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Lord Denham: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me. I should like to ask the Leader of the House a question. Is not this procedure indicative of the fact that it is absolutely essential that the rules of order of this House be maintained? The noble Lord the Leader of the House suggested quite properly that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was not in order to say that he would not move his amendment.
When the noble Lord decided not to press his amendment he had two options which would have been proper in this House. One would be--the least satisfactory option--to say "not moved" and then the House would have moved into Report in the normal way.
The second would be to move his amendment to the Motion, whereupon the noble Baroness on the Woolsack would have put that Question. The matter would then have been debated and he would have asked leave to withdraw the amendment. The House would then have had an opportunity to refuse him leave to withdraw it and come to a vote on it. We have had all this discussion purely because the rules of order have been allowed to be widened far more than they should have been. That is not at all the fault of the noble Lord the Leader of the House because he set about the matter in the right way. However, is it not absolutely essential that the rules of order in this House should be obeyed; otherwise, we enter a totally unjustifiable general debate on what is, after all, a procedural Motion?
Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord invites me, I suppose, to give judgment on the proposition he puts to me. I can say only that I am advised that the Motion that this House do now move into Report is a debatable Motion. I tried to confine the limits of the debate upon that Motion in as polite a way as I could. We have had a series of Second Reading speeches. If the House wants to indulge itself in this way, it is difficult to see what I as Leader of the House can do to stop it.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I support very much what my noble friend Lord Denham said. We have got ourselves into a procedural muddle. That has been caused by the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, not to proceed with his amendment. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House examine how this has happened and try to make sure that the House does not get itself into the kind of mess in which it now finds itself, particularly as we are about to commence a Statement before reverting to the Bill? Am I also right in thinking that there is every likelihood that we shall not continue with this Bill after the Statement because it will then be time to discuss the Competition Bill?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I shall certainly take into account and ponder deeply the circumstances in which this debate has taken an hour and four minutes. I am bound to say that I regard it as basically the self-indulgence of many of those people who have spoken in it who have chosen to turn what is a narrow procedural point into a major Second Reading debate.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I end by saying that obviously Bills are not, and could not possibly be, drafted with a view to assisting the Opposition to table amendments. Bills are drafted to give effect to government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, seemed to expect the Government to spell out what the Bill does not do. However, I believe that is rather at odds with the normal mode of explanation where one explains what the legislation does. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has decided not to move the Motion. I believe that the higher education sector would prefer not to see this Bill re-committed. Plenty of time has been made available for discussion on Report today, on Thursday and on Monday of next week. I very much look forward to that discussion.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down I raise a point which is important to the House. I understand that the noble Baroness wrote a letter on Friday, 20th February to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Was the letter copied to me and was it copied to my noble friend Lord Renfrew?
Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords. The Motion on the Order Paper was in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I did not think it appropriate for me to copy that letter to either the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, or the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"I hope we can refocus this debate and, in doing so, change some of the language we use in it. To my mind, much of the debate so far has been clouded by unhelpful language, crude figures and confused statistics. For example, the term 'brownfield' is not helpful. I propose to talk about recycled land, which can, of course, be in cities, towns or villages. Greenfield is too often confused with green belt, as if the two were always the same. Most importantly, while the technical term 'household growth' is sometimes necessary, it does not adequately describe our main concern, which is to develop sustainable communities now and in the future.
"I hope that, following today's Statement, the Opposition will join us in a sensible debate about how to achieve that aim, while recognising the real difficulties involved in meeting household growth in a sustainable way. My department published the latest projections of growth in the number of households in March 1995 under the previous administration.
"The projections suggest that around an extra 175,000 households a year will form in the 25 years from 1991 to 2016. This is because of population growth and because people are living longer and couples are separating more often. Household growth has been outstripping population growth increasingly since the turn of the century.
"The dilemma is clear cut and affects us all--how to accommodate more households and, at the same time, protect our precious countryside, without rents, house prices or homelessness spiralling upwards. It is not just a matter of how many households but where they will live.
"There are four key elements in our new approach: first, increased flexibility. We shall emphasise that the projections are guidance not building requirements. Secondly, more decentralisation. Regional planning conferences will have more responsibility and accountability in deciding the most sustainable way of meeting the needs of their communities. Thirdly, making the best possible use of previously developed land and existing buildings. We must put the heart back into our cities and put cities at the heart of our strategy. Fourthly, what I set out today is part and parcel of our determination to get better integration of a range of policies which affect communities.
"In order to achieve greater flexibility, we are determined to get away from a simplistic 'predict and provide' approach in housing, as we have done for road building. We will treat the household projections as guidance, not house building requirements. Moreover we will allow for greater flexibility in adjusting regional and local plans to ensure local provision is meeting local need over time.
"Decentralisation is an essential aim of this Government whether in devolution, in establishing the regional development agencies, or in our proposals for London. We therefore propose to strengthen the role of the regions in translating projections into regional planning guidance. The regional planning conferences will work together with the government offices to determine how much extra housing is needed in their regions.
"The aim will be to increase the local ownership of the figures so that local authorities translate this new regional guidance into plans and actions on the ground. I want to see better public information on the consequences of decisions on releasing land for housing, so that those responsible can be held accountable and the public debate can be better informed. I want this to be a truly bottom-up approach.
"The conferences may be able to justify lower or higher housing figures than those implied by the projections, but we will expect local authorities to monitor and report on the effects of their decisions. If the effects are damaging, authorities will need to act--or we may need in the last resort to intervene. But the whole philosophy of our new approach is to strengthen local responsibility and to have a bottom-up approach.
"It is our firm policy to protect our countryside and revitalise our towns and cities, by maximising the use of recycled land and existing buildings. One of the most effective ways of relieving the pressure on the countryside is to revitalise our cities and improve the quality of urban life. That is why I have called for an urban renaissance in Britain.
"This will require a whole range of measures. It is not just a matter of urban housing, let alone planning. It is about tackling the range of problems affecting the quality of urban life--whether it is crime, education, jobs, transport or the environment. Many of these same problems also affect rural communities, to which we must also direct our attention.
"The millennium village will point the way for urban regeneration in the future and I have asked English Partnerships to seek out other similar sites for urban villages to share the benefits throughout the country.
"This initiative will run alongside our other main programmes--nearly £1 billion under the capital receipts initiative, £250 million announced last week under the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund and our other urban regeneration programmes.
"The target set by the previous administration was 'that, by 2005, half of all new housing should be built on re-used sites'. In practice, it was able to achieve an average of 42 per cent. between 1985 and 1995--rising from 38 per cent. in 1985 to 50 per cent. in 1995. Those figures are national averages--ranging from 33 per cent. in the East Midlands to 83 per cent. in London. But the target was not based on any assessment of the availability of recycled land.
"In future, we will expect each regional planning conference to make a proper assessment of land availability and set regional targets for the use of recycled land. This has never been done before and is an important change. It will sharpen the focus of policy and action on the ground.
"Last week, I asked my department to work with English Partnerships and local government to create a national database of land use which will give local authorities reliable information on the amount of recycled land available for housing.
"Today, I can go further. Local authorities, developers, builders, and the professions have all been looking for a lead. To spearhead this unprecedented collective effort, I have established a Task Force to help make better use of recycled land. I have asked my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside to lead it. It will co-ordinate and develop the wide range of activity and innovation underway.
"I consider that a national target for the use of recycled land can help guide regions and local authorities, and help them improve on their performance. With our new policies in place, we expect local planning authorities to be able to raise the national proportion of new homes to be built on previously developed land to 60 per cent. over the next 10 years. We will come back to refine the national target in the light of regional targets when they are known and when our database is established.
"Many of the respondents to the Green Paper accepted that 60 per cent. would not be easy. No-one should underestimate the problems and costs of redeveloping some sites, such as those which are contaminated. Indeed, it cost over £100 million to clean up the Greenwich millennium peninsula alone.
"If we are to make our towns and cities attractive places to live and work in, we must ensure a good quality of life. That is why we reject so-called 'urban cramming' and pressure to build on green spaces in towns. Our parks and green spaces are part of what makes town living attractive. That is why we have strengthened the protection against building on school playing fields.
"I now come to an important new element in our proposals. We propose to follow a sequential approach to the location of new housing and a phased approach to the release of land. Whenever possible, recycled land in urban areas should be built on first, provided it can be well linked to public transport, jobs, shops and other facilities. The same tests will also apply to the sequence of development of greenfield sites. We will also need to allow for release of empty property and so called 'windfall sites'.
"Some of the responses to the previous Government's Green Paper called for economic instruments, such as a greenfield tax, to be introduced. As a first step, we want to open up debate on the use of this type of measure. Final decisions on taxation are, of course, a matter for the Chancellor.
"Much of the debate has concentrated on urban housing, but we must also allow for the housing needs of people in rural areas. Many country people are deeply concerned at the lack of affordable housing, often while houses are bought up by wealthier commuters or bought as holiday cottages. A young couple in a village have every much a right to a decent home as their counterparts in the town.
"Members will be aware of the recent report by the Rural Development Commission, the '1997 survey of rural services', which highlighted specific problems in the rural economy. Communities fall into decline and are no longer able to sustain jobs and essential local services. These problems are particularly acute in our former coalfield communities, which are often in rural areas, where the pit closures left those communities devastated. We must find new ways to address these problems. We want to see thriving communities in our rural areas--a living countryside.
"Any new development, whether in town or country, must be sustainable development. And there will be exceptional cases--such as in Hertfordshire--where pursuing the most sustainable solution leads to adjustments to green belts.
"Nevertheless I would point out that since we came into office, more green belt--over 30,000 hectares--has been added than taken away by changes to boundaries. I anticipate that trend will continue during this Parliament.
"Finally, successful community development depends on a wide range of policies. We will tilt the balance in favour of urban development--not only through the planning process itself, but through fairer regional development, improving our public transport, raising standards in our schools and tackling crime.
"This statement represents a break with the past on one of the most important issues facing us today: how and where we should live. We want to replace the top-down 'predict and provide' mentality of the past, with a system which is more responsive, more accountable, and better able to revitalise our towns and cities and protect a living countryside, which we can all enjoy.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I thank the noble Lady for repeating the Statement in this House. The Statement represents a significant change of heart on the part of the Government. It is regrettable that it had not been made before several disastrous decisions.
In the light of this review, can the Minister say whether the extra 12,000 houses that were permitted in East Sussex, the 150 acres of industrial development of green belt near Sutton Coldfield, the 12,000 acres of green belt released for house building near Newcastle and the 10,000 houses to be built on green belt land at Stevenage covering 1,000 acres will be reconsidered? Will the Minister acknowledge that the then Shadow Minister for Housing, Mr. Raynsford, was clearly wrong when he described the target of 60 per cent. as a recipe for disaster and, perhaps more important, confirm that the belief that the green belt is "up for grabs", as referred to by another present Minister, no longer exists in the Department?
The Statement says that more green belt has been added than taken away. Whatever definitions of land one uses, whether "green belt", "greenfield" or "recycled land", the fact is that when green and undeveloped land is lost through boundary changes, that undeveloped, open and green land is taken away. It is
I hope the Minister will agree that, in the light of the Statement, there is now some common ground. The previous government doubled the amount of green belt, toughened the restrictions on green belt development and made it clear that the projected 4.4 million homes could not be achieved by the use of greenfield sites. The previous administration pushed up the proportion of new homes being built on brownfield sites, as the Statement acknowledges, to some 50 per cent. Indeed, the Conservative Party made a manifesto commitment that more than 60 per cent. of the required homes should be built on brownfield sites. We suggested two-thirds; Friends of the Earth and the United Kingdom Round Table on Sustainable Development suggested 75 per cent.
The statement refers to planning tools. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to tell the House whether account will be taken of planning procedures. If the building targets are to be achieved, there is a need for as many decisions as possible to be made within the statutory time. But they should be real decisions, not refusals by local authorities with a request for resubmission in order to keep up the number of decisions made within the eight-week period.
The Statement also mentions a greenfield tax as having been referred to in the responses to the previous administration's consultation paper. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that there may be grave doubts about such a tax in that it would somehow give acceptability to the idea of developing open sites and would probably not be effective unless levied at a penal rate.
The Statement also refers to decisions being taken at a regional level. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House a little more about how the regional targets are to be set. Perhaps she can at some time confirm that the planning powers dropped last week from the Regional Development Agencies Bill will not be introduced under cover of decisions by regional planning conferences. Given the statutory planning role of local authorities, we need to know how the regional planning conferences will interact with local authorities, which are the accountable planning authorities in the area.
The involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, will, I am sure, be welcomed on all sides of the House. His views about cities for people, and how they need to be revitalised and the quality of life improved, should be an influence for encouraging imaginative developments in cities to provide the homes needed in centres near to facilities and employment rather than outside, which lower targets for inner city housebuilding would mean and which one clearly wishes to avoid.
The Statement refers to the Millennium Village. Perhaps the Minister can at another time tell the House more about the density of that development, what provision for open space will be made there and how the contamination of the site has been dealt with. Matters of that kind will be important with regard to the development of many sites in city centres.
The conversion of the Government to the cause of the green belts is welcome, but the unfortunate decisions made since they have been in office, which have been more in line with Statements made previously than in this Statement, have left people wondering about their real intentions towards green belt and greenfield sites. We hope we shall see real progress towards achieving the target, reconsideration of some of the more unfortunate decisions, and evidence of a real commitment to preserving green belt and urban renewal. Those two aspects must go hand in hand if we are to achieve the aims of the Statement.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and welcome it from these Benches. We welcome the commitment to changing the language and the effort to turn action on these problems into a co-operative venture, not one of confrontation.
The Minister referred to the confusion between "greenfield" and "green belt". While she and her right honourable friend are correct about that, I hope that she will be able to confirm that the protection of the green belt and, in London, metropolitan open land remains a matter of important consideration, as will the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty, which at present do not have the statutory protection that many of us believe they should have.
We welcome all efforts to ensure that projections are as up to date as possible. We regard it as essential that they should command confidence. It would be welcome if they could be rolling projections; namely, projections which remain the working figures, not projections taken as a snapshot which become out of date.
We welcome the focus on regional decision-making, though we, too, are concerned about how that decision-making will interrelate with decisions at the level of local planning authorities who want to protect their precious areas, whether in town or country, and who want to achieve affordable housing but at present do not have the mechanisms to do so. However, perhaps I may inject a note of concern and caution about whether the regional structures at present and as foreseen in the short and medium-term will be adequate. The regional planning conferences, made up of people indirectly representing local areas rather than people elected to deal with regional planning as their primary job, are probably of variable quality and certainly variable in their approach to the problems.
We also welcome the comments on the simplistic predict-and-provide approach, although I believe it has not been so much predict and provide--because the provision of affordable housing has not been achieved--as predict and prepare; or perhaps not even as much as prepare.
We warmly support the aim to increase the local ownership of the figures, as indicated, but there is a dilemma that ownership--to use the jargon term--takes time; community participation is not a speedy process.
We note the problems affecting the quality of urban life and agree with the list. However, we note too that tackling crime requires attention to police numbers. Though I appreciate that that is not a matter for the Minister's department, tackling crime will require more investment in our police forces than the Government have attempted to provide--adopting as they have previous Treasury plans.
Much of the Statement causes me to ask how the proposals are to be achieved. How can the cost of cleaning up be met? How can good social mixes in housing be achieved, both in town and country, particularly when the investment in social housing leaves an enormous shortfall?
I note the establishment of the task force and welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside. In view of his commitment to lively urban areas I shall be interested to know more of his remit to co-ordinate and develop a wide range of activity and innovation. It is a huge task but, at any rate in the Statement, not a well-defined task.
I note the reference to the release of empty properties and to allowing for such release. I assume that that is in connection with the statistics. I hope that the Minister can say something more about how the use of empty properties--particularly that in public ownership--can be encouraged. I hope, too, that in the whole debate attention can also be paid to the refurbishment of our housing stock. Not to attend to the condition of housing stock will mean increasing, not reducing, the problem.
As I indicated, though we welcome the Statement, we regard it more of a Statement than a set of proposals. We look forward to discussing mechanisms to achieve the laudable objectives, particularly the measures which I accept are within the aegis of the Exchequer rather than within the Minister's department. I hope, too, that there will be some carrots in the proposals as well as sticks. I do not believe that, without carrots, any of the sticks can work. We welcome taking forward this difficult issue.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given, with differing degrees of grudgingness from the two Front Benches opposite, to the Statement, and particularly to the announcement of the appointment of my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside to lead the task force. The task force will play an important role in the identification of recycled land that can be used.
A number of detailed questions were raised and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was right to point out that we are at the beginning of a process. This is very much setting out the framework that the Government wish to see; the policies that we believe will enable the framework to develop, and for us to meet our aims. But it is a matter on which we must consult, particularly with those who will have the prime responsibility for implementation and particularly at a regional level.
The noble Baroness also said that we should be setting ourselves robust targets on figures in which we all have confidence. That has been one of the problems that undermined some areas of the debate in the past, particularly in relation to the key issue of targets for re-used land by 2005. Those targets are based on evidence of what is achievable and that is why we are proposing a database of land uses. It will be crucial in establishing exactly what can be done at local and regional levels.
In that regard we are talking about achievement, and that must be the crucial point. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, it is not a question of saying, "Our target is bigger than your target"; it is about what we manage as a nation to achieve and how we manage to strike the real balances that must be struck between the need for affordable homes and housing to meet household growth and the desire both to protect the countryside and regenerate urban areas.
I stress again something that is accepted in this House; that is, that it is important that we do not believe that we protect the countryside simply by maintaining it in aspic as it is now. There are rural housing needs, particularly for local families, just as there are needs for rural transport, rural shopping, rural education and rural jobs. We must look at those communities as well as the urban communities.
On the question of looking at regional planning conferences and how they take the situation forward, it is essential that they are strong enough to do that work; to command confidence among the local authorities with the targets that they set; and, as I said, to monitor the results. The government offices for the regions will be working with the regional planning conferences because we do not want it to be an exercise in centralisation--a danger to which the noble Baroness alluded. We want to reach agreement with regional planning conferences rather than having to overrule them.
It was a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, chose to categorise the decisions that have been taken as "disastrous". It is important to look both at the overall commitment of this Government to the green belt and the overall increase in green belt provision that has happened in the past months. For example, there was the creation of a whole new green belt around Durham. It is important that we look not at boundaries that are unchanging and unchangeable, but at the functions that the green belt is meant to fulfil and at how effectively it is doing that. We cannot lose sight of the overall aims which concern sustainability.
Decisions that have been made were made on that basis. In terms of reconsidering those decisions--for example, in relation to Newcastle--the changes to the unitary development plan have been adopted. In relation to West Sussex, the authority sought judicial review and therefore it would be wrong for me to comment. We have no plans to review other decisions. However, it is open to local authorities to review their own plans in the light of the new regional planning guidance, once it has been prepared.
Moving from 50 per cent.--the House should remember that the achievement under the 50 per cent. target was actually an average of 42 per cent.--to a 60 per cent. target for new homes on recycled land is a challenging target. That was recognised by those who responded. Those targets need to be based on hard information and that is what we will get through the land use database.
Regarding the details of the millennium village, I shall write to the noble Lord on the issue of density. However, as I pointed out in the Statement, the cost of the reclamation was very high. We were talking of £100 million. It is the relative costs as between greenfield and recycled land development which have led many people to raise the issue--although the Green Paper did not--of economic instruments. Many people argued that local authorities would need adequate tools in order to achieve higher rates of recycling. They suggested greenfield taxes, incentives in relation to the use of recycled land or a greater use of planning obligations. The recent Statement that we issued, Modernising Planning, proposes examining the issue and holding discussions. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and repeat mine: ultimately these are issues for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Finally, turning to the specific point about the regional development agencies' reserve planning powers, in another place my honourable friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning agreed that in the light of arguments put on behalf of the Local Government Association from our own side during the Committee stage of the Bill, he would re-examine the need for reserve planning provisions--the provisions in Clauses 24 to 27 of the Bill to be transferred from English Partnerships are very much "reserve" provisions--and bring forward amendments in time for Report stage.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the Minister said that one of the problems causing a shortage of housing was couples separating. Without going into any Budget secrets (because I know that she cannot) can the Minister assure the House that the Government are examining both their fiscal policy and their social security policy to ensure that every possible help is given to couples to encourage them to stay together? That will help in reducing the demand for separate housing.
On another point, there are centres of cities and towns which are dead, particularly after the shops close. They used not to be. I am sure that there is a lot of old residential accommodation above shops which is now not used. Can encouragement be given to the owners and lessors of those shops to ensure that that wasted accommodation is brought back into residential use? Not only will it help to house people; but also, because people will live regularly in those areas, it will help to make those centres safer in the evening in relation to both individuals and property.
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