Eco-Towns Debate

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con):

I add my concerns to those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). 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.

My hon. Friend made a point about the misleading claims made by developers, and I want to reinforce that point to the Minister-this is not a brownfield site. It has been described as Ford airfield, but 87 per cent. of the land is greenfield. When the Minister comes to visit-I welcome her visit and hope to join her-she will see that it is largely beautiful open countryside at the foot of Arundel. It is of agricultural importance and is prime farmland. It is not, in the main, brownfield land. According to the figures, that makes up only 13 per cent. of the site and even less in terms of what is actually farmed. That is why the Campaign to Protect Rural England, although it supports the policy of eco-towns in general, has said that Ford is not an appropriate site.

My main point is simply about local democracy. 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?

Housing Minister (Caroline Flint): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: No, I cannot; I am sorry, but I do not have the time. The Minister can perhaps answer later, but I put it to her that 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 Herbert