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Topical Questions

Volume 617: debated on Monday 28 November 2016

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the latest official house building numbers showing housing starts at an eight-year high, but there is still a lot more we need to do. That was why last week’s autumn statement contained billions of pounds of funding to get Britain building, and it is why our White Paper, which is due to be published in January, will set out a range of radical plans to boost the housing supply. I can also confirm that we will start announcing local growth fund allocations later this week, and I hope to have all the deals announced before Christmas.

Further to my recent question to the Leader of the House and a written parliamentary question, I would like to raise once again the importance of protecting ancient woodland from hostile development. In terms of delivering much-needed appropriate housing, do Ministers agree that once we bulldoze ancient woodland, it can never come back, and that options B and C in Eastleigh Borough Council’s emerging local plan are completely inappropriate and will destroy a valued local community landscape?

My hon. Friend is right: ancient woodland is an irreplaceable habitat. The national planning policy framework is clear that

“planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland”,

unless there are very exceptional circumstances. However, without a local plan, local people do not have the certainty they need. Once again, my hon. Friend has demonstrated that Eastleigh Borough Council is letting its residents down.

Changes to the local government pension scheme that recently came into effect were debated in a statutory instrument Committee last week. During the debate, the Minister indicated that EU directive 41/2003 does not apply to the LGPS, yet a letter I have here from his own Department says that it does. Will he confirm that the directive does apply and that it has been applied?

I can assure the hon. Lady that the directive, we firmly believe, does not apply. If she would like to meet me to discuss the issue further, I would be more than happy to do so.

T2. The Valuation Office Agency appears to be a law unto itself. At the click of a mouse, it seems to be able to change the way in which large sites such as the Vodafone headquarters and the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston are rated, wiping millions off the income of a small unitary local authority such as West Berkshire. Will the Minister agree to look into this matter? (907520)

My hon. Friend raises an important question. When a council’s income is impacted by a successful business rates appeal or other losses in business rates income, there is a safety net, as I am sure he will be aware. However, he will be reassured by the fact that, during the design of the new 100% business rates retention scheme, we are looking at how risks around business rates income will be managed in the future.

T6. As North East Lincolnshire Council is being forced to shut down its credit union services, does the Minister agree that his Department’s funding cuts to councils have been great news for loan sharks? (907524)

We have provided a long-term funding settlement to North East Lincolnshire Council, which will have £592 million to spend over this Parliament. In addition, the two local enterprise partnerships serving the hon. Lady’s area—the Humber LEP and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP—have received £114 million and £126 million respectively, and we will be making further announcements shortly.

T3. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the actions announced in last week’s autumn statement will improve not only access to housing but the living standards of ordinary working people and their families? (907521)

I could not agree more. Definitive action is what is required, and that is exactly what the Government are providing. The autumn statement detailed £7.2 billion of investment in housing, which is the biggest dedicated investment in housing in a generation. The Government expect to double in real terms annual capital spending for housing over the course of this Parliament. That is great news for Essex and great news for the country.

Through no fault of its own, Hull has struggled to be part of any devolution deal in Yorkshire and the Humber, despite accepting the elected mayor model and recognising the importance of devolution to economic regeneration for the city. Will the northern powerhouse Minister agree to meet local MPs, councillors and others to discuss what has worked elsewhere in the country and how we can take Hull forward?

I would be delighted to do so. The situation is deeply disappointing. I met Councillor Steve Brady, the Labour leader of Hull City Council, only on Friday, when we discussed devolution. The hon. Lady can of course turn up at this afternoon’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, where she will see a devolution double whammy with the Secretary of State and me talking about Yorkshire devolution.

T4. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, Bath and North East Somerset Council recently voted in favour of entering the west of England devolution deal. Will he join me in congratulating the council on making this decision, which will devolve powers to the region and allow it to invest in affordable housing projects across Bath and the west of England? (907522)

I absolutely congratulate local leaders in the west of England on their grown-up approach, and my hon. Friend on his work on this deal, which will bring an additional £1 billion of investment in infrastructure, as well as devolving powers from this place to the local community on transport, adult skills, and housing and planning.

Did the Minister see last week’s shocking report from the Alzheimer’s Society showing that only 2% of people affected by dementia feel that their home carers have adequate training in dementia, that only 38% of home care workers have any dementia training at all, and that 71% did not have accredited training, with dreadful consequences for dementia sufferers and their families and carers? Does he accept that until social care is properly funded, this situation will just get worse?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. By 2020, we expect all social care providers to provide appropriate training on dementia to all relevant staff. Over 100,000 care workers have already received such training. As I said with regard to the funding of adult social care, we have provided a package that will provide up to £3.5 billion of extra funding during this spending review period.

T5. Leeds City Council is developing a local plan, but reports suggest that it is unable to demonstrate that it has a five-year land supply, which is endangering sites that the plan seeks to save. Has the Department considered giving some leeway to councils that are in the process of developing a local plan so that they do not need such a long-term housing supply? (907523)

My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of local authorities having a five-year land supply and an up-to-date local plan, because that ensures that local communities can decide where development should go, what kinds of development should happen, and which sites should be protected. I am looking forward to visiting his constituency shortly, and I hope we can discuss these issues in more detail then.

The amount of money that has been cut from social care since 2010 dwarfs what the Secretary of State’s Department is going to be putting in over the next five years. He might wish to deny it, but there is a crisis in our health and social care services, with too many people stuck in our hospitals because there is no care available to enable them to come out. Why did the Secretary of State fail to make adequate representations to the Chancellor to ensure that funding was allocated in last week’s autumn statement?

The hon. Lady rightly points to a very challenging situation. I am sure she will welcome the additional £3.5 billion of funding that is being provided during this Parliament. The other thing that I know she will welcome—she pointed to it in her question—is the need for more integration between the NHS and adult social care, which we are seeing in parts of the country such as Manchester. We want that to continue and to ensure there is a plan in place in every local region by 2020.

T7. While I welcome the £55 million of funding for the South East local enterprise partnership, it falls well short of the £229 million that was applied for, which would have secured a great deal of business growth and economic development in the area. Will my hon. Friend point me in the direction of any future funding that might bring us to the table to secure the economic growth that is needed? (907525)

We have only announced regional allocations, so it is not correct to say at this point that the South East LEP will receive £55 million. The final figures will be announced in the coming weeks, and the initial funding allocations given to LEPs for discussion may change somewhat.

In Kirklees, the amount spent on social care has gone down in real terms by 15.7% since 2010, despite demand increasing with a rapidly ageing society. What steps are the Government taking to help local councils with the £1.9 billion funding gap in adult social care this year?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We are taking the situation extremely seriously. We have enabled councils to raise additional funding through the adult social care precept—up to 2% on top of the council tax—and in a few weeks’ time, she will be able to see the allocation for the better care fund, which will come into effect in April 2017 for the next financial year.

T8. With £3.15 billion allocated for 90,000 new homes in London and a doubling of the money spent to combat rough sleeping, what action can Ministers take to ensure that that money is used quickly to provide the homes that people desperately need, so that no one is forced to sleep rough? (907526)

That was a great question from my hon. Friend. The Greater London Authority will be launching its affordable housing programme tomorrow. It is worth reiterating what the Mayor has said, which the Secretary of State quoted:

“This is the largest sum of money ever secured by City Hall to deliver affordable housing.”

That is just the beginning, because last week the Chancellor announced another £1.4 billion, and London will get a share of that budget. That is a clear sign of the Government’s commitment to tackling our housing problems.

People who live close to recreational airfields such as Hibaldstow do not have the same protection from noise and nuisance as people who live near to similar recreational activities that involve staying on the ground. Will the Secretary of State have a look into this and see what can be done about it?

The Minister for Housing and Planning is very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those issues.

T9. If we are to have a local plan-led system, what is the Minister going to do to make sure that local plans are saluted, especially by planning inspectors? (907527)

Provided that local plans have a five-year land supply, the expectation should be that planning applications are decided in accordance with those local plans, unless clear material considerations suggest otherwise. My message to my hon. Friend is to make sure that his local authority has a local plan in place with a five-year land supply.

The housing waiting lists that apply to my constituency have been growing for a long time. Can the Secretary of State answer earlier questions and tell us what proportion of the much-vaunted new houses will be rented, and what proportion will be for social rent?

What we have done with the affordable housing programme is to give complete flexibility, so I cannot give a specific answer, because it will depend on the bids that housing associations make from the programme. There is complete flexibility in relation to tenure. The Government have had a policy of focusing on affordable rent rather than social rent, because that allows us to deliver far more homes for a given level of public subsidy.

T10. Many of my constituents are keen to see an ambitious devolution deal secured for the west of England. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress that is being made on that devolution deal? (907528)

I know that my hon. Friend is a big fan of this deal. Devolution will support jobs in the west of England and many other parts of England. The next step for that deal is for the Government to seek the consent of all three councils involved for the parliamentary order, and we are well down the course with that. I congratulate my hon. Friend on supporting this transformative deal.

Will the new White Paper address the fact that under the Government’s flawed right-to-buy proposals, more socially rented houses are currently being sold than are being replaced?

We are very proud of the right-to-buy policy, which gives ordinary working people the chance to buy their homes. Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that it is absolutely essential that we replace the affordable rented accommodation that is sold, and the Secretary of State and I are absolutely determined to make sure that that happens.

Will the Minister meet me and representatives from the Royal Marsden hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research at my local Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust and Sutton Council to see what more can be done to bring publicly owned land at the Sutton hospital site back into use to deliver a world-class London cancer hub providing 13,000 highly skilled jobs?

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend. I know he supports our accelerated construction programme on public land, which seeks to do just that.

The increase in family homelessness has meant that more and more children are in unsuitable temporary accommodation in bed and breakfasts. When did any Minister in the Department last discuss with Education Ministers the impact of homelessness on children’s achievements, and what are they planning to do about it?

I can reassure the right hon. Lady by telling her that we have a ministerial working group that covers a multitude of different issues in relation to homelessness, and one of the Ministers around the table is from the Department for Education. I can also tell her that we are looking to change the way in which the temporary accommodation management fee works, which should lead to a far better situation in which local authorities can plan with regard to temporary accommodation to make sure that people are not in such accommodation for so long.

Over the years, planning has not taken enough notice of local and regional designs, so will Ministers get planning authorities to concentrate on that? A great garden village is being promoted at Cullompton—it has a water park and everything—which will be a very good design.

My hon. Friend makes the very important point that getting good-quality design is key to the acceptability of building more housing. I had the great privilege recently of meeting him and some of his constituents to talk about the contribution that neighbourhood planning can make towards achieving that goal.

Our countryside is not littered with advertising hoardings, unlike in other countries in Europe, because of the action taken by a Labour Government through the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. However, lots of farmers and other landowners are now circumventing the rules by parking great big lorries with hoardings by roads. What are the Government going to do to stop this?

We have made sure that local authorities have the powers to take enforcement action in such places. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are determined to ensure that local authorities are properly resourced to take that enforcement action.

Further to the excellent question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), the right to manage is a safety valve for leaseholders, but this complex legal issue often thwarts residents, so what more can the Minister do to share best practice and to advise frustrated residents?

Some excellent organisations already exist to provide advice to people dealing with these problems. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend that there is a clear sense on both sides of the House that this issue needs addressing. The Government intend to take action, and I am keen to discuss that with him.