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Topical Questions

Volume 643: debated on Monday 18 June 2018

With Ramadan ending, I want to wish everyone Eid Mubarak. This week, we remember the Finsbury Park attack and, last week, we marked one year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations and should not have been used. To ensure that there is no doubt about which materials can be used on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, today I am publishing a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials. Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, and I hope colleagues from across the House will welcome the announcement of a national Windrush day to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation.

South Gloucestershire Council is planning to build thousands of homes, which local families need, but a slow build-out rate from developers is putting the whole of the authority’s plans at risk because of a shortage of five-year land supply. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his strategy to ensure that permissions are built as quickly as possible?

I agree with my hon. Friend on the need to ensure that permissions are built out quickly. We will be taking that into firm consideration as part of the update to the national planning policy framework, which will be published before the summer. I hope he will also be aware of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is doing to see what the barriers are to prevent those build-outs from happening, and we will reflect on his ultimate recommendations.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister recently announced a growth deal for Ayrshire, and I am delighted to tell him that the negotiations, led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, are now under way, but it can only proceed as fast as the slowest actors, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will use his not inconsiderable influence to pressurise the Scottish Government to play their part in the negotiations.

T2. Will my hon. Friend advise me on when Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire will get their business rates retention? (905903)

My hon. Friend has been a long-standing advocate for rural funding in his county, and I am pleased to tell him that we will continue to pilot reform of the business rates retention system in the forthcoming year. We will publish details of the new pilot very shortly and would very much welcome Staffordshire’s application to become a pilot.

T5. My constituent Shirley Todd, a wheelchair user, carried out a survey of part of the city and discovered that 72% of businesses were inaccessible to wheelchair users. She has now launched a national campaign and petition. Will the Minister agree to consider plans to make local authorities responsible for proactively enforcing the provisions in the Equality Act 2010? (905906)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important topic. She will know that in the past I have spoken about greater provision of Changing Places in this House. Building regulations set the access requirements for new buildings, while the Equality Act requires providers to make reasonable adjustments. If someone feels they have been discriminated against, there are several means of redress, and the Equality Advisory Support Service can provide help and support in that process.

T4. Local councils in Northamptonshire today launched their official five-week consultation on how the eight councils in the county might best be merged into two by 2020. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging all local residents to take part so that their views can be heard loud and clear? (905905)

I certainly would encourage residents to take part in the consultation. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the challenge and need for the county to come together around this. We will obviously look to the consultation and the proposals as they are forthcoming to provide that long-term stability and solution.

T6. Houses in multiple occupancy are an important part of a mixed housing economy, but when whole streets of former family properties become HMOs, it can put great pressure on local services and leave remaining residents feeling isolated. What actions does the Secretary of State intend to take to genuinely empower local residents to have a meaningful influence on their communities where traditional planning requirements do not apply? (905908)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have had an opportunity to make a submission on the revised national planning policy framework. We want to make sure that we give clear guidance, but ultimately it will be up to local authorities to get the balance right for the communities they serve.

T7. Chelmsford is a rapidly growing city, with many new houses planned, but plans for a second railway station and bypass have been put off for too many years. Fortunately, we are through to the final round of bids for the housing infrastructure fund. Will the Minister update us on the timing and process for Chelmsford’s key bids? (905909)

Local authorities can submit their business cases from September and we expect to make the funding decisions later in the autumn. The £4 billion forward funding stream is an essential mechanism to unlock the delivery of 400,000 extra homes and make sure we carry communities with us.

I recently went out early one morning with the outreach workers of St Mungo’s, who help people newly sleeping rough to get into long-term support. Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes to funding for homeless hostels and other supported housing that charities such as St Mungo’s have said could threaten their hostels?

I, too, have visited St Mungo’s and seen the excellent work it does to provide first-night-out support to people on the streets. I will continue to work with it and other charities as we look towards our strategy for dealing with rough sleeping and at how that will need to reflect on all these important issues.

T8. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware of my view—as he and I have discussed it—that most objections to large planning developments are based on the fact that the developments themselves add nothing to the local vernacular, do not acknowledge it and are often poorly built. That is partly owing to a lack of local planning officers and the fact that planning officers are poorly trained. Could the Government consider affiliating some of them to the Royal Institute of British Architects or the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and empowering them so that they can stand against the volume house builders? (905910)

My right hon. Friend has made a powerful point about design. We have tried to bring people together on round tables to consider such issues, and to think about what the national planning policy framework can do to advance the agenda that he has highlighted.

Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes in funding for homelessness hostels and other supported housing which charities in my constituency, such as the YMCA, have said could threaten their vital services?

As the hon. Lady will know, the Government have been consulting on that very issue. We are absolutely committed to reducing homelessness, and we will be able to provide further information in due course.

No, it is me. Up and down—you have to be quick.

On 9 May the Secretary of State announced the allocation of funds for the £28 million Housing First pilots, which will be in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool city region and the west midlands. Plans to measure the impact and value for money of the approach are also well under way, and the first beneficiaries of the pilots will be housed in the autumn.

The Government are currently consulting on sites for Traveller families. Rather than simply looking at more enforcement, which police chiefs and others say will not work, what positive solutions is the Minister considering, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma to discuss some of those positive alternatives?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I should certainly be very happy to receive any submissions from her. I think it is right that we increase the trend making authorised sites available and, at the same time, ensure that, through both local authority and police powers, enforcement and the rule of law apply to all members of our communities.

The draft national planning policy framework largely closes the loophole of viability assessments, which developers often use to avoid the requirement for affordable housing. Would the Minister consider introducing stronger compulsory purchase order powers, so that local authorities can step in and purchase sites when developers continue to refuse to meet their obligations?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how interested my hon. Friend is in this matter. CPO powers certainly have a role to play, although they must be exercised proportionately. The review conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will enable us to look at the issue in the round.

The discussions about any increase in funds for the NHS have been well publicised, but it is shocking that there is no extra money for social care. Was the Secretary of State aware that those discussions were taking place, and did he make any representations to increase funding for social care?

As I have said, the Government are committed to providing a long-term, sustainable settlement for social care. That work has been ongoing for a while and is continuing. It includes the Secretary of State, along with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and there will be a report in due course.

Corby and East Northamptonshire is at the forefront when it comes to building new homes, but there are currently a number of planning applications in the system that are completely unwanted and on green open space, although we more than exceed our housing targets. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in such instances, when local communities are doing all the right things, local developers should respect their wishes?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority. We want to see local authorities exercise their ambition, and we want to support them with the homes infrastructure funding that is available. Of course, once authorities have their local plans in place, they should have the protections to ensure that those plans are properly delivered and not abused.

I thank the Secretary of State for the letter that he wrote to me on 7 June about New Ferry. When I meet him, as he has invited me to do, will that invitation extend not just to me and to the Mayor of Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, but to residents of New Ferry?

The hon. Lady and I have had an exchange of correspondence and I take the concerns that she has highlighted very seriously. I will certainly liaise with her office in finalising arrangements for that meeting and making it happen.

The music industry, clubgoers, musicians and the Musicians Union all welcome the inclusion of the Agent of Change principle in the Department’s proposed revision of planning regulation. When will the Minister actually introduce that much-welcomed and much-needed change?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the fabulous work he has done, alongside UK Music and others interested in this subject, to bring about this change in policy in what is a very important area. The Government will be responding very shortly.

It is really good to see the northern powerhouse Minister on the Treasury Bench because in recent weeks there was a view that he had gone out of service when we were facing the rail chaos around the new timetabling, so could he tell us exactly what he has been doing to improve connectivity between the east and west of the north?

Apart from doing ITV, Granada, the BBC and local papers, including the Manchester Evening News, I do not know where the hon. Lady has been looking, but we continue to work with Transport for the North to improve transport connections across the north of England. This Government have been absolutely clear that the performance of Northern has been unacceptable, but I offer Labour Members the opportunity to condemn the RMT strike action, which is going to make a bad situation worse, or are they too heavily in hock to the unions to do what is right for the northern powerhouse?

Good public health is the best way of improving the wellbeing of the community, yet York City Council has slashed the public health budget by £1.3 million and we now have the highest level of in-service drug deaths in the country, so what is the Minister doing to protect public health, particularly given the removal of the public health grant?

These are all magnificent questions, but I hope the House will take it in the right spirit if I say that I do not think many hon. and right hon. Members have yet read the textbook on pithy questioning available on general release from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). It would be a very useful Christmas present.

The public health grant is not being ended; it is being folded into the business rates retention plan that the local government sector has welcomed and agreed for that process. Also, a new funding formula is being worked out with the Department of Health and Social Care specifically for public health, and I am sure we will welcome the hon. Lady’s contributions to that.

Has the Secretary of State yet personally had the chance to consider the important matter of Yorkshire devolution, and will he agree to meet the Yorkshire leaders from all parties before Yorkshire Day on 1 August—the Secretary of State personally?

We are seeing peace and harmony across the House on Yorkshire.

I have been having discussions with the Secretary of State on Yorkshire devolution and with the recently elected Mayor of South Yorkshire. The Government have been absolutely clear that, before “One Yorkshire” can proceed, the South Yorkshire devolution deal must be fully implemented. It is up to the Labour party councils in South Yorkshire to get on with that. Nearly £1 billion in Government funding could flow to South Yorkshire. Why do they not seem to want it?

While the Minister is on his feet, could he tell me when he expects a spade to be in the ground for the North Wales growth deal—any project, any spade, anywhere?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware—because he, like me, attended a meeting at the Wales Office just before Christmas—the North Wales growth deal is proceeding well, but it can only go as fast as the slowest actors, so I say to him that he has power and influence over the North Wales local authorities. This Government have been clear: we would like to see concrete proposals come forward for the autumn Budget, but we cannot do this without the support of the North Wales authorities.

As I always like to welcome new young Members, I call, for the second time today, Mr Barry Sheerman.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State urgently give local authorities new powers and new resources to tackle the tide of plastic and other waste that is engulfing our towns, cities and countryside?

I think the hon. Gentleman will, with all his years in this House, recognise the importance of this issue and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been taking important steps as well. Of course local government have a responsibility too, and I hope he will welcome the settlement that has seen more resources going to local government under this Government.