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Planning: New Garden Cities

Volume 750: debated on Monday 2 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish a policy paper on new garden cities, as set out in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Institute of Civil Engineers on 19 March 2012.

My Lords, the Government already support local communities that seek to provide significant numbers of new homes in new and expanding towns. Between 2013 and 2015 the Government are investing £474 million to support large-scale housing and commercial development in places such as Wokingham in Berkshire and Cranbrook in Devon. An additional £102 million of investment is available for 2015-16. We will publish a prospectus inviting bids for this funding in the spring.

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, is she aware that she has not answered my Question? It is nearly two years since the Prime Minister said that there would be a policy paper on garden cities, which still has not appeared. Does she not agree that in the face of the housing supply crisis this inaction is deplorable? Is she aware that it took the Attlee Government precisely one year to enact legislation for new towns and to designate Stevenage as the first one, and that within five years, 10 new towns had been started? Does she not agree that we need a bit more Attlee and a bit less apathy from the Government?

I like to think that I am an action kind of girl. I am very happy to inform the noble Lord and this House that this Government are doing exactly that. I am intrigued by the noble Lord’s frustration, which is a little misdirected. I seem to recall that his Government promised five and then 10 eco-towns, and I am not aware that any of them got off the ground. In contrast, we are working with local councils that have locally led proposals—we are working with them now—and because of our support a large number of these larger sites have been unblocked and are ready to start.

Did my noble friend notice that the Answer she gave was not to the Question that the noble Lord asked? He did not ask about new towns but about garden cities. Will she therefore be very careful about the Ebenezer Howard history? His garden cities were built because our towns were unpleasant and were not good places in which to live—but now they are. Will she make sure that the new houses are built in our old towns, which will regenerate them, and not built on open countryside, where we need the land to grow food?

The most important thing the Government are doing when they consider proposals is to ensure that those proposals are locally led and have local support. Without that, no plan will get off the ground.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the Member of Parliament for 15 years for Stevenage—the first post-war new town— and as the former Member of Parliament for one of the first garden cities, namely, Letchworth. In that context, given that the housing need is estimated as 1.5 million new houses, will the Government—and the noble Baroness, as an action Minister—carefully consider the possibility of announcing a new list of new towns? That will certainly protect the countryside, the existing cities and, above all, will prevent the ribbon development that would destroy both.

My noble friend is certainly right that we need more new homes, and increase of supply is essential. We think it is really important to be in a position where those plans are brought to fruition. Rather than imposing new towns on any area, we are encouraging towns to come forward with their plans. I have been able to demonstrate today that the Government are supporting those which come forward, and the support that we are giving is making these plans become a reality.

My Lords, I still do not think we have had an Answer to my noble friend’s Question. Are the Government going to publish a paper or not? It is as simple as that—yes or no?

As I have already said, we will be publishing a prospectus early in the new year for the next tranche of money. We have published a prospectus for the first tranche. What is most important is that action is taken, and that is under way.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I, too, am a former Member for one of the third and fourth generation new towns, Northampton, which I represented for 23 and a half years? Is she aware that there were two reasons for the secret of those new towns, the latter ones? First, they were built adjacent to an existing town that had all the facilities in culture and sport that normal families want. Secondly —initially this seemed to be more controversial—part of their success was that they were run by development corporations which had to consult in depth and work with the local authorities. That decision had to be taken to be successful.

We are ensuring that there is collaboration. We have been supporting those groups which have come forward with plans but need some issues resolving around infrastructure.