Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Steve McCabe.]
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting me permission to hold this debate this evening, and I welcome the Minister to his place to listen to the concerns of my constituents, and to respond in due course, on the very important subject of the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy.
North Northamptonshire is the biggest single housing growth area outside London. That is the fate the Government have decided is appropriate for my part of the world. Because of their plans, north Northamptonshire, which comprises the districts of Corby, Wellingborough, Kettering and East Northamptonshire, is set to grow to a planned population of more than 370,000 by 2021. That means that it will by then be a community equivalent in population to Bristol today.
In that plan, north Northamptonshire is supposed to witness the creation of some 52,100 new homes and 47,400 new jobs. It is a massive development on an unprecedented scale for Northamptonshire, and I have to say to the Minister that it is not a popular development in Northamptonshire. Were these proposals put to a test of popular opinion through a referendum they would be soundly rejected, because local people are rightly worried about the scale of the proposed development and the speed with which it is being rammed through. Local people are also worried that whereas at the start they were clearly promised by this Government infrastructure, jobs and then houses—in that order—what they are actually getting is lots more houses, precious few extra jobs, and infrastructure going backwards instead of forwards.
The subject of tonight’s debate is the core spatial strategy, which was officially adopted by the north Northamptonshire joint planning committee at its meeting on 12 June. To the credit of local authorities in the north of Northamptonshire, the joint planning committee is an innovative concept. Rather than having a Government-imposed development corporation making all the decisions about where houses should go and in what numbers, where jobs should be provided and so on, the local authorities in the north of the county got together at an early stage and decided to work on a different model whereby they would co-operate to try to create the best conditions for the new growth coming to the county. That is not to say that they were all in favour of the scale and pace of the development that the Government are imposing, but they felt that the best way to get the job done correctly was to keep the decisions local, so they decided to get together to form the joint planning committee.
The core spatial strategy that they adopted at the meeting of 12 June aims to ensure that the plans for the more than 50,000 new homes go hand in hand with the investment in jobs, infrastructure, services and environmental improvements that we have all been promised, so that growth benefits the existing communities in north Northamptonshire, as well as the new residents who have yet to arrive. This is the first strategic plan to be agreed in the whole of the east midlands, and the first in the UK to be prepared by a number of councils working together as a joint planning unit.
Believe it or not, the plan is the culmination of three years’ work by the joint planning unit, involving extensive studies and consultation. It was subject to an independent examination last winter, when a Government-appointed inspector looked at it and at the representations made by both developers and other interested parties. The inspector’s report was published on 15 May 2008 and, not surprisingly, endorsed the overall approach that the plan laid out.
The independent inspector was appointed by the Secretary of State on 22 February 2007 to carry out this independent examination. A pre-examination meeting was held on 4 July, and the examination itself was conducted by way of written exchanges and a series of hearings held between 23 October 2007 and 13 February 2008. The inspector’s report contained his recommendation
“that the submitted Core Spatial Strategy…is sound, pending an early review to provide longer term certainty over infrastructure, housing and employment provision”.
The point I wish to make to the Minister this evening is that, despite the time that preparation of the core spatial strategy has taken, it is actually a highly flawed document that is causing widespread alarm among residents in north Northamptonshire. I urge the Minister and his Department to ensure that, even though it has been officially adopted by the north Northamptonshire joint planning unit, there is an early review to provide the much-needed certainty about infrastructure, jobs and housing that, sadly, the present document does not provide.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, as usual. The problem as I see it with the new strategy is that some of the fundamentals that local people wanted have been excluded. Wellingborough council wanted a right to strategic gaps between the villages and the urban areas, but that has been removed by the inspectorate. That seems a very strange way of dealing with local democracy.
My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for his constituency and, as always on this issue, he is spot on. Indeed, the policy of strategic gaps—green areas between major developments in the county—was described in the draft core spatial strategy as “Policy 6”; I am looking at the inspector’s amended report, where that policy has lines all the way through it. That is of great alarm to residents in the north of the county, and it is an issue to which I wish to return later in my remarks.
The scale of the development that the Government envisage for my part of the world is truly alarming, although the Minister might think that “alarming” is a strange word to use. I am not against economic development or housing development, but local residents are concerned at the scale and speed of the proposed development, which most of them would argue is simply not sustainable, despite the core spatial strategy’s conclusions.
Let me illustrate the scale of some of the proposals. By 2021, there are supposed to be an extra 52,100 new houses in north Northamptonshire, of which 16,800 are to be in Corby, 13,100 in Kettering, 12,800 in Wellingborough and 9,400 in east Northamptonshire. The quinquennial breakdown of that housing growth is also alarming to local people. They are noticing new houses going up all over north Northamptonshire at the moment, but they may not be aware that, according to the Government plan, the rate of housing completions is meant to increase sharply. Between 2001 and 2006, some 8,190 houses were to have been completed in north Northamptonshire, but in the current period—2006 to 2011—the figure rises to 12,655. For the period 2011 to 2016, the figure rises to 15,560, and there is to be a similar total for the period 2016 to 2021, 15,695. Local people simply are not prepared for that rate of growth in the number of housing completions, and those figures are of alarm to my constituents.
I wish to highlight some of the most worrying aspects of the core spatial strategy report, which lead me to conclude that it is a fundamentally flawed document. It is a very big document—fortunately, it is publicly available on the north Northants joint planning unit website—running to more than 90 pages, and it really is a most riveting read. Some of its most important paragraphs are buried away in the detail of the text. I wish to refer not to the final report, as adopted, but, for ease of argument, to the inspector’s amended report before the final document was approved. On page 28 of the report, which was published in May 2008, one finds in item 3.16 this particular gem:
“Due to known constraints on current highways it is essential to seek improvements to enable the anticipated growth. It may not be possible to upgrade the highway network to accommodate all of the proposed growth. It will therefore be necessary for there to be a substantial reduction in the proportion of trips made by private car. This Plan aims for a modal shift away from car use and road freight haulage, towards more sustainable alternatives. For residential development this Plan has a target of a 20 per cent. reduction in car journeys in new developments over 200 dwellings …and a 5 per cent. reduction for existing areas.”
I expect that the Minister lives in a sort of rural community like mine.
Perhaps not; perhaps the Minister’s area is more built up. May I tell him that in north Northamptonshire the idea that car use can be cut by 20 per cent. in new housing developments is simply fanciful? It may be that in an urban area people can be persuaded out of their cars on to public transport, if sufficient provision is made, but I am sceptical that a 20 per cent. reduction in car journeys can be made by people who move into those new developments. It is simply not possible for many people in north Northamptonshire to survive without the use of a motor vehicle. I suggest that that particular aspect of the core spatial strategy is fundamentally flawed.
Policy 2 is entitled “Connecting North Northamptonshire with surrounding areas”. It states
“North Northamptonshire’s connections with surrounding areas will be strengthened and enhanced to ensure that these are to the standard necessary to fulfil the role expected of them.”
Well, that is good. Among the priorities for further work and investment in north Northamptonshire in the period to 2021 are
“Provision of additional capacity on Midland Main Line services calling at Kettering and Wellingborough.”
That sounds fantastic, but in fact the rail services to and from Kettering and the north will be halved this December, and the additional capacity mentioned amounts to the spare seats on the train service from St. Pancras to Corby.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that observation and I am sorry that his wife had that unfortunate experience. As we know, that is a daily occurrence on services between Kettering and Wellingborough and London. It is an absolute disgrace that passengers from those places have to stand for an hour on a train all the way to London, when they are often paying as much as £73 for a return journey. The additional capacity that has been promised to local people is a huge con trick. In fact, the fast inter-city services will disappear from Kettering, and the additional capacity, such as it is, will be on stopping services calling as far north as Corby, which is just next door.
Policy 2 also mentions the road network. Highlighted as a priority is:
“A43 Kettering to Northampton dualling”.
In the final document, the word “dualling” has been replaced with “improvement”. That will be horrifying to local people, because the A43 links the county town of Northampton with Northamptonshire’s second town, Kettering. It is the busiest, most congested and most dangerous road in the area. There were plans to dual this road, but they were axed by John Prescott in 1999, who then produced the basis for this housing development plan in the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area plan.
Here we are in 2008, nine years on from the axing of the dualling programme, and it is confirmed in black and white—in fact, by a thick red line—that the Government do not want the road dualled. My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) will have to suffer further congestion and dangerous driving conditions for the foreseeable future.
That places in sharp relief the words of the Secretary of State for Transport, who used to be the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. In a debate last year—I was in my place at the time and noted her words with glee—she said:
“Given my experience at the Department for Communities and Local Government and now at the Department for Transport, I can assure him that the two Departments are joined at the hip when it comes to planning for more houses”.—[Official Report, 4 December 2007; Vol. 468, c. 679.]
I would suggest to the Minister that the evidence from the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy suggests completely the opposite.
If we go further into the document, we see that paragraph 3.25 on page 31 states:
“The Plan supports re-opening the passenger rail station and service to Corby… providing a service to London St Pancras.”
That is great. I think that we would all support it. The strategy goes on to state:
“Opening this link will be advantageous to North Northamptonshire in the longer term by promoting passenger services north to Leicester”.
Completely the opposite is happening. In December, East Midlands Trains will halve the number of trains running north from Kettering to Leicester. The service will be cut in half, and that hardly ties in with the words
“by promoting passenger services north to Leicester”.
Further down the page, in paragraph 3.29, the strategy states:
“The provision of a distributor road to the east of Kettering, linking between the A43 Northern By-pass and a new junction on the A14 may be brought forward as part of the proposed sustainable urban extension provided that environmental issues can be adequately addressed.”
That is absolutely super, but the strategy goes on to state:
“Although transport modelling indicates that this road is not essential for development planned to 2021”,
it could provide
“access to the sustainable urban extension and provide some traffic relief to Kettering town centre, villages to the east and the A14. Development proposals should safeguard the potential for this distributor road.”
I am staggered that the document can say that transport modelling indicates that this road is not essential for development planned to 2021.
Under the plans in the core spatial strategy, there is provision for 5,500 houses to be built to the east of Kettering. I have to tell the Minister that unless the eastern bypass is built there will be excessive traffic congestion throughout the town of Kettering and villages to the east will be simply gridlocked. The villages of Weekley and Warkton will be particularly affected by the development. Some 10,000 vehicles a day run through Warkton, and it sits on the busiest C road in the county of Northamptonshire. If those 5,500 houses are built to the east of Kettering, Warkton will have construction traffic going through it all the time and will be an extremely unpleasant place in which to live.
I come now to policy 6, which is the infamous “strategic gaps” policy. I have reached page 37 of the inspector’s amended report, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough will confirm that the whole page has been crossed out with thick red lines. That is extremely alarming, because in north Northamptonshire there are the three main towns of Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough, which sit more or less on top of each other in a straight line. It is very important to local people that those towns remain three distinct and separate communities. That was the purpose of the strategic gaps policy, which, before it was obliterated, stated:
“To prevent neighbouring urban areas from merging into one another, strategic gaps, comprising land that has a predominantly urban and/or rural appearance, will be maintained between”—
there follows a list of the towns and villages that will be separated, including Kettering and Corby, Kettering and Isham, Wellingborough and Ecton, Wellingborough and the Harrowdens, Wellingborough and Finedon, Wellingborough and Irthlingborough and Wellingborough and Rushden.
The fact that that policy has been obliterated will sound alarm bells across north Northamptonshire, because it raises once again the nightmare scenario of a linear city being created between Corby and Northampton with Kettering and Wellingborough in between. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough will be able to confirm that the phrase “the linear city” comes from an early Government consultee’s report that tried to steer the development of the local area away from that nightmare scenario. Yet here we are, in 2008, and a policy designed specifically to prevent that scenario from happening is being obliterated line by line.
And so the document goes on. There is an important section under item D called “Delivering Infrastructure”. Paragraph 3.41 on page 39 reveals that the policy in the draft said:
“The proposed housing growth is only acceptable if it is accompanied by the necessary improvements to physical and social infrastructure.”
What is wrong with that? That provides the guarantees that local people want. However, that sentence has been crossed out and replaced with:
“The proposed housing growth will need to be supported by improvements to the physical and social infrastructure.”
The wording has been very subtly but importantly watered down, and as a result it does not give local people the confidence that they need that growth will become sustainable in their local area.
There should be infrastructure triggers in the document. There should be specific commitments that if the infrastructure is not provided up front or at the same time as the housing growth, extensions to the housing growth targets should be shelved. Those triggers are not in this document. There is further analysis of infrastructure in paragraphs 3.48, 3.49 and 3.50, which come under the title “Phasing of Infrastructure”. Paragraph 3.49 says:
“Key strategic infrastructure constraints identified in North Northamptonshire are the limited capacity of sewerage infrastructure and levels of congestion on the A14.”
It suggests a number of remedies for those problems. One is the expansion of the Broadholme sewage treatment works. To deal with the road issue, it is suggested that
“a separate carriageway should be provided to take ‘local’ traffic off the A14 between Junction 7 (A43 Northern Bypass) and Junction 9 (A509), together with widening the A14 to three lanes in the section from Junction 9 to 10”.
In a way, that is quite encouraging, because the spatial strategy is identifying the infrastructure that will be needed to cope with the housing growth. However, paragraph 3.50 goes on to say:
“Further technical work is needed to prepare and evaluate these projects and each will be subject to the usual statutory procedures including public consultation. The timescales involved in planning, funding and delivering these major infrastructure projects means that, dependent on the rate at which development proceeds, there may be a delay between the need for the improvement and when it can be put in place. For example an expansion of Broadholme treatment works is unlikely to be achieved before 2013 and the first stage of the A14 improvement may not be complete until 2017.”
That is alarming in two respects. One is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, whose constituency includes the Broadholme sewage treatment works, knows, those works will reach capacity in 2010. There will therefore be a three-year gap, and that could get very smelly for the Wellingborough constituency. Furthermore, the document says that
“the A14 improvement may not be complete until 2017.”
The Minister needs to understand that this is a spatial strategy document looking at housing growth up to 2021. Most of the extra housing is meant to be in place by the time the improvements to the A14 arrive. One would think that the sensible thing would be to say, “Right. We cannot have the housing growth unless the infrastructure improvements to the A14 are in place”—but not a bit of it. The document says that
“the interim solution to the A14 constraint may involve a range of measures to manage local travel patterns, together with the Department for Transport relaxing its congestion targets for Junctions 7-9.”
On the desk of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), there is a proposal not to widen the A14 to three lanes but to carve up the two lanes on either side of the carriageway into three without widening the carriageway at all. When we add that to the Department for Transport relaxing its congestion targets, we get the nightmare scenario of the A14, which is already a killer road around Kettering, becoming even more dangerous and frightening for local people to drive on.
It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Khan.]
We then go on to policy 7, which has also been substantially amended. This one is called “Infrastructure delivery and developer contributions”. In the draft document, it said, very sensibly:
“Planning permission will not be granted for new or expanded Sustainable Urban Extensions development until appropriate solutions to infrastructure constraints have been agreed with the appropriate delivery body.”
Excellent, fantastic; that is the sort of support that local residents wanted to see. But no—that text has been crossed out. The document also said:
“If there are delays in infrastructure provision, the future review of the Core Strategy will reduce the scale of development to be accommodated within the phasing period or defer it to a subsequent period.”
Very sensible. But no—that too has been crossed out.
The Northamptonshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has contacted me to highlight its huge concern about the amendment to policy 7. It says:
“We consider it vital that infrastructure should be in place before development takes place, but this requirement which was in the first draft of the Strategy has now been deleted by the government inspector following the Examination in Public. Policy 7 of the Strategy now permits all development regardless of the provision of infrastructure. In its desire to get development under way, the Government is building up trouble for the communities and local authorities who will have to deal with what the developers leave behind.”
Further alarm will be caused in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies by the fact that, as the strategy states, there is no way that it can meet the Government’s target for the percentage of new homes that are built on brownfield land. It says:
“High priority will be given to the reuse of suitable brownfield sites”.
Great. However, it continues:
“North Northamptonshire has a limited supply of such sites and, with the substantial levels of development proposed, cannot achieve the national and regional targets of building 60 per cent. of new homes on brownfield land. A more realistic, but still challenging, target is for at least 30 per cent. of new housing to be provided on previously developed land and buildings.”
It goes on to quantify 21,500 homes as the estimated amount of housing that will need to be built on new greenfield sites in north Northamptonshire by 2021. So there we have it in black and white: the housing expansion policy in north Northamptonshire will not be able to meet the Government’s stated aim of 60 per cent. of new build taking place on brownfield sites.
When the Government announced the Milton Keynes and south midlands housing expansion strategy in 2001, local people were led to believe that infrastructure would be provided up front and that the quality of life for existing residents would be enhanced at the same time as the quality of life for new residents would be provided for. That is not what has happened at all. We have not had infrastructure, jobs and then houses, but houses, not many more jobs, and then infrastructure going backwards.
The rail services to and from Kettering are being cut, the A14 is getting more and more congested and the best that local people can hope for is some kind of improvement to the road in 2017 at the earliest. The A43 Kettering to Northampton road, which is the busiest, most congested and most dangerous road in the county, was to be dualled, but that has been taken out of the programme. Strategic green gaps between the major towns and villages in the north of the county were protected by the initial policy, but they have been scrubbed out by the inspector. The limited promises on the phasing and delivery of infrastructure, enshrined in the draft report, have also been axed.
The core spatial strategy document is fundamentally flawed. It does not give local residents in my part of the world the assurances that they need with regard to the rate, scale and speed of housing development in my constituency and neighbouring ones. That is a mistake, the responsibility for which rests with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) on making such a splendid and reasoned speech. He truly speaks for the people of Kettering and for north Northamptonshire, and his interest in this subject dates back to before he was elected to this House. I am delighted to see the Minister in his place; he is held in high esteem by the House, and I know that he will listen to our arguments.
I do not want to rehearse what my hon. Friend has said, but I would like to add one or two points about Wellingborough. My hon. Friend talked about the A14, and he is right to do so because it is a killer road. He was also right to talk about the A43. In my constituency, the A45-A6 interchange is also extremely dangerous—we have had an Adjournment debate in this House on the issue—but there is nothing in any programme about the improvement of that interchange. It is not even in the 15-year forward programme. The Highways Agency thinks that it is a good idea, the county council thinks it is a good idea, the local council thinks that it is a good idea and the local people think that it is a good idea. But it is just not happening.
On Saturday, I attended a public meeting in the village of Isham, which is one of the villages that would be dramatically affected by the loss of the strategic gaps. I was at the meeting because of flooding, which my hon. Friend touched on. During three of the last five years, there has been significant flooding, with sewage floating in people’s homes. When I asked local people the reason for that, they told me that it was the result of development of housing in the area without any improvement in infrastructure. It is hard to come to any other conclusion. My constituents fear that with the huge increase in housing that Wellingborough is already committed to, but with no improvement in the sewerage and drainage systems—there are no planned improvements—that issue will become a widespread concern. The problem with infrastructure can only get worse with the north Northamptonshire development.
I do not really want to make a party political point, but I will. In my constituency, under a Labour Government and a Labour county council, one of the secondary schools has been knocked down. All the other secondary schools are overcrowded, but we are going to bring in all these new houses with nowhere for the children to go to school. People do not move in without children, but that point does not seem to have been addressed anywhere in the Government’s thinking. They just believe in building new houses. I understand their thinking—they are not evil people. They are thinking that people need homes, but they fail to recognise the need to provide the matching infrastructure.
My constituency has no hospital and lies in the worst primary care trust in the United Kingdom, according to the Government’s figures. If we cannot get to a hospital now, and there are excessive delays and cuts in services, yet all the new houses are to be built, where will my people go to hospital? Sometime in the past, the plans suggested that there should be a new hospital, but that proposal has been lost—it simply will not happen.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the subject before the House yet again, but I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we will continue to press on variants relating to the development until the Government listen.
I want to give the Minister an idea of the unpopularity of the loss of the strategic gaps. Last Thursday, a by-election took place in Wollaston, which is a small village with many open fields between it and Wellingborough. It was announced that there was a danger of building on the fields. On a 33 per cent. turnout, the Conservative candidate got 816 votes and the Labour candidate got 97, and the strategic gaps were the main issue in the election. The Conservative majority increased by 50 per cent. I ask the Under-Secretary, not on party political grounds, but out of justice, to listen to local people.
I congratulate especially the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and also the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) on their contributions. The hon. Member for Kettering is known in the House for his assiduous work and his concentration long into the night. I noticed that the documents in his hands had many green post-it notes stuck to them. I am sure that he studied his 90-page document in great detail; he read out some snippets to us. I shall try to respond to as many of his points as possible.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy was adopted in June this year. It represents a significant milestone in the realisation of the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area—the wider growth area that he mentioned. It is the first core strategy of its kind to be produced by a joint planning unit and the first to be adopted in the east midlands. Many of the points that both hon. Gentlemen made about their constituencies were addressed not only to me as Under-Secretary, but to the joint planning unit and, I dare say, the local development company, as they do their work locally. It is important to remember that the joint planning unit comprises planning officials from an array of district and county authorities, as they try to piece together all the work on regeneration, infrastructure and, indeed, housing.
I hope that both hon. Gentlemen acknowledge—I believe that they do—that housing is a key priority for the Government. In the past 35 years, under all Governments, we have not built nearly enough homes. Pressures and imbalances between supply and demand have resulted from increased longevity and changes in the way we live. We need to build more homes to tackle that imbalance. There are far more households of individuals rather than couples and families, and far more older people. I looked at the statistics as the hon. Member for Wellingborough was speaking and I saw that life expectancy remains above average in Northamptonshire. I am pleased that the indices for employment show that the claimant count is below average.
Our housing Green Paper, “Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable” makes it clear that we must go further to tackle the housing needs and aspirations of current and future generations. I accept that changes are difficult—in my constituency and in every constituency in the land, including those of the hon. Gentlemen.
We have set a new housing target for 2016 of 240,000 additional homes a year nationally to address growing demand and affordability. They will not be just houses; they will be homes, let us remember, in the hon. Members’ constituencies. The Green Paper set out proposals to deliver a total of 2 million new homes by 2016 and 3 million by 2020.
Milton Keynes and south midlands will provide the highest level of growth in any growth area between 2001 and 2016, delivering 210,000 new homes. I congratulate the hon. Gentlemen on the fact that their constituencies are desirable locations where people want to make their homes. As the hon. Member for Kettering said, north Northamptonshire’s share of that will be 52,100 houses up to 2021, with a further 13,975 identified in the draft east midlands regional spatial strategy, which is to be delivered by 2026.
The north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy acknowledges that that proposed housing growth will need to be supported by improvements in infrastructure and recognises that the delivery of that infrastructure is dependent on partnership working between the public and private sectors. Both hon. Gentlemen centred on the importance of infrastructure, which I shall return to in a moment.
The north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy gives a key role to the North Northants Development Company to work with infrastructure providers to identify needs and secure the timely delivery of facilities and services. The North Northants Development Company is due to submit a development plan to the Department for Communities and Local Government in the autumn. From my experience of working with such companies and seeing what they have done in other parts of the country, I know that they can make a difference. Indeed, I am sure that the company will have tuned into this debate and listened to every word of it, and will be reading it in Hansard tomorrow, too.
As well as acknowledging the vital role of local partners, the Government fully recognise the role that we have to play in helping to unlock growth and create sustainable communities by supporting that infrastructure development. That is why we have provided a variety of funding to deliver growth in the Milton Keynes and south midlands growth area and elsewhere. Under the growth area fund, north Northamptonshire has so far received just under £30 million, of which it received £10 million under round 1, between 2004 and 2006, and just under £20 million under round 2, between 2006 and 2008.
I hear what the hon. Gentlemen said, and what the hon. Member for Kettering said in particular, about the coming years and the possible strains on infrastructure. Among other things, the money already set aside has been used to help fund the regeneration of key parts of Kettering town centre, a new civic hub in Corby town centre and improvements to Wellingborough high street.
The results of the third round of the growth area fund were announced in December 2007. Under that exercise, north Northamptonshire was awarded just under £29 million to fund further work over the three-year period between 2008-09 and 2010-11. Under the first round of the community infrastructure fund, north Northamptonshire received more than £7 million to help fund a Corby northern orbital road, the building of a new road and the upgrading of an existing one, plus improvements to the A45 near Wellingborough.
The House has heard the concerns that the hon. Member for Kettering expressed about road infrastructure and further improvements that need to be made. I hope that those involved—the joint planning unit and the development company—will work with hon. Members. It is important that Members of Parliament should have a role, working with development companies to ensure that they tailor the best solutions for their local communities, through the available funds. MPs are uniquely placed to do that, as pillars of their local communities and as people who listen to them, each day and each week.
Bids for a second round of the community infrastructure fund are currently under consideration. I understand that north Northamptonshire has submitted several expressions of interest under this exercise. It is expected that decisions on which expressions of interest can go forward to the full bid stage will be made in just a few weeks’ time, in July, so hon. Members will not have too long to wait, and the announcement of successful bids will be made in February next year.
Transport infrastructure was at the core of the hon. Gentleman’s Adjournment debate tonight. Further transport infrastructure funding has been made available by the Department for Transport via the local transport plan. Over the period of its first local transport plan, Northamptonshire received £84 million. We are part way through the second local transport plan period, under which the county will receive a further £95 million. I know that upgrading the transport infrastructure is very much a focus of attention for partners in north Northamptonshire, especially on the A14 and A45 trunk roads. I also know that north Northamptonshire has engaged with my ministerial colleagues at the Department for Transport on these issues and that ongoing work is taking place to come up with solutions to the issues posed. I hope that both hon. Members will be keen to continue to ask questions. The hon. Member for Kettering has already had an Adjournment debate on a similar subject a couple of months ago, which was responded to by my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister.
I fully recognise that infrastructure is a key issue for north Northamptonshire—and, indeed, all areas engaged in the growth agenda—but I hope that the examples of funding that I have mentioned will help to illustrate that the Government are fully committed to playing their part in resolving these issues, and that we are keen to work with Members of Parliament, local authorities and the development companies to support this process in the long term.
I sense that we have a little longer for our debate than the Minister was anticipating, and I am grateful to him for giving way. What can he say to the Department for Transport with regard to the A14? Most people in my constituency believe that, if the improvements are not made to the road until 2017, it will be far too late. Tens of thousands of new houses will already have been built by then, and a road that is already congested will have become even more dangerous.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point on behalf of his constituents. This is about a partnership to decide on the greatest local need. The hon. Gentleman obviously has a clear idea in his own mind of what that is. The joint planning unit and the development company in his constituency are progressing their work and liaising with and talking to the Government. I do not have a magic wand with which to resolve all the problems with different roads, but I hope that that partnership at local level, alongside the lobbying of the Department for Transport, might result in some of the money being focused most relevantly on to the areas of greatest priority and need in his community, including the two roads that I have just mentioned.
As I was saying, I hope that the examples of funding that I have mentioned will help to illustrate that the Government are fully committed to playing their part in resolving these issues, but questions in the House and debates such as these are all part of the process, which is why I welcome them.
I am very encouraged by the Minister’s remarks, which seem to represent a shift in policy. In relation to the A14 and the A45, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and I had understood that improvements could be made only if the regional assembly had agreed to them, despite the fact that the Highways Agency, the county council and the local council all thought that they were a good idea. May we be encouraged to think that the money could be spent locally without reference to the regional assembly?
As the hon. Member for Wellingborough will know, so much of this will depend on local plans and local priorities as pressed for by the county council and his county authority. I have not been privy to those discussions and I am not a Transport Minister, so I will not make up policy on the hoof. What I can say, however, is that they presented their case and it is important that they do so. The relationship with Parliament is important, as is the connectivity between themselves. I am sure that they are well aware of the relevant local officials and local politicians—those involved with the joint planning unit and those who are members of the development company in their own patch. It is important to continue to have that dialogue and I am sure that they will.
I know that the north Northamptonshire joint planning unit and its partners, which have had a bit of hard time in the course of this debate, have received congratulations not least from the Minister for the East Midlands, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope). He recognised that the strategy provides an excellent example of joint working. I would like to add my own congratulations to the unit and all those concerned on producing this important strategy. It is not an easy piece of work. The hon. Member for Kettering has highlighted points 3 and 16 on page 28, but I do not know the wider context. Let me be honest and say that although I have had a flick through, I have not read all 90 pages of the document—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wellingborough is shaking his head, but I would not want to misrepresent in any way what is in that document. I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentlemen have either, but it is important to take account of the full context of reports.
I acknowledge that there is much more to do. This is the first development plan document—or DPD—to be adopted as part of the north Northamptonshire local development framework. I understand that about 14 further DPDs are currently scheduled in the agreed north Northamptonshire local development scheme. That represents a very significant work load and I would encourage all the responsible partners to look again to find opportunities to streamline the number of DPDs. I offer that encouragement in the spirit of wanting to see north Northamptonshire succeed in realising the ambitions set out in the core spatial strategy and to build on this promising start.
Although both hon. Gentlemen have their differences with much that they have seen in the document, I think that they would accept that there are some very important and good things in it. I would strongly encourage those in north Northamptonshire and elsewhere to look closely at the opportunities presented by the revised version of planning policy statement 12 on local spatial planning. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has already acknowledged that the new spatial plan-making system introduced in 2004 has proved to be unnecessarily complicated, but we have taken that into account and listened to concerns, so the revised PPS seeks to create a fairer, more streamlined and, I hope, transparent spatial planning process. In doing that, it places community engagement at its heart, while stressing the need for robust evidence and active engagement with infrastructure providers.
I would particularly like to emphasise that we want to see community engagement at the heart of the local plan-making process and I urge the hon. Member for Kettering to engage with the further development of the north Northamptonshire local development framework and to encourage his constituents to do likewise.
As I have said, there is still much more to do and many challenges to face—not least in developing infrastructure. I would like to repeat that the Government will strive to play their part in resolving the challenges before us as part of the partnership and I would like to restate the importance of tackling the need for more housing—failure to do so would be to fail our children and future generations.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o’clock.