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Population: United Kingdom

Volume 731: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the increase in the population of the United Kingdom since 1945; and how many square miles of countryside have been used for (a) housing, and (b) industrial development, since that date.

My Lords, since 1985, the population of England has increased by an estimated 5.2 million people. In the same period, around 170 square miles of countryside has been used for residential development and around 30 square miles for industrial development.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, since 1945, the population has increased by about a third and the weekly wage has increased from £3.90 to about £400. In recent times, in each year, nearly four square miles of undeveloped land has been built on for housing and industrial development. Should we not use more of our brownfield land for housing and industrial use?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will be aware that each Government have attempted to use brownfield sites and brownfield land before anywhere else. A great deal of brownfield land has already been developed. There is consideration as to whether that is better used for housing within central town areas or whether there is a better boost to growth if it is used for industry or commerce. By and large, brownfield land has for the past number of years been used primarily before anything else.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the figure she gave us just now includes land for which development consent has been given but never implemented? Does she agree that if priority is given to the implementation of such consent to the use of brownfield sites, as she has just said, and to the use of other land which none of us would think has any environmental value, there really is no need for the countryside to feel further threatened?

My Lords, I cannot say whether what I have said includes such land. With regard to the development of land, we have always protected green belt and looked to see that greenfield land is not used before brownfield land is developed. I hope that that answers my noble friend’s question.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, as Huckleberry Finn might have put it, land is finite? Should not some council of wise men and women now determine exactly how much land should be set aside for non-cultivation, how much should be dedicated to biofuels and how much for the production of food? If such a body were to adjudicate, what would be the Solomonic principles on which it would allow the situation to be determined?

I hope the noble Lord is not expecting a reply to that question in those terms. To some extent, land is divided up just as this country is. There is agricultural land; countryside land, which is not used for housing; and land in cities. It is interesting that at the moment 13 per cent of land—1.6 million hectares—is green belt; 25 per cent of England is in a national park or an area of outstanding national beauty; and the area of England—around 13 million square hectares, just over 50,000 square miles—is divided up into greenfield land, green belt, city development and other uses. Where Solomon comes into this or whether there should be an organisation or group to spread out the land and say what it is used for is not on the radar at the moment.

My Lords, the introduction of a new planning system has not been without controversy. In particular there are concerns that, where local development plans are not up to date, the presumption in favour of sustainable development could lead to largely unfettered development. What assurance can the Minister give us about transitional provisions to cover and protect those situations where local plans are not fully up to date?

My Lords, there has been quite a lot of misinformation in the media about the presumption in favour of sustainable development. That presumption originated in 1947. It was then turned into the plan-led approach in 1991, and the presumption has been there all along.

With regard to the presumption now coming through from the Localism Bill, where plans are not up to date, as the noble Lord knows—we have had plenty of discussions about this—the expectation is that local plans must be brought up to date as quickly as possible in order to make sure that development is carried out within the right parameters. Where those local plans are not up to date, the policies set out in the national planning policy framework will provide a robust framework for making decisions and safeguarding the things that matter to people, such as the green belt and areas of physical flooding.

We have discussed the transition over many weeks, and all I can say at the moment is that the need for some transition is well understood.