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Garden Development

Volume 511: debated on Thursday 10 June 2010

1. If he will bring forward proposals to increase the powers of local authorities to prevent infill and garden development. (1535)

Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman should have requested a grouping with questions 9 and 15.

You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. I was just so happy to be here. I hope that I do not go on too long—[Hon. Members: “So do we.”] Well, I was not thinking of putting it to a vote.

9. If he will bring forward proposals to increase the powers of local authorities to prevent infill and garden development. (1543)

15. If he will bring forward proposals to increase the powers of local authorities to prevent infill and garden development. (1550)

Further to the coalition agreement, the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has responsibilities for decentralisation and planning, gave notice to the House that we are changing planning guidance and that we have taken back gardens out of the definition of brownfield land. In addition, we have removed density requirements. The matter is now for local people to decide.

I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his welcome return to the Communities and Local Government brief. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, not only for his recent work in developing the Government’s ambitious low-carbon economy programme, but for his long-term battle to give communities the power they need to stand up for themselves against inappropriate development.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his answer, but will he reassure the House and my constituents that he intends to repeal perverse rules that prevent local councillors from standing up for their constituents—

Order. I am sorry, but I must now cut off the hon. Gentleman. From now on, questions and answers must be briefer.

I think I got the gist; I think my hon. Friend was referring to predetermination and I am delighted to inform the House that it is our intention to repeal those regulations. That means we can give local councils the thing that Members of Parliament so desire—that councillors with opinions can actually vote on those opinions.

In Harrow East, the decision to safeguard gardens will be warmly welcomed, but another problem remains: unscrupulous developers whose planning application is turned down by councillors at local level, but who then appeal. What proposals are there to prevent the overturning of local planning decisions on appeal?

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. We are determined to ensure that planning remains local, but of course an applicant’s right to appeal against a decision will remain.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. What estimate has his Department made of the impact of the potential changes to planning policy implicit in this question and the other changes his Government have announced, given that Savills, the respected commentators on housing, project that on current trends and patterns there will be a cumulative shortfall of more than 1 million homes within five years?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. It is entirely typical of his courtesy that his was the first letter of congratulation that I received. However, I have to tell him that it seems perverse for the Labour party to be concerned about housing numbers. After all, last year the lowest number of houses was built since 1946. Under Labour, it would appear that more damage was done to the housing industry than the Luftwaffe did.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that, stretching back to the time of Herbert Morrison, the green belt is a great Labour achievement? Does he also recognise that the urban densification policy of the past 13 years has protected the green belt and regenerated our cities? Does the policy review announced today put in jeopardy all that good work?

I recall hearing our former colleague John Prescott say from this Dispatch Box that the green belt was a great achievement of the Labour party and that it intended to build on it. That indeed seems to have been the case.

I understand fully the concerns about garden grabbing, but I urge the Secretary of State to adopt a careful approach to how he intends to tackle the issue, because some infill is absolutely necessary in urban areas. Can he assure me that planning policy will be flexible enough to assist and not to detract from urban renewal in constituencies such as mine?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support of the coalition’s policy, and I thank him for being part of that consensus. He should understand that these matters will now be decided locally, and the Government think that the most sensible people to decide matters of density and particular applications are the local communities that must bear the consequences of those developments.