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Green Belt

Volume 560: debated on Monday 18 March 2013

1. What recent steps he has taken to increase the power of local authorities to tackle unauthorised development and protect the green belt. (148136)

We have previously made it absolutely clear that Traveller sites are inappropriate development in the green belt. We are also considering responses to our recent consultation on proposals to give councils more freedom to use temporary stop notices to take swift and effective action against unauthorised caravans in the green belt and elsewhere. This builds on our earlier reforms to strengthen councils' enforcement powers, increase protection for the green belt, and ensure fair play throughout planning.

We are very grateful locally to the Government for their help during the clearance of the illegal Dale Farm Traveller site. I know that the Government are considering a series of further measures to tackle unauthorised development, which is grossly unfair on local communities, but may I urge the Secretary of State to go further than he is considering at the moment? For example, will he consider whether illegal development should become a criminal offence, always bearing in mind what is reasonable?

My hon. Friend has been a doughty defender of his constituents and was instrumental in finding a solution to Dale Farm. Should we decide to give councils more freedom to use temporary stop notices, subject to consultation, they would allow an unlimited fine, which may give people pause for thought. The Government are reluctant to make it a criminal offence.

In the immediate Romsey area there have been several instances of retrospective planning applications involving Traveller sites. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my constituents that planning law is a level playing field that applies equally to everyone and that local authorities will have more robust powers to deal with the problem?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Localism Act 2011 gives applicants a chance to appeal either the enforcement notice or retrospective planning. The problem with the previous regime was that it was possible to appeal both and thereby prolong occupation of land where it was inappropriate.

A developer in Lydiate in my constituency has made clear his plans to build in the green belt, despite the existing urban development plan making it clear that it is against the policies. Is not the best way to protect the green belt and valuable urban green space to go back to a system with a more regional approach so that there is not this push for development in the green belt?

The short answer is no. The regional approach was about handing out targets that were never met. I have the basic old-fashioned view that his constituents are in a much stronger and better position to decide where a development should go than I am.

There is a real problem in Telford, not just with illegal Traveller encroachment on green space but on industrial estates, which is really bad for businesses. When companies come to visit Telford, they do not want to see Traveller encampments all over our industrial estates. There is a mixed land ownership pattern, with some owned by the local authority, some privately owned and some Homes and Communities Agency land. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives and me to see whether we can toughen the law to get these people moved on so that businesses can operate effectively in Telford?

It is always a pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, I have a soft spot for Telford. I spent a lot of time during the last election trying to unseat him, without any success. The point about industrial land is a good one. Telford is clearly a key strategic location and, subject to the consultations, the announcement that we may or may not be about to make will help with that process. We have issued guidance to local authorities, but if my sitting down with him and local authorities to try to work something out would help, I am happy to do so.