Date of Proceeding: 18.04.2007
Reference: 459 c110-1WH
Member: Lilley, Peter
Title: Housing (Hertfordshire)
Description: I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) on securing the debate and on her very cogent and powerful speech in defence of the environment in Hertfordshire in general and in St. Albans in particular. One of the most potent arguments in her related to the fact that the Government have not carried out environmental capacity studies, despite the fact that they were advised to do so by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and by their advisers, and despite the fact that they have accepted that as necessary in the past. I hope that the Minister will respond explicitly to that point, and explain why the Government have not done so. In the meantime, I endorse my hon. Friend’s call for the Government to abandon the latest increased targets for house building in Hertfordshire until such studies have been carried out, to assess whether there is the environmental capacity to take this extra house building.
We also know that the Government have not agreed to finance the additional infrastructure that this house building would require. I remind the Minister that Hertfordshire is already the most densely populated county outside London. Its roads are the most overcrowded and busy in any county, because they bear not only the traffic generated by this dense population but more traffic passing through the county than that faced by any other. The secondary schools, certainly in my area, are all already oversubscribed. The hospitals face closures, including ward closures and the downgrading of half the major general hospitals in Hertfordshire, and yet more need and more demand for them would arise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) pointed out.
We know already that the water services face immense pressure, and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans pointed out the problems that will be faced if extra housing is built. We also have a shortage of green space. That green space has been preserved and protected by the green belt, and the Government propose to lift that protection, to move the boundaries of the green belt further north and to expand it to compensate for the loss of green belt in Hertfordshire, by designating some land under no serious pressure somewhere north of King’s Lynn.
Finally, as I intend to be brief, we need to know the reasons for this additional housing. There are two reasons why extra housing would be needed: one is an increase in population, and the other is a decline in household size so that the same number of people need more houses. As I understand it, the Government are saying that virtually all the extra houses are the result of a projected decline in household size. It is quite true that more houses are needed if you have an unchanged population and a declining household size. However, such extra houses will not impose the same infrastructure requirements as the house building that is required to house additional people. The same number of people are living in smaller households. They do not need so much extra water, schools or, we would hope, hospitals.