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Planning: Airfields

Volume 689: debated on Monday 5 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the footnote in planning policy guidance 3, which states that it is inappropriate to develop land being used for airfields, applies to planning policy statement 3.

My Lords, the footnote in question, relating to planning policy guidance 3, was an example of a large site where it would not necessarily be appropriate to build to the edge of the boundary, but it was not an indication that airfields were exempt from development. Planning policy statement 3 continues the same approach and makes it clear that there is no presumption that previously developed land is necessarily suitable for housing development or that the whole of the curtilage should be developed.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her less than interesting Answer, which rather dodges the whole question. If the footnote was good enough for PPG3, why is it not good enough for PPS3? Is it the Government’s intention to make the greenfield areas of airfields and hospitals more vulnerable to development by housing?

No, my Lords. As an ex-historian, I would never dispute the value of footnotes, but I assure the noble Lord that PPS3 strengthens the case. In PPS3 we are saying that PPG3 did not exempt airfields from development, although I can see that this was perhaps a misunderstanding made by people whom the noble Lord represents. We are making a new addition to the text. There is no presumption that previously developed land is necessarily suitable for housing development or that the curtilage should be developed. That protects airfields in exactly the same way as it protects other sites. It is important that we have suitable and sustainable development, which applies as much to abandoned or derelict airfields as to any other site.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association that the best way to protect the countryside and support much needed new housing growth in many parts of the country is to continue to promote new settlements—I declare an interest as chair of English Partnerships—but to promote new settlements on previously developed land and brownfield land, and by much better use of surplus government land?

My Lords, I am very happy for the noble Lord to answer the question.

I welcome the participation of my noble friend in this House because of her extremely important experience in English Partnerships. The TCPA report is a very timely addition to the debate on how to put brownfield land to the best possible use. In our new planning policy statement on housing, we make it absolutely clear that we prioritise brownfield land. But that does not involve brownfield land at any cost; it involves brownfield land that is planned and prioritised in a way that has evaded us today because it will determine the difference between derelict land, vacant land or whatever. Therefore, we will have a planning and housing policy which is much more appropriate to the needs of the populations in our country.

My Lords, there is some confusion here, and I hope that either the noble Baroness could put it straight or that the Government will make an announcement. We all support the development of brownfield sites—there is no problem with that—but there is a fear that greenfield civil aviation sites might be developed, which is not what they want; they want to keep their sites. The policy that has been announced merely designates the aim of having more brownfield sites than there are now. The fear in the aviation industry is that these sites might end up being developed; they are often in rural areas and are not very suitable for development. The Government need to clarify that they do not really want to build on these sites, apart from the building that is required for use as runways.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord knows the CAA Strategic Review of General Aviation inside out and he will recognise that within it is a clear statement that while our planning system does not act as a disincentive or barrier to development, it does not encourage it either. His comments force me to say that airfields or former airfields are treated like any other site; there is no presumption of development. In fact, the statistics show that we have 142 airfields in the general aviation category, which is about the same number as that which we have had for some time. I can find no evidence of loss of airfields or case law to indicate that they are being prejudicially developed. The point is that airfields are likely to be considered as previously developed land if there is a permanent structure on the land associated with use or, for example, hardstanding in the form of runways. Every site has to be judged on its merits, as would be done with every other site.

My Lords, will the Minister turn her attention, in defining brownfield sites, to the question of city gardens? They are increasingly the target of developers, resulting in cramming and the destruction of the environment in some cities.

My Lords, I have no evidence that any more building is taking place on city gardens than there ever has been. Local authorities have exactly the same powers as they have always had to resist such development. Some local authorities—I shall cite just four: Reigate and Banstead, Wyre Forest, Brentwood and Wolverhampton—have made specific reference in their local development plans to the need to protect back gardens. Planning policy statement 3 states the necessity for new buildings to reflect people’s needs for gardens, play spaces and family homes. We are making a much stronger statement about design and the need for open and green spaces than we were able to do before.