The Government strongly encourage the reuse of suitable brownfield land. Our national planning policy framework makes it clear that local authorities should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes and other identified needs. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will further empower local leaders to regenerate urban centres by strengthening and adding to existing measures.
Homes England proposes to build up to 10,000 houses on greenfield sites west of Ifield in my constituency. What directive has my right hon. Friend’s Department given to the executive agency Homes England on the Department’s brownfield-first building policy?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. I cannot go into individual planning cases, but Homes England is leading a programme of urban regeneration. The work that we are doing in London’s docklands and in Leeds, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and other areas demonstrates our commitment both to levelling up and to making sure that, for environmental and economic reasons, we develop brownfield land first.
My I help out the Secretary of State? He is aware of the Grove Lane site on the Sandwell-Birmingham border, in which the West Midlands Combined Authority and its Mayor are also interested. It is opposite the new Midland Metropolitan University Hospital site and it is an ideal brownfield site for housing. Will his Department get on with it?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who refers to the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, the only metro Mayor to significantly exceed housing targets in the delivery of new homes. He is that rare thing: a Labour MP who welcomes house building in his own constituency. Of course I will support him.
My right hon. Friend may know that, in Durrington in north-west Worthing, more than 1,000 new homes have been built. Will he ask his inspectors—and the Leader of the Opposition—to recognise that Chatsmore Farm and Lansdowne Nurseries should not be built on? We must have some green fields between one habitation and another.
The Father of the House makes a very important point. Of course, his beautiful constituency—situated as it is between the sea and areas of outstanding natural beauty—has already seen significant development and we do need to ensure that settlements have the green belts around them protected.
On developing brownfield sites, will the Secretary of State consider giving powers to councils such as Westmorland and Furness, and to planning authorities such as those in the Yorkshire dales and the Lake district, to ensure exclusive provision for affordable and social rented housing so that we do not see communities such as ours dying out because all the houses built end up being sold for second homes?
From his perspective as an assiduous constituency Member, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but may I commiserate with him? At the recent Liberal Democrat conference, I am afraid he was defeated, and his party adopted a housing policy that he describes as Thatcherite. It is a source of sadness to me to be outflanked on the right by the Liberal Democrats, but may I welcome more defections to the Thatcherite cause from those who once embraced my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) as one of their own?
My constituents are frustrated with the planning system in that, although sites are allocated and protected in neighbourhood plans, when applications come in, their concerns about those sites are not listened to by local planning committees and by the inspectorate. Will the Secretary of State tell my constituents in Witham what measures are in place in local neighbourhood plans and local development plans to protect these sites from being built on, so that the focus is on brownfield sites first and foremost?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. If her local authority has an up-to-date plan, that is the best protection against speculative development. If, however, a local authority does not have a plan in place, there can be a presumption in favour of sustainable development and that can be upheld by the Planning Inspectorate, which could mean development on sites where local communities do not wish to see it. That is why it is so important for local authorities to adopt plans.
The Secretary of State is a very clever man, and he must know that if there had been a large amount of brownfield land, it would have been built on. The fact of the matter is that we in this country must bite the bullet and build on land other than brownfield, because there is not enough of it. Does he agree that courage along with intellect would help us solve the housing problem?
The hon. Gentleman is a man of independent mind, and he is straying from Front-Bench policy by decreeing me a man of intelligence—that is not the official Labour party position on these issues—but I should say that he is right. It is not only brownfield land that can be developed, but it must be brownfield first, and there is significant room for additional brownfield development if we invest in urban regeneration, which we are doing.