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Brownfield Sites

Volume 560: debated on Monday 18 March 2013

I hope that in 30 years’ time my enthusiasm will be equivalent.

The national planning policy framework is clear that planning should encourage the effective use of land by reusing brownfield land if it is not of high environmental value.

I thank the wise, intelligent and helpful Minister for that answer. In my constituency, we have a derelict brownfield site at Rushden Lakes Skew Bridge. The local Conservative-controlled council has given planning permission for a large retail and leisure development, which will create 2,000 new jobs. Does the Minister agree that that is exactly the sort of project the economy needs?

My hon. Friend is aware that that application has been called in by the Secretary of State. I therefore cannot comment on it specifically, but I can reassure him that the Secretary of State, in all planning decisions, takes into account economic benefits, and all other impacts on the economy and the environment.

Les Sturch, the head of planning and development at Sheffield city council, has drawn to my attention what I assume is an unintended consequence of chapter 6, paragraph 47 of the national planning policy framework, which requires local authorities to identify in their local plans a five-year supply of sites that are deliverable and viable. The problem is that developers say that, in the current circumstances, most brownfield sites are not viable. That forces the local authority to go back and identify far more greenfield sites for development than the local community wants. That is happening all around the country. Will the Minister meet me and officers from Sheffield to discuss how that situation could risk completely undermining the Government’s “brownfield first” policy?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, who is Chair of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government and very knowledgeable on the subject. There is no point putting into a plan sites that have no chance of being developed. A balance needs to be struck on whether they are potentially viable.

In north Oxfordshire, we want to build new houses on former Ministry of Defence brownfield land; we want new social housing, new self-build housing and new housing; and we want a new garden city in Bicester. Will Ministers assist us in our endeavours?

That is exactly the kind of local leadership that we are looking for, and that we believe will produce more housing development that is more acceptable to local people, unlike the failed top-down approach of the previous Government.

I was astonished but delighted to hear the caveat that the Minister inserted in his initial response to the question—that brownfield developments should be environmentally suitable. Does he acknowledge that many brownfield sites have specific value for what is often unique biodiversity on previous industrial and chemical sites?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because it is an extremely important one. That is why we changed the policy from the one adopted by the previous Government, under which there was a strong, blanket nudge to use brownfield land. We are saying that if the brownfield land is of high environmental value, it should not be a priority for development.