MPs raise eco-town concerns in Commons
West Sussex MPs Nick Herbert and Nick Gibb called for local councils to be allowed to say where new housing will go during a Commons debate on Thursday afternoon (19 June).
The ‘Topical Debate' was an opportunity for MPs to discuss the Government's proposals for ‘eco-towns'.
Ford in West Sussex is one of 15 sites around the country shortlisted for an eco-town of 5-20,000 houses, a move which has attracted widespread opposition in the county from local residents, businesses, councils and MPs.
It is anticipated that the Government will reduce the shortlist to 10 sites in October.
Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) said: "The tiny village of Ford lies in my constituency and is shortlisted to have an eco-town with 5,000 houses. That would make it by far the largest settlement in my constituency, irrevocably transforming the countryside and the small villages around it."
Mr Herbert said his main concern was the impact on local democracy, and continued: "This is not an argument about the need for more affordable housing. We all recognise that, and Arun District Council recognises it. Some 58,000 new houses will come to West Sussex over the next 20 years, and 11,300 of those will be in the Arun district. That number has already been upped by 2,000 from the recommendation of the South East England Regional Assembly, and it could be increased still further. Who should decide where these houses should go?
"Arun District Council, the elected local authority, should decide where these houses should go. That decision cannot sensibly be imposed by Government simply because developers, who have been wanting to develop the site for years - from well before the concept of eco-towns was even thought of - believe that they can impose their views above those of the locally elected representatives.
"Arun has already provided for a large number of affordable homes over the next three years - about 700, which is much more than has been claimed. That will go a long way towards providing the 2,000 homes that would be provided under the eco-town proposal. Let us leave these decisions to locally elected planning bodies. It is wrong in principle and will result in the wrong decisions if these decisions are imposed from on high by the Government."
Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton) said: "Arun District Council, in its core strategy document, has already identified and allocated land for 9,500 houses, of which between 30 and 40 per cent will be social housing. The council has done what was required of it, and it is therefore wrong to suggest that the Minister needs to intervene to impose housing numbers on the council and to say where those houses should be.
"I am also concerned that the Government are setting a new precedent in planning by publishing planning policy statements that are location specific, thereby removing any local discretion over the siting of new developments. Planning policy statements have always been issues of general principle and not diktats from central government about particular developments.
"I hope that Ford will not appear on the final shortlist of eco-towns."
Further criticism of the Government came from the Labour benches as former Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said it had been a mistake to make an invitation to tender, an approach which resulted in old development plans being "dusted off" and re-badged with the ‘eco' label to try to make them attractive.
Housing Minister Caroline Flint indicated during the debate that she would, during July and August, be visiting all of the sites on the current shortlist for an eco-town. Mr Herbert said he would "welcome" a visit from the Minister to Ford and hoped to join her.
Notes for Editors
1. For a transcript of the debate, visit http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080619/debtext/80619-0006.htm#08061960000001
2. ‘Topical Debates' were introduced last year to enable Members of Parliament to debate issues of regional, national or international importance once a week for 90 minutes.