Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 645: debated on Monday 23 July 2018

The Government are taking steps for a more inclusive economy and society, and promoting local growth. With that in mind, we have today announced our attention to lay legislation to make the £600 million North of Tyne devolution deal a reality.

Following significant and sustained progress, I can also confirm to the House that I am minded to remove commissioners from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and hand back remaining executive functions. That follows positive reports from the commissioners and important steps forward in delivering children’s services.

Tonight, I will address the Tell MAMA parliamentary reception, where I will underline that racism and xenophobia, in whatever form, have no place in our society and should be confronted in the strongest terms.

Will the Secretary of State consider how the sale of public sector land could be used to get homes built more quickly?

My hon. Friend rightly raises the issue of releasing public sector land, which is a priority for this Government. The land for homes programme aims to release centrally held land for 160,000 homes over the coming years. We are also supporting local authorities to release land for a further 160,000 homes.

We have all seen the shocking impact of police cuts and rising crime, but that has to be put together with real-terms cuts of 59% to crime reduction, 85% to community safety and 33% to CCTV monitoring, plus very deep cuts to youth services and community development. Does the Secretary of State believe that any of those cuts have had an impact on the increase in crime and antisocial behaviour?

Yet again, Labour fails to understand the reason why we have had to make savings—because of its public service delivery failures when in government. Steps such as this Government’s troubled families programme are about preventive work, as we heard earlier, and they are having an impact on our communities.

T2. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to champion housing construction sector innovation across the United Kingdom, and will he meet me to discuss opportunities to champion such innovation through city deals in Scotland? (906596)

I am certainly willing to meet my hon. Friend, who is right to champion innovative ways in which we can build and innovative techniques within the construction sector. That is why we have the £3 billion home building fund to provide loan finance to builders using those methods, as well as our modern methods of construction working group looking at ways in which that can be advanced.

T4. The Secretary of State has just talked about councils’ role in prevention. Given that they are now responsible for public health and the Local Government Association claims that public health cuts of £600 million mean that they are unable to deal with unforeseen outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases, is he concerned that we have the highest rates of syphilis since the end of the second world war, and strains of gonorrhoea that are resistant to treatment? (906598)

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting those particular cases, the details of which I am not intimately familiar with. I would be happy to look into the matter. She is absolutely right to highlight the important role that local authorities play in prevention, particularly when it comes to public health. As we approach the spending review and the fair funding review, I would be delighted to talk to her to see how we can best capture the role that local authorities play in delivering that.

T3. It is extremely good news that the Government have allocated a record amount of funding for new housing in London. Could my right hon. Friend then explain to the House why it is that new housing starts are going up in England but, in London, they are going down? (906597)

The Government are clear that the Mayor can and should do more to increase housing delivery and it is vital that the new London plan provides the strategic framework to achieve that. The Mayor must show strong and proactive leadership and take responsibility for creating the right conditions for development, but it is also about Labour councils in London. It is notable that, in Haringey, it appears that the council has put left-wing ideology in the way of 6,400 more homes. It is really concerning that Labour appears to be putting politics ahead of people.

T6. In tune with the comments by the Housing Minister during these questions that he thinks that the answer to the housing crisis is to build more homes, can he tell the House whether he will be accepting my amendment to the national planning policy framework to build on ungreen green-belt land within 10 minutes of a London train station? (906600)

I am hesitant to anticipate the release of the new planning framework that will be released, hopefully, shortly, but the hon. Lady will know that there is significant commitment by this Government to the green belt and, when that plan emerges, I will be more than happy to have a conversation with her about her plans.

T5. Given that some planning inspectors’ reports are inadvertently undermining opportunities for people who want to build their own homes, despite new statutory obligations under the Self-Build and Custom House-Building Act 2015, will the Secretary of State ensure that inspectors pay sufficient regard to the legislation and enable the right to build taskforce to offer training so that inspectors are more familiar with the law in this new area? (906599)

I am very happy to look into the point that my hon. Friend has raised. I know that his commitment to self-build is second to none. We believe strongly in, and are committed to, self and custom house building, and I will certainly look into the issues that he has highlighted to the House today.

T7. Today, the Met Office with Public Health England has issued a level 3 amber heat health alert. The Environmental Audit Committee has been holding an inquiry into heatwaves and we have heard that it is children, older people who live alone and those with heart, lung and kidney conditions who are at the highest risk of illness and death during this hot weather. However, there are currently no building regulations to prevent new homes, hospitals and schools from overheating. What plans does the Secretary of State have to change building regulations and the national planning framework so that we ensure that the nation’s buildings and cities are resilient to warmer summer temperatures? (906601)

I will certainly look into the point that the hon. Lady has raised. We have obviously published some guidance around some of the building regulations and a revised simplified version of some part of that in the last week, but I will certainly reflect further on the point that she has raised.

T10. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the Help to Buy scheme and stamp duty relief on the number of first-time buyers in Northamptonshire? (906604)

The Help to Buy equity loan scheme has helped more than 3,000 buyers in Northamptonshire, a part of which my hon. Friend ably represents, to purchase their first home. The action undertaken by this Government has led to an 11-year annual high in the number of first-time buyers across the UK.

T8. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect on the long-term financial viability of councils of the use of reserves to fund adult social care? (906602)

It is important that each local council makes those decisions itself. It was the responsibility of the statutory officer to decide on the appropriate level of reserves. I am pleased to see that, in the hon. Gentleman’s own local authority, non-ring-fenced reserves are up 30% in the past six years. I am sure that his council will use those reserves prudently as required.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress has been made to select sites for HS2 garden villages in the east midlands, especially around the Toton hub?

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will publish a prospectus in the summer inviting ambitious, locally supported proposals for high-quality new garden communities at scale. We are keen to assist as many as we can in locations where there is sufficient demand for housing, and I look forward to continuing that conversation with her and others.

T9. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that all social and private new-builds are as energy efficient as is practicable and what grants are there to help developers to achieve those goals? (906603)

The Government intend to consult on strengthening building regulations’ energy efficiency requirements where it is cost-effective, affordable, safe and practical to do so. We do not provide energy efficiency grants. Developers should bear the costs, which is why we need to ensure that the proposals are cost-effective and do not compromise housing viability.

Would Ministers look into the considerable length of time nationally-set local government officer disciplinary procedures are taking, so that they can be reviewed and fairness can be appropriately balanced with the cost to local council tax payers?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s point and I will certainly look into these matters. I could write to her with some of the details, if that would be helpful.

In the last year, just 12% of homes delivered by housing associations—the very organisations set up to deliver affordable homes—were built for social rent. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the social housing Green Paper will acknowledge that the combination of viability assessments and a completely broken definition of affordability is letting down communities across the country that desperately need new social homes to rent?

I do expect the social housing Green Paper to be wide-ranging and to deal not simply with issues of supply, but with issues of stigma for those living in social housing; I expect it to confront that very firmly. I remind the hon. Lady that we have delivered more council housing than in 13 years of a Labour Government, and we are committed to all forms of tenure.

The recent conclusion of the Greater Grimsby town deal was a welcome boost to the economy in Cleethorpes and Grimsby. A further boost could be provided if a way could be found to revive the failed Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal. Will the Secretary of State meet me and fellow Lincolnshire MPs to discuss a way forward?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can support local growth in Lincolnshire. As I have highlighted, this is a priority for the Government. I look forward to talking to my hon. Friend and other colleagues.

Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, to discuss the impact and implications of his Department’s integration strategy for refugees?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the issue of the integration strategy. As she knows, we have been consulting on this over recent weeks, and I am considering next steps in that regard. If there are specific issues that she wishes to flag in relation to refugees, I will be pleased to hear them.

As the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing know, I have requested that they call in a planning application passed by Bradford Council to build 500 houses on the green belt in Burley in Wharfedale in my constituency. Since then, Bradford Council has accepted that it does not need to build as many houses as it first thought and has actually allowed a building development in Bradford city centre that was earmarked for hundreds of houses to be turned into a car park, so will the Secretary of State agree that there is now clearly not an exceptional case to build those houses on the green belt and will he call in this application? When can my constituents expect a response?

As my hon. Friend will know, it is difficult for me to comment on issues in respect of individual planning applications because of the quasi-judicial function of Ministers, but I note his comments.

Half of the residents made homeless in the Grenfell Tower fire are still in temporary accommodation. Is the Secretary of State embarrassed by that? If he is not, why did he sneak out at the end of last week two pages of waffle on Grenfell as a written ministerial statement, instead of making an oral statement to the House when his predecessor said that we would be kept updated in that way?

We have sought to update the House on a regular basis on the progress in seeing that those involved in the Grenfell Tower disaster are rehoused. Two hundred households have accepted temporary or permanent accommodation, and I can say that 97 households have now moved into permanent accommodation. I want to see this speeded up and I want to see progress being made, because it is important that those families are in permanent accommodation and the homes that they deserve.

Despite a new road being built between Bexhill and Hastings, in part to house new developments, the developers have failed to build any of the houses. What more can the Government do to incentivise developers, perhaps by charging them council tax from the time that a planning application is delivered, and allowing local authorities to compulsorily purchase land and build on it themselves if developers will not?

I commend my hon. Friend for the urgency with which he requires more housing in his constituency, which I know his constituents will appreciate. He is right that one of the issues that this country faces is that the structures that we have put in place have created more of a land speculation industry than a house building industry. We will be looking at a number of solutions to address that problem.

My local authority, Westminster, has indicated that it would rather give up £23 million from mayoral funding than hold a ballot on a scheme in Church Street that involves the demolition of 700 homes. Will the Minister have a word with the council and encourage it to involve and consult its communities on major regeneration schemes?

I have already been in communication with the leader of Westminster City Council about this issue, which is alarming. I understand that there is a dispute about whether or when a ballot was held. I understand that, with regard to the Church Street regeneration, a ballot has been held in the past. One has to wonder why the Mayor would seek to withhold £23 million from one of the most deprived areas of the city that requires this regeneration.

Two recent planning appeals were won in my constituency on the grounds that planning permission should not be given

“where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan”.

Will the Minister ensure that this is the rule for the future?

Like my hon. Friend, I bear the scars of just such a number of decisions. In particular, there was a decision in my constituency—in Oakley, in my patch—where the planning inspector allowed a development seven days prior to the referendum on a neighbourhood plan. I am determined, however long I am given in this job, to make sure that neighbourhood plans are landed extremely well and are adopted by as much of the country as possible, and that local people know they can rely on them to make sure that planning is done with them and not to them.

I know that the shadow Secretary of State wanted to raise a point of order, which he has promised to do with commendable brevity.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had over an hour of oral questions on the day before the long summer recess, yet we have had no update from the Secretary of State on a number of promises he made about when important policy announcements would be made. On 9 May, he said:

“The Government will bring forward a Rough Sleeping Strategy in July”.

It has not been published. On 11 June, he said:

“we’ll be publishing a Social Housing Green Paper by recess.”

It has not been published. On 9 July, he said that he would come forward with the finalised national planning policy framework before the summer recess. It has not been published. What assistance can you give me and the House to make sure that, when promises are made by Ministers, they are honoured, and that important policy announcements are not dribbled out over the recess when this House is not sitting and cannot scrutinise them?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. I do not wish to treat it with levity because it is a matter of the utmost importance. He seeks assistance from me and asks what I can do. I suppose I ought to begin by saying what I cannot do. I cannot delay the summer recess; the summer recess will be a fact. It is not entirely without precedent for Ministers to issue policy announcements during periods of recess. The Secretary of State is in his place and will have heard with crystal clarity what the right hon. Gentleman said. If the Secretary of State wants to give any earnest of his good intentions in this matter, he can do so, but alternatively he can remain—and apparently is remaining—glued to his seat, from which the right hon. Gentleman, Sherlock Holmes-style, must make his own deductions.