Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is most unfortunate that my Labour-led borough council in Broxtowe has not only accepted the RSS target figure of 6,000 new houses, which means that 4,000 houses will be built on my green belt in Broxtowe, but is not waiting for the Localism Bill or the framework, which will protect the green belt? Will he speak to the Labour party in Broxtowe, urge it to pause and accept the Localism Bill and abandon the RSS targets that his Government laid down?
It sounds like the hon. Lady is describing localism in action. If the Government say that local councils should be able to take their own decisions—that point was made forcefully by the Minister—Government Members should accept that as a way of proceeding.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
May I begin by saying that I was delighted to have the opportunity on Tuesday to hold a debate in Westminster Hall and thank everyone who contributed to it? I do not intend to repeat the many points I raised, but I remind those who want to read the report of the debate of any interest I declared in my various comments about the green belt. The green belt is a passion for me because of the situation in my constituency, which has no greenfield land, only green belt and brownfield sites.
I agree with so much of what has been said by all hon. Friends on the coalition Benches, especially the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), that I think we are in danger of breaking out into a bit of a love-in. I thought he was about to escape, but it seems he feels compelled to stay. I want to thank the Secretary of State and his Ministers for the various reassurances they have given and public pronouncements they have made, particularly about the green belt, which I wish had been more widely publicised. Of course, it has never been said of the Secretary of State that he is not one for coming forward, as he has come forward on many occasions and spoken in his normal, robust manner. Unfortunately, I do not think that enough people heard him when he gave the reassurance that the framework contains not only a continuation of the existing policy to protect our green belt, but a very good argument that the coalition Government are determined to ensure that it is even better protected. I thank him for that.
I would like to raise two points. The first—I am being completely parochial about my constituency—relates to open-cast mining. We touched on this very briefly in the debate in Westminster Hall. I know that the framework refers to mineral extraction and really hope that the Government will listen to Members with constituencies in which there is a threat of open-cast mining. In my constituency, open-cast mining would be on green-belt land between Cossall and Trowell. It is very precious and beautiful land. It is historic and has connections to D.H. Lawrence. I submit that it is a complete contradiction to say that we could ever have open-cast mining on green-belt land. The two simply do not go together. If the Government cannot go as far as to agree with me on that, I urge them to look at the very good idea, put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), for a buffer zone between residential property and any open-cast mining.
I was slightly cynical about the framework when I first examined it, but over time I have found within it many things not only that should satisfy everybody’s concerns, but that we should welcome and trumpet. I am particularly impressed by the neighbourhood plan, and this is where I refer to the Liberal Democrats, because unfortunately Broxtowe’s small group of remaining Liberal Democrat councillors have, in their wisdom, chosen to remain in coalition with Labour, and they control Broxtowe borough council. As part of their policy, they have accepted the plan for some 6,000 new houses in my constituency, but there is enough room for only 2,000 on the brownfield site, and the rest will have to be built on the green belt.
I am opposed to that decision, and I believe that the majority of people in my constituency are, too, but the Liberal Democrat who represents the village of Trowell makes a very good point when he says, “I’m being realistic, and, when we look at previous decisions in Broxtowe and a particular stretch of land, we will have difficulty persuading anybody that there should not be a large number of houses built on this particular stretch of green belt known as Field farm.”
That individual makes those representations to me in private and in public, and to be completely blunt he may well have a very good point, but where I criticise him and other members of the ruling group on my local council is over their complete disregard for the ethos that runs through the framework, which is about working with communities—where communities decide things based on neighbourhood plans. That is a wonderful idea, and Rushcliffe borough council, which happens to be Conservative-controlled, is going out and holding workshops.
At the risk of continuing the love-in, may I say that I have some sympathy, because three Gloucestershire councils have just published a joint core strategy, which will be completely unsupported by local people, for 40,000 new houses in Gloucestershire—though I hate to say that most of the councils involved are Conservative-led.
I am very grateful, believe it or not, for that intervention, because the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and I feel a lot of sympathy for councillors who are advised by their officers—understandably—but sometimes almost put in fear. They feel that they have to take a particular route, but they forget that they are the democratically elected representatives of their communities. That may be a criticism of ourselves on these Benches—that we have not explained the great provisions in the Localism Bill, which will empower our neighbourhoods to come together and to decide on their own plans.
I am, however, becoming confident that the Liberal Democrats in Broxtowe will hear that message loud and clear, especially when the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) responds to the debate. They will realise that the Bill gives them the power to work with those people, coming together to build sustainable communities that are not just the sort of awful housing development that we have seen in so many parts of the country, which were built using the previous Government’s atrocious Prescott regulations with no regard at all for services and no proper consideration of infrastructure, but in fact sustainable developments—not just providing good homes for people, but improving their services, improving infrastructure and, indeed, embracing the environment. Such developments are not about simply concreting over land.
As ever, the clock is against me, but that is probably good for Opposition Members, as I was about to turn my attention to the previous Government’s disgraceful policy. I find it quite astonishing that Opposition Front Benchers, given their dreadful policies that would have concreted over thousands of acres of our green belt, can criticise Government Members and, notably, Front Benchers, so I commend this framework and look forward to the transition powers and all that they will bring.