January 13, 2009

Milton Keynes/South Midlands Sub-region debate

John Bercow calls on the Government to provide financial support for the eastern link road as whichever site is chosen for Aylesbury’s housing growth – southern or eastern – the eastern link road will be essential.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The direction of housing growth at Aylesbury is the subject of continuing debate, not least at local level, and notably between advocates of the southern arc on the one hand and the eastern arc on the other. The Minister will be relieved to know that I am not inviting him or expecting him to intrude into private grief on that subject today, or necessarily at a later stage. I want to make one simple plea to him.

Whichever arc goes forward as the accepted option, there is a consensus locally—I am looking with eager anticipation in the direction of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)—that the eastern link road will be essential to the sustainability of the development. Buckinghamshire county council has secured between £3 million and £4 million towards the design work for that road. It is not unreasonable for the county council to look for further finance, both because of the centrality of the road and on account of the fact that Aylesbury Vale, at the request of the Government, is undergoing a proportionately larger expansion than, I think, any other area of the country. I look forward to the good will and positive commitment of the Minister.

12.9 pm


John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prevalence of concern among the public and council leaders. I am sure that he would agree that both David Shakespeare from Buckinghamshire county council and John Cartwright from Aylesbury district council have consistently taken an extremely pragmatic and responsible approach to development, but given that Roger Tym and Partners estimates that £770 million of infrastructure investment is required in Aylesbury alone, does he think that local councillors are legitimately concerned that thus far, only a little in excess of £30 million of such commitments has been garnered?

Mr. Lidington: I am mindful of what my hon. Friend has said and I shall try to develop that theme at greater length later in my speech.

John Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been generous in giving way and is, as always, making a compelling case. Does he agree that an additional concern is that population expansion necessarily has major implications for the local health service, assessments of which are robust and on the public record? In particular, does he share my concern—I think he does—about the known time lag of up to 18 months between the arrival of new residents in the area and the processing through the system of the necessary capitation payments?

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is spot on. It is no good saying to developers who might want to build a house or to residents who might want to move into a newly built house, or to an employer weighing up whether to move into our area rather than another one, “Don’t worry. In a few years’ time, if you are lucky, and depending on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the council tax rates, you might get your new GP clinic, your new road or your new school.” If we are going to have sustainable communities‚Äîthe Government have declared that that is their ambition‚Äîsuch facilities must be available at the start. Those new facilities must also be introduced in a way that gives some advantage to the existing residents of the town where new development has taken place. I am hearing about incipient resentment from Aylesbury residents, who think, when they hear talk about a new school or community centre being planned for the area to be built, that they will be stuck with buildings that are in need of repair, with the new residents getting priority over those who have lived in the town for many years.

John Bercow: I accept what the hon. Lady says about making her own case—who could deny it?—and she is making an important point about housing need. I do not cavil at that. One can argue the toss about overall numbers, but she is making a persuasive point. The question is this: does she accept that, even if that need is precisely as she describes, the development required to meet it still has to be sustainable? That raises the critical question of the level of infrastructure and who pays for it.

Dr. Starkey: I absolutely accept that point and I will come on to the issue of infrastructure, but I suspect that everyone else will talk about that and I want to redress the balance and focus the debate on people, including families, children and elderly people, who need decent housing. All of us have access to decent housing—more-than-decent housing. It is important that I speak for the people in my constituency whose voices are far too often not heard in this argument. In my view, the emphasis is disproportionately on people who already have houses and is not on those who do not. The others who need new housing are those who could afford to buy if they were given some help, particularly young people.

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