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Brownfield Land and Empty Buildings

Volume 585: debated on Monday 8 September 2014

3. What steps he is taking to (a) encourage development on brownfield land and (b) bring empty buildings back into use. (905200)

In June we announced a new £400 million package to encourage development on brownfield land which we estimate could provide up to 200,000 new homes by 2020. We have extended permitted development to give new life to thousands of empty buildings. The number of empty homes is now the lowest since records began a decade ago.

I am encouraged by that answer. Tamworth council has relatively few publicly held brownfield sites, but it is working innovatively with the private sector to redevelop our town centre with a mix of leisure, retail and accommodation property to keep it vibrant. What further support can Ministers give to local authorities with relatively few brownfield properties to encourage private owners to make better use of their assets?

I have indeed visited Tamworth, which already has a very handsome town centre with a statue of Peel that I went to visit. I suggest that my hon. Friend’s friends in the local authority look at the empty homes programme. I understand that, as of October last year, Tamworth has 579 empty homes, of which about 150 have been empty long term. If the council were able to work with the owners to bring just a third of those properties back into use, there would not only be new homes for people but a substantial new homes bonus of about £350,000 for Tamworth council.

In its current inquiry into the national planning policy framework, the Communities and Local Government Committee has had dozens of complaints from local residents about local councils having to find more greenfield sites to build on because brownfield sites cannot be included in their local plans as they are deemed not to be viable. At the same time, more and more applications are being considered under the presumption in favour of sustainable developments and are being approved for building on greenfield sites. Given that the vast majority of those complaints come from the constituencies of Government Members, what is the Minister going to do to address them?

It is up to local communities to work with their local councils and, indeed, their local constituency MPs to see what is most appropriate for each area. It is a mistake to make pronouncements from the Dispatch Box about particular circumstances in particular areas, but if the hon. Gentleman has a specific example he wants to put to me, I am sure we will be able to take it up.

At the risk of testing your sense of order, Mr Speaker, would you allow me to place on record our, as Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, sadness at the death of Jim Dobbin? He was a true Christian and a true gentleman, and we shall all miss him. Our thoughts are with Pat.

I applaud the Government’s efforts to bring brownfield sites back into use, but deplore the equal efforts by Mrs Ann Gloag to reduce a perfectly serviceable airport, Manston in Kent, to a brownfield site, with a view, presumably, to gaining Government assistance. Will the Minister join the Prime Minister in recognising the importance of Manston as a national asset and applaud the efforts of Thanet council, on a cross-party basis, to seek to bring it back into use as an airport?

I hear what my hon. Friend says and I heard what the Prime Minister said. He was obviously better briefed on Manston airport than I am, so I simply commend to my hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s words in answer to his previous question.

Last week the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who has responsibility for housing and planning, was clear in rejecting urban extensions, yet under his Government brownfield development has fallen from 70% under Labour to just 53% now. As his new proposals to support brownfield development will help only about a third of councils, where do the Government think the new houses will go?

We have announced a £400 million fund for local authorities to bid to create new housing zones, with 20 in London and 10 around the country. With the additional money the Mayor of London is putting in, that is a £600 million investment. We will also publish a consultation next month on further measures to get planning permissions on brownfield sites, and we are working with local authorities to produce a support package, available from next March, to further encourage the use of brownfield land. There is, therefore, a lot of activity taking place in this area.