Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Commons Hansard
x
The Oxford-MK-Cambridge Arc
12 July 2016
Volume 613

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the report by the MK Futures 2050 Commission and developing the Oxford to Milton Keynes to Cambridge arc.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. Before I go into the substance of the debate, I pay warm tribute to the chair of the MK Futures 2050 Commission, Sir Peter Gregson, who is the vice-chancellor of Cranfield University, and his team of commissioners. They have drawn on their wide set of skills and experiences to produce an excellent report. That great care was taken to select commissioners from diverse backgrounds gives considerable weight to their findings, from Lee Shostak, a former director of planning at the old Milton Keynes development corporation, to the ever-inspirational Pete Winkelman, chairman of MK Dons, and to the young entrepreneur and broadcaster Oliver Dean, who spoke for the next generations.

The people behind the report care deeply about the future of Milton Keynes and I pay tribute to them all for their hard work. It is a body of work I have long argued for. I think the title of the report—“Making a Great City Greater”—is apt. I believe the report will be extremely significant in shaping not only the future development of Milton Keynes but of the whole Oxford to Cambridge arc, of which Milton Keynes is the fulcrum.

Before I go on to talk about some of the report’s findings and their implications, let me first put it in some context. The motto of Milton Keynes is highly pertinent—“By knowledge, design and understanding”. Milton Keynes will celebrate its 50th birthday in January, and as we approach that milestone it is worth reflecting on that troika of guiding principles. We certainly have design. Over the past half century we have filled out the urban space that was designed by the original developers and our population now exceeds the original target of 250,000. Throughout that period we have also applied great knowledge and understanding to inspire the design and grow the development of the city. Sometimes mocked by those who have never visited, Milton Keynes is characterised by quality urban design, open green spaces, inclusivity and cultural richness.

“Infrastructure before expansion”—I before E—has been key to our success. We are now expanding beyond the originally designed size of Milton Keynes, both in the physical footprint and in the number of people. In the absence of the report, which was published recently, we had to ask ourselves if we properly understood the factors that had made Milton Keynes a success as we went forward. Going beyond our designed limits has put pressure on infrastructure, which has been crucial in placing Milton Keynes as the most successful and fastest growing new city in the country.

In the previous decade, I contend that John Prescott’s English Partnerships proposals to double the size of Milton Keynes started to break that essential partnership of knowledge, design and understanding. Thankfully, those proposals were scaled back in the 2013 core strategy, which mapped out a more sustainable development of Milton Keynes into the mid and late-2020s. That strategy is now under threat. Housing developments that have outline permission are not being brought forward sufficiently quickly and place Milton Keynes in danger of not meeting the five-year supply targets.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, and I join him in congratulating Milton Keynes on its 50th anniversary, which I look forward to celebrating. Does he agree that right across the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc, which he rightly says has such enormous potential, we need not only to provide additional affordable housing but to take the opportunity to show how economic expansion and growth, notably in public and other transport links, can be an agent of improving the environment and the sustainability of the ecology and biodiversity? Often, damage to the environment is put forward as a price worth paying. Should we not be able to show that there are gains in environmental quality that economic expansion can pay for?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will touch on the potential for growth later in my speech. One project that he and I share a passion for is the east-west rail link, which will not only be of huge economic significance for Oxford and Milton Keynes but hopefully will see a modal shift of transport away from roads and on to rail, thus enhancing the environment. I look forward to working with him on ensuring that the project happens.

Not meeting our five-year housing supply target will lead to speculative planning applications outside the core strategy being submitted, and sometimes granted, in the face of strong local opposition. That in turn creates unplanned demands on infrastructure, which may already be strained, and on services, and it means that Milton Keynes will continue to grow without an overall strategy or an understanding of the wider implications. There is a clear need for the thousands of already agreed planning applications to be brought forward.

My first ask of the Minister today is to explore every possible opportunity and to work with the developers, Milton Keynes Council, South East Midlands local enterprise partnership and all the other stakeholders on upping our annual rate of completions to levels that will satisfy the short to medium-term demand. We may also need to consider having some flexibility in the five-year target if we are able to demonstrate house building in the longer term. There are precedents for Government getting involved: one of the Minister’s predecessors helped to unlock the western flank and Newton Leys developments in Milton Keynes when they stalled in the previous Parliament.

Innovations such as council-initiated housing companies have been successfully deployed by other councils around the country to help bring forward developments. I know that the leader of the opposition in Milton Keynes, Councillor Edith Bald, has proposed that, and I urge Milton Keynes Council seriously to consider it. I also gently remind the Minister of the debate I secured a year ago on shared ownership. Shared ownership could tap into the extra capital sums made available by the Chancellor’s pension reforms, which could help to pump-prime the development of new housing estates.

I urge the Minister to consider all measures that could help to accelerate schemes that already have outline planning permission. Such measures would give Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas the space and time to develop their longer term strategy and their place in the wider Oxford-Cambridge corridor. Let me be clear: I do not see the core strategy from 2013 as the limit of Milton Keynes’s ambitions, but it has to be progressed and completed before we rush into further growth that would compound pressures on our infrastructure and services, which we might come to regret further down the line.

I regularly hear very real concerns from constituents about pressure on infrastructure and services. Those people are not anti-growth. The people of Milton Keynes have a positive, forward-looking, can-do attitude, but they are genuinely worried about ill-planned growth compromising the qualities that have made Milton Keynes the success it is. Those concerns cannot be ignored. By getting the short term right, we can plan our future and make our contribution to the national economic and housing growth that we need.

During and since the last general election, I have been calling for such a strategic vision to be developed. I was therefore delighted when Milton Keynes Council set up the Futures 2050 Commission last year. The commission has speedily but thoroughly produced its conclusions. I am particularly pleased that it sees Milton Keynes very much as an enabler in the development of the wider Oxford-Cambridge corridor. I strongly believe that our future economic development will be centred on us being a hub in the middle of that arc.

Looking at our housing growth in the context of that arc is a must. While some intensification of housing in the centre of Milton Keynes and some of the original estates is feasible and arguably would add to the vibrancy of the city centre, my personal view is that continuously adding housing developments to the periphery of Milton Keynes is not necessarily the answer. Nor is there an appetite for enormous housing developments in the greenfield areas surrounding Milton Keynes as that would start to compromise the open spaces and environmental benefits of our existing design. We should have a network of smaller developments that are proportionate and sympathetic to existing settlements, but not massive urban sprawl. That will be a subject of debate when the report is taken forward to Milton Keynes Council next week. If agreed, it will lead to further workstreams. I hope that my views will find favour with many of those who are taking part in that debate.

Whatever the future style of expansion, there are a number of prerequisites. Co-operation with neighbouring authorities will certainly be necessary, and I shall return in the last part of my speech to the administrative aspect of that. As I alluded to when answering the intervention from the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith), there is a need to develop infrastructure along the arc. I am delighted that in the Budget this year, it was announced that the National Infrastructure Commission has been commissioned to look at those projects.

Infrastructure development will certainly involve proceeding as quickly as possible with existing schemes such as east-west rail and the Oxford-Cambridge expressway, but it will also involve ensuring that the arc is at the forefront of installing the very latest communications technologies, such as 5G. Most significantly, it will need to include the potential transformative effect of smart mobility technology and wider smart cities technology. Milton Keynes is already pioneering such work, with numerous projects up and running—for example, at the transport systems Catapult, at the Open University and in Cranfield. Such technology will facilitate a better network of smaller developments across the arc that will command far more popular support than ever greater urban sprawl.

By developing that infrastructure and placing us at the fulcrum of the arc, Milton Keynes and surrounding towns and villages will be ideally placed to develop a globally competitive knowledge-based economy of scale. Addressing skills is critical to that. The commission’s report contains many imaginative proposals, and one of the most exciting of those is the Milton Keynes institute of technology—MK:IT. Milton Keynes has long aspired to have a campus-based university of its own, but I am not sure that the traditional model necessarily fits with what we are and what we can aspire to be. We should innovate, and something like MK:IT would complement the existing higher and further education institutes and provide a pool of skills from which local companies can draw as the economy develops. It would be particularly well placed to be the centre for the intelligent mobility education needed to create a qualified workforce and to allow the UK to gain the lion’s share of the intelligent mobility market, which is forecast to reach £900 billion by 2025.

I urge hon. Members to read the report recently published by the transport systems Catapult, which identifies a real gap in our knowledge market and makes some interesting proposals about how we can address that. I believe MK:IT would sit squarely with that. It would also fit neatly with the Government’s intention to expand higher education and research, as set out in the recently published Higher Education and Research Bill, which I hope will be in front of the House soon. I urge the Minister to work closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and our local higher and further education institutions to explore that opportunity. I believe MK:IT can be the driver of our future growth.

My final point concerns the governance structure for the developments to which I have referred. Milton Keynes’s future cannot be seen in isolation from the wider area. Historically, the boroughs, cities and counties along the arc have faced in different directions; that is a product of history and geography. There have been some positive developments to get the different authorities to work more closely together. An example is SEMLEP, but I urge the Minister to consider other innovative solutions. The growth of Milton Keynes and the arc will have to be different from the other models of devolution being introduced in traditional metropolitan conurbations. I do not want the expansion of Milton Keynes to be seen in any way as a land-grabbing exercise from neighbouring authorities, which would rightly and inevitably be resisted, but I urge the Minister to engage with all the authorities along the arc to develop something new that is innovative and collaborative and will facilitate the sorts of development that I have discussed.

My key ask today is for the Government to give us the space and time to develop our long-term strategy and implementation timetable. There must be solutions to meeting the short-term housing needs while we develop Milton Keynes at the heart of the corridor. The Milton Keynes Futures 2050 Commission report and the work of the National Infrastructure Commission represent a golden opportunity to develop a bright and successful future built on knowledge, design and understanding. Let us not squander it.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on securing this important debate. I am obviously proud to respond on behalf of the Labour party to the issues raised, and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).

You will understand, Mr Walker, that I have been in post for only a short period and it has been rather a busy time for me, but I had the pleasure of serving as a local Labour councillor for 16 years in a previous life, and I understand the importance of strategising and of linking housing to economic development. I am pleased to see in the MK Futures 2050 Commission report a really good example of how a well run, Labour-led local authority—I accept that this is cross-party work—can provide leadership, direction and ambition for the future, even during a very difficult financial period for local government.

As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South mentioned, Milton Keynes is approaching 50 years since being designated a new town by the Wilson Labour Government in 1967. I am familiar with new towns. Peterlee, in my constituency, is from a similar generation, or in fact a little earlier—the post-war generation—and just slightly to the south of that is Newton Aycliffe.

New towns have particular strengths and problems. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, this new town—actually, it is a new city—has developed to the extent that it is home to 270,000 people. As Milton Keynes has grown, so too has its regional, national and, indeed, international importance. I understand that it is now the biggest economy in the South East Midlands LEP area. It has a strong and internationally recognised smart city project and is fast developing into what could be described as the Milton Keynes city economic region.

The city is acknowledged as offering a particularly high quality of life, with many parks and open green spaces. The concept of the original planners was that open green spaces and parks would run throughout the built environment—that was a feature of many new towns of the period.

The importance of Milton Keynes to the UK economy was recognised by no less a person than the Chancellor himself in his Budget speech, when he asked that the National Infrastructure Commission should investigate how infrastructure investment in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc—the so-called innovation corridor referred to by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South—could improve the overall output of the UK economy.

I therefore commend Milton Keynes Council for establishing the MK Futures 2050 Commission, a panel of independent, nationally respected figures from across the academic, business, public and private sectors who have come together to produce a report on how the city can continue to be prosperous into the future. Indeed, the commission has gone further, identifying the challenges and barriers to success and what the city can do in the short, medium and long term to ensure sustainable growth. It is a fine example of not taking the status quo for granted but instead ensuring that local authorities lead the way in innovating and adapting so that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) mentioned, the citizens they represent can access affordable housing, well paid jobs and a clean, healthy lifestyle.

The commission undertook detailed research and gathered evidence, including more than 6,000 submissions from local residents and stakeholders. It highlights the fact that the factors that have made Milton Keynes a success in its first 50 years are the very issues that may have an impact on future growth: affordability, access to well paid employment, good infrastructure and the advantageous geographical position that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South described—it is near the M1 and the west coast main line and between London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge.

The commission identifies some of the risks to employment that could threaten many jobs, including well paid ones. Housing affordability is a key issue, as it is in much of the south-east, as unaffordable housing limits the supply of a skilled workforce. The city of Milton Keynes, like so many others, including Washington in County Durham, was designed on a grid system. That worked well originally, but is approaching capacity, which could have an impact on future growth. Finally, competition, not just from the UK but from our European and global competitors, will continue and intensify.

The commission concluded that to be successful, Milton Keynes needed to focus on the growth of high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs and its continued development as a green and affordable place to live. To deliver that economic growth and prosperity, the commission has recommended six “big projects” that are vital to the future success of Milton Keynes. I will not talk about them all, because of the shortage of time, but I want to pick out a couple. The commission recommends that Milton Keynes’s population should grow in the future to at least 400,000 people. As the hon. Gentleman said, much of that growth would not take place in Milton Keynes itself; it would not be within the current local authority boundaries, but would take place along the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor.

I am told that at a recent meeting with the National Infrastructure Commission, the leaders of Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Oxford expressed strong support for that idea, with support from their respective local enterprise partnerships. I am pleased to say that those councils, along with Norwich and Swindon, have come together to form the Fast Growth Cities network, which has also promoted the idea, with the support of the much respected Centre for Cities think tank. Again, the hon. Gentleman referred to that. The importance of those cities to our national economy, with their high-wage, high-productivity, high-skill and low-welfare economies, is significant. To highlight that, I will make a comparison with my own region, the north-east of England. The gross value added output of those cities is almost equal to that of the northern powerhouse. Given recent events and the UK’s intent to leave the EU following the recent Brexit vote, the continued success of those economies is even more vital to the success of the public finances.

If I may, I would like to put a few questions to the Minister. I would like to ask, in particular, when the infrastructure investment in the east-west rail link linking Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge is to be delivered. The scheme has been subject to continued delays and time slippages. I understand that the local authorities, businesses and potential investors are concerned about the great uncertainty over the speedy delivery of that project. Will the Minister give top priority to making representations to the National Infrastructure Commission?

As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South identified, there is a gap in university provision. I point out that Milton Keynes is home to another excellent creation of the Wilson Labour Government—the Open University, a pioneer in distance learning. The MK Futures 2050 Commission recommends the establishment of a Milton Keynes institute of technology—a kind of Massachusetts Institute of Technology concept, like they have in the United States, which seems a brilliant idea. It would take advantage of, and apply, advanced research and training and transform it into world-leading innovative enterprises. The UK currently lacks that type of establishment, and the idea has enormous potential. Again, I echo the hon. Gentleman by asking the Minister to engage with his colleagues in making representations to BIS, asking it to make contact with Milton Keynes Council to investigate how the idea can be taken forward.

This is a good point at which to highlight that the commission is clear that if growth is to be delivered, the population of Milton Keynes must be able to share in the benefits of growth. It calls it “inclusive growth”, and the point requires highlighting that growth must benefit not the few but the many. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), the shadow Chancellor, has pointed out for some time, that will be easier to achieve with sustained investment in infrastructure. I am pleased that the report favours that approach to growth. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives from the Fast Growth Cities group to discuss their needs, and does he agree that the opportunity of having five local authorities that want to embrace growth, and housing growth in particular, should not go to waste?

I am sure the Minister agrees that the report is an exceptional and groundbreaking exercise by a local authority. It provides a context in which Milton Keynes and the surrounding authorities can discuss growth for the future and address issues they face. I am sure that many local authorities in other parts of the country would be very interested in learning from their experience and example. I therefore urge the Minister to meet representatives from Milton Keynes Council to discuss the benefits and potential of this approach, and to offer any assistance he can in co-ordinating responses from other agencies.

Finally, I would like to place on record my thanks and appreciation to Milton Keynes Council for commissioning this forward-thinking report, and to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South for raising it today. In particular, council leader Councillor Peter Marland and the chief executive Carole Mills have shown excellent leadership throughout. The director of strategy, Geoff Snelson, the head of policy, Sarah Gonsalves, and the project manager, Fiona Robinson, have worked tirelessly to produce an excellent report. The Milton Keynes Futures 2050 report is a fine example of local innovation and the power of good local leadership. I look forward to hearing the Minster’s reply, and I hope that he will welcome the report; it is well worth considering taking it forward with Milton Keynes Council and the other local authorities.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Minister, you have until 5.45 pm, but if you would like to leave two minutes at the end for the Member who moved the motion, that would be very well received I am sure.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I will ensure that I leave at least two minutes for my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). I really want to congratulate him on having secured this debate, along with everybody involved in the work of the Milton Keynes Futures 2050 Commission—all the commissioners and Sir Peter Gregson, obviously—who have put this forward and worked with ambition and vision to feed into this long-term plan for Milton Keynes. I think it mirrors the clear ambition and determination that my hon. Friend has to see Milton Keynes continue being a very special place, which I know it is from my experience many years ago—I was not too far from there as a student—and from visiting him over the last few years. It is a really good example of the real success that there has been from the original new town’s ambitions; it has continued to grow ever since.

There is the ambition for seeing things like more lifelong learning opportunities at a new university, as the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on the Opposition Front Bench outlined, along with a good example of that kind of ambition. As was said, it is linked with the Open University. It is also important for areas to realise that the planned reforms in the Higher Education and Research Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year make it easier to establish new universities, helping more providers to offer higher-quality degrees. As a Government we are making sure that we work to deliver in those areas.

No one is in any doubt about the clear ambitions for Milton Keynes for the future, not just through this plan but as part of that Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge growth corridor. In March 2016, the Chancellor announced that he had asked the National Infrastructure Commission to lead an inquiry into the potential of Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. He asked the commission to explore the corridor as a key growth locale for high-tech, knowledge-intensive industries coupled with an ambitious, high-quality housing offer to meet the growing needs of the area. That commission’s inquiry is currently under way and I look forward to seeing its recommendations in due course. It is worth noting, in response to the point made by the hon. Member for Easington, that the consultation is open until 5 August and I encourage people to feed into that.

Increasing the supply of housing is critical to our economic success, in Milton Keynes and more generally. As a Government, we have got the country building again with a 25% increase last year alone. We have set out an ambitious vision for housing—probably the most ambitious vision for a generation—by doubling the housing budget to more than £20 billion to deliver on our ambitions to build 1 million new homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South outlined and commented on the type of homes, affordable homes and shared ownership. I would encourage the area to look at the available funds. There is £4.7 billion-worth of funding for shared ownership specifically, as well as the £1.2 billion fund for starter homes that is available as well. I hope that organisations in the area will look at those.

We also welcome the recent announcement by the Home Builders Federation, on behalf of its largest members, to further increase that growth in supply. My hon. Friend touched on this issue around build-out rates. This is also creating more transparency as we go forward about what those rates are, and building more homes to support the ambitions we all have to see the homes we need actually being built. Increasing housing supply cannot be done in isolation, and I recognise the important roles that having the right spatial plans, infrastructure and services play in creating the right communities for the future.

I will turn to a couple of points around this issue specifically. First, on planning, Milton Keynes adopted a core strategy in 2013 and I know that it is now working on a new local plan to be published, hopefully, later this year. It is right that local authorities keep their plans up to date and that they work with neighbourhood plans. I was delighted when visiting Milton Keynes not too long ago to see some of the ambitious neighbourhood planning work that is going on; indeed, I think the largest in the country is in Milton Keynes. Local councils need to make sure that they are making decisions on planning applications locally and neighbourhood plans are the ultimate way to do that with the local community having real involvement and control over planning by having a neighbourhood plan that has weight in law. In determining planning applications, local councils have to have regard to their local plan as well as to national planning policy and neighbourhood plans. We are committed to making sure that we keep the country building, to deliver the homes, and the type of homes, that our communities want to see.

Our consultation document in December 2015 proposed specific changes to the national planning policy to drive up the delivery of new housing and bring forward more land for development. However, I recognise that excessive pre-commencement planning conditions can slow down or even stop the construction of homes after they have been given planning permission, and my hon. Friend made the point about the frustration people feel about the gap between planning permission being granted and housing actually being built. The new neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill that was announced in the Queen’s Speech will seek to deal with that issue. We need to make sure that the homes that are getting planning permission are being built and that the process is not being slowed down by unnecessary bureaucracy.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

Does the Minister accept that the constraints often do not just relate to delays in planning? In my experience, certainly in my authority, that was never an issue. The problems often relate to the lack of infrastructure. The MK Futures 2050 Commission has highlighted how important it is to invest in transport infrastructure. Will he at least acknowledge that that is one area—from the six big issues—that should be addressed?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

The hon. Gentleman is getting the cart and the horse the wrong way round. He is absolutely right that, in terms of getting homes built and planning for homes in future, infrastructure is part of the equation and is part of what a local authority should be looking at when it develops its local plan. However, once planning permission is granted—infrastructure is part of the consideration in granting planning permission—one of the main delays that causes the gap between planning permission being granted by the local authority and work starting on site is planning conditions. Examples from around the country show that there can be more than 1,000 planning conditions on one site. That explains why, in many cases, a council will give permission but it can be up to a year or two years later if not longer before a builder can get on site and physically start doing anything, including putting in infrastructure. That frustrates communities, local authorities and builders. We need to make sure that we are doing something about it, so we are taking that kind of bureaucracy out of the system. That is what I mean by saying that we want to continue to reform and speed up the planning process, so we minimise the delays caused by unnecessary or burdensome conditions.

Looking towards the longer term, I recognise the key role that dedicated delivery bodies have played in the creation and continued growth of somewhere such as Milton Keynes. At the outset, there was the new town development corporation, and more recently there has been the Milton Keynes development partnership. I welcome the MK Futures 2050 Commission’s focus on ensuring that the right delivery vehicle is in place to drive Milton Keynes’ further transformation in future.

Through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, which we have just passed, we have made some important changes to the new towns legislation to make it easier to set up new statutory development corporations when local areas decide that that is the best way forward, but having the right infrastructure in place to support growth is critical for the wider planning process. The neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill will transform how we make long-term plans for our nation’s infrastructure, empowering local communities to get the homes and local infrastructure that they want and need delivered, and making infrastructure policy at the national level much more strategic and consistent. The Bill will underpin that statutory function.

Significant funding is already being invested to support housing growth. More than £200 million of the local growth fund has been prioritised to date to support growth across the south-east midlands and the Northamptonshire areas. We are expecting a further bid for local growth funding from the south-east midlands shortly as part of the current bidding round.

In addition, the Government have announced plans to radically reform the business rates system to enable local government to be more self-sufficient and to benefit from growth. The changes build on the existing reforms that have given areas 50% of the business rate growth, and full retention pilots are going on in four areas. The 100% retention reforms are accompanied by additional flexibilities for local authorities to reduce rates to boost growth, and mayoral combined authorities will have the opportunity to increase rates through an infrastructure levy with the agreement of the local enterprise partnership.

Those are big changes with significant opportunities for local government. How local government chooses to use that retained income and the growth in business rates in areas such as Milton Keynes will be a matter for the people there. However, I am encouraged by Milton Keynes’s wish to earmark spending for education and infrastructure investment and by the ambition shown in the report through the six projects. We are sensitive to the challenges that will come with the changes we are making and are therefore seeking feedback on them in an open manner, through a consultation that was launched last week. I encourage people to take part in and respond to that.

Securing the right level of developer contributions is also vital to ensuring that infrastructure is delivered in the right places and is supporting growth. That is part of the planning process. A review of the operation of the community infrastructure levy is being undertaken by an independent panel, which will report back to Ministers later this year. That review is to look at assessing the extent to which the levy provides an effective mechanism for funding infrastructure and to recommend changes that would improve its operation in support of our wider housing and growth objectives, with a clear focus on the needs and plans for local areas.

I recognise the significant ambitions that Milton Keynes has, both as a city and as part of the wider Oxford-MK-Cambridge arc. We look forward to working with the area on just that, as the hon. Member for Easington said.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

In view of that commitment, will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the Fast Growth Cities group to discuss how it is possible to embrace growth—housing growth, in particular—and how that initiative should not go to waste?

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

I meet the cities group fairly regularly and have done as a local government Minister over the last few years, and I am always happy to meet any organisation that wants to talk about developing more housing in its area. There is very much an open-door policy on areas that want to develop housing.

This is all part of our drive for local areas to have the power to work out what is right for them. That is why it is absolutely right that we continue to devolve powers, and the devolution landscape has been driven by those local areas. Government have responded to places that are clear about their ambitions and how they want to get there. I encourage areas to work out what they think is right for them and then to make that pitch to us. With the right governance and structures in place, anywhere could look to drive forward its own priorities and find its own local solutions, and to have the power and ability to do that. I look forward to seeing that develop further in Milton Keynes and to seeing it work to deliver on the ambition it clearly has. I know that it will be supported and matched by the ambitions of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South.

The edit just sent has not been saved. The following error was returned:
This content has already been edited and is awaiting review.

May I place on record my gratitude to the Minister, the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) for their contributions to the debate?

I conclude with this observation: Milton Keynes is unique and it has been an enormous success, and I believe it can continue to innovate and provide the exemplar for other towns and cities round the country. I think the report from the MK Futures 2050 Commission is inspirational and, although I will probably not be here looking back in 50 years’ time, I think history will judge this report as the start of a new chapter in urban planning and development.

I am heartened by what the Minister says on a number of fronts, and by the welcome that the Government will give to an innovative model of governance structure. What will work in Milton Keynes and surrounding areas will not be the same as for the west midlands, Greater Manchester, Bristol or any other urban area. It will have to be new and I look forward to seeing proposals coming out from Milton Keynes Council and the neighbouring authorities. I also look forward to seeing the detail in the neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill, which will help to unlock developments that have been stalled. What will be interesting is if we can develop a new delivery vehicle for implementing the types of projects that the report contains.

In conclusion, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to bring to the attention of national Government what we are doing locally. There are still many debates and conversations to be had locally about how we take this forward, but I hope they will be favourably received.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the report by the MK Futures 2050 Commission and developing the Oxford to Milton Keynes to Cambridge arc.

Sitting adjourned.