30 June 2010
Harriett Baldwin welcomes the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies, but calls for clarification from the Government on how this effects the Bloor Homes application and the designation of Worcester as a new growth point. Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Let me reassure hon. Members that I will be brief. Many of my colleagues have already raised points that are similar to mine and I want to allow as much time as possible for the Minister to respond. Let me add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for securing a debate on a topic that was of great significance to people in the constituency of West Worcestershire during the general election. I also thank the Government for moving so quickly to send letters to councils explaining that they can take the intention to abolish regional spatial strategies into account as a material consideration, as that has certainly greatly relieved local communities. Let me explain a couple of the specific issues that have arisen in West Worcestershire so that the Minister can perhaps use the debate to give some guidance to my local councils-Malvern Hills district council and Wychavon district council. During the regional spatial strategy planning process, Worcester, which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), was designated a regional growth point, and the three south Worcestershire councils were allocated 25,500 homes to find room for. The county town of Worcester is bordered on the one side by the M5 and on the other by the River Severn, so there is no room inside the city boundaries for it to expand as a growth point. The south Worcestershire joint core strategy was therefore obliged to look at Malvern Hills district council territory to find room for the 25,500 homes. The council would thus be given more than 10,000 homes under the regional spatial strategy. That caused great resistance in communities where only 1,500 people are on the waiting list for housing. Let me describe the impact on the village of Lower Broadheath, which is the birthplace of the great composer Elgar. The village is about four miles west of Worcester, but it is, importantly, on the other side of that significant geographical barrier, the River Severn. The village, which was designated Worcester West, has only about 800 homes, but it would be obliged to have between 3,500 and 4,000 more built on the green fields that separate it from Worcester. I have some specific questions for the Minister. First, what guidance can he give Malvern Hills district council? Bloor homes has applied for outline planning permission to build the 4,000 homes in west Worcester, which is causing severe blight and concern. Planning permission was applied for at the beginning of the year, before the proposed abolition of the regional spatial strategy, and the council is looking for guidance on whether that proposed abolition is a material consideration and on what the next stage of the plans is. Secondly, will the abolition of the regional spatial strategy automatically abolish the characterisation of Worcester as a new growth point? Will the Minister clarify exactly how we will go forward on that? On behalf of my constituents, I thank the Government for taking things forward this far, but I agree with many of my fellow speakers that it would be helpful to have swift further clarification of the other matters that we have raised. 3.13 pm | Hansard