The Government have safeguarded national green-belt protection in contrast to Labour’s top-down strategies of the past that wanted to concrete over it. In October last year, we published new planning guidance, which reaffirmed green-belt protection, and we have been consulting on changes to Traveller policy which, if taken forward, will further strengthen green-belt protection.
Over the past five years, the Kingswood green belt has been protected. Now, hundreds of local people have signed a petition against a proposed right to grow set out in the Opposition’s Lyons review that would allow Bristol to expand at the expense of our local green belt and local communities. Does the Minister agree that we need to continue to protect the Kingswood green belt against this dangerous right-to-grow policy?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. When I visited him not too long ago, he showed me Labour plans for places to have the ability to grow outwards. The review says that some places illustrate these issues to a greater or lesser extent, and that
“not all green belt land is of high environmental or amenity value”.
I suspect my hon. Friend’s residents would disagree with that. I know he has campaigned hard on this issue. It is vital to ensure that we continue these strong green-belt protections. Ultimately, these matters must be locally decided by local people for their local area.
The Minister will be aware that paragraphs 17 and 111 of the national planning policy framework contain a commitment to “brownfield first”. When the Select Committee did its recent inquiry into the operation of the NPPF, it received more complaints about one issue than any other—concerns about inappropriate speculative applications, not just in the green belt but in green fields in general. Will he agree to look very carefully at the Select Committee’s recommendations to speed up the process of local plan adoption and to ensure that those local plans have a higher percentage of brownfield within them? There is real concern about this issue on both sides of the Chamber.
The short answer is yes. The hon. Gentleman has made a good point: it is important to protect both green-belt and greenfield land. Some interesting cases have arisen, particularly one in the last couple of weeks, in which green-wedge land was protected by inspectors. However, it is also important for local authorities to deliver local plans, and it would be even better to see some more neighbourhood plans.
Following the question from my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), may I ask whether my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that 70% of Bath and North East Somerset is green belt? It is some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and allowing Bristol to spill over into it would essentially mean the recreation of that most unloved county of Avon. The Government’s commitment to preserving the green belt is therefore of crucial importance.
My hon. Friend has lobbied me on this issue, along with colleagues in the area. There is indeed some beautiful scenery there, and the green belt is indeed important. The local authority, working with local people, has the right to make decisions that will protect its green belt, as is specified in the national planning policy framework.
In Cramlington, in my constituency, an urban sprawl of housing has developed over the years since it became a new town. There is a small green patch there, but it is currently the subject of an application for planning permission to build more housing. Should not the townships that were built during the 1960s have a bit of green space in the middle?
We all like to keep our green spaces, and the NPPF is very clear about the need to protect green belt, but, ultimately, the decision should be made locally. It is for the local authority to outline its local plan, but I urge the community in the area to consider proceeding with a local neighbourhood plan, in order to give themselves absolute local control and, if they want it, local protection.
In my constituency, Eastleigh borough council is working hard to meet the desperate need for more housing while also protecting the precious green gaps between our towns and villages. Are the Secretary of State and the Minister aware that the inspectorate has overruled the borough council’s local plan, which was based on all the evidence available, while refusing to give an adequate explanation of its reasons for insisting on the building of thousands more houses than the evidence has shown to be necessary?
Obviously I cannot comment on a particular local plan, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to contact me and provide some of the details. The inspectors would generally look at the evidence, and I think it unlikely that they would make a specific comment about numbers. It is more probable that they challenged the local authority’s evidence. It is important for the authority to put together a strong evidence base to back up what it wants to do.