DEMOCRACY AT RISK IN GOVERNMENT'S APPROACH TO LOCAL HOUSING SAYS LUFF
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Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff today challenged the Government over its undemocratic approach to house building in the West Midlands region, and demanded that local people have more say about where new homes are built.

During a St. George's Day debate in the House of Commons Peter recognised the need for more affordable housing in the West Midlands, but aimed "to slay a dragon or two" himself by criticising the Government for trying to force the West Midlands Regional Assembly into accepting their preferred plans for housing growth.

In December last year the WMRA published their preferred options for housing development after an 18 month consultation. In January, Government minister Baroness Andrews intervened, rejecting the Regional Assembly's findings and appointing a specialist firm to find the evidence to support the Government's higher housing targets that the WMRA's consultation had failed to meet.

In his speech Peter referred to Baroness Andrews' interventions as "one of the most undemocratic and unwarranted interventions in local affairs by a Minister that I can recall."

He continued:

"When the assembly formally submitted the RSS in January, it had been subject to considerable debate and consultation, including with local authorities, businesses and other so-called stakeholders. However, the Government have now intervened in the democratic process to impose their own research.

"How a bunch of London-based experts - so-called experts - with a few months to do the work can come up with a better answer than the local councils working through the regional assembly, I do not know.

"What message does that send to voters? How can anyone have faith in the consultation processes that is being so blatantly and openly manipulated in the Government's favour, when we should have a democratically deduced solution to the problems that we all acknowledge that we face?"

Peter also stressed that the current Regional Assembly projections are only manageable if the necessary infrastructure is in place to support them:

"On infrastructure, new homes and towns cannot exist in a vacuum. People living in them commute to work, travel to leisure facilities and hospitals and visit families and friends.

"Infrastructure will not happen by magic, as a consequence of planning; rather, it must be put in communities in advance to ensure that the interests of the existing residents are also served. Local communities would have much more faith in what the Government are doing if there were funding mechanisms that worked for infrastructure in all its forms, including hospitals, water and sewerage, leisure facilities, energy supplies and, above all, transport."

Peter also used his speech to criticise the Government's eco-town schemes which will neither deliver sustainable housing, nor help the environment:

"Cynically, the Government think that putting the word "eco" in front of something makes it unassailable. However, there is little evidence to suggest such places are going to be environmentally friendly. All the evidence points to them becoming the sink estates of the future, or, to borrow a phrase from the Local Government Association, "eco-slums"

"The fundamental problem with eco-towns such as the one proposed for my constituency, is that when you dump 15,000 people in relatively inaccessible towns, miles from established settlements, they will simply get in their cars and drive, which is not environmentally sustainable."

At the end of his speech Peter posed three questions to Government minister Parmjit Dhanda who was responding to the debate:

"I have three key questions. First, why are the Government being so dictatorial on both RSS numbers and eco-towns, and why will they not trust local people who are committing to historically high levels of housing provision as it is in their rejected proposals?

"Secondly, how confident are the Government about their household projection predictions and, specifically, their migration forecasts?

"Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster said, what guarantees will we get on infrastructure provision?"

Mr. Dhanda did not answer the three specific questions but promised to write to Peter with detailed answers.


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