Infrastructure requirement

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I rise to speak to new clause 11, which is in my name and supported by 16 right hon. and hon. Government Members, including Liberal Democrat Members, several former Ministers and senior Members of Parliament, who share my concern about the adequacy of local infrastructure to support new development. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who feels strongly about this issue, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) have asked me to give their apologies for being unable to be here: they have expressed their concern about the issue and have supported my new clause. Since I tabled the new clause late on Thursday evening, a number of other Members have indicated that they would like to support it.

The starting position is one I wish to make completely clear, and I believe it is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends: new housing is necessary. The Minister with responsibility for planning, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) is absolutely right to remind the House and the public of the necessity to ensure that there is housing provision, particularly for young people who are unable to get their foot on the housing ladder at the moment, and to get house building going again.

There is no desire on my part to challenge that argument, but the principle enshrined in the Localism Act 2011, to which I believe all Members subscribe, is that development should be sustainable. That means by definition-I share the Government's definition-that the enjoyment given to the current generation should not make life worse for successive generations. Many of my constituents, and parish and district councils in particular have expressed concern that the local infrastructure is insufficient to support the additional development that has already been undertaken.

I mentioned on Second Reading that the drainage in my constituency is so inadequate that after heavy rainfall households face the problem of sewage rising in their gardens or running in the streets, and people have to ensure that their loos do not back up. That is an intolerable situation for residents in my constituency.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman have a view about building on floodplains, which has been a big issue over the past few weeks given all the flooding?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman certainly raises a related issue. It is essentially part of the same principle, which is whether the development that takes place is or is not sustainable. There is obviously a great deal of concern about building on floodplains as well. Even where building takes place and it is not on a floodplain, it is essential to ensure that there is sufficient local infrastructure to support that development. It is not just a question of adequate local drainage, as it is also a question of ensuring that there are sufficient local school places and that the road network is sufficient to support the additional population. In villages throughout my constituency, we have found that that infrastructure has not been provided despite the additional development, and it is feared that further development would exacerbate the problems.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of the Ridgeway Farm development in Purton, in my constituency, where it was agreed this week that 700 houses would be built in an area where there are no schools, where the roads are tiny country lanes and there is no access, where the hospital is jam-full, and where the local villages have been flooded in the last couple of weeks? It is an entirely unsustainable development, but the inspector in Bristol has allowed it to proceed.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend has given a very good example of the local concern that is generated when there is inadequate infrastructure to support development.

Where is the mechanism requiring planning authorities to ensure that the necessary local infrastructure is in place when development is permitted? I repeat that the purpose of the new clause is not to prevent necessary housing from being built, but to ensure that it is built at sustainable levels and in the right places. We have to ask why, if the mechanism is adequate now, the circumstances that I have described have already arisen. There is clear evidence that the existing mechanisms are inadequate.

We are moving from a system whereby the gain from development was captured under 106 agreements to a system involving a community infrastructure levy which, I understand, is intended to ensure that investment can be made in local infrastructure. My constituents will want to hear from the Government how that new system will work, and to be assured that when new housing is proposed under the development plans that local authorities are now undertaking, there will be a mechanism to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is provided along with it.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): As local authorities-a good example being my local authority in Winchester-develop their new local plans, which they are directed to do under the Localism Act 2011, they are getting perilously close to the numbers in the south-east regional spatial strategy, which my right hon. Friend and I share, or almost shared. I wonder whether anxiety about that situation underlies the new clause.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is exactly right. It is a related issue. Although regional spatial strategies are being abolished-which is overdue but nevertheless welcome-there is a widespread fear among local authorities that planning inspectors will overturn their own assessments of the level of need in local areas, and that they will be unable to balance what could, in many areas, be a near-infinite level of demand with their ability to provide housing.

Mr Redwood: My right hon. Friend has made an interesting point about need and demand. The Government have stated clearly that they will cut net inward migration from a quarter of a million a year to a few tens of thousands. Presumably councils should take into account the sharp deceleration in the need for new households.

Nick Herbert: That raises the question of the process whereby councils are now assessing need, and the potential confusion between need and demand. I think that communities will feel cheated if, having been promised the abolition of the top-down housing target that was set by the last Government-effectively by means of the regional spatial strategies-they see it returning through the back door in the shape of a planning inspector, and if local authorities find that they have no choice but to provide a level of housing that they consider to be unsustainable.

Mr Blunt: Let me make it clear to my right hon. Friend, and to the Minister, that that is precisely what is happening to Reigate and Banstead borough council. Its draft plan has been kicked back by the inspector to "show again", because it simply does not meet what he believes to be the required development objectives in the green belt. The council is being invited to review the green belt in its area, which is meant to be sacrosanct. It is not just in the case of ordinary developments that localism is being overturned.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully. The principle of localism is enshrined in the very name of the legislation recently mentioned and was set out in the coalition agreement. Under that principle, local communities should now have the power-on an objective assessment, I agree-to gauge the level of need. They are best placed to determine whether there is sufficient local infrastructure and what the environmental damage would be, and balance that against the economic needs of their area. They are best placed to determine the right level of housing in their area.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that often what statutory consultees such as the utility companies and the Highways Agency assure people is sustainable for the local infrastructure does not tie up with the reality of people's everyday existence on the ground?

Nick Herbert: I agree, and one problem is that some of the agencies charged with giving a statutory response to draft development plans do not properly engage with those plans or give an assessment of the impact on roads, schools, drainage and water supply and so forth which accurately grapples with the increase in demand. There is not a properly joined-up process.

I suspect that the Minister will point me to the new national planning policy framework, which says that local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to

"assess the quality and capacity of infrastructure...and its ability to meet forecast demands".

The provision does not, however, quite say that local authorities should ensure that local infrastructure is sufficient to match demand, but that is what the new clause says. It places a statutory duty on planning authorities to identify the demand on infrastructure caused by a new development. That is a stronger duty than under the national policy framework.

I recognise that there is little time left, and I am anxious to hear the Minister's reply, but I want to impress upon him that since I tabled the new clause just a few days ago many Members of this House, as well as many members of the public and councillors, have expressed concern about the issue. There is widespread concern about it. There is insufficient provision in existing legislation to ensure local infrastructure is provided when necessary development is put in place.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): I apologise to the House and to Members who tabled new clauses and amendments and have not had a chance to speak. I hope that the House will understand if I focus on amendments that are new on Report, rather than those tabled in the Bill Committee, where we had a full discussion, although I will of course return to clause 1 and the justification for it at the end of my brief remarks.

I shall start by addressing new clause 11, proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and a range of right hon. and hon. Friends. The Government and I share completely my right hon. Friend's emphasis on the vital importance of infrastructure to support new development. Indeed, one of our main criticisms of the record of the previous Government was their complete failure to ensure that it was put in place. Ironically at a time when money, both public and private, was more available than ever before, infrastructure was simply not provided for.

Mr Blunt: The effect of the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), to which I put my name, is "must," rather than "should," which is the position I believe the Minister is about to defend, and "must" speaks to the arguments he has just made.

Nick Boles: My hon. Friend anticipates the meat of the argument I want to make, but perhaps I could return to my point. It was in response to the failure of the previous planning regime to provide the infrastructure to support development and make local authorities and local communities feel empowered to shape their communities and their future that this Government produced the national planning policy framework and the Bill that became the Localism Act 2011. It is important to understand that while the national planning policy framework is indeed only policy, it is an incredibly carefully constructed and negotiated balance of measures. Taking one measure out of the framework and putting it into primary legislation, when no other part of it would be there, would be to up-end the balance, and would give primacy to one-very important-element at the expense of other important elements of the framework.

Mr Redwood: As the Minister may know, the borough unitary I mainly represent-Wokingham-has a local plan. It has identified land for 12,500 houses, which is a massive increase in development and well beyond the number many of my constituents would like. The authority has been prepared to argue the plan through; it wants to concentrate the development to get money for the infrastructure mainly from private sources, but the Minister decided to grant permission somewhere else, completely undermining the negotiations the authority wants to hold with the private sector. How does that help to get infrastructure?

Nick Boles: My right hon. Friend accuses me of things I have not done, but I am happy to take responsibility for all decisions of the Government, whether quasi judicial or otherwise.

Perhaps I could return to the argument, because it is important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs made the very good argument that over the past 10 to 30 years local authorities have not been in a position adequately to provide the infrastructure improvements required to support housing and other kinds of economic development. I should like to try to persuade him that it is not because the provision is not in primary legislation as a duty-as a must, rather than a should-that the failure has arisen; it is because there have not been dedicated sources of revenue to support infrastructure. It is not that local authorities are out there saying, "We want to build 5,000 houses and not build any more roads and primary schools and not put in better sewers." It has not happened because they have not had dedicated revenue streams to do it.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) rose -

Nick Boles: Perhaps I could finish; I do not have much time.

The Government have put in place a huge range of specifically targeted measures to ensure that a funding stream is in place. That is why we supported the previous Government's innovation of the community infrastructure levy, which is due to deliver £1 billion a year of infrastructure funding directly to local authorities; they will have to provide a list of infrastructure improvements so that developers know that they are making a contribution to specific matters, whether roads, drainage, schools or other things. We have also allocated £730 million to local enterprise partnerships.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Boles: I have very little time and I need to get on to clause 1. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way right now.

The autumn statement a few weeks ago included another round of £350 million for the regional growth fund and a new local infrastructure fund worth up to £470 million. I hope my right hon. Friend and my other right hon. and hon. Friends will understand that it is not primary legislation that will ensure that local authorities plan properly, as they should, for infrastructure; it is money. Part of the way to get that money is to plan positively for development, because that development will bring the community infrastructure levy and the new homes bonus.

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I had the good fortune to be born in the Thames valley and I represent a constituency in the Thames valley. In my lifetime I have watched tens of thousands of homes being built and many industrial estates and business parks. The M4 motorway has never been widened and the hospital has never been built to serve the community that has grown so much. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the levy to which he refers goes towards a new motorway and a new hospital? My region desperately needs them.

Nick Boles: It will be for my hon. Friend's local authority to specify the infrastructure. Those are good examples. The money could go towards a hospital, a school, drains or whatever is required. He is right that that has not been available previously.

Finally, on new clause 11, I make this promise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. We are currently looking at all the planning guidance that is provided to local authorities about how they should go about interpreting the national planning policy framework and putting that into their local plans. Although I do not want to up-end the careful balance of local plans by putting this in primary legislation, I will look at making sure that the guidance that is provided in a much reduced set of planning guidance is very clear about the need to plan positively and specifically for infrastructure that is required to support the development and to ensure that it is brought on stream in good time for that development.