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Milton Keynes/South Midlands Sub-region

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

I am glad to have the opportunity to bring forward a further debate on this issue, which is vital not only to my constituency, but to every constituency in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. If the Minister was in any doubt about the level of parliamentary interest in today’s debate, those doubts might be laid to rest when he sees that attending with me are my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), and for Buckingham (John Bercow). I am also glad to see the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) here today.

I want to begin with two points on which I think that we can find agreement between all parts of the House. First, there will be a need in the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area, as in the rest of the country, for new housing and associated development. My hon. Friends and I all meet at our constituency surgeries people who are in housing need. We are all familiar with the demographic trends that are driving an increase in the number of households, even in circumstances where the population is relatively stable. They include the breakdown of marriage and partnership; the welcome fact that elderly people now live longer and can live independently for longer than in the past; and the wish of young adults to live independently of their parents and on their own—before they settle down and start a family—for more years than used to be the case. We are aware, too, of the impact on housing demand of what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government described at the weekend as the “free-for-all” in Government immigration policy, which present Ministers allowed, whether or not they realised what they were doing.

Secondly, we can all agree that where new development takes place, it should be of good quality. I would be happy to endorse the aspirations set out on behalf of the Government by none other than the then Deputy Prime Minister in the 2002 White Paper, “Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future,” in which the issues we are debating arise. The Government stated in that White Paper:

“Where new and expanded communities are needed,”

the Government would wish

“to ensure that these are sustainable, well-designed, high quality and attractive places in which people will positively choose to live and work.”

I happily endorse the Government’s statement that part of their response to the housing challenge would be:

“To address public services and infrastructure needs to enable the new communities to function.”

My hon. Friend mentioned sustainability. Does he agree that for any community to be truly sustainable, it must have the support of local people? That is probably one of the key points that many of our constituents feel strongly about. They feel that housing is being imposed without any genuine local concerns being taken into account.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Where I differ from the Government is that I believe that their policy has been flawed in two critical respects. First, they have been wrong to rely on top-down planning and targets imposed from the centre on local areas. In the 2002 White Paper, four areas in south-east England were singled out for large-scale development, when the evidence is that there is housing need and need for regeneration in many different communities in the south-east. I would have had far more sympathy for a Government policy that accepted that almost every town and village could cope with some additional housing, in each case on the scale and of a design that was acceptable to local people and in line with the needs and ambitions of that area.

Powers were removed from local authorities by the Government and given either to the Secretary of State or to unaccountable and remote regional agencies. Even when we get down to the process of public consultation on individual sites, which is happening in Aylesbury at the moment, we find that the rules that the local authority are obliged to follow in carrying out that public consultation—the timetable, the sort of questions that may be asked, the considerations that will be regarded as relevant and legitimate when a decision is taken—are determined by central Government and not by the representatives of the local communities themselves. Hanging over all that has been the threat, made clear in conversations between Government officials and local authority representatives, that if local authorities do not toe the line, the Government will step in, as they have done in Milton Keynes, and remove altogether the planning powers of the local authority in respect of growth and hand them over to a panel appointed by the Secretary of State.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to clarify that although it is true that parts of the new growth areas currently have little or no housing and are under the planning control of the Milton Keynes Partnership, there is also significant growth planned within the existing urban area of Milton Keynes, which is under the control of the council, as a local planning authority. In addition, of course, the local planning authority sets the overall parameters within which all development is taken forward.

The hon. Lady is making the best fist that she can of defending a policy that I suspect is pretty unpopular among voters in her city. Although she asserts that it is up to the local authority to set the framework, the changes to legislation that her Government brought in require local authorities to ensure that their own plans comply with both regional and central Government guidance, or else those plans will be considered invalid and can be struck down by the Secretary of State. The problem with this top-down approach is twofold: it has led to bad planning decisions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes pointed out, it is utterly corrosive of public confidence in the democratic system that allows its voices to be heard.

One of the most depressing experiences that I have had in my constituency when dealing with this issue over the past six or seven years, has been talking to local people who say, “What is the point of responding to a public consultation? What is the point of deciding which candidate I support in a local authority election? At the end of the day, all these decisions are being taken up in Whitehall; our voices are not heard, public consultation is a pretence, local democracy is meaningless.” I say to the Minister that irrespective of which political party happens to be in office at any one time, whether locally or nationally, it is not a healthy state of affairs when we see public cynicism about democracy growing in this way.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prevalence of concern among the public and council leaders. I am sure that he would agree that both David Shakespeare from Buckinghamshire county council and John Cartwright from Aylesbury district council have consistently taken an extremely pragmatic and responsible approach to development, but given that Roger Tym and Partners estimates that £770 million of infrastructure investment is required in Aylesbury alone, does he think that local councillors are legitimately concerned that thus far, only a little in excess of £30 million of such commitments has been garnered?

I am mindful of what my hon. Friend has said and I shall try to develop that theme at greater length later in my speech.

We need a change away from centrally driven, top-down planning. I welcome very much the commitments given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that a Conservative Government would return powers over housing and strategic planning to elected local authorities and would free local authorities to revisit housing plans and spatial strategies that have already been imposed.

The second flaw in the Government’s general approach is their failure to plan adequately for jobs, infrastructure and public services alongside the new homes. Even if we set aside our disagreements about the sustainable communities plan, the housing targets and the designation of four areas of south-east England for particularly large development, and look at the Government’s implementation of policy in their own terms, we find that that failure is a massive flaw which threatens to deliver communities that are far from sustainable. In the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area as a whole, the target is to build some 220,000 new homes. For Aylesbury Vale, the target is about 27,000 new houses by 2026, of which 16,800 will be in and around Aylesbury itself. Many hon. Members want to get in on this debate, so I shall touch briefly on three subjects that are relevant to my constituency: calculation of housing targets, provision for jobs and planning for infrastructure.

On the calculation of housing targets, I urge the Minister, even now, to look again at the change of policy that the Government introduced a couple of years ago which stopped local authorities from counting development on windfall brownfield sites as part of their housing targets. Historically, those gains were important in Aylesbury, and a consequence of the policy is that pressure for greenfield development has increased. The policy has also provided central Government with a way surreptitiously to increase housing targets without actually announcing and taking responsibility for such decisions. That, too, corrodes public respect for the political process.

I would also ask the Government to look seriously at the provisions in planning policy statement 3 for local authorities to maintain a continuous five-year supply of deliverable sites. Paragraph 71 of PPS3 states that local authorities that do not have a five-year supply of housing land should “consider favourably” applications for planning permission. The inference one draws from that is that the absence of supply should trump other planning considerations that would normally make a scheme unacceptable.

The problem at present is that the impact of the recession means that sites that would perhaps have been given planning permission, or on which the local authority would certainly be willing to grant planning permission, are slipping out of the five-year deliverable timetable. In Aylesbury, work on many existing development sites has stopped, starts have been delayed, and where building continues the building rate has slowed down because of the impact of the recession.

Unless the Government are prepared to look at their rules on five-year supply, there is a risk that under paragraph 71 other sites outside the local plan—speculative applications—will succeed, not because they are sensible or sustainable but because market conditions mean that the local authority is unable to deliver the five-year supply required by the Government. We end up with the five-year supply rule clashing with the Government’s declared commitment to sensible planning and sustainable development.

Secondly, on jobs, there is at present a net outflow of some 20,000 people every day from Aylesbury Vale. Those people are commuting to workplaces elsewhere. Yes, Aylesbury is linked to London, and, yes, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West knows, I very much support the efforts that have been made to get agreement on the orbital rail route, including a link from Aylesbury to Bletchley, but Aylesbury’s travel-to-work area covers a wide circle which includes east Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and west London. Commuting to work involves a large number of car journeys.

Therefore, to cope with new development without adding dramatically to traffic congestion, Aylesbury will require many more jobs. Frankly, the target approved by the Government of one job for each new house is inadequate. These days, most couples work or, in the present economic climate, both halves of a couple wish to get a job and work regularly.

May I point out to my hon. Friend that one job for every new house appears to us in north Northamptonshire as rather generous? The Government targets for north Northamptonshire are for 52,100 new houses by 2021 but only 47,400 new jobs.

My hon. Friend makes his point persuasively.

The message from Government officials to local authorities about, for example, the future of the Aston Clinton Road business park in Aylesbury is that Ministers are not terribly interested in jobs—that all that really matters in keeping Ministers happy is meeting targets for house building. If that means giving up land earmarked for employment to housing, so be it. If the Minister in his reply is prepared to get up and put it on the record that that is not what the Government want, I would welcome such a statement.

Let me turn finally to infrastructure, because the provision of infrastructure and good public services is, of course, intimately connected with hopes to persuade employers to locate to the areas designated for large-scale new residential growth. Firms will move to Aylesbury only if there are good transport links for their suppliers and customers, and decent public services and a good quality of life for their employees.

There has been no shortage of warnings to the Government about the need to plan for infrastructure. The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions stated clearly in its eighth report, which was published in 2003, that it was concerned by the absence at that stage of a clear strategy to deliver infrastructure and public services to match the Government’s housing targets, and that it looked forward to such a plan being published at an early opportunity.

The independent study by Roger Tym and Partners in 2003 stated that £8.3 billion would be needed for the whole of the Milton Keynes/South Midlands sub-region. Aylesbury Vale Advantage, the local delivery vehicle, currently estimates that the capital costs—I stress that these are the capital costs only—for Aylesbury Vale district alone are about £827 million. That bill is not for the general capital plans of the district council but for development that would be needed that is directly attributable to the growth required under the Government’s housing targets. I should add that the £827 million excludes anything needed as a result of the proposed expansion of Milton Keynes into Aylesbury Vale district.

So far, some £50 million has been received or pledged in Government grant or developer contributions. That money is welcome, but it is a small proportion of what is needed. For example, the latest £9.4 million that the Government have awarded to Aylesbury Vale will have to be spent on securing an improvement in electricity capacity, which is essential if any development is to take place, but which is not even part of the £827 million bill identified by Aylesbury Vale Advantage.

As the recession has begun to deepen we have seen a fall in section 106 contributions, and negotiations between authorities and developers have been getting steadily more difficult. If we are honest, we have to face up to the fact that the Government money has now been spent. I find it difficult to see where the Government will find the funds to deliver even a fraction of what will be needed, not just in my constituency but in those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. It is no good saying, “Oh, Buckinghamshire county council can borrow more; it is a floor authority”—meaning that it is unable to take advantage of supportive borrowing because it cannot afford to make repayments on capital borrowed—

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been generous in giving way and is, as always, making a compelling case. Does he agree that an additional concern is that population expansion necessarily has major implications for the local health service, assessments of which are robust and on the public record? In particular, does he share my concern—I think he does—about the known time lag of up to 18 months between the arrival of new residents in the area and the processing through the system of the necessary capitation payments?

My hon. Friend is spot on. It is no good saying to developers who might want to build a house or to residents who might want to move into a newly built house, or to an employer weighing up whether to move into our area rather than another one, “Don’t worry. In a few years’ time, if you are lucky, and depending on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the council tax rates, you might get your new GP clinic, your new road or your new school.” If we are going to have sustainable communities—the Government have declared that that is their ambition—such facilities must be available at the start. Those new facilities must also be introduced in a way that gives some advantage to the existing residents of the town where new development has taken place. I am hearing about incipient resentment from Aylesbury residents, who think, when they hear talk about a new school or community centre being planned for the area to be built, that they will be stuck with buildings that are in need of repair, with the new residents getting priority over those who have lived in the town for many years.

Transport undoubtedly comprises the biggest share of the £827 million bill, which includes £182 million for roads and £100 million for rail—sums that are needed directly for growth. Aylesbury is already heavily congested at peak hours. The Minister has visited more than once, and if he has arrived at peak hours he will have had to queue on one of the approach roads to the town centre. The A41 Tring road is already designated as an air quality management area because exhaust pollution levels there breach the limits set by European law.

It is not just the impact of extra houses in Aylesbury about which I am concerned, but the impact on traffic in my constituency of development in Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and other neighbouring districts and counties. The latest estimate is that the planned housing growth will result in an increase of 38 per cent. in the number of trips made by car in Aylesbury between the base year of 2005 and the end of the housing programme in 2026. That is not just a predict-and-provide figure obtained through extrapolating current trends. That 38 per cent. increase assumes that there would be an increase of more than 90 per cent. in walking and cycling trips during that period and an increase of 70 per cent. in bus and rail trips. Even if those shifts to other modes of transport take place, the consequence of the Government’s housing plans—unless something serious is done about road and rail infrastructure—will be that, by the mid-20-teens or 2020s, congestion at off-peak hours in Aylesbury will match the congestion that my constituents see in peak hours today. I can think of no greater disincentive for new businesses to think of locating in Aylesbury and, frankly, no greater incentive for businesses currently located there to consider whether they ought to leave and locate elsewhere.

I could mention a long list of items. For example, some £12.7 million is needed by the NHS for four health centres and a community hospital; £28.5 million is required for further education facilities; £123 million is needed for two secondary, eight primary and one special school; £6.5 million is needed for sports pitches; £5.5 million is needed for new residential places in day-care centres and other provision for social care; and £2 million is required for children’s play areas. There is not time to go into detail about those sums, but it is important that the Minister is aware of the scale of the need.

How will these facilities be provided? The housing targets have been created by the Government, so it is fair to ask the Minister what the Government’s plan is for sustainable communities and for the infrastructure and public services that they set out in 2002. A year after the White Paper was published, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a document entitled, “Creating Sustainable Communities. Making it happen: Thames Gateway and the Growth Areas,” which was the Department’s first progress report on the sustainable communities plan. On page 5, that report stated

“that the Government was not simply committed to the delivery of additional housing”,

but that the plan

“was committed to creating communities. That principle has underpinned our work...We want employment growth to accompany housing growth. We”


“to make the growth areas attractive places in which to live and work…Alongside housing growth, we are planning for the delivery of schools and healthcare provision, for public transport and good quality public spaces, for quality and high design principles…The projects we have identified for funding in all four growth areas reflect that commitment, though this is only a start.”

They thought that they had made a start in 2003. However, from what I have seen over the past seven years, and from what I see when comparing what the Government are planning for and delivering with those aspirations, there has been a sorry failure to deliver on those promises. I look to the Minister to explain what the Government’s strategy is now and whether they have abandoned those pledges on truly sustainable communities.

Seven Back Benchers have indicated that they wish to speak, so would hon. Members bear that in mind when making their speeches?

I agree with the three points that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) outlined at the beginning of his contribution. First, there is a need for new housing in all the areas represented by all the hon. Members in this Chamber. Secondly, that housing should be of good quality and, particularly, of high environmental quality. I am proud that the Oxley Park development in my constituency has eco-houses of the highest quality, which have been occupied extremely quickly both by people buying them and through social ownership or social renting. Thirdly, housing needs to be provided in parallel with the necessary infrastructure underpinning it.

Although we are talking largely about physical infrastructure, I also want to stress what I describe as the soft infrastructure, which needs to accompany new communities and has always been developed in Milton Keynes, which is not yet at the end of its first development plan, a small proportion of which is still being completed. When I talk about soft infrastructure, I mean the social organisations, including voluntary organisations and other social infrastructure, that have to be developed as a community is enlarging and, in the case of the areas that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) and I represent, becoming considerably more diverse.

From there, we diverge, because I want to talk largely about housing need. What I say will be very different from what others say because Milton Keynes is very different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. Milton Keynes is a hugely successful and highly dynamic new town or new city. During the previous recession, growth continued in Milton Keynes, albeit at a slower pace, obviously, but at a faster pace than in the rest of the country, and I am confident that Milton Keynes will also weather the current recession, and that growth will continue.

The concept of growth has been embraced by, for example, the Milton Keynes economy and learning partnership and has been set out in its economic vision, “From New Town to International City”. Milton Keynes looks forward to being the 10th largest city in the UK in 2030. The superior facilities that we have—for example, our shopping centre, theatre and art gallery—surpass innumerable other facilities and are enjoyed by many of the constituents of the hon. Members ranged on the Opposition Benches. I except my colleague in the other half of Milton Keynes, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), because they are our joint facilities, but the constituents of all the other hon. Members are happy to come and enjoy those facilities. We all benefit from the fact that we have a superb regional theatre. We are happy to welcome the constituents of the other hon. Members to enjoy those facilities and help to make them economically viable and hugely successful.

As I said, we are different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. In particular, we are different because we have more jobs than houses. Therefore, many members—one third—of the work force in Milton Keynes live outside the constituency and commute in. I accept that many of those live outside the constituency by choice. They may prefer living in a village to living in an urban area. However, a great many of them live outside the constituency because sufficient housing is not available in Milton Keynes, and they are priced out. I have innumerable examples of individuals who have moved from the north of England and got a job in Milton Keynes, but who have not been able to get a house in Milton Keynes because they cannot afford it, so they come as far south as they can, which is not as far as Milton Keynes. If more people who already work in Milton Keynes could live in Milton Keynes, the effect on the environment would be much reduced and the quality of life of those individuals would be improved.

I am listening with great interest to the hon. Lady’s argument about how Milton Keynes has been such a success under the Labour Government. Why, then, is unemployment in her constituency 47 per cent. higher now than it was in 1997?

Unemployment figures have increased by more than the south-east average just over the past few months, and the local economic partnership has been looking into the detail of why exactly that has been occurring. It appears that it has largely to do with the laying off of temporary and casual workers, and the suspicion is that it has to do with the downturn in the retail sector, which is very large in Milton Keynes. Clearly, the issue needs examining, but notwithstanding that, it remains the fact that we have more employment than houses available for the people who work in our area. The hon. Member for Aylesbury, in opening the debate, talked about his recognition of housing need. I want to put some flesh on the bones of the feedback from my constituents about what that housing need means.

First, there is a wholly inadequate supply of social rented housing in Milton Keynes. Therefore, many of my constituents live in overcrowded, unsatisfactory conditions. They are forced into the private rented sector, where they may pay very high rents to live in relatively poor conditions. My local council, because of the shortage of social rented housing, has a housing allocations policy. I understand how it arrived at that, but it is wholly unsatisfactory. If someone needs housing in Milton Keynes and is accepted as statutorily homeless—no one else gets access to social rented housing—they go to the council and the council will say, “Fine. You are statutorily homeless. We have an obligation to house you. What have we got available today?” That is essentially what the council says. If it does not have a social rented property available for the person, it offers them a private rented property and if they do not take it, the council has discharged its statutory obligation.

The consequence of that is, first, that the allocation of housing is seen as arbitrary—it is just a matter of luck as to what is available on the day a person turns up. That leads to a corrosive view in the community that some people are given an unfair advantage, as it is essentially a lottery. Secondly, most people are placed in the private rented sector. Those properties may be okay, but the accommodation is not stable and individuals are moved frequently. That has a hugely detrimental effect, particularly on families with children. Children are moved from one school to another at frequent intervals, on top of the instability that has already been caused by the fact that they were homeless. Hon. Members will know from their own constituencies that major causes of individuals becoming homeless are relationship breakdown, redundancy and sudden illness and disability that lead to household income loss. Those households are already experiencing huge stress. On top of that, they are put in unsatisfactory private rented accommodation.

Alternatively, people may be fortunate enough to get into social rented property. Housing association properties of good quality are still being built, but the council’s own property stock has been eroded by the right to buy to such an extent that very many of my most disadvantaged constituents with families are placed in the two or three blocks of council housing that are least favoured. They have to share wholly inadequate, overcrowded accommodation that suffers high levels of condensation and damp with various other people who have severe social problems, often associated with alcohol addiction, drug addiction or other unfortunate behavioural characteristics. That compounds the problems that those families have.

I am laying it on thick because it is incredibly important that when we talk about housing need, we spell out what the housing need is and what the consequences are of not meeting those housing needs. I have talked about social rented housing, but of course the—

This is actually on the broader point, to be honest. The hon. Lady talked about being very keen to listen to her constituents’ views. Will she take this opportunity to explain to her constituents and mine why she feels so strongly that they should not be trusted to help to deliver the future of Milton Keynes; why they should not be trusted to vote in local elections to allow Milton Keynes council to be the sole planning authority to decide the future of our city?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise and I will not be turned away from what I believe is the priority for my constituents—homes for them and for their young people—and led into a spurious argument that simply plays into his political agenda, which I am sure will be well expressed by the massed ranks of Tory MPs present.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to be able to put the point of view of my constituents.

I accept what the hon. Lady says about making her own case—who could deny it?—and she is making an important point about housing need. I do not cavil at that. One can argue the toss about overall numbers, but she is making a persuasive point. The question is this: does she accept that, even if that need is precisely as she describes, the development required to meet it still has to be sustainable? That raises the critical question of the level of infrastructure and who pays for it.

I absolutely accept that point and I will come on to the issue of infrastructure, but I suspect that everyone else will talk about that and I want to redress the balance and focus the debate on people, including families, children and elderly people, who need decent housing. All of us have access to decent housing—more-than-decent housing. It is important that I speak for the people in my constituency whose voices are far too often not heard in this argument. In my view, the emphasis is disproportionately on people who already have houses and is not on those who do not. The others who need new housing are those who could afford to buy if they were given some help, particularly young people.

Two big groups in my constituency frequently want to speak to me about housing. The first is those young people in work—hard-working, thrifty families who cannot afford to buy a house, even in Milton Keynes, without the additional help of shared ownership or other schemes. The Milton Keynes development corporation—it is a quango established to deliver housing—has been at the forefront of developing shared ownership. The tenure of shared ownership is therefore well understood by people in Milton Keynes, and it has made a greater contribution to the housing stock in Milton Keynes than it has in most other areas. However, young people who want to buy their own homes are not able to do so because the house-building rate has not been fast enough, and because there is a total lack of liquidity as a result of the bigger problems caused by the housing market during the boom and the opposite.

The second group is the parents. They have homes, but they do not have the additional capital to help their children acquire a home. They are distressed because their sons and daughters are not able to get a home before starting their families; and many are distressed because their sons and daughters are still living with them, plus or minus various partners and small grandchildren, whom they love dearly but, to be blunt, with whom they would rather not have to share their home.

Those two groups continually say that more houses are needed. Some may say, “We need more houses, but not next door to mine.” However, they all say that more houses are needed, that they need to be built more quickly and that they should be affordable.

I welcome the steps that the Minister has taken thus far to keep housing building going at the planned rate. Those measures have partly been successful. I cite the HomeBuy Direct scheme. There are a number of examples in my constituency of partnerships between Government and developers that allow homes to be offered for sale with equity loans of 30 per cent. Those schemes are working, but they are not big enough. We need more.

I also welcome the initiative taken by the Government’s HomeBuy agency, which has been a catalyst in Milton Keynes. It held a special event late last year at which information and advice was given to people on exactly how to make best use of the various schemes—My Choice Homebuy and others—to help people buy their own home. I know that 909 households living in Milton Keynes registered with those schemes, and that in mid-November, only a few weeks after the event, 30 had already successfully used the Homebuy scheme. I welcome those schemes, but they are not enough. I urge the Government to do even more to ensure that we continue house building in order to meet housing need.

I said that I would talk about infrastructure. The original Milton Keynes development plan was successful because housing and infrastructure were planned from the start, and were delivered in parallel.

Indeed, Mr. Martlew.

The Milton Keynes Partnership pioneered the infrastructure tariff—the forerunner of the Government’s community infrastructure levy—which funds development in parallel with housing. For example, we have the biggest school building programme in the country. The Members for both Milton Keynes constituencies have opened new schools to meet the pupil need. Those schools were built before all the houses in the catchment areas had been built; they then grew as the areas grew. We have also had massive investment in our health system. We have had new GP surgeries and dental surgeries—the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes recently opened a dental surgery—and the hospital has been expanded.

That is very different from the situation in 1997, when I was first elected. Health provision then did not meet the needs of the population. However, it has now expanded, as has the annual funding, and it is now more or less in balance with population growth. None the less, it needs to continue growing as the population increases.

There is also the transport infrastructure. I think particularly of the improvements to junction 13 on the M1 and the extra platform at Milton Keynes Central station. Regrettably, some of the gilt was taken off the latter because of Network Rail’s mess-ups in January, when the west coast main line completely seized up. Infrastructure should improve in parallel with the increase in housing. The Milton Keynes Partnership tariff allows for forward funding, so that the infrastructure can be put in place despite the fact that the housing development takes place later; we know that the developers are committed to topping up the fund.

I suggest that the rest of the region gets its act together, as has Milton Keynes. All local councils should draw up proper infrastructure plans and work with developers and the Government to ensure that those plans are achieved.

As for the kind words of the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the east-west rail link for Aylesbury, I am more than happy that Aylesbury is getting its station paid for. However, I hope that Aylesbury Vale district council will commit itself to approving the housing that it is supposed to, to help fund those railway improvements; it should not say that it wants the infrastructure but not the housing. We need to have both in parallel; just as we need infrastructure with the housing, so we need the housing with the infrastructure.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on his wonderful opening address. I shall keep my remarks short, out of respect for my colleagues who also wish to contribute to the debate.

North Northamptonshire, of which Kettering is but a part, is the biggest single growth area outside London. Under the Government’s plans, the population is expected to grow to more than 370,000 by 2021—the equivalent of a city the size of Bristol. There are meant to be 52,100 new houses and 47,400 new jobs. More than 2,100 new houses were built in 2006; under the Government’s projections, that is set to rise to 3,700 a year in the coming years, although I doubt whether it will be achieved. That growth is faster than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes. The lesson from north Northamptonshire is that the infrastructure is not being provided as promised.

For instance, the A14, a Highways Agency road that runs through my constituency, is a key part of the growth of north Northamptonshire, yet we are still awaiting a Government announcement on what is to happen to that road. When first elected to Parliament in 2005, I started asking questions of the Department for Transport about when the Highways Agency would publish its plans for improving the A14 near Kettering. I was told by the Transport Minister in October 2006 that he had asked the agency to finalise the A14 Kettering bypass widening options study by early 2007. Here we are in early 2009, and still no announcement has been made.

The A43 between Kettering and Northampton is the most dangerous, busiest and most congested road in Northamptonshire. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) axed it from the road improvement programme in 1999, and it is still not to be found in a funding scheme. Indeed, references to dualling in the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy have since been removed.

Kettering urgently needs an eastern bypass if it is to accommodate an increase of one third in its housing stock by 2021. However, the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy states that

“transport modelling indicates that this road is not essential for development”.

I say to the Minister that that is absolute nonsense, and that Kettering will simply grind to a halt unless it is provided.

The rail service from Kettering to London has been scaled back, and the rail service from Kettering to Leicester has been halved since the new timetable was introduced in December. Unemployment in north Northamptonshire stands at 5,300, compared with 4,000 in 1997, and has risen by 50 per cent. in the past year alone. The Minister’s sustainable communities plan for my constituency and north Northamptonshire will not be sustainable unless it enjoys popular support. This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to use the background of the recession to pump-prime investment into north Northamptonshire by introducing infrastructure projects. That will help to address local concerns about the scale of the development.

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

I leave the Minister with one request. This week will he please get in touch with the Department for Transport and insist that early in this new year an announcement be made about how the Government will improve the A14, because unless that is done, the Government simply will not get the extra houses that they require in north Northamptonshire and my constituents will remain extremely concerned about the lack of infrastructure.

I, too, shall be brief, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone).

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) does not have a monopoly of concern about housing need—it is shared by all my colleagues in the Conservative party. We want to do something about it, which is why I backed plans by South Bedfordshire district council to build well over 10,000 houses in my constituency. That would have more than met local housing need in my area and provided additional houses for her constituents and others in the region. However, to ram into those four areas around London a super amount of growth, without the necessary jobs, transport links and other infrastructure, is unacceptable. That is the broad concern shared by my colleagues in the Conservative party.

I shall localise the issues to my constituency as quickly as I can. In Leighton Buzzard and Linslade, there is intense irritation that before the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is a proposal for 900 houses to the west of Linslade, in the constituency, I think, of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). I had to write to the Government office for the south-east in Guildford about this matter. I wish that the Minister could have come with me to a public meeting that I attended where several hundred of my constituents turned up on a cold December evening to express absolute amazement at the proposal, which is not even favoured by the committee that the Government set up. It was against it, but the Government changed the rules that they themselves put in place. Will the Minister speak to his boss and kick that proposal into touch forthwith?

Leighton Buzzard is a mediaeval market town, which the Minister was kind enough to visit on 27 March last year. He might remember that we could not drive around the whole town—our minibus had to turn back, such was the traffic. My hon. Friend spoke about the traffic in Aylesbury, too. We cannot expand mediaeval market towns indefinitely, with later additions and central road systems that cannot cope with ever more outlying estates. Many people in Leighton Buzzard travel to shop in Bletchley, because it is quicker to get there than to drive from one side of Leighton Buzzard to the other. We are not creating a sustainable community, but simply adding to carbon emissions. We might be adding to retail profits in Milton Keynes, but we are not doing much for the economy of Leighton Buzzard or for my constituents. We do not have enough local jobs. My area has lost about 500 jobs over the past seven years. A genuinely sustainable community should have a balance of houses and jobs, so that people can work locally. They might have caring commitments for sick or elderly relatives or young children. Not everyone wants to get up very early and catch a train in the morning, if they can get a job out of the area. We need to think about that.

A proposal has also been made for an extra 200 homes off Stoke road in Leighton Buzzard. I have similar concerns about that as about the west Linslade urban extension. We also desperately need a bypass to the north of Dunstable—the other major town in my constituency—to which two objections were raised recently: one was that the Government had not yet decided whether they would widen the M1 or use hard-shoulder running. I think that a decision is imminent and that something can happen quickly. After that, we can deal with the second objection: air quality. I understand that the new chief at the Highways Agency has a practical proposal to deal with that. If we can nail those two issues, we can get on and announce that road. In 2006, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) said that the road would be the first priority for any slippage on any scheme in the east of England. I intend to see that commitment to the House honoured.

Furthermore, Houghton Regis—the third smallest town in my constituency—is desperately short of even the most basic facilities. Football players and bowls players have to use sports clubs that lack even the most basic facilities. We were told that there would be no new houses without the infrastructure—that is the reality at the moment—but we want to deal with local housing need. We are generous people, so we will make a contribution to the needs of the wider area, but it must be sustainable. When the Minister came to my constituency last year, he said that he would take issue with allegations that the Government were forcing local authorities to provide housing—I made a note of that when he spoke to Leighton-Linslade town council—but that is not how that is seen locally. It is seen as a denial of local democracy. I echo everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said about that. That denial is dangerous. The power of the ballot box has to matter and be able to change things locally. People do not see that happening, and the Government should really be worrying about that.

Three hon. Members wish to catch my eye, and I intend to begin the Front-Bench winding-up speeches at 10 minutes past 12. If Members bear that in mind, all three will have time to make their contributions.

Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I wanted to focus on the growth forecast for Milton Keynes and the premise on which that growth is predicted, but given the time restrictions, I shall instead focus my comments on one area in particular. First, however, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for securing this debate. I have attempted to do so many times, but I am delighted that he succeeded, because his speech was incredibly erudite and compelling. He did a far better job than I could ever have done.

I shall talk about the 2,000 residents of Aspley Guise in Bedfordshire. So that the Minister understands where I am coming from, I shall describe Aspley Guise: it is one of the most beautiful areas in Bedfordshire. It is a village made up of Tudor cottages; it was mentioned in the Domesday Book; it is surrounded by green-belt land; it is a chocolate-box village, which are traditional in England—the kind of village that one imagines when talking about the typical British village. It also has a unique, supportive and strong community. People in Aspley Guise very much identify themselves with the area and the village, and it is an honour to be a Member for a constituency with such a strong community.

Aspley Guise is threatened with being subsumed by the expansion of Milton Keynes and becoming part of what is, or will be, a modern city. Obviously, the 2,000 residents of Aspley Guise object strongly to that, for a number of reasons, one of which is that they fear losing their identity and culture. They worry that the village will cease to exist and become part of a modern city. Those 2,000 residents are hugely concerned about that.

I can do no better than put it in the terms expressed by councillor Fiona Chapman. Imagine that someone has a big house and wants to build an extension and that, rather than applying to have it built in their own garden, they apply to build it further away in the garden of someone else’s smaller house. That is how the residents of Aspley Guise feel. They believe strongly that the expansion of Milton Keynes should take place within the boundaries of Milton Keynes and that a good area of green-belt land should surround Aspley Guise as a buffer between Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes expansion. They feel very strongly for a number of reasons. They understand that the 224,000 proposed new homes were based on a predicted jobs growth of 192,000. That was not realistic even then. As we know, Milton Keynes had just 0.1 per cent. economic growth at the time, when the rest of the region was benefiting from a growth of 0.6 per cent. Today, David Frost from the British Chamber of Commerce spoke about the dire situation for economic growth and businesses in the UK.

Aspley Guise residents and I should like to ask the Minister why he thinks that we need completely to subsume a village on the basis of economic growth forecasts that we know will not be realised. I shall finish quickly, because I know that my colleagues want to speak. As the Minister has been an assiduous and efficient chairman of Milton Keynes and South Midlands, will he come to Aspley Guise to look at the area and meet the people and listen to their concerns? Unlike the previous ministerial visit, I guarantee that it will be a calm, beneficial and warm meeting. So, when the Minister is in the Milton Keynes or the Bedfordshire area, will he do us the honour of paying us a visit, so that he can see for himself the area that will be destroyed by the growth of Milton Keynes?

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries). I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on securing this debate and on making such a powerful speech. I totally agree with all the comments made by my hon. Friends. I should like to mention a different area, however. In some respects, it is the elephant in the room that has not been discussed.

In Wellingborough, unemployment is 40 per cent. higher than it was in 1997. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) said, we have 52,000 new homes proposed and a road structure that is incapable of dealing with what we have at the moment. The issue that concerns me is the migration from Europe. In one year, in the most up-to-date figures that I have from the Office for National Statistics, 7,000 migrants moved into Northamptonshire to stay for more than one year. We do not have the jobs at the moment. As I said, unemployment is 40 per cent. higher than in 1997. We did not have the boom, but we have certainly had the bust.

If politicians of the main political parties do not discuss the problem of migration, it could lead to extreme parties coming in. Unfortunately, I now have the British National party in my area. It makes the simple case that people cannot get jobs because foreign workers have taken them. That is untrue and unfair, but there is a danger that that view will be developed and that reasonable people will vote for such parties because we, as mainstream politicians, are not discussing the issue in great detail. As there is already a huge amount of unemployment in my constituency and in other parts of Northamptonshire, we face a real danger if this migration continues.

It may well be that the migration does not continue. The Government have already said that up to 30 per cent. of the new homes will be for migrant workers. If those migrant workers are not going to come because the jobs are not here, do we need that growth in housing? Presumably, we could cut the figures by 30 per cent. We must discuss that issue in a calm way; otherwise, we will allow extremists to come in and do great damage in Northamptonshire.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for obtaining this debate, which is very well timed and presents a valuable opportunity to hon. Members who are affected by the sustainable communities project. I pay tribute to the Minister, who was good enough to visit Northampton. He showed a great interest and willingness to listen and to learn. We are lucky to have such a man, and it gives us hope. [Interruption.] It will be a pint later, Iain.

May I make one simple point? The Government’s plans for the number of houses have gone to the wall. The overview of the infrastructure needs has never been properly created, and we have never really understood where the money is coming from to pay for that infrastructure. We have talked quite sizeably about money from the private sector. I can tell the Minister that whereas prepared land cost £1.4 million an acre 12 to 14 months ago, we would be lucky to get £600,000 an acre now. That means that there is not the leeway within land values to provide the sort of infrastructure that the Government hoped they would be able to provide from that source. I plead with the Minister to review that particular project now, as it impacts on Northamptonshire and on the constituencies of my colleagues here today. Much of the original thinking, which was not very deep at the time, has gone out of the window because of present circumstances. Those circumstances will have a sizeable impact for the next 20 years. By that I mean the time frame that we were talking about in the original Rooker report in our part of the world.

My second point concerns rail transport. After I have discussed it, I will sit down, Mr. Cummings, because I appreciate your concerns, too. We are on a secondary loop link from London. There is no doubt that much of the rationale for the sustainable communities policy as it was originally envisaged was to solve housing problems in London and the south-east. Our projected indigenous population growth is very small. We assume that most of the incoming people will be from London and the south-east, which means that the rail connection is vital.

The Minister will have read of the problems that we have had over a lengthy period, which have been heightened over the past two weeks. I am told that more than 100 trains have been cancelled since the new timetable came in at the beginning of December, that there are not enough drivers to man the trains, and that the new link from the north-west is not performing as it should do. All of that is impacting dramatically on the present population getting to their jobs in London. When we have the sort of increase that the Government are projecting, the problem will be added to. I urge the Minister to consider that issue specifically within the overall review of the sustainable communities project for which I am calling. If the Government do not deal with the totally changed set of circumstances, they will create insoluble problems for the future for local planning authorities, urban development corporations and the delivery vehicles. I want a total rethink of the matter. I am not talking about the need for extra housing, but about how we are going to put into effect the sustainable communities programme that the Government wish to proceed with and which we wish to help with, provided it is not too much of a burden for the constituencies and the areas in which we live.

The direction of housing growth at Aylesbury is the subject of continuing debate, not least at local level, and notably between advocates of the southern arc on the one hand and the eastern arc on the other. The Minister will be relieved to know that I am not inviting him or expecting him to intrude into private grief on that subject today, or necessarily at a later stage. I want to make one simple plea to him.

Whichever arc goes forward as the accepted option, there is a consensus locally—I am looking with eager anticipation in the direction of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)—that the eastern link road will be essential to the sustainability of the development. Buckinghamshire county council has secured between £3 million and £4 million towards the design work for that road. It is not unreasonable for the county council to look for further finance, both because of the centrality of the road and on account of the fact that Aylesbury Vale, at the request of the Government, is undergoing a proportionately larger expansion than, I think, any other area of the country. I look forward to the good will and positive commitment of the Minister.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on securing this debate and I congratulate all hon. Members who have spoken—they have made the case on behalf of their constituents and raised their concerns. I shall try to be brief to allow the Minister as much time as possible to respond.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) said that the Minister was lucky. I am sure that he feels very lucky to have the pleasure and responsibility of responding to debates of this nature, but it feels like groundhog day because there are so many in Westminster Hall. There is a consensus that there is a massive unmet housing need, but there is frustration—not only in the region that we are talking about, but the whole country—because the process is the wrong way round. Local people do not feel that they have an opportunity to speak or that what they say will have an impact on the outcome. We end up having so many debates in Westminster Hall on such matters because they provide the only opportunity for Members to raise their constituents’ points.

The organisations that take the decisions lack accountability, but so does the process. I have spoken in such debates before, as colleagues have, and tried to gain an understanding of the process and to see how we could make an impact on it, but we have debates when the regional Minister is absent, which leads to questions about their role in decisions. At least, in this case, we have the chairman of Milton Keynes and South Midlands inter-regional board—the Minister—responding to the debate, so there might be some accountability. However, in all too many cases the right Minister is not present.

As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) highlighted, Milton Keynes is different from other parts of the region, which raises the question why the region is carved out as it is. There are major accountability issues, which should be tackled if the Government are keen for people to buy into the process. Hon. Members are more than prepared to make the argument for meeting the housing need, but without accountability it is difficult to counter cynicism, even if the Government show willing.

The issue is important because people are concerned that the sustainability of their communities is being undermined. They are worried about the impact that changes will have on their communities from a social perspective; the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) made that point well. The proposed changes will not only mean that communities grow, but that they will change altogether, so the matter needs to be treated sensitively. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West made a valuable point when she spoke of the need to ensure that we have soft infrastructure. We need to support growth, but we should not undermine what exists. The danger is that the process does just that.

The major environmental issues in the south-east were raised, such as access to water, and the impact of building on greenfield sites and of not protecting the green belt. Because of the planning process, developers have every incentive to develop sequentially, and we can guarantee that the greenfield sites will be the first to be identified. That needs to be addressed.

Ultimately, everything boils down to the economic sustainability of the plans. Hon. Members have already questioned the numbers of jobs and houses that will be generated, and we are now living in a completely different climate. There are Government announcements day after day on what they are doing to tackle the economic downturn, so I am at a loss about the continuing denial about housing numbers. The fact is that the Government’s target for house building is not being met. The jobs are not there, and the construction industry faces huge difficulties, and the Minister and the Department for Communities and Local Government must adapt to reflect that changed world.

There are some practical things that the Government could do. The new situation does not mean giving up on meeting housing need, because if anything the need for social housing will be even greater. What are the Department’s plans to meet the changing need? For example, if properties are not being developed in the private sector, and if there is greater need for social housing, what can it do to meet the new need? Could the Minister show some flexibility on the percentage grant for social housing, and can any money be brought forward? How will he respond to the Taylor report, which focuses on building economically sustainable communities, and not simply massive urban extensions, to safeguard the sustainability of existing communities as well as provide for future housing need? Practical steps could be taken.

I would like the Minister to say that he is prepared to listen to the views of the constituents whom hon. Members have represented today. Will he provide a reassurance that the targets will not be set in stone, to be pushed forward regardless of those views, in the light of the changed economic realities with which we now live?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cummings. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on securing this timely and important debate, and on his assiduous and consistent advocacy for his constituents. We have discussed such things on a number of occasions, regarding a number of areas, in the past few years, including the M40, the provision of health services in Milton Keynes and funding. As Yogi Berra, the American sports coach, said, it is déjà vu all over again. It is regrettable that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) filibustered for 18 minutes on the tangential issue of housing in Milton Keynes, rather than address the substantive issue, when so many other hon. Members wished to represent their constituents. I hope not to repeat what my hon. Friends said, but I congratulate them on making the effort to represent their constituents eloquently and determinedly in the debate.

I hope that the Minister heard what was said about planning policy statement 3 and the sleight of hand that is being used to encourage more development on green belt land. The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that up to 75 per cent. of housing could be built on green belt land in the Milton Keynes South Midlands area. I also hope that he is thinking about transport infrastructure, and specifically about the 2003 independent study by Roger Tym and Partners, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (John Bercow) and for Aylesbury referred. He will know that the South East England Development Agency estimates that £25 billion is needed to finance infrastructure planning as a consequence of housing built under the sustainable communities plan. That will not be funding by section 106, the Milton Keynes supplement or planning gain supplements—I am talking about roads, schools, clinics, bridges, hospitals, community centres and so on.

Energy and water infrastructure are also important. When the Minister speaks, he could address the fact that the current constitution of the regulatory system militates against long-term planning for facilities by, for instance, EDF, in the Aylesbury area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has said.

It is ironic—one is entitled to be cynical—that at its launch in July, the Secretary of State said that

“the White Paper provides real and practical ways to put communities in control…Politicians have a contract with those that they serve – that contract now needs to be rewritten to ensure that the needs of real people are taken more into account.”

That simply has not happened in the past few years.

In the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, the Government missed an opportunity and have failed to right the wrongs of too much central control. They had an opportunity to transfer power downwards to local people but, instead, they have junked regional assemblies, and intend to vest unprecedented planning powers in the hands of the regional development agencies. As we know, buried in the small print of the Bill is the capacity to create new, unelected economic and transport quangos, which is in effect a green light for yet more stealth taxes on our constituents.

The Bill also strips away the last vestiges of democratic accountability at regional level by giving major housing and planning powers to unelected appointees of regional development agencies with reserve powers for Secretaries of State to revise or completely disregard regional plans as they see fit. That is an example of Labour’s Stalinist quango state of unelected party elites. It is not a way to proceed—[Interruption.] I am glad that the Minister is easily amused.

I wish to mention some other specific areas that my hon. Friends have mentioned. Obviously, the regional spatial strategy is a flawed process. It is unaccountable, distant, and undemocratic and corrodes people’s faith and trust in the planning system, which is bad for local democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) made an apposite point on the impact of migration from the EU and elsewhere. He is absolutely right that it is incumbent on mainstream parties to talk about those issues and their impact on the delivery of public services. Otherwise, the extremists in our midst will make hay and undermine the system, which is what they intend to do.

My hon. Friend referred to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, and I can tell him that the British National party is leafleting this week in Leighton Buzzard on that issue. I say to the Minister that this is a real threat that we need to be serious about.

Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I will not be too much longer. I will not be able to develop all of the points that I would have liked to make, but I reassure hon. Members today that a Conservative Government would abolish regional spatial strategies, facilitate their post facto review, get rid of the floor density and housing targets, legislate for proper consultation at the local level with local councils and other stakeholders and revisit the flawed Barker report, which is the basis of the Stalinist housing targets across the south-east of England and the rest of the country, which are crazy, especially in light of the economic downturn in the housing market. We will also revisit the projections of the Office for National Statistics on demography and population change. A Conservative Government will give power back to local people and restore local civic pride.

I begin by welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Cummings, and wish you and other Members a happy new year. I must also apologise to you, Mr. Cummings, as I am afraid that I have three Adjournment debates today and you will be seeing rather a lot of me. This debate was a good start. It was a high-quality, well-argued debate, so perhaps I will now bring the average down.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on securing the debate. Future growth of housing is of critical importance across the country, and it is essential that we have a good, mature debate and a positive and constructive conversation about the right way forward. As he said in his speech, I visited Aylesbury in October in my position as chair of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands inter-regional board, and I was pleased to see the progress that had been made there. The growth of Aylesbury is important to the success of the sub-region, and a successful sub-region there, given its location, is important to the entire country. Its strategic location and its close proximity to London and to world-class universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the centres of higher education in its own area, means that it is well positioned to play a leading role in the UK economy as we move forward in the 21st century. It is important that we facilitate growth and development in that regard. I was pleased to see a report—my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope) mentions this to me on a regular basis—by Oxford Economics claiming that Corby, which is in the north of the sub-region, was the best placed of any town in the country to weather the current market conditions.

I know from my visits throughout the region, which I really enjoy, and my meetings with people across the sub-region, that there is huge potential and ambition in the area. Council leaders and delivery partners have great ambitions for the future of the area, and the important vision of how growth can benefit existing and future residents was captured in today’s debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey).

Three themes have been raised in the debate, and I would like to address all of them. The first is the need for more homes, and not just any old places, but quality homes built with local consultation. I absolutely agree with that. When I last visited Milton Keynes, I went to the Oxley park development and was really impressed by its sustainability and the high-quality environmental materials used. I hope that that model can be applied across the rest of the country.

The second theme relates to jobs and how we cannot have a mismatch between housing and jobs. Again, I agree with that approach. The third theme relates to the key element of infrastructure, which has to be well planned in conjunction with local needs. That is the key theme, because we cannot think of any of those aspects in isolation. The location of homes needs to be thought about in close relation to the location of enterprise and employment areas, and the infrastructure and public services to help service those areas are absolutely key. The approach suggested by Opposition Members today runs contrary to the concept of the benefit of planning and of bringing everything together to ensure that we do not think of things in isolation.

I will now look at the need for more homes. On his website, the hon. Member for Aylesbury states that almost everyone agrees that new homes need to be built, and it was pleasing to hear every hon. Member who has spoken today state that that is important. There is a broad national consensus about the need for more housing in the country, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West was right in saying that people genuinely believe that we need more housing, but want it built nowhere near them, and we need to combat that. I was disappointed to see that the hon. Gentleman had put his name on the petition on the No. 10 website to say no to new homes in his areas, because without new homes people will have to move away from where they grew up in order to get a roof of their own.

There is a question of affordability. The ratio of house prices to average salaries in his area of Aylesbury is nine, meaning that house prices are nine times the average salary. That is not sustainable in any sense of the word. I would hate to see a situation in his constituency in which people who grew up in Aylesbury were forced out by higher prices. We need to address that by providing more affordable housing and more social housing. That is vital for combating that real social problem.

The past 30 years have seen a 30 per cent. increase in the formation of households but a 50 per cent. drop in house building. There are 200,000 people in the south-east on waiting lists for affordable housing and over 37,000 on waiting lists across the Milton Keynes/South Midlands sub-region, with over 2,500 in Aylesbury. We simply cannot afford to ignore that, because it is of absolutely vital importance. Good, long-term planning is key. Yes, it should be done in consultation with the local community, but it is vital if we are to address those real concerns.

I do live in the real world and recognise that the circumstances in the housing market at present are obviously very difficult, but there is no evidence to suggest that those long-term demographic changes are altering at all. Thankfully, we are all living longer, so we have an ageing population. Given social changes, such as more single people living alone, those trends will continue. I suggest that failure to act and plan for more housing now would simply store up problems for the future and that that would be irresponsible. That is my response to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy), who questioned whether we should look at changing the targets. Given that the statistical evidence behind those targets is very robust and that it includes long-term demographic factors, we have to do it. Yes, in the current economic climate it will be difficult to get back up to the necessary speed and trajectory, but it has to be done, and the Government are up for the challenge.

An awful lot was discussed in the debate, and unfortunately I do not have the time to address all of it, but I want to mention one last point before concluding, and that is the point about planning and not looking at things in isolation. I absolutely agree with the sentiments expressed by those on the Opposition Benches on how housing must be thought about in terms of long-term planning, together with employment and infrastructure, but some of the suggestions made today, not least by the hon. Gentleman, run contrary to that. I think that he was trying to say that we should return to emphasising windfall development and ad hoc planning so that, when a site becomes available, we embrace it for planning, and I think that that view is wrong. It is not the right approach. Long-term planning for the future, bearing in mind the various pressures and circumstances, are absolutely vital. The ambition in the sub-region for—