1 November 1996

Gummers big No to suburbanisation

ENVIRONMENT minister John Gummer pledged that he would not allow the surburbanisation of the countryside by the estimated 4.4m houses which need to be built by 2016.

Speaking to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Rural White Paper, Mr Gummer said the proposed Housing Bill, expected in the next few weeks, would not allow a desecration of green field sites in the countryside.

More farmland building

Critics, however, said the current reduction in the use of brownfield sites in towns and cities would lead to an expansion in building on agricultural land unless government added incentives to construction firms to clean up the diminishing number of often derelict and polluted brownfield sites.

Figures from the recently published Town and Country Planning Associations housing report show that building on brownfield sites is likely to fall from a current 50% to as low as 30%.

Richard Best, Joseph Rowntree Foundation director, said companies did not want to build cheap urban housing which might not sell well on the open market on sites which were expensive to reclaim.

However, Mr Best ruled out the large-scale building of new 5000-10,0000 settlements, saying the likely way forward was a distribution of households across the countryside. "There should be a portfolio approach using rail corridor clusters, particularly in the south-east, expansion of current towns and villages and use of green field and brownfield sites."

Launching Rural England 1996, Mr Gummer announced the introduction of 50% rate relief for village shops and post offices in settlements of less than 3000 people as well as giving local authorities the chance to provide discretionary relief for other outlets, including pubs and garages.

It will cost government £15m to implement.

Further grant aid through the European Commission to village shops of up to £5000 in selected rural areas was warmly welcomed by Lord Shuttleworth, Rural Development Commission chairman. "We believe that the combined effect of these measures will provide the best chance of halting the decline in the number of village shops which we have had for many years."

Mr Gummer also announced that parish councils would have more powers to control community transport and crime prevention issues.