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Pennbury Eco-town

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009

I expect to make announcements in relation to Pennbury and other sites with the potential to be an eco-town before the summer recess.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He will know that there is next to no local support for the Pennbury town idea, excepting that of the Co-operative Society—a situation that, I suggest, involves some conflict of interest with the Labour Government. He will know also that there is nothing ecological about building on a greenfield site and no demand for housing on that scale, so will he learn the lesson of past new towns—of building huge new towns without any existing infrastructure and of how unpopular they have been—and understand what a disaster the new town would be for the people of Leicestershire?

As I come to make decisions on the matter, I will have the benefit of quite an extensive consultation, of additional assessments that have been undertaken, and of the opportunity that has been given to everyone, including residents in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and Members, to make their views known. I say to him very clearly that the links that any developer or company may have with any of those eco-town proposals and with any political party are simply not a material consideration in the decision that I take, and will not be.

May I urge the Minister, when he makes an announcement on Pennbury, to reject it firmly? The scheme will have a devastating effect on my constituency and on the city of Leicester in general—on transport infrastructure, in particular, and on regeneration investment in the city. The scheme is based on ludicrously unrealistic projections of traffic and jobs and is, frankly, the wrong scheme in the wrong place.

And the Minister will hear it again when, I hope, he permits me, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) and the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) to see him with an all-party delegation, as we have requested, to provide him with some of the facts of life about the popularity and utility of the scheme. It will be in my constituency and it will impose a town of 40,000 residents in the middle of rural Leicestershire. It is an idiotic scheme, and—Mr. Speaker, I shall be very brief—the sooner this Minister, who is the fourth such Minister to have to deal with the issue, realises that and promises not to make an announcement—

Order. I think we have had enough, and can I just make the point that what one is seeking at Question Time is questions from hon. and right hon. Members?

I may be slow sometimes but I get the message. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that there has been complete consultation and the decision-taking process is now under way. Just as when planning applications are called in, however, it would not be appropriate for me or any ministerial colleague to meet him or other Members. I reassure him, none the less, that I have an enormous amount of material and a wide range of representations, including from him, to take into account.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s eventual decision on Pennbury, does he recognise that there is an acute shortage of affordable housing in the shire districts and boroughs of Leicestershire? Will he therefore suggest to me how we can encourage the reluctant landlords, which Tory district and borough councils often are, to take advantage of the new announcements that were made last week, rather than to spend their time coercing their tenants into a stock transfer or drumming their fingers waiting for the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to ride over the horizon—

My hon. Friend will realise and, I hope, welcome the series of announcements that I have made so far, building on the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett). The further announcements that I plan to make are intended largely to remove the bias in the system against councils being able to build the homes that are needed in their area. So, there are some questions for my hon. Friend to ask of his council, and for every Member to ask of their local council. Why are local councils not building or commissioning the building that is necessary? Why are they not bidding for the funds that the Government are making available? Why are they not making the land available on which those homes could be built? Why are they not giving the planning permission for those homes to be built? And, indeed, why are they not going to make the lettings policies fairer in future?

The Prime Minister launched the eco-town programme in a blaze of publicity in May 2007 and then upped it to 10 eco-towns, but here we are two years later and the Government are still consulting on the matter and still consulting about planning guidance. The small print of last week’s draft legislative programme, however, revealed on page 122 that the towns have now been pushed back to 2020. So, will the Minister—the fourth to have been across the Dispatch Box from me—now just admit that the programme is a shambles, that developers are running scared, that judicial reviews have delayed it, that it will require massive public subsidy when the coffers are bare and that the Government’s own environmental advisory panel said that, at best, only one eco-town was environmentally friendly? Is it not time that this Housing Minister, the ninth since the Government came to power, admitted that the unpopular eco-town programme is a complete shambles and scrapped it?

On the contrary. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little patient; I have said to the House that I expect to make an announcement before the recess, and I have not yet finished four weeks in the job. Eco-towns give us the opportunity to meet two needs: first, the need for new homes, including those that people can afford to rent; and secondly, the need to build our homes in future in a way that helps us tackle the threat of climate change. Given that more than a quarter of the total carbon emissions in this country come from homes, that is something that we simply must do.