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Environment: Gardens

Volume 762: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Royal Horticultural Society’s report Why we all need Greening Grey Britain, how they will address the impact of the increase in paving over front gardens, and whether they plan to change the regulations and development rights relating to front gardens.

My Lords, this is one of those problems that individually, or each time it happens, seems almost inconsequential but which, cumulatively, can have the most enormous impact on cities, towns and suburbs. I hope that noble Lords have all read this report by the Royal Horticultural Society, which is—I think quite ungrammatically—entitled Why We All Need Greening Grey Britain. Each front garden that is paved over will increase the potential for disaster when it comes to flooding and various other problems that we already face. We have to ask ourselves whether we can afford the situation where 3 million front gardens in the UK are now paved over, three times more than 10 years ago. The report highlights that trend and explains some ways to put it right.

Yesterday, at mayor’s question time at City Hall, Boris Johnson said that it was a sad phenomenon that so many front gardens are being concreted over. When I asked him to back my call for a comprehensive review of the planning laws relating to front gardens, he said that he was receptive to further discussions. I have no idea what that means but I will try to push it forward. Noble Lords engaged in this debate today will be lobbied, I imagine fairly seriously, by the Royal Horticultural Society, because we should all be concerned about this, particularly as most of us are resident in London at some point in our lives.

The paving over of front gardens has happened because people increasingly want to create a parking space or to cut garden maintenance, as everyone now is short of time and short of energy. However, while they are solving what they perceive to be one set of problems—lack of time or space to park their car—they are creating a multitude of new problems that we, as public servants, have to be aware of and take responsibility for.

It is inadequate planning laws that are allowing this to happen. After the 2007 floods, the Government quite rightly, in 2008, changed planning laws to encourage the use of permeable materials in front gardens to prevent surface water run-off. That was a good idea. However, given that since then half of London’s front gardens have disappeared under paving or tarmac—a 36% increase in 10 years—it is obvious that planning laws are not working. I would argue that they are now increasing the risk of local flooding.

In addition, the general permitted development planning rules for front gardens do not put any value on protecting or supporting wildlife habitats, reducing the urban heat island effect or trapping pollution from roadside vehicles. Plants, particularly trees, hold a lot of the soot—especially that from diesel vehicles—which everyone knows is a real problem in most of our cities and which causes all sorts of concomitant health problems for the general population, particularly for children and adults with any sort of lung problem. This is a missed opportunity. If we do not use plants to improve the quality of our lives or of our urban environments, we are missing opportunities to do that.

We need to tip the balance of legislation to favour front gardens dominated by rain gardens, open deep flower beds, lawns and green open spaces, and to discourage paving of any kind. Any paving we do have ought to be permeable and kept to an absolute minimum, because even permeable paving does not allow for very heavy rainstorms. Having no paving is preferable.

Hard surfaces also contribute to an urban heat island effect. They soak up heat during the day, particularly at this time of year, and release it at night. Increasing the amount of paving means that we are exacerbating that heat island effect. It means that our nights are much warmer and that people do not sleep as well. It also increases heat stress for people and animals. London, for example, is already 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding green belt on summer nights. A lot of the things that I am describing do not seem that bad—we all like warmer temperatures—but it increases problems for people.

Paving over areas is accelerating the loss of wildlife and habitat. It is not only our health and well-being which suffer but animals. Many of us keep domestic pets, but it is also about the insects that we need, the bird life and even the foxes. It is every sort of animal that we care about. As much as 60% of UK wildlife species and natural habitats are already in decline, even before we take into account the impact that we are having. Losing 3 million front gardens to concrete or tarmac means that there are far fewer places for birds to nest and insects to feed. I think that there is a strong case and appetite for change but, until now, the cumulative effects have not been recognised in the way that the report describes.

It is an issue that we can adopt across parties. Every single party could sign up to this, because it is in essence common sense to protect ourselves from future problems. My political party tries to look ahead and solve problems before they happen; that is, not to allow them to happen at all. It is wonderful that an august body such as the Royal Horticultural Society has actually done that. It does not talk about changing the regulations but about practical solutions that people can adopt; for example, using gravel or permeable surfaces. It also suggests some planting ideas. Plants are particularly good at pushing down, so that when the rain hits the earth it can go much deeper.

However, quite honestly, these wonderful ideas for voluntary action are simply not enough, and it is now time the Government of the day took the initiative and simply stopped people using impermeable paving on their gardens.

My Lords, I declare two non-financial interests: first, as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group and, secondly, as a very long-standing member of the Royal Horticultural Society. It has been on this call for about 10 years to my knowledge, but it has stepped up the campaign in light of the increasing worries which have been so ably set out by the noble Baroness. We owe her a debt of gratitude for raising it at this point and bringing it to the attention of everybody who may read this debate but, above all, that of Ministers, from whom we look for some action.

I am all for planning controls, but we have those already. My worry is whether they are enforced and whether there are the staff to carry out all the detailed inspections that would be necessary. I am not sure what offence might be committed and therefore what penalty would be incurred and whether it would be sufficient.

I looked up one or two statistics and was horrified to discover that in London the loss of front gardens is equivalent to 22 Hyde Parks—Hyde Park is enormous. That gives an idea of the scale of what, as the noble Baroness rightly said, seems very small and inconsequential to the individual householder who thinks that he will do a little bit of concreting-over to place his car there. I gather that in the north-east of England, research carried out by the Horticultural Trades Association and the RHS found that nearly a quarter of gardens had been completely paved over, with the inference that many more were largely paved over. So we certainly have a problem.

I will not rehearse the very fine points made by the noble Baroness in her opening speech, save to say that there are some other worries. One of those, particularly in places such as London where there is a lot of clay soil, is that the temperature-enhancing effect she described causes a problem with subsidence. This was pointed out by the manager of Halifax insurance services, a person who should know that this can cause serious problems. It is a very real worry for householders if anything goes wrong with the stability on which their homes are built. That is yet another reason for being concerned about this.

My own feeling, as a very keen gardener, is that we should be encouraging people to take steps to work in another way so that they have room both for their car—that is the predominant reason for this happening—and for a little bit of garden as well. The Royal Horticultural Society has been very good about describing the various ways in which this could happen. It starts, very sensibly, by suggesting that a person who wants to make hardstanding for a car should look at their garden, decide where the car needs to be and work from there in order to put the hardstanding—ideally with a permeable membrane or surface—where the car’s wheels are actually going to go. This is particularly relevant in very small front gardens. Then they can have ground between and beyond the wheels that will take small plants and make it very much more attractive.

There was a wonderful example of what can be done at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, where great attention was given to a delightful front garden, complete with space for the car. It used quite a lot of Welsh slate—which allowed water to sink through, which is so important—but with very attractive plantings put here and there where the car was never going to go. It takes some imagination and some thought but if the Royal Horticultural Society and the Government were to approach it from this angle, we would be far more likely to get results than from a simple crackdown, which people may well resent and which may well not be enforced. I hope that anyone in government listening to this will try to suggest this as a co-operative way forward—I sum it up as more carrot than stick.

It is also true that we need to preserve wildlife, particularly the bee population. Those who are interested in agricultural matters will be aware that there are some real problems with declining bee populations, which has a massive impact on crop growing. Gardens, including back gardens, are a massive resource for bees and other pollinating insects. Again, gardeners could be encouraged, by choosing plants carefully, to grow flowers that will last a long period of time so that insects are able to pollinate over a much longer period. They could also choose plants that are simpler in their structure so that it is easy for bees to pollinate. I am not sure my noble friend sitting next to me would agree, because it is always exciting for breeders to develop more and more exotic flowers that are more complicated in their structure, but we know that very simple flowers make it very much easier for the bees to pollinate.

That would be an added bonus. There is also a bonus for householders. There seems to be plenty of evidence that houses with front as well as back gardens, and that look attractive and are in tree-lined streets, are very much more likely to sell at a good price than those that are completely concreted, grey, dreary and altogether miserable. It would certainly influence me, and I think that it influences a lot of people. So I believe that we can sell this to the general public by saying, “You will, in all probability, enhance the value of your property if it is nicely presented”.

I am sure, too, that local authorities, as well as central government, can be of great assistance in this. I looked up on the internet—via the wonderful Google—and saw that Richmond upon Thames Council has some very good advice on how to enhance properties and on what it would look for, in which it sets out good standards rather than just a series of prohibitions. If more town councils were minded to take that attitude, I am sure that it would be for the better. I agree that Richmond is a very salubrious and attractive area, but if that council sees fit to do it, how much more important it is for perhaps less well-endowed towns and cities to do the same.

Last year I went with the All-Party Gardening and Horticulture Group to see how the City of London is dealing with all sorts of odd spaces, as well as the more major ones. It was quite surprising how it had used all sorts of strange little bits of land to put down trees, shrubs, flowers and so forth, making it much more attractive. It had even made a most attractive little park at the side of St Paul’s Cathedral, where there had been a rather gloomy old car park. So it is possible for local councils and city councils of all kinds to set a good example. People tend to follow suit. Just as we find that where people are allowed to litter, more litter goes down, so it works in reverse: if you have good examples all around you and the neighbour down the road is doing very well, it is far more likely that we will get a far better landscape in which people will be far happier living and working.

There is good medical evidence that people’s health and well-being are greatly improved when they are in happy, green surroundings. If that is not enough to convince people that this campaign is well worth pursuing, I shall be very disappointed.

My Lords, follow that, as they say. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on bringing this report from the Royal Horticultural Society, Why We All Need Greening Grey Britain—the website says simply “GGB”—to our attention so quickly, only a month after its publication; would that everything in politics happened so quickly.

First, I should declare a sort of interest. The first and probably the best investment I ever made was to give myself a present on my 21st birthday. I was already well into my horticultural training by then so I spent £120 on a life membership of the Royal Horticultural Society. When I say that today’s annual subscription is £41.25, I think that your Lordships will agree that that was, and still is, enormous value for money. I also admit that my wife was a trustee for 11 years and is still a member of one of its committees.

That said, I have two regrets today. I mean no disrespect to the Minister, but to me the whole foundation of this report is environmental, not the built environment, for which she is probably partly responsible—certainly today she is. Whether my noble friends Lord Lawson and Lord Ridley are right or wrong when they say that global warming is happening much more slowly than we are told by some—probably most—scientists, there is no doubt in my mind that climate change is very much with us. You need to look only at the precipitous rainfall we have had—and the flooding that has resulted—over the past few years. This brings me to my second regret. At least in part, the report is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted in regard to the impermeable paving of front gardens in our towns, cities and, as the noble Baroness said, suburbs to provide off-street parking for thousands of cars. This is increasing every year, as the extensive Library brief shows.

In the past two days I have seen two very different types of these paved areas. Last night I was in a house in Chelsea Harbour, which, although it had no front garden, had a back yard. This was closely paved with cement between the concrete slabs. Mercifully, at the back, there was a three-foot wide bed, marked with what looked very like coal, through which were growing two cyclads and what appeared to be a phormium. At the back of the bed was a fence, beyond which was a line of horse chestnuts—planted some 20 years or so ago, I would guess from their girth—on the edge of a deep ditch running down to the river. I do not think that the developer thought much about all this but, although not ideal, we can hardly complain.

The evening before, I was entertained at Kew Gardens. Having just been in Copenhagen—visiting, among other things, the longest herbaceous border in Europe—I was interested to see the Broad Walk, as it is known, with its borders on either side. I was told that, when completed, it will be two metres longer than the one in Copenhagen—a sort of horticultural one-upmanship, or perhaps today I might say keeping up with the Joneses. The point of this description is that the very wide and long Broad Walk has just been resurfaced, not with concrete or even tarmac, as it would have been in years gone by, but with the kind of bonded gravel that you see around street trees in London. It is a hard-wearing surface—and, most importantly, permeable—so the run-off will be practically non-existent; it will not wash away the light topsoil of the beds on either side.

As both noble Baronesses have pointed out, it can be done. As I have said, the problem is that far too many front gardens have been concreted over. The report indicates that this practice has escalated dramatically over the past few years—would that we had this report 10, or even five, years ago. It is all very well that permeable covering of front gardens does not need planning permission any more, but does anyone ever check? Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will respond to that point.

I am not critical of the whole report. The title is very apt because many of our towns and cities are indeed grey and the RHS is right to say that there are many things homeowners can do to correct this. A plant or a pot containing plants in the corners where cars cannot reach, or a wall shrub climbing up the house or along the fence, would have two effects: it would not only beautify the site—perhaps even making the house more valuable when it comes to be sold, as my noble friend Lady Fookes said—but, more importantly for all of us, it would lock in the carbon dioxide that we are all so afraid of.

The problem is that there is little the Government can now do. They could continue with their policy of making it the norm to have permeable paving by means of sticking to the current planning regulations but, again, it is all very well to be allowed to do these things but does anyone bother to check when the homeowner does not? I am afraid that this would be too little, too late, although not for the thousands of new gardens that I am sure have been concreted over.

Again in the excellent brief from the Library, I saw that the RAC Foundation has pointed out that almost 7 million front gardens have been concreted over. My noble friend the Minister will talk about all sorts of things—not least, perhaps, the conurbation of Bolton, which is included in the criticism that we have made of concreted-over front gardens—but can she tell the Committee how many of the 7 million will have “concretable”, for want of a better expression, front gardens? Will the Government insist on a planning regime which continues to mandate permeable surfaces? For now, though, I am afraid that the horse has bolted.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for the opportunity to debate this important issue. It has brought a focus to a growing problem which, frankly, might otherwise have passed us by. It may well have passed me by without the opportunity to concentrate on it and understand some of the issues. It reminds us of why such issues matter.

The scale of the problem is covered in the report of the Royal Horticultural Society and has been outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others. We share those concerns. As we have heard, three times as many front gardens are now 100% paved over compared with 10 years ago—a staggering increase; over half the total surface of front gardens is hard surfacing; and one in three front gardens have no plants.

I gently make the point at this juncture that the concept of a decent house with a front and back garden is still not the experience of many in our country. Too many still live in grotty accommodation or languish on waiting lists, with the prospect of a decent home but a dream.

We know that this increase in paving comes with environmental risks, especially increased flash flooding, because there is no grass or soil to soak up the moisture. This means that the moisture and the pollutants it has collected runs off the paving into the drainage system, putting pressure on that system and toxins into the water supply.

We have heard that this is not only an environmental issue but a life issue. Plants and trees not only provide a place for birds to nest and insects to feed but supply oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide. Grass will absorb noise pollution. There is also the aesthetic aspect.

If we put this in context, a publication from the Committee on Climate Change, included in our Library briefing, reminds us that increased flood risk is the greatest threat to the UK from climate change, a point acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. Flooding on the scale experienced recently has become more likely as a result of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This raises macro issues of flood management which are largely beyond the scope of this debate. However, it adds to the urgency to seek to reverse the trend we are considering today. We should be mindful of the fact that the serious flooding in 2007 caused an estimated £3 billion-worth of damage.

Whatever the issues, we know that paving over of front gardens is putting pressure on our drainage systems and contributing to the risk of flooding. It is not only flooding: hard surfaces collect vehicle pollution such as oil, petrol and brake dust, which is washed into the drains and hence into our rivers and streams. We know that this is a particular issue for London because of the flash flooding washing sewage into the Thames and the associated health risks. The Thames Tideway Tunnel project seeks to ameliorate the effects of that.

If we are to change the situation, we need to be cognisant of what is causing this trend. It is not rocket science. The causes include an increase in the number of cars on the road—I think there are now more than 38 million vehicles—with the congruent ensuing pressure on parking; the decline of rural bus services, which means that, for some, ownership of a car is essential; multiple car ownership in households, some in neighbourhoods which were built before there was any realisation of the scale of the growth in car ownership; difficulty in parking close to one’s home; and concerns over safety when walking back home late at night. For disabled people, these problems can be compounded, particularly where there is inadequate on-street parking provision for them.

The problems are further compounded by garages attached to houses being converted to living space as a cheaper alternative to moving or trading up—another manifestation of our housing crisis. Of course, then there are the changes to home ownership and the break-up of council estates where failure to manage gardens could have been a tenancy issue. We also have the rise of “generation rent”, with its short-term horizons, which does not inherently encourage the enlightened tending of what gardens may be available.

It is suggested there are other factors as well, such as TV programmes encouraging patios. Perhaps the Minister will let us have the Government’s view on whether they see this as an issue. We would suggest that the reduction in funding for local authorities is also a factor, leading to fewer resources to maintain the cultivation of roundabouts and pockets of public land, as was mentioned earlier; the loss of floral displays, which brighten and encourage communities; and the demise, certainly in some areas, of the “In Bloom” competitions, which were an encouragement to neighbourhoods to plant their front gardens. Not all, of course, have been replaced by community and voluntary effort.

Lack of resources also impacts on the capacity of planning departments to advise on and enforce the planning regime—in particular, the changes to the 2008 permitted development rights, as discussed, under a Labour government, which were a tightening of the regime. This allows new or replacement driveways of any size if permeable surfacing is used; otherwise, the covering of a surface of more than 5 square metres where there is no run-off to a permeable area requires planning permission. Can the Minister help us with any data about compliance with these regulations and, crucially, say whether there are any data on their enforcement?

At a macro level, we hear concerns about underinvestment in flood prevention and the increased risks of avoidable flood damage, and concerns that financial pressures have led to funding provided by Defra to lead local flood authorities being diverted to other council services. Does the Minister have any information for us on this matter and the extent to which it might be happening?

The report of the Committee on Climate Change reminds us that the Environment Agency has 40% fewer staff than in 2010 to advise local authorities and developers on planning applications. For example, 12,000 minor applications in the flood plain did not receive site-specific advice in 2013. The 2014 progress report reminds us that traditional piped-sewer systems cannot readily be adapted to deal with increased rainfall and that sustainable drainage systems can reduce the quantity or speed of the run-off flowing into the sewer systems. Provisions in the Flood and Water Management Act encouraged sustainable drainage systems to be the default option in new developments and redevelopments, but aspects of the Act, particularly on national SuDS, as they are referred to, and connection to public sewers, have been delayed. Can the Minister tell us whether these have now been implemented, and if not, when this will happen?

The briefing material provided for this debate makes it clear that there is not an inevitable contradiction between getting a parking space into the front garden and keeping some greenery. The report to which the noble Baroness referred sets out the variety of ways in which these requirements can be met, including the types of permeable materials which are least harmful. The planning portal also provides helpful guidance. This does not seem to suggest that the legislation needs to change; instead the current planning and building regulations perhaps need to be followed and enforced. However, we are certainly open to suggestions as to how these things might be amended and improved.

Much of this is a matter of individual responsibility, and it seems to me that there is a need for a public information programme which draws attention to what is happening and what might be done about it. There are some natural channels for this communication. For example, it could be done by local authorities when dealing with applications for dropped kerbs and crossovers. Perhaps more could be done via landlords’ associations to raise the profile of the issue. We know that working with contractors can be difficult, given that they tend to be micro-businesses, which come and go, but there are trade associations that may help. There are things we can do that are not being done at the moment, but the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has provided us with food for thought today and we should thank her for that.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, but particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. As we all know, she is the fully committed Green voice in the House of Lords, and we thank her for it.

I will go through the various questions and points that noble Lords made. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, started off by talking about the cumulative effects of paving over front gardens—not just the odd one here or there. In fact, in bringing forward local plans now, local authorities should work with water and sewerage companies and other infrastructure providers to assess the quality and capacity of the infrastructure in question to meet the forecast demands.

The Environment Agency produces maps of areas susceptible to flooding—certainly I know a few near myself, for example, in Salford. These maps provide the basis for the strategic flood risk assessment, which local authorities should use in preparing their local plans. Even small development applications in flood risk areas should prepare a flood risk assessment and set out how risks will be managed. It is important that new homes are not brought forward where they would be at risk of flooding, unless they can be made safe and resilient—and without increasing flood risk elsewhere, of course.

Most noble Lords mentioned the balance between the off-street parking demand and the impacts it will have on the local environment; the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, concluded by saying that there does not have to be a conflict between the two. However, on-street parking or parking on pavements can cause congestion, and, as the noble Lord also said, can be a hazard to disabled pavement users, pedestrians and other road users. The permitted development rights allow a householder to make use of their front garden, while at the same time ensuring there is a provision for surface water drainage; that is crucial as regards the flash-flooding events that we have seen so many times over the last few years.

The RHS report complements the permitted development right by offering ways in which the householder can maintain some planting while meeting their parking need. Its advice on paving front gardens supports the requirements of the householder’s permitted development rights for hard surfaces. The RHS suggests that hard surfaces should be made of porous material, which many noble Lords mentioned today, and it gives several pieces of advice on what material might be appropriate. I heard the other day about a moss-type substance, which you can put in place of a hard surface on the drive; after you drive out in the morning it springs back to life again and is not affected too badly by reparking your car on it. So there are some very good suggestions; my noble friend mentioned Welsh slate, as well. However, if the surface is not porous, there should be a run-off to a porous or permeable surface in the garden, which could be a flowerbed, grass, or another greened area.

The Government take the issue of flood risk—which as we all know has been an issue over the last few years—and the idea of sustainable drainage, very seriously. There is strong planning policy and guidance on assessing, avoiding and managing flood risk for new development, as I mentioned earlier.

The noble Baroness challenged us on whether we had read the report. We have all read it, I hope. It is a very practical guide that we could all use. These things are applicable not only to government policy but also to the individual and how we all play our part in helping the environment and mitigating flood risk.

On permitted development rights and the permeable hard surface, if an area is more than five metres square, that hard surface is required to be permeable. The noble Baroness also talked about the heat island effect. Planning guidance on climate change advises local planning authorities, when preparing local plans and taking planning decisions, to pay particular attention to integrating adaptation and mitigation approaches that will support sustainable development: for example, maximising summer cooling through the ventilation of buildings and avoiding solar gain, and by providing multifunctional green infrastructure which can reduce urban heat islands.

My noble friends Lady Fookes and Lord Skelmersdale and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about enforcement by local authorities. Local authorities, of course, are responsible for enforcement and can make householders take up paving and replace it with a permeable surface. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale who asked how effective enforcement is. I do not have figures to hand but if I can get them I will and I will place a copy of the response in the Library as well.

My noble friend Lady Fookes talked about the value of tree-lined streets and the idea of green infrastructure. I could not agree more. There is nothing more off-putting than a grey house without any planting at all. Trees really enhance the economic value of property, both domestic and commercial. You only need to look at places such as New York, which I think is one of the finest green cities—

My particular interest is trees but I have found this whole debate fascinating. I was once a Member of Parliament for part of Ipswich and most of it has been covered like this. It is very serious. It needs to be stopped somehow and my suggestion might be that we cannot ask local authorities to do too much. We heard from my noble friend Lady Fookes about the Chelsea exhibit, where you can park a car and have the porous surface and cars. Might it be an idea to encourage local authorities just to do one of these—one or two in specific areas—to show what can be done? People love to copy things and if they think it is all happening, they might well do it. That might just be a way forward.

It is funny, because the next point I was coming on to make was that my noble friend also said that where there are good examples of what people do, others will follow. Certain local authorities see great value in planting trees and keeping the green environment in a fine state. I think local authorities can lead by example. Coming back to New York, it is one of the finest examples of a green city in the world and yet it is very built up as well—so you can do both. I do not think that we will introduce legislation to force councils to plant trees, but there is no doubt that where trees are planted you enhance the environment and people’s well-being in every way. My noble friend Lady Fookes mentioned the health benefits. They are undeniable.

My noble friend Lady Fookes also mentioned clay soil drying and leading to subsidence. Building regulations now ensure that the design of foundations avoids subsidence problems in clay soil areas and building control bodies often have additional local requirements in this regard. But we need to use these permeable surfaces as run-offs in permitted development rights to help minimise those problems.

My noble friend Lady Fookes talked about biodiversity, which is absolutely right. It goes hand in glove with the health benefits and the whole appeal of an area. Our bee population will not survive in concreted areas. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, talked about the housing crisis. In fact, we have exceeded the target of 260,000 affordable homes and there will be £38 billion of public and private investment to help ensure that 275,000 new affordable homes are build during this Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale questioned whether this was an environmental debate or a built environment debate. It is probably more of the latter. I am happy to have responded in this debate and if I have left out any questions asked by noble Lords, I shall answer them in due course. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part.

Sitting suspended.