Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 640: debated on Monday 30 April 2018

I am delighted to have been appointed to this new role to deliver on housing—one of the Government’s top priorities is creating great places to live. In the past few weeks, my Department has announced important plans to tackle unprofessional estate agents and rogue managing and letting agents, as well as landlords who rent out dangerous and overcrowded homes.

I applaud my Department’s contribution to the magnificent Millicent Fawcett statue. The integrated communities strategy and the recent very moving anti-Semitism debate highlight the vital work being done to create a more united country, free from bigotry.

I thank the new Secretary of State for his reply. Many people in Blaydon constituency feel strongly that green-belt land should be preserved, but without support for remediation it can be difficult to build houses on brownfield sites in former industrial areas, especially as the housing infrastructure grant is competitive. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to protect our green belt, to encourage building on brownfield sites and to prevent building on parks and green spaces, as Bexley Council proposes?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the importance of the green belt, about which I agree, and I share her desire to see more development on brownfield land. Yes, there are issues relating to funding for remediation, but there will obviously be careful consideration of the national planning policy framework, too.

T2. The potholes in Kettering and across Northamptonshire are absolutely terrible. What role does the Minister’s Department have in liaising with the Department for Transport to ensure that the millions of extra pounds that local councils have been given to fill in potholes are actually being spent and used correctly? (905049)

My hon. Friend raises an absolutely excellent point. I know that he will welcome the Government’s increased funding for pothole remediation after the winter that we have had, but I will take his point on board and ensure that local authorities are deploying those funds as quickly as possible.

A recent survey, the first of its kind, into the working conditions of wellbeing and social workers, commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers, makes for sorry reading. Working conditions are described as extremely poor, and it is noted that nine out of 10 social workers work an average of almost 10 extra hours a week and that more than half are looking to leave the profession. What is the Minister doing to reduce the demands faced by social workers to avoid a disastrous exodus of talent and expertise?

The hon. Lady is right to point out the important work that social workers do across the country in caring for some of the more vulnerable in our society. I know that our colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are examining the exact issue that she mentions, and I am sure they will be making a report in due course.

T3. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend to his well deserved position as Secretary of State; it is a good appointment. In Crawley, Forge Wood is the newest neighbourhood currently being developed, and it will deliver almost 2,000 houses. However, the infrastructure lag from Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey is too long. What can be done to encourage developers to speed up the delivery of that infrastructure? (905050)

I thank my hon. Friend. He will know that the Government are putting £4.5 million infrastructure funding into the Forge Wood scheme, but he is absolutely right that developers must do their bit and keep their commitments. We are looking at this both in the consultation on the national planning policy framework and in developer contributions. We want to see those developer contributions treated more like contracts for delivery and less like the starting point for an endless haggle with local councils.

T4. The chief inspector of borders and immigration concluded in a report in March that the Government’s right to rent scheme had failed “to demonstrate its worth” in encouraging immigration compliance. Other research has shown that 51% of landlords are now less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals, so when will the Minister scrap this discriminatory policy? (905051)

T5. More than 2,000 local residents signed my petition to protect Hanham cricket club from the threat of development, yet South Gloucestershire Council did not grant the site local green space designation in their policies, sites and places document due to a single objection from the landowner. Will the Minister confirm that, on its own, a landowner objection should not prevent treasured green spaces from being granted local green space designation? (905052)

The designation of a local green space needs to be consistent with the local planning framework. Landowners have an opportunity to make representations, but the final decision on designation rests with the local authority.

T7. I am still in a bit of shock about the announcement that it is a golden era for the north-east. Labour’s housing Green Paper highlighted how 12,000 council and housing association homes in the north-east, and almost 250,000 nationally, are classed as unfit for human habitation. Can the Secretary of State explain why his Government cut support for local authorities through the decent homes programme, which saw repairs and improvements on 1.4 million council homes? (905054)

In fact the latest figures show more people getting on to the council housing ladder. Council waiting lists have been reduced, and 95% of all local authority stock meets the decent homes standard.

T6. The all-party group on housing and care for older people, which I co-chair with the noble Lord Best, is launching later this afternoon its report on the housing needs of older people in rural areas, and it concludes that more work is required. Will my right hon. Friend meet the noble lord, me and the other inquiry members to consider how best to implement the report’s recommendations? (905053)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for flagging up this important issue. I will certainly listen to the points that have been made, look at the report and see what consideration either I or my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing can provide to engage in its recommendations.

T8. We are facing a housing crisis in both quantity and quality. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee outlined that one way to solve it would be selective licensing. Brighton and Hove put in an application in January, but five months later we are still waiting for the Secretary of State’s approval for the scheme. Will he make it one of his first acts in office to sign off the scheme, so that we can get on with improving our housing stock? (905055)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question on this very important matter. We are actually reviewing all licensing schemes across the whole country, and we will look into this one and get a decision to him as quickly as possible.

What plans has my hon. Friend to tackle unfair leaseholds retrospectively, so that my constituents on new build estates in Offerton and Strines get a better deal?

My family will be delighted by how much exercise I am getting, jumping up and down.

We are committed to tackling unfair leasehold practices, which is why we are working with the Law Commission to make buying a freehold or extending a lease easier, faster, fairer and cheaper. We want to ensure that leaseholders have the right support to deal with onerous ground rent, and we will consider further action if developers’ schemes to compensate individuals do not go far enough.

T9. Given that local services face a funding gap of at least £5.8 billion by 2019-20, when will the Minister provide an update on the roll-out of the 100% business rates retention pilots and end the uncertainty faced by Manchester City Council and Trafford Council, which cover my constituency? (905056)

I am delighted that Manchester, like several other authorities, is a beneficiary of the Government’s 100% business rates retention pilot, which is ensuring that local authorities keep an extra £1 billion this year. We will announce plans for a further round of pilots shortly after the local elections.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

May I welcome the substantial central Government grants that have been made to enable Jewish buildings to be better protected? But given that three quarters of all anti-Semitic incidents happen in Greater London and Greater Manchester, will the new Secretary of State seek out the Mayors of those two cities to see what more can be done to protect their Jewish communities?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this significant and important issue. I pay tribute to the Community Security Trust for its work in providing safety and security in this area. I will certainly engage further not just with my right hon. Friend but with local government to ensure that we continue to make progress.

May I ask the Northern Powerhouse Minister when he expects to make a further announcement about the northern powerhouse commitment in relation to the growth deal in north Wales?

The north Wales growth deal is primarily the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales. I am happy to update the right hon. Gentleman by saying that we are making good progress in looking at the proposals from local authorities. Once we have completed that work, we will make an announcement shortly about the next steps for all local authorities involved.

There are five district councils in Warwickshire. Four are Conservative-led and one—Nuneaton and Bedworth—is run by Labour. Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council has the highest district council tax precept of the five, and one of the lowest satisfaction ratings. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that Conservative councils deliver better-quality services at a lower cost?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point about the benefits of Conservatives leading local government.

Will the Minister acknowledge that youth offending teams have achieved huge success in working with and supporting young people to prevent them from getting involved in crime? Will he therefore tell me why their funding has been halved from £145 million in 2010-11 to just £72 million in 2017-18, and why councils are still waiting to receive their youth justice grant allocations for 2018-19?

I am not aware of the particular grant mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to look into it and write to him in due course.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) has now twice mentioned Worcestershire County Council and Northamptonshire County Council in the same breath in this place. Unfortunately, he seems to be trying to establish a false narrative. Is the Secretary of State aware that I have met Worcestershire County Council and received assurances that its finances are on a stable footing? To suggest otherwise seems simply to be scaremongering.

My hon. Friend puts it very well, as she has done on previous occasions. It is not right to come to this place and scaremonger with regard to ordinary residents’ services. Worcestershire is delivering, and she is right to defend it.

May I welcome the new Secretary of State to his post and wish him well? Does he agree that no new house should be sold leasehold? There is no excuse for it. What steps will he take to help the many hundreds of thousands of people, including my constituents, who are now being financially exploited by their freeholds being sold on to dodgy characters?

I thank the hon. Lady for her very important question. The scandal over feudal leaseholds on new build is absolutely disgraceful. We are working very hard with the Law Commission to change the rules as to how this should go forward. I am delighted to say that some developers have got the point. In South Derbyshire, we now have big signs up on new build saying, “Freehold houses for sale here”.

Harrogate Borough Council recently dedicated an additional £150,000 to tackle the root causes of local long-term homelessness. The Harrogate Homeless Project runs the initiative, which is called SAFE—Service for Adults Facing Exclusion. It has been widely praised and we are already seeing results. May I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to come and visit the project to see for himself the amazing results it is achieving?

I would be delighted to hear more about this project, which sounds as though it is making a big difference. That is what it is about: delivering on the ground.

Order. I am sorry, but demand has exceeded supply, as per usual. We must now move on to the next business.