Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Date of Proceeding: 30.01.2007
    Reference: 456 c1-2WH
    Member: Lilley, Peter
    Title: Hertfordshire Housing Target
    Description: It is a privilege to open the debate, and I express my gratitude to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main), for joining me in securing it, as we promised at a big public meeting on housing that covered both our constituencies. This is a key issue throughout Hertfordshire, but nowhere more so than in the city and district of St. Albans and north Hertfordshire district, both of which cover my constituency.

    The green belt is much loved and needed. I have defended it since my maiden speech, in which I described the contrasting views of different parts of my constituency and remarked that one thing that united the different settlements within it was the desire to remain separated from each other by strips of green belt. That desire remains. Those strips of green belt provide green lungs, access to the country, room to breathe and a sense of different identity. I have always defended the green belt, and for nearly a quarter of a century we have always succeeded in our defence. I have spoken at every public inquiry on proposals to build on the green belt, and we have usually seen off such developments-until recently.

    We have seen those developments off and been able to build homes and meet targets, so what has changed? A number of things. First, the Government keep raising the targets, and I want the Minister to explain why. Secondly, the way decisions are made has changed. We now have regional planning assemblies such as the East of England authority, which most of us do not recognise and few of us understand, but all of us knows is not directly elected. It is simply a creature of the Government that enables them to divide and rule and say to other representatives-or appointees-from Norfolk and Cambridge, “Why don’t you vote for more houses in Hertfordshire and Essex? If you don’t, we’ll plonk them on you.” That change has given the Government the opportunity to steamroller through increased targets.

    There has also been a political resiling from defending the green belt. The first and most serious example of that was when the county council, which was temporarily under Lib-Lab control-together they had a majority of one-steamrollered through proposals for the biggest incursion on the green belt that this country has ever seen: the decision to build up to 10,000 houses on the green belt to the west of Stevenage. They had to change the orders of the council to ensure that the majority of one could prevail. It was a pretty sordid process, but it worked. Of course, their proposals were endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister and given the go-ahead.

    There has also been a change in the Government’s attitude from the traditional view-in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, “We created the green belt and now we’re going to build on it”-to the other meaning of that unintended double entendre. They are now preaching that a green belt can be flexible and that the boundaries can be changed as long as that is compensated for by land elsewhere being reclassified as green belt. That destroys the purpose of the green belt: if it is elastic and plastic rather than firm, rigid and defensible, it ceases to serve any purpose.

    If the Minister were given responsibility for defending the list of protected species, would she say, “It doesn’t matter if a few of them become extinct, because we can always reclassify the common house sparrow and chaffinch, so the total will not alter.”? That seems to be the Government’s view of the green belt.

    I can no longer say to my constituents, as I have for a couple of decades or more, “Back me, support me, we’ll fight and we’ll probably win.” I now have to say that the odds are stacked against us because the Government are actively encouraging building on the green belt, not least in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend and neighbour.