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Topical Questions

Volume 672: debated on Monday 24 February 2020

I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government team. Alongside the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), who has responsibility for local government, we will be working together to get more people on the housing ladder, end rough sleeping, build safer, greener and more beautiful homes, and level up all parts of the country. I wish to place on record my thanks to my right hon. Friends the Members for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) and for Tatton (Esther McVey) for their service to the Department and to the Government.

During the recess, many of our communities were affected by Storms Dennis and Ciara, and I pay tribute to the men and women of the emergency services, local councils and the many volunteers on the ground for their tireless work to help people affected. My Department is supporting communities to get back on their feet, activating the emergency Bellwin funding, and providing a financial package of support, including council tax and business rate relief for the worst-affected areas.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that private sector building owners need to act more quickly to remediate dangerous aluminium composite material cladding on their buildings?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend on that. Work by building owners in the private sector to ensure the safety of residents living in tower blocks has been unacceptably slow, and I have been consistently clear with them that there is no excuse for their lack of progress. Today I am publishing a list of building owners who do not yet have a clear plan in place to remediate all their buildings. I will not hesitate in future to name others if they fail to demonstrate progress. Today I am asking the relevant local authorities to commence enforcement action against the entities I have named, and I will be supporting those local authorities to do this at pace.

It is good to see the Secretary of State still in his place after the Cabinet reshuffle. He is serious about the job, and he certainly has a serious job to do, given that hundreds of thousands of people are living with the mental and financial burden of having unsafe cladding on their home, nearly three years after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire. Never mind his exhortations, he promised that all social sector blocks with Grenfell-style cladding would have that removed and replaced by the end of last year. Why has that vital promise been broken?

We have taken decisive action to address the challenge of ACM cladding; we banned combustible cladding on buildings, and we have also brought forward the £600 million scheme, for both the social sector and the private sector. I am frustrated that some, particularly in the private sector but also in the social sector, have taken so long to do this. That is why I am taking the action I am today, as promised, to name and shame the private sector entities that have failed to take the actions that all of us in this House would expect them to take, particularly given that public money is being put at their disposal now in order to remove this dangerous cladding. I will take all the steps necessary to do this and I will do so as quickly as possible.

We have heard this before, and frustration and exhortation simply are not sufficient. Social sector blocks are just the tip of the iceberg, and the Secretary of State still has not got a grip on those. Four months ago, he promised action against private block owners who are not removing unsafe Grenfell-style ACM cladding, but his own departmental figures show that 43 block owners—one in four—do not even have a plan in place. He has to do more to act, and that is before we even get into dealing with 1,000 extra non-ACM unsafe blocks. Enough is enough: will he now accept and back the Labour plan for legislation to make those private block owners do and pay for the remedial action, and put a stop to the scandal whereby vulnerable flat owners are having to pay simply to make their homes safe?

The right hon. Gentleman is behind the curve on this one; he is behind the action we are taking as a Government. We have already said that we are going to bring forward the fire safety Bill, which was in the Queen’s Speech and which will give fire and rescue services the powers that he wishes—I hope that means he will be supporting that Bill when it comes forward in the coming months. We have said that we will follow that quickly with the building safety Bill, which will be the biggest change to fire safety and building standards in this country in my lifetime.

In draft, because this is an important and complex piece of legislation. As regards those buildings that still have ACM cladding, all bar a very small number of owners now have a clear plan to remediate that cladding. About a third have taken it off, about a third are in the process of doing so, and the remainder have a clear plan, except for the small number of egregious building owners I have named today.

On infrastructure and community projects all across Scotland there are EU flags that proudly show where European funding has benefited those organisations. Now that Scotland has been dragged out of the EU against our will, we will no longer benefit from that funding. When will the details of the shared prosperity fund come forward? There was meant to be a consultation on it in 2018 but that did not materialise, so will the Secretary of State update the House on when the shared prosperity fund will come forward, to give clarity and certainty to communities?

We will bring forward our proposals on the UK shared prosperity fund in due course. There is a significant sum in the European territorial co-operation fund—around £600 million—which I believe is what the hon. Gentleman speaks of. It is important that we get it right, so we will fully consult partners throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that we have a UK-wide fund that is committed to levelling up all parts of the country.

T3. Would the Minister care to offer guidance on whether town fund boards should be populated by the usual suspects who have appeared on local enterprise partnership boards in the past decade, or does he feel that we should seek a fusion of new ideas and new faces? (900889)

We are always up for new ideas. Town deal boards should be business-led and representative of their communities. We provided guidance on their membership and made it clear that we expect to see a business chair and the local MP on the board. We will set out a clear decision-making process for boards to follow.

T2. Some 850,000 people are currently living with dementia, and that includes 2,000 people in my Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency. The typical care costs for somebody living with dementia are £100,000. In its Fix Dementia Care campaign the Alzheimer’s Society has called for an additional £8 billion to be spent on social care, including £2.65 billion specifically for dementia. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the new Chancellor to ensure that that happens? (900887)

The Department has regular conversations with the Treasury about all sorts of matters. We are investing £1 billion in social care funding, and £500 million is available to local authorities. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that campaign.

T5. [R] Please may we have urgent reform of the planning system to prevent the preferential treatment given to Gypsies and Travellers to build in the countryside and to ensure that the planning system works equally for everyone? (900892)

I have great sympathy with the issue that my hon. Friend raises, and it will be addressed in our forthcoming White Paper on the planning system.

T4. Victims of domestic violence are often forced to choose between staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. What help are the Government providing to local authorities to ensure that no one is faced with that decision? (900890)

The hon. Lady raises an extremely serious and important matter. On 17 February we announced £16.6 million for 75 local authority projects, for the delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation, helping up to 43,000 survivors. The fund will allow local authorities to maintain existing services until the new duty comes into force in April 2021, subject to the successful passage of the domestic abuse Bill.

T7. Four communities in County Durham benefited from the high streets fund, but Labour-run Durham County Council supported none of the communities in my constituency of North West Durham. Will my hon. Friend investigate the possibility of reopening the fund so that Consett and the three-town area of Tow Law, Crook and Willington can access that vital source of funding? (900894)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; it is great to have an MP for North West Durham who is committed to fighting hard for his community rather than grandstanding. Our £1 billion future high streets fund is key to levelling up the economy of all parts of the country. There will be a second phase of the fund and we will bring forward further details in due course.

Earlier in this questions session, the Secretary of State announced a new homes ombudsman, which will be welcome if it has the right powers. Will he also consider requiring an escrow account for each new build property, so that a proportion of the house price can be withheld until the snagging is completed and remedial work is carried out?

T8. People across Greater Manchester are rightly concerned about Andy Burnham’s Greater Manchester spatial framework and its plan to concrete over precious green spaces. Does the Minister agree with me, and with local groups in Heywood and Middleton such as Save Our Slattocks and Save Bamford Green Belt, that the Mayor should have released a revised plan with up-to-date housing figures before the election, so that people had a chance to judge his plan for their communities before he asked for their vote? (900895)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered a similar question earlier. Ministers have a quasi-judicial role in the planning system, so it would not be right for me to comment on the merits of this particular plan. However, the Mayor must meaningfully consult local residents in developing his plan, to ensure that he carries their trust. I understand that Mr Burnham will be in London again tomorrow, so my hon. Friend might have an opportunity to discuss it with him personally.

Both the Secretary of State and the Housing Minister have spoken about building safety regulations, but what regulation is in place regarding the installation of lithium batteries in new homes, and will they meet me to discuss this?

I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the matter further. It sounds like an issue that we should consider.

After our third one-in-100-years flood in seven and a half years in Calder Valley, the support package announced last week for the 1,187 properties that were flooded was a welcome relief. However, it appears that the match funding element of the package for those who fund-raise for residents badly affected by floods is not included. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the match funding is included, as it was last time, and whether it will be available to South Yorkshire before Christmas?

May I praise my hon. Friend for the hard work that he has done on behalf of his communities, who have faced severe flooding over the past two weeks? We have worked together and brought forward a significant financial package that is comparable to that provided in 2015. I do not believe that anyone has yet approached the Government to ask for match funding for a charity foundation, for example, as happened in 2015, but I would be happy to consider that if it was suggested.

Later this afternoon we will discuss the local government finance report, but there will be no true long-term sustainability for any local authority until adult social care has been resolved in this generation. We have heard lots about the Government’s desire to create a consensus on the issue. Where are the proposals so that we can start to discuss them?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, on top of putting £1 billion a year into social care, we will be bringing forward that long-term plan this year. We of course look forward to those discussions in the weeks and months ahead. I very much hope that a true cross-party consensus can be reached, because we need to resolve this so that everyone has the dignity and security they deserve.