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Regional Spatial Strategies

Volume 511: debated on Thursday 10 June 2010

We committed in the Queen's Speech to abolishing regional strategies. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to all council leaders saying that he expects them to have regard to that as a material planning consideration in any decisions they are currently taking.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him to his new position. Will he outline how the Government’s abolition of regional strategies will impact on the provision of Traveller sites of the kind that we already have in Dudley South?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome, and I welcome him to the House. I know that he has always been a vigorous local campaigner.

The point behind abolishing the regional spatial strategies is that we believe that local communities should make decisions locally and should have the ability to put them into effect. It is, of course, important to make provision for Travellers, but such decisions should be taken locally.

I welcome the Minister to his post. Will he confirm that, as I set out in our radical planning paper “Open Source Planning”, the expectation is that abolishing regional spatial strategies will reinvigorate our planning system and move us away from the historically low level of house building that we have seen, which has so badly failed us?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I half expected to find a note on my desk from the previous Housing Minister apologising for the fact that there were no houses, but he did not get round to writing it.

I am glad that my hon. Friend draws attention to his role in what I think will be an important paper. He wrote in that paper that the present system

“imposes too many one-size-fits-all rules…Tragically, the very idea that development can benefit a community has…become a casualty.”

That is the reality of the system that we have been labouring under—literally “Labouring” under. The system does not work in practice or in theory; what kind of bankrupt system is that?

May I welcome the abolition of the regional spatial strategies? I referred in the previous Parliament to the system being akin to Soviet-style planning, and it certainly put constraints on the development of housing in my North Durham constituency. However, what will the Minister be doing on guidance and, more importantly, funding to ensure that the housing that is desperately needed in former mining villages in County Durham will be forthcoming?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for our policy, which enjoys a degree of consensus throughout the country, if not among some of his colleagues. It is important to recognise that when things are imposed from the centre, people tend to react against it. We need to provide incentives, including funding, so that the communities that host more housing get some of the funding that they need to provide infrastructure and other things associated with it.

With regional spatial strategies, did not local authorities at least have the chance to have some say about coming together on big strategic issues? Now, however, we presume that the hefty hand of the central controller at his expansive desk in Whitehall will be making all the decisions centrally.

I will forgive the hon. Gentleman for that remark, because he has been absent from the House for the past five years, but if a central controller had been operating, they had been doing so from Whitehall under the previous Government. The fact is that we want to allow local communities to co-operate. Co-operation is something that people should do co-operatively, rather than by imposition. Although we will encourage co-operation, we will not tell communities what to do from the centre.