Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
15 Mar 2019, 2:22 p.m.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
There are only just over seven minutes left for debate, but may I start by repeating what I said earlier? The people of the city of Christchurch in New Zealand have been in colleagues’ thoughts and prayers during today’s debates and, appropriately, they have very much been in the thoughts of my constituents as well. I hope I will be forgiven for returning briefly to the issue of Christchurch in the United Kingdom, which has the privilege of being twinned with the city of Christchurch in New Zealand.
When we sing about our green and pleasant land, many of us reflect on how much less green and more ugly it would be but for our green belt. I am a long-standing defender of and campaigner for the green belt. Much of my childhood was spent in the metropolitan green belt. In 1997, when I was a junior planning Minister at the Department of the Environment, as it then was, we published a really compelling booklet celebrating 50 years of the metropolitan green belt, which was first introduced following the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench, has a copy of that pamphlet on his bookshelf, because it very succinctly and compellingly sets out the strong case for the green belt.
In those days, the green belt was permanent and unalterable. Sadly, that is no longer the case. In the year to 1 April 2018, 5,070 hectares of green-belt land were lost in England. That is a lot of land. That annual rate of loss is five times as high as the average over the lifetime of the previous Labour Government, thereby giving the lie to the Conservative party being the great protector of the green belt. The Bill is motivated by a concern that I and many of my constituents have about the systematic removal of green-belt land in Christchurch and East Dorset, despite the protestations of the Government that the green belt is sacrosanct. It is no longer sacrosanct, and Government policy is to put pressure on local authorities to release land from the green belt through de-designation. That cynical policy is promoted by the specious defence of localism—a typical approach by the Government of “not me guv”. They are trying to transfer responsibility for taking away the green belt to local communities, which are effectively being given no option other than to de-designate their green belt.