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Regional Spatial Strategies

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009

6. What recent representations he has received on the timetable for further reviews of regional spatial strategies. (284342)

The Department has had a number of recent representations from Members on the timetable for further reviews of regional spatial strategies. Margaret Beckett—[Interruption.] Sorry.

Order. I think that the Minister meant the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) answered questions in the House on the point on 2 June 2009. In addition, the regional spatial strategy for the south-west has been subject to extensive consultation; there were 35,000 responses on its proposed changes.

I thank the Minister for that response. The vast majority of those 35,000 responses opposed the building of 68,500 houses in Cornwall. Is it not time to scrap the targets and provide the funds to local authorities, which can build the affordable housing in the places where it is most needed?

The hon. Gentleman misses the point about regional spatial strategies, which are absolutely essential in ensuring that the Government meet their target of 240,000 extra homes by 2016. He should support that, given that 161,000 people in his region alone are on the waiting list for homes.

When my hon. Friend is considering the strategies, will he emphasise the importance of dealing with climate change, and take it into consideration more than nimbyism?

That is precisely why the regional spatial strategies—and, shortly, the regional strategies—are being developed. They are to ensure that there is an integrated, holistic approach that takes stock of the challenge of climate change.

Does the Minister not see the irony? In July 2007, the Prime Minister told the House:

“we will continue robustly to protect the land designated as green belt.”— [Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1449.]

In May this year, the east of England regional plan was struck down by the High Court because, to use the judge’s words, it would

“erode the Green Belt without alternatives being considered”

and because there was a lack of a proper strategic environmental assessment. The south-west regional plan has just been indefinitely withdrawn by the Government after the High Court gave an identical ruling, and judicial reviews have now been launched on the same grounds against the south-east regional plan.

The Minister is new to his post. Would it not be a good idea to take this opportunity to scrap the derailed and discredited regional spatial strategy system, the Prime Minister’s discredited promise, or both?

Seldom have I heard such a lot of rubbish in such a short space of time. The regional spatial strategies are crucial in ensuring that we get the housing outcomes that we want. With respect to the east of England judgment, small procedural elements needed to be readdressed, and the issue has been remitted to the Secretary of State. We will put it right and we will learn the lessons from the east of England and apply them to the south-west. We will move forward.

Since 1997, the green belt has decreased by 0.8 per cent. However, if we take the New Forest national park into account, there has been a 2 per cent. increase since that year.