The first is the subject of housing abandonment.
In many urban areas, especially those suffering deprivation and dereliction, people are just leaving their homes. Selling them is not a practical proposition; nobody wants to buy them. Where they go then, heaven knows. If squatters or Families From Hell do not move in – and some of these properties are unattractive even to such people – then vandals do. The result is a seed of blight that grows to cover the surrounding area. Streets become disfigured by boarded-up houses and untended gardens, and attract gangs of young people with nothing much to do but make life hell for the remaining residents.
Such areas exist in my constituency, and I know what a social and human problem they create. The draft planning guidance recognises it too, and offers a high-sounding approach to remedy it. The intention is "to pursue a fully integrated response to low demand, high vacancy rates, falling house numbers and abandonment". To be more specific, the government's plan includes funding an Empty Homes Agency to help local authorities bring empty properties back into use; reforming private sector renewal legislation; and introducing so-called pathfinder projects, backed by £25m of investment, to tackle low demand where the problem is most acute.
The words sound great, like those describing a lot of other government schemes. The key question, though, is quite simply: will all these high-flown aspirations become facts? I shall believe that they are more than words, even words backed by money, when neighbourhoods in my constituency are transformed from despondency to vitality. I shall believe that well-intentioned policy has become effective practice when constituents come up to me in the street and say that the fancy phrases have made a difference to their quality of life.
Some of these derelict properties are unattractive even to squatters or Families From Hell
The same criterion applies the other proposal in this draft document that caught my eye, namely that "no further planning permissions should be granted to greenfield sites". That sounds both extreme and marvellous. For years, now, I have been fighting a proposal by Arrowcroft, a development company of North-West Water, alias United Utilities. It wants to construct a "business park" on the only tract of pleasant, undeveloped land directly accessible to my constituents. The Waterside Park application would result in far more business than park – office blocks, a hotel and a housing estate with, of course, vehicle access and parking for hundreds of cars.
This proposal has gone through so many stages that fighting it has become a local tradition. It is at present up for decision, after a public inquiry, by the secretary of state at the DTLR acting in his quasi-judicial capacity. I do not know to what extent, in making his anxiously awaited decision, he can take into account the criteria of the draft planning guidance.
There is quite a process to go through before that procedure approaches completion. A 13-week consultation period is now under way, scheduled to end on 16 August. Then decisions will have to be made regarding not only the two issues I am highlighting here, but other matters from air services to waste disposal, from regional parks and derelict land to park-and-ride schemes.
Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee.