desirable area with good schools, so it was a target for housing development. Most of the substantial planning applications resulted in a large volume of objections from local residents, and a key part of my work as an elected member was dealing with them. However, at the same time, we had a shortage of homes in the area. The situation was difficult for couples, families and young people who wanted to get their first independent accommodation and move out of their parents’ home.
We know that the number of households has increased by 30 per cent. over the past 30 years. We clearly have an ageing population because people are living longer. However, we must balance other key factors when we consider the mix of housing that we need. There are now more lone-parent households. Most elected representatives, especially those in local government, will find that they are continually dealing with couples who have split up, both of whom want accommodation in which their children can live for part of the time, which also increases the numbers of houses that we need.
It is predicted that the population will have grown by 11 per cent., or 5.7 million people, by 2026. The number of households is increasing by 209,000 a year, of which 72 per cent. will be single-person households, which is a key point. However, there is a gap, because we are building only 168,000 extra homes a year. We must acknowledge that there is thus a shortfall in housing. The Government’s ambition in response to the Barker review is to increase the supply of new homes to 200,000 a year by 2016. Of course, it is also recognised that new homes must be in sustainable communities.
Planning guidance has been changing since I served in local government. The main guidance for planning policy on housing was set out in planning policy guidance note 3, which was published in 2000. PPG3 became a well-known acronym in local government. However, I understand that it will be replaced later this year by planning policy statement 3. The main difference seems to be a move away from the simple predict-and-provide approach to housing towards one of planning, monitoring and managing. We need such an approach on planning, so the choice is to be applauded.
The local housing market has not responded to local need, and it is no exaggeration to say that the shortage of housing causes absolute misery in communities. We want residents to be able to get their first step on the housing ladder. People often want to take that first step in the area in which they grew up, where their family and friends are. However, my experience shows that areas often become overheated. In the town centre that I represented, small, new apartments that were built were put on the market for about £200,000, which was way above what a young person or couple in that area could afford.
The planning system has a role to play in improving the responsiveness and flexibility of the housing market because everything that I saw suggested that if the housing market was left to its own devices, it would not meet all needs. So we need affordable units of starter accommodation for couples and young people and in other areas we need affordable family homes. We also need much more accommodation for older people. The area I represented had the largest concentration of older people anywhere in the borough. Some of it—sheltered housing, for example—was very good, but nowhere near enough of that type of housing was available to support the many people growing older and frailer.
The Bill may prevent the development of sufficient accommodation for older people’s needs, which is one of my main concerns about it. We are considering what we need in sustainable communities, but I feel that the needs of older people merit much more consideration.
A constituent told me about one of his friends who had grown older and whose wife had died. His standards declined and he even failed to wash or keep up at all with how he looked. He simply could not keep up the maintenance of his home, which was burgled, so he became fearful and his health went into even further decline. My constituent, speaking on behalf of his friend, asked whether there was a service to help with the very difficult move from his lifelong home. The man was living in the place he had shared with his wife and he needed to move somewhere warm and secure that would be more suitable for him as he got older. I faced the difficulty that local government did not really have such a service at that time, when the housing market just produced what the housing market produced and there was nobody around to help that person with the move.
At that time, the sort of help that the man required did not exist, but I believe that it is more available now because we have sheltered housing with wardens and even a move to extra care in housing, so that people can remain in their own homes and receive the sort of care that was previously available only in nursing homes. That is the mix of housing needed in most areas. Having suitable and sufficient accommodation for older people and a change in the type of accommodation as people grow older is increasingly becoming a problem. It has started to be recognised, but we need to pay much more attention to it.
I have spoken about the mix of houses needed in most areas. Without the appropriate mix of accommodation to meet the needs of older people, their health can rapidly decline, so we really need the right mix. We also need a mix of measures to make new houses sustainable, to make them energy efficient and efficient in the use of water in the kitchen and bathroom, which the last two speakers mentioned. Improved fittings and appliances can help. The bigger issue is that water companies must address the level of leaks, but that matter is probably outside the scope of today’s debate.
I understand that there is to be a strengthened code for sustainable homes, which will ensure that new homes are efficient in energy and water. That is important not just for the environment, because as the code suggests, householders need better information about the running costs of their homes. There is now a virtuous circle: using less water and energy is the aim, but it entails saving money on utility bills, which most people want. I believe that the strengthened code will incorporate that.
In growth areas such as health and education, I understand that the Government are ensuring that the main public expenditure programmes are flexible and responsive to growing communities. In my constituency, education presents the opposite problem to securing adequate supply because we have falling rolls. Schools across my constituency, particularly primary schools, are having to contemplate school mergers because not enough children are being born in our communities. Having a better housing mix, particularly more family homes in some areas, would help to ensure the continuing viability of our schools. It is not only a question of there being too few homes, because in some areas it is the type of home that is unsuitable.
I want to return to health planning, which the Bill touches on and we discussed in today’s earlier debate. For me, health planning, as I mentioned in an intervention earlier today, is not about saving small hospitals. The key point about hospitals in respect of what communities need as more houses are built is that they should provide safe and effective services. A difficult tension is developing. There is a tendency for hon. Members of all parties to argue for “save the local hospital” campaigns when we should campaign for safe and effective services for our constituents. We need hospitals with appropriate neo-natal and paediatric services. Those are often highly specialised units and it is not possible for them to be available in every hospital. We need suitable diagnostics, and every hospital should have an MRI scanner and the other sorts of scanner that are needed for care and treatment.
All the discussions that I have held with NHS professionals suggest that we need hospitals of a sufficient size to provide the right number of staff with expertise, especially consultants. When I was in local government, we had a long-running battle to try to hang on to our district general hospital but, as we discussed the matter with NHS professionals, we began to realise that there was a problem with the number of consultants that a hospital of that size could sustain. We discussed whether it was safe, whether there would be a proper career path and whether we would get the right and best people for our hospital. Those matters are important, too.
Not just anybody can diagnose cancer. It requires expertise, and operations and treatment should be conducted by those who are experienced and can manage to perform the required number of operations every year. Health planning must therefore be linked to more effective community and primary care services. That is beginning to develop in a—dare I say it?—healthy way in my area.
In the Leigh area, there is an admirable walk-in centre, which also serves my constituency. A new primary care centre is about to be built in Walkden in the centre of my constituency. The new local improvement finance trust—LIFT—centre will include GP services, a clinic that offers physiotherapy, rehabilitation, audiology and a children’s clinic. It is vital to my community for all those service to come together so that, for example, an older person who has had a stroke will not have to travel to Hope hospital some distance away, or to Bolton or Wigan, but can get the rehabilitation treatment and physiotherapy locally. That also means that family members could accompany the person more easily.
Transport, which the Bill describes as condition 6, has been mentioned in the debate. The measure would provide for
“sufficient capacity on the existing road network… to sustain any increase in… traffic that is likely to be generated by the proposed development”.
That is peculiar. Most people in local government have been working with the assumption that we should encourage people to use public transport. In my area of the north-west, that means the Metrolink tram. A guided busway from Leigh to Manchester will soon be added to that. The tram has led to people switching from private to public transport and lessening road use. As with the tube in London, people find that the tram is a good mode of public transport.
Transport is another weak aspect of the Bill because we should not simply cater for an increasing amount of traffic. The assumption in planning is to encourage the use of public transport. To go by the staff who work in my constituency office, we cannot assume that younger people will drive to work. We should encourage them to use public transport. The Bill does not cover that and is therefore deficient.
I understand the competing issues that affect planning and I have several years’ experience of dealing with residents who are concerned about new housing developments. Such concerns are still expressed to me as a Member of Parliament, and that happens to many other hon. Members, too. However, people in all age groups are affected by the problem of not finding a home suitable for their needs. In my constituency, that means young people, including couples, families and older people. If the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) does not believe the amount of homelessness that exists—some of his comments implied that he did not—I suggest that he attend the surgery of one my hon. Friends with a London constituency.
Yes, I do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in that invitation, but he does not seem to be responding to it at the moment.
A recent case in my constituency involved a mother with a 14-year-old daughter who had always lived in an upstairs flat and had never had a garden to play in. There are also an awful lot of old or frail people who cannot find a home suitable for their needs. It will be very difficult to deal with such people, or with people being treated for cancer or other conditions, who are living in unsuitable accommodation, if we do not proceed in a different way to provide the necessary growth in housing.
There is a case for housing growth, and we have to listen to it; otherwise, we shall condemn children and families to live in overcrowded homes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) mentioned. We need to reflect on this issue and to take it seriously, although some hon. Members do not appear to do so. There are people bringing up a family over many years—perhaps decades—in a two-bedroom flat. As the children get older, it becomes more difficult for siblings of different genders to share a bedroom, so the living space has to be used as bedrooms. If all the accommodation space is used as bedroom space, there is no living room in which the children can do their homework and study. Educational underachievement then becomes a factor of overcrowding, as well as poor quality of life.
Does my hon. Friend agree that overcrowded households can also have an impact on the health of the children and families involved? We often see an almost constant succession of illnesses in such households, owing to the fact that there is inadequate space and ventilation for a growing family.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This affects not only children, although we think primarily of children when we are discussing overcrowding and housing need. After all, why should a child grow up in an overcrowded home? Anyone who uses Westminster tube station will have seen, going down the escalator, the large poster showing this Chamber overcrowded with babies and children. Every time I see it, I think it is a powerful image. Those of us who are adequately accommodated should think through what it is like for people trying to bring up a family in an overcrowded situation. We cannot have that.
I am talking not only about the start of life, although these problems are bad enough at that time. If we read through to the end of life—
I was just about to refer the effect of overcrowding at the end of someone’s life, in that people cannot be discharged from hospital to die at home, even if that is their wish, if their home is overcrowded. Those who propose measures such as those in the Bill that would reduce or restrain housing development should take overcrowding into account. It is the biggest driving factor in these issues, and we cannot have that.
We must provide the homes that our communities need, in terms of the mix of housing that I have mentioned, and of the energy and water efficiency measures. I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their planning approach, through planning policy statement 3, from the plan, monitor and manage approach to a plan-led approach that will allocate land for housing and then assess the capacity of existing and planned social and transport infrastructures.
The Bill applies to the construction of more than 150 houses or flats by the same developer on a single site, or on contiguous sites, within a period of five years. I do not think that that aspect of the Bill really helps.
As I said earlier, I have had experience of a housing hot spot. Developers there were keen to build expensive apartments in quite small numbers. They would buy a plot containing one or two large properties, of which there were many in the town-centre ward that I represented, then build 10 or 15 expensive luxury apartments. They would repeat the process on many sites. Housing change of that kind caused a number of problems in itself. When we speak of audits, or of planning that will affect only areas containing at least 150 houses, we ignore the fact that a community can be significantly affected by small numbers of units.
As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, those who build small developments consisting of 10 or 15 luxury apartments can avoid the requirement to provide affordable homes. We found again and again that it was the small developments that did not provide such homes. Some of the larger developments of flats or houses—the few that we had—were more likely to provide them. I think that local authorities could do more to ensure that some mid-scale housing developments supplied affordable housing, to the benefit of the community.
I believe that the plan-led approach of PPS3 can ensure that local authorities provide homes, and that sustainable communities and homes are developed.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) on the Bill, and the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who presented it so ably on his behalf.
I understand the reasoning behind the Bill because of my background in architecture. I spent most of my life as a junior in an office talking to other architects, who would sit and puzzle over how we would design, for instance, a housing estate. The planners would debate with us what could be on the estate, and about the height and design of the houses, while failing utterly to provide the infrastructure that the estate required. I found it puzzling that there was so little joined-up thinking about how we developed our towns. It must be said, though, that having seen what planners did in the 1960s as a result of joined-up thinking, we have knocked a good deal of it down. Perhaps the lack of any real planning constituted a reaction to some of the appalling planning decisions of the late 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s.
I understand the problems that we are discussing. When I first set eyes on Teignbridge in about 1990, the electorate was 74,000. It is now the fourth largest in the country, at 88,000. We envisage more development to deal with an increase of 10,000 in the population, and even more at a later stage. We are suffering from the consequences of the lack of joined-up thinking. There are pressures from time to time on the health service—on doctors’ practices and on hospitals—to say nothing of roads and water.
We have heard a great deal about housing need today. During a period in which 3,000 council homes were sold off, the building of only 1,300 social homes has been allowed. During that time, I have seen the number of families on the housing register rise from 1,000 to 4,000. The basic figures in themselves represent an appalling indictment of the total failure of the Labour Government’s housing policy. The Government’s inability to provide the homes that are needed has increased the misery of those living in overcrowded accommodation, and the pressure on that accommodation must be relieved. That, along with social changes such as more single families and the fact that few of us are living with our parents, is one of the reasons we need new homes. Parents on both sides of the family died last year, but I must confess that when I was a young man the last thing that I wanted to do was live with the in-laws or the outlaws—I wanted to set up a home with my wife. Again, that creates extra pressures.
The other problem is our growing elderly population. We need to bring in immigrant workers to maintain the tax base and to ensure that elderly people can afford to retire in dignity. All those factors are creating extra pressures. That does not mean, however, that we should not give careful consideration to housing development and where it is placed. Increasing audit is an idea that has much to commend it, although I would not want the Bill as it stands to be passed. It has some merit in some parts, so I shall not oppose it at this stage. I have grave reservations, however, about some of the detail and some elements of the Bill.
One of those reservations relates to how this Bill will link up with local development and the work that local government ought to do—and that some parts of it are doing—to audit the provision of services and the needs in an area at the same time. It might not be this Bill per se that is needed, but a responsibility on local authorities to have a more wholesale approach. Perhaps we ought to plan the infrastructure that is needed rather than having the current piecemeal, ad hoc approach.
There is some element of that, and I have looked at some regional spatial strategies. In relation to district councils and more local problems, I have not seen that approach. I will be interested to see how the provision works its way through, and whether it ultimately delivers anything.
There are some other difficulties relating to predictions and auditing. The hon. Member for Wealden referred to auditing in relation to hospitals, and gave some figures on growth of hospital need. That is a difficult calculation, because it depends on what basis is used. Were we to take a crude figure of 400 bed spaces in the local hospital, we could say that a doubling of the population would necessitate 800 bed spaces in 10 years’ time. That does not quite follow, however, because we must take account of the changes in hospital care. With micro-surgery, keyhole surgery and other techniques, more people are being kept in hospital for shorter periods. Therefore, even were the population to double over a period, the number of bed spaces needed might be only 600, not 800—an increase, but not a doubling.
I therefore have some reservations about the crudity with which the Bill operates at some levels, which might cause some difficulty. That does not mean, however, that it is not worthy of debating in Committee. One good reason it is worthy of such debate is that it would show the paucity of some of the Government’s action in the past.
The hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) mentioned the definition of “significant”. I hope that I have pronounced her constituency name correctly, as Members are always mispronouncing my constituency’s name—it was mispronounced earlier. The Bill refers to 150 houses as “significant”. My background is in architecture, and one does not have to be bright to work out that if “significant” is 150 houses, a developer looking to build 300 houses would build 298. He would build 149 now, which he would get through without the additional burden. A couple of years later, as he had land-banked the land—given the size of the development, one does not build 300 houses in one go anyway—he would put in another application for a further 149 houses. He would therefore get round that definition a second time. That difficulty and failure would need to be addressed, but that does not mean that it is not an important thing that should be tackled.
My constituency is beautiful—from Widecombe in the Moor, across lots of Dartmoor, to rural coastal towns. The building of 150 houses in Widecombe in the Moor would be devastating. Developers would never get consent from the national park authority anyway, but the principle of the argument is that far fewer houses would be significant in such areas in their impact on doctors’ surgeries, on roads—the roads are narrow and Devon banks are very high—and on other parts of the infrastructure. A far more flexible approach would be required.
I come to the next stage of the problem in how we deal with the planning process. Part of the difficulty is that many of the services have been privatised. By their nature, such services will respond only once there is a market. Therefore, water companies will by and large look at resolving the problem after demand has been created. In some cases they do not even do that, which is why Thames Water is getting itself into hot water, as it were. We have to find a way—special planning begins the process—to get the infrastructure in place before construction or at the same time.
That cuts across—without digressing too far—much Government thinking in other areas. Very often, funds from the closure of a care home, for instance, will be used for another facility, but the care home is closed before the funds are made available and the other facility is not provided for two years. Exactly the same applies in planning. We cannot leave a gap of two years between the creation of the need and the construction of the road, the extra water supply, hospital or school.
The hon. Member for Wealden criticised the Government’s proposal to change section 106 agreements. Let us be clear: section 106 agreements are a form of bribery. A developer comes along and says, “Right, I want to build 150 houses. What do you want—a new school, a new link road?” That is how it works. Small parishes might really want a new school and somebody might come along and say, “I know that you really don’t want 150 houses; you only want about 50. But you allow us to build 150 and we’ll build you a new school.” That is the reality in this country and that is why getting rid of 106 agreements is an exceedingly good idea.
I have reservations, too. The idea that the funding will go into a pot and move out of the local authority is deeply worrying. I would like to be assured that there is some way of getting that money back into the community to pay for infrastructure. I am somewhere between the two: I am not convinced of the Government’s proposal, but I know that the way in which 106 agreements work at the moment is deeply flawed.
On the point about 106 agreements, does the hon. Gentleman agree that many local authorities do not use their powers effectively and that sometimes they agree to housing developments without taking account of implications for school places five, seven or 10 years down the line?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point; local authorities often do not take such things into account. A developer in my constituency said following the process, “Cor! They were a soft touch. We would have put in twice as much money if they had asked us.” The system relies on the skilled negotiations of the planning department in extracting as much money as possible. Planners are good at spatial design; we do not train them to be negotiators and to extract money from developers. That is not part of what they are taught at college.
Comments have been made on the intentions behind the Bill. In neither the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Wealden nor the speech made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) did I find one hint of nimbyism. Perhaps some local authorities would use the Bill for nimbyism, but existing legislation is used for that purpose. However, to accuse the hon. Gentlemen of that is to do a disservice to them and to the Bill. For my part, I think that the Bill has some merit. Sadly, I doubt that it will get much further, but it has given rise to an interesting debate and raises serious issues that the Government need to tackle.
As an MP from the north-east of England, I wish that we had some of the problems that have been identified in the south-east—too much work, too many people wanting to live in the area, too much investment. If we had some of those problems, I might share some of the views that have been expressed today.
I live in a village that was the epitome of a sustainable community. It was a mining community that was first developed in the early 1820s, when a local colliery was sunk. They started building houses in 1832: the houses were part and parcel of the job of the miners and remained so for the next 150 years, becoming part of the village scene. Not only were there houses that working people lived in, but the miners’ union developed houses for retired miners who had been thrown out on the streets when they finished working so that they could remain in the community. The people developed parks, sanatoriums, welfare systems, football fields, cricket clubs and brass bands. It was the epitome of a sustainable economy—sorry, a sustainable community; it was anything but a sustainable economy.
Unfortunately, everything changed when the Thatcher Government, in their wisdom, decided that it was a good idea to do away with this country’s indigenous coal industry. As a direct consequence, they destroyed thousands of homes and hundreds of communities throughout the country—homes that were valuable to the people who lived in them but that, unfortunately, had no real value on the property market. They were in areas where there was no work and people had no interest in moving there; they continued to be lived in by people who could not afford to move out because the houses had no market value. Eventually people did move out, or elderly people moved into homes or, sadly, died in their home, and the local authorities brought in people that they could not house elsewhere. That led to a spiral of despair: drugs, burglary, petty crime and violence sucked the life out of the communities.
Now, houses are being pulled down and we need new ones. We need new houses in a way that we have not needed them before. We do not need restrictions or any form of nimbyism to prevent the development that we need. We want high-quality, environmentally sound houses that our young people can afford to buy and live in. We do not want obstacles such as the ones that we faced when we were younger put in the way of positive, quality developments for the people of the future.
We in the north-east do not have some of the other problems that have been identified today. We have a plentiful water supply, mainly because we developed resources such as the Kielder reservoir. It was created to help the steel industry and the coal industry in the north-east, but in the 1980s, the Tory Government decided that they did not want to use British coal to keep the steel industry going; they bought Polish coal instead. As a result, we have a reservoir with underground links to three main rivers, but the water is not needed except for public consumption. We do not have the problem that affects the south-east, so why should we in the north-east be subjected to the limitations that the Bill would impose?
We do need infrastructure development. We need investment in new roads, we need our railways infrastructure to be built up and we need more and better housing. We are seeing quality development in houses and businesses across the north-east, but we want more. Obstacles are being thrown up in certain areas, with people saying that they do not want building in their area because they think that they have enough. That is nimbyism and it is not helpful. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said was nimbyism, clearly is. It may be a sophisticated term and I am not the man to ask about sophistication, but it is clear that, if the Bill goes through as it stands, we will have a situation in which a private company can say, “We aren’t satisfied that we can deliver in the way that you are asking us to.” To me, that is a built-in veto.
If private companies such as Thames Water cannot produce enough water for the people of the area to use, why should we allow them to dictate the system and stop development? I have just moved into this area. I have bought a flat in Wandsworth common. I am told that I need to go carefully with my water. I am paying for it, so why should I go carefully with it? Twenty years ago, those people were allowed to take control of our public water supply—helped by investment from the Government. We were told that part of the deal—the reason we were giving control to the private companies—was that those people would develop the infrastructure, look after us and make sure that we had water, without any problems. That is not the case.
What is Thames Water doing to improve my water supply? Is it fixing the leaks? Is it employing mechanics and engineers to dig the roads up and put the leaks right? It has put adverts in the newspapers and on billboards to say, “This is how much more water we will provide for the next 10 years.” There are adverts featuring Battersea power station and other buildings in London. Those adverts say, “This is how much water we will save.” Instead of talking about it, Thames Water should get on with it. It has had 20 years to get on with it and unfortunately it has not succeeded.
It is clear that one of the drives behind water privatisation was that promise, and that promise is not being delivered. Why, then, should we allow those people to say to us, “We aren’t satisfied that we can deliver. Therefore we will block what has been suggested.” Those involved in running the sewage system can do the same, as can the Environment Agency and the people who get rid of our waste. In the area where I live, there are massive issues about waste disposal. There are already big planning arguments involving companies such as Sita which have long-standing contracts in our area to fill up old quarries and mine shafts. They are having massive planning arguments under present legislation. Why should we give them another veto so that they can say, “We are not satisfied, therefore this cannot go forward.”? That is not right or proper. That may not be the intention of the Bill, but I am convinced that it is how some people will use it.
The difference between what happens now and what is proposed is that, at present, any developer has to consult certain bodies. It has to say to people who provide waste systems, sewerage, water and power, “Can you deliver for us?” and they can say yea or nay. What they cannot do, and what the Bill will mean they can do, is say, “We aren’t satisfied we can do it, therefore you can’t move forward.” That is what we will end up with. Lectures from the Conservatives, who sold off social housing and then refused to build more houses to replace it, do not in any way enamour me of taking lessons from them on providing sustainable communities and decent-quality affordable housing for our young people. That is what this is about.
No, I will not, because the hon. Gentleman would not give way to me.
One of the questions that the hon. Gentleman raised was, how can we save water? Well, we could say to some of the millionaires in the south-east, “Why don’t you turn your swimming pool into a sandpit?” That could go a long way towards saving some of the water that we need. The clear intention in the Bill is nimbyism. The intention is to stop things moving forward and to block the development of quality housing in a particular area. That will have a massive impact on the rest of the country and that should not be allowed.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it has been an interesting debate, but we have had a lot of bluster about proposals that would add absolutely nothing to the processes that we already have in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) rightly said that the Bill amounts to sophisticated nimbyism. The current planning processes and the regional spatial strategies, linked with the local development framework, do everything that the Bill sets out to do. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is completely wrong to say that there are no provisions for consultation with relevant organisations and with local and strategic health authorities.
It being half-past Two o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 October.