In Wokingham, there are thousands of permissions outstanding to build new homes, and thousands of new homes have been built in recent years. We do not need or want Government inspectors determining in favour of yet more homes on greenfield sites that are outside our local plan area.
I am pleased with the anger among Conservative Members about the disgrace that is the abuse of the planning system by some large development companies and rich landowners, who manage to game the system to get extra permissions and make money out of the granting of the permission while houses go unbuilt under the legitimate permissions that have been granted. I understand that the Government agree with us, so where is the new direction to the planning inspectors to say that the Government will no longer put up with that? If a statutory instrument is needed to make that clear in law, where is the statutory instrument? As the Government have now brought forward a Bill about planning law in general, can we have a clause in the Bill that nails the issue? I do not know anyone who defends the gaming of the system in that way by rich development companies—I do not think the Labour party defends it. The Government should nail it, so please let us see the draft clause.
The Secretary of State did not answer my polite inquiry—perhaps it was too polite—about what will be done to ensure that local communities have more say and influence over how we define and calculate housing need and over the housing numbers that we think are appropriate and feasible for our area. Surely they have a right to a say in that and may have something useful to contribute to the discussion.
Infrastructure is crucial in this argument. In places such as Wokingham and West Berkshire, where I have the privilege to represent many of the people, we have seen a huge increase in development—some granted on appeal against our wishes—but no proper extra provision for infrastructure. Planners must understand that we cannot suddenly conjure up new broadband, sufficient water supply, enough cable to take the extra electricity that is required, the extra road space needed for all the extra cars, or the extra primary schools and surgeries that will be needed to cater for people.
In an area that has been subject to very fast development, as mine has, there is no excess capacity in the private sector services or the public services that are crucial to a good quality of life. It is embarrassing if planning inspectors grant permissions to build more homes and there then has to be a scramble to put in a cable big enough to take the extra power and to find private companies to organise some broadband, and of course there are the usual family arguments in the NHS and the education system to get the quite lumpy investments that are needed. All those things need to happen before the houses are opened up for people; we should not invite people into new homes that they have bought in good faith only for them to discover those pitfalls and difficulties in the provision of services.
My final point about the Bill is that I am proud to belong to a party that opposed unelected and elected regional government, and we won the argument about elected regional government in England. I would like Ministers to talk more about England, because a number of Cabinet Ministers and senior Ministers are basically England-only Ministers in practically all they do. I trust them to make some of the big calls, as long as they listen to me and my local community. We do not need regional government interjected between us and the Ministers who actually have the power and the money. Let them talk England and forget regional.