Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 to limit the display of external advertisements concerning lettings; and for connected purposes.
My Bill is designed to deal with the overuse of estate agents’ “To Let” signs. It has supporters from each of the three main parties. Following the last constituency boundary changes, I represent, for the first time, the mixed residential area of Jesmond in Newcastle upon Tyne. As well as being home to long-term residents, the area has a large population of students and young graduate professionals. The attractiveness of the area is spoilt by a plethora of “To Let” estate agent signs—signs that seem to me to be permanent display items, regardless of whether the flat in question is actually to let or not.
Whatever the justification for the signs in the past, there is not much of a case for them now. Students and young professionals do not use “To Let” signs to find vacant flats; they use the internet, the lettings columns of Newcastle’s The Journal and Evening Chronicle and estate agents’ offices, and students can use the services provided by the universities and student unions.
The situation, of course, is not unique to Newcastle; the same problem occurs in a slightly different guise in seaside towns and other cities—and for the same underlying reason, I suspect. It seems likely that the real reason the estate agent signs proliferate and stay up much longer than for their stated purpose is that they serve as a form of advertisement for the estate agent. In a competitive market, each agent feels the need to have signs to advertise their presence, because rival estate agents have them.
My Bill has four clauses. The first disapplies schedule 3 to the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 in so far as it applies to “To Let” signs. It deletes the phrase “or letting” from the Act. Thus “For Sale” signs would remain, while lettings signs would not.
Clause 2 enables local authorities to make byelaws regulating “To Let” signs for all or part of the local authority area. That seems to be in keeping with the Government’s desire to shift responsibility for purely local matters to local government.
It would therefore be possible for different rules to apply in different parts of the country according to the wishes of local people, as expressed through their local representatives. Local authorities enjoy day-to-day responsibility for housing policy, as well as local planning issues, so that seems a proportionate and appropriate way of dealing with the issue.
Clause 3 makes it clear that when local authorities have not made rules for “To Let” signs, the default is that the signs should be banned. Clause 4 is a penalties regime on conviction of committing the offence, on the appropriate county court scale, with rising penalties for repeat offenders. I accept that it is currently possible for local authorities to apply to the Department for Communities and Local Government for permission to take steps to deal with the problem. However, the present procedures are cumbersome and disproportionate. My proposal is a much neater and more clear cut way of dealing with the problem, and is rooted in our commitment to local democracy. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Nicholas Brown, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Frank Dobson, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Ian Mearns, Miss Anne McIntosh, Catherine McKinnell, Mr George Mudie, Chi Onwurah, Sir Bob Russell, Mr Andrew Smith and Bob Stewart present the Bill.
Mr Nicholas Brown accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday, 7 September 2012 and to be printed (Bill 56).