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Departmental Work Whitsun Recess

Volume 563: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 21 May 2013.

Getting Britain building

When the coalition Government came to power we inherited a paralysed housing market where house building had collapsed. Three years later we are now seeing signs of steady improvement, with housing supply now at its highest since the end of the unsustainable housing boom in 2008 and the numbers of first-time buyers are at a five-year high.

This Government are determined to get Britain building and make better use of existing land. In last year’s autumn statement, we outlined the delivery of at least 50,000 new homes in large, locally supported housing programmes. We are making strong progress.

On 22 May, my Department announced £32 million funding for the new town of Sherford, near Plymouth, that will bring forward the delivery of 5,500 new homes and help create 5,000 local jobs. Over the next 15 years the development will deliver a powerful boost to the local economy, generate £1 billion of construction investment and inject a further £2 billion into the local area.

The investment in Sherford will bring the total number of homes unlocked through the programme to 41,000. This intervention builds on the deals made for a 6,300 home site at Cranbrook near Exeter, a 6,000 home site at Fairfield near Milton Keynes, and a site for over 22,000 homes at the Eastern Quarry development near Ebbsfleet in Kent. A further £234,000 of funding for the Cranbrook development was also announced today, to help local partners deliver the project.

Backing locally supported projects is in strong contrast to the last Administration’s failed top-down eco-town programme which failed to build a single home.

The Government are also taking other steps to bring more developed land into use. It has already sold enough formerly used surplus public sector land to deliver 33,000 new homes.

Promoting local growth through Enterprise Zones

On 29 May, together with the Mayor of London, I unveiled details of a £1 billion deal that will turn London’s Royal Dock enterprise zone into the capital’s next business district, forging new trade links with China and other economies in the Asia-Pacific region and securing billions of pounds of inward investment in the UK economy.

Historically the trading heartland of the capital, the deal will reinstate the Royal Docks as a commercial and trading centre for the 21st century, delivering around 20,000 full-time jobs and boosting local employment in Newham by 30%. When complete the site will become London’s third business district and, according to initial projections, be worth £6 billion to the British economy, generating £23 million in business rates annually and acting as a catalyst for further development in the area.

In addition to this five enterprise zones are also receiving £24 million to tackle traffic bottlenecks and road congestion near their site through Department for Transport funding.

Across the country, enterprise zones are stimulating job creation and economic growth in different parts of the country with their special package of incentives to attractive new business ventures. They have already generated 105,000 square metres of new commercial floor space and secured almost £229 million of extra private sector investment.

New rights for park homes residents

On 27 May, my Department marked new laws to give park home residents the protection they need from unscrupulous site owners. The new rights will remove site owners from the park home buying and selling process, meaning that residents cannot be forced to sell, or be prevented from selling, their park homes to fill the landlord’s pocket and it will also be harder to impose unexpected charges or changes of rules.

We have also given more power to local authorities to enforce breaches, making it easier to prosecute a site owner who harasses residents. My Department has also launched a new national helpline, operated by the Leasehold Advisory Service for residents to get advice on their rights when selling or gifting their home.

Making the planning system more responsive

On 3 June, my Department published new measures to make the planning process work better. They simplify the requirements around design and access statements, and remove the need for councils to list their reasons for granting planning permission on decision notices. These new measures will come into force on 25 June.

We also published further details of our plans to help speed up planning decisions with the small number of councils consistently failing to meet their statutory requirements. Planning is a quasi-judicial process, and justice delayed is justice denied.

As already announced, recess marked the commencement of our change of use planning reforms which will make it easier for empty and redundant buildings to be brought back into public use.

Love your Local Market

The Government are committed to helping high streets regenerate and thrive, and as part of our response to Mary Portas’ high street review we worked with the industry to set up the “Love Your Local Market” campaign.

Over a period of two weeks from 13 May to 27 May over 3,500 events were held across England by nearly 700 different markets, offering opportunities for around 2,800 aspiring traders. Love Your Local Market 2013 also offered an opportunity for young people to get onto their local market to try out their business ideas and over 200 entrepreneurs traded through the National Market Traders Federation’s “First Pitch” scheme over the fortnight. Of these, 100 will be helped to trade for a further 12 months—offering a real legacy from this year’s event.

Challenging extremism

Following the tragic and chilling events in Woolwich, I outlined my views and approach in an article in The Sunday Telegraph. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

The only way is Wessex

In April, my Department formally acknowledged the continuing role of England’s traditional counties in English public life. Previously, many parts of Whitehall and municipal officialdom have shunned these counties, many of which date back over a thousand years of English history. On 25 May, my Department flew the flag of Wessex as part of our broader programme of recognising and celebrating the traditional institutions of England.

Flags are a symbol of local and national pride and heritage and we have already amended the law to make it easier to fly flags without a permit from the council. I was pleased to see that misjudged decisions by Radstock town council in Somerset and the Places for People social landlord in Preston to ban the St George’s flag have been reversed.

Recent events remind us that we are stronger as a society when we celebrate the ties that bind us together and we challenge the politics of division. Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, we should have pride in Britain’s local and national identities.

Copies of the associated documents and press notices for all these announcements have been placed in the Library of the House.