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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Volume 678: debated on Monday 20 July 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Shared Prosperity Fund

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the shared prosperity fund. (904961)

This Government believe in respecting the results of democratic referendums. Leaving the European Union has provided us with an opportunity to align the objective of the EU structural funds with domestic priorities, while continuing to support vital jobs and growth opportunities across the United Kingdom. The new UK shared prosperity fund will be our vehicle for delivering that. UK Government officials regularly speak to their counterparts in the devolved Administrations about this and other issues.

This vague waffle on timelines and content just will not cut it. The UK has received over €10 billion in structural funding since 2014 as an EU member, and it is now staring at economic disaster, with no information on what will replace those funds. Will the Minister guarantee today that the shared prosperity fund will not result in areas such as Fife seeing any reduction in funding?

The 2019 Conservative party manifesto committed at a minimum to matching the size of EU structural funds in each nation. It is very important that we get these decisions right. This is, after all, an enormous sum of money—our money—sent formally to the EU and then top-sliced and sent back to us with conditions. I very much look forward to controlling it for ourselves.

It is not just the Scottish Government who are looking for clarity on this. Just last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report that said that, four years after the Brexit vote, it is “high time” we had some idea of where the Government are going. Does the Minister agree with me, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly Government that it is high time we had clarity on these schemes?

It is obviously importantly that we provide that clarity—I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman—and we are going to provide that clarity after the cross-government spending review in the autumn.

The report highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) did not end its criticism there. The IFS went on to say that it was “disconcerting” that the shared prosperity fund was still not finalised and suggested that

“With limited time left, one option the government could consider would be to continue with existing EU funding allocations for one more year.”

Will the Minister today commit to do just that, to protect all our communities and ensure that they are not left behind by this incompetent UK Government?

Obviously, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the Government. We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver on the decision to leave the European Union. We will be in a position to give full details on the UK shared prosperity fund after the cross-government spending review, which will be so important to determining many aspects of our future relationship with Europe, as well as our commitments to our own spending priorities. We will continue working closely as one United Kingdom to understand the changing needs of local and regional economies, and I am happy to meet Ministers from the Scottish Government to find an acceptable way forward.

Five months before the transition periods ends, there is still lots of talk from the Government about future funding arrangements but no details. Last month, the Minister told me that he would make inquiries on this, yet his response only promised more details in due course. Does he appreciate that communities cannot afford to wait in perpetuity and need clarity on this now?

My officials meet fortnightly with those of the Scottish Government, and it is obviously very important that we maintain that dialogue. As I indicated in my reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), we are clear that we are prepared to have talks at ministerial level with our Scottish counterparts. We want to provide that clarity, and we will be in a position to do so when we have had the spending review, which will detail our commitments in the round.

I am grateful, but endless meetings do not give answers to communities and local governments who need that information and clarity. Another issue is the stronger towns fund. There has been lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping from Tory Back Benchers but very little detail. In the departmental spending debate on the estimates earlier this month, there was still no detail forthcoming. Will the Minister advise us today when Scotland will receive details and a timeline for the stronger towns fund?

The stronger towns fund is a vital part of our levelling-up work. I make no apologies whatsoever for saying that it is a really important tool to rectify long-standing economic imbalances in the country. The Barnett formula will be applied to investment for England in the normal way at the spending review. The funding is committed to the devolved nations, which means that the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive a share of funding, with allocations to be confirmed in the next financial year.

Families in Temporary Accommodation

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that recipient local authorities are informed when a family is moved by another local authority to temporary accommodation in their local authority area. (904950)

The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 and the homelessness code of guidance set out that local authorities should try to place households within the area, that when that is not possible, they should place the household as near as possible, and that that should be a last resort. If a local authority places a family outside its area, it is required by law to notify the local authority in the area in which the family are placed.

How does the law work without enforcement? We know from the programme “Ross Kemp: Living with...” that homeless families travel approximately 400,000 miles—or 16 times round the globe—each year to get to their temporary accommodation, and 60 councils are not informing the receiving authorities. That is the reality; what are the Government going to do about it?

The hon. Lady cares passionately about this issue and has raised it in the House recently. If a local authority places a household into temporary accommodation in another area, it is, as I said, required by law to notify that local authority to ensure that there is no disruption in schooling or employment. Our homelessness and advice support team should hold local authorities to account for their performance on this matter, and the Local Government Association is doing work with local authorities from London and throughout the country to develop a protocol for out-of-area placements. We are clear, from the Front Bench, that councils should adhere to this basic legal requirement.

Town Centre Investment

Our £3.6 billion towns fund will drive the economic regeneration of towns to deliver long-term economic and productivity growth. The towns fund will play an important role in the support of our country’s economic recovery, bringing forward public investment to create jobs and boost confidence in towns, as well as levering investment in from the private sector.

The beautiful towns across East Devon boast many independent shops on their high streets, providing the customer service that people just cannot get with a click of a mouse. As we reopen our high streets safely and encourage people to think local first, the Government must press on with plans to regenerate town centres. What plans does my right hon. Friend have for the next phase of the future high streets fund?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we will set out our plans for a competitive round of the towns fund later this year. As I said to him when I visited Exmouth with him last year, that is the kind of town that the fund was designed to serve, and I very much look forward to seeing its submission. In terms of immediate investment, the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership will receive £35.4 million from the getting building fund for shovel-ready projects across the area, including in Devon. We will announce 160 successful projects from across England at the end of this month.

Ipswich town centre is at the heart of life in our town, but it faces many challenges that have only been made greater by covid-19. A great deal of work is going into developing a coherent strategy to regenerate our town centre, with the input of both private and public sectors, under the Ipswich Vision partnership. Will my right hon. Friend recognise the excellent work that has gone into developing the strategy for Ipswich town centre as he considers our proposed timetable for receiving £25 million of town deal funding in October this year?

I am delighted that the ideas developed over the past several years by the Ipswich Vision board are being used as the foundation for the Ipswich town deal. My officials are looking forward to receiving Ipswich’s proposals in the town investment plan that is, as my hon. Friend says, being submitted on 30 October. We have recently announced that Ipswich, like other towns that are recipients of the towns fund, can apply to my Department for up to £1 million to kick-start its work, create jobs, boost confidence and help the local economy to recover.

Bolton has shovel-ready town centre regeneration schemes including Le Mans Crescent and Church Wharf. Uncertainty created by covid-19 means that financial backers are looking to the Government to act as guarantor of last resort. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and the leader of Bolton Council to discuss ways to help support those well developed regeneration plans? As I am sure he will concur, Bolton is ready to be the epicentre of this Government’s levelling-up agenda.

I congratulate Bolton and my hon. Friend on the very impressive work that they are doing with the council to transform the town. Bolton is one of the initial 100 towns selected to submit proposals for a town deal, and, again, I look forward to seeing the submissions shortly. As I said in my previous answer, Bolton can also apply to the Department for an advance of £1 million from the town deal to fund some of those projects that he describes. I also understand that, as a result of Bolton being part of the future high streets fund, it is likely to include support for Trinity Gateway, Le Mans Crescent, Church Wharf and Crompton Place—a number of extremely important regeneration projects.

Accrington town centre is one of the many places that have been left behind for too long. It is at the heart of my community and now that I am the Member of Parliament, I intend to be the strong voice that is needed to make sure that it is not a forgotten town any more. Will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to visit Accrington and our amazing local businesses to discuss with me how I can make sure that it gets the investment that is so desperately needed?

I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation to Accrington. From what I have seen in her relatively short period in this House, she is exactly the strong voice that her constituents deserve. We have shown consistently through our initiatives, such as the towns fund, which we have been discussing, and the high streets fund, our commitment to levelling up all parts of the country, and we are doing that once again with our £900 million getting building fund, £34 million of which will benefit her constituents in Lancashire. I look forward to announcing, with her local enterprise partnership, those projects by the end of the month.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the provision of appropriate community spaces and opportunities in town centres can be crucial to social cohesion? During decades of austerity, our communities have lost so much of their town centres. Will the Secretary of State tell me what steps are being taken to ensure that any town centre regeneration plan is drawn up with the help of the community members so that communities are prioritised and benefited, including through jobs and social spaces?

I agree that we need to invest in our town centres and our high streets. The Government had begun that work even before the pandemic created so much additional economic disruption. The towns fund and the high streets fund are important initiatives that will help local communities to set a course for the future, with investment in infrastructure, in town centre regeneration, in skills, and in culture, and local people are at the heart of each and every one of those town deals or high street bids.

Housing Infrastructure Projects

What infrastructure projects the Government are supporting in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England to enable more housing to be built. (904952)

The Government are investing around £150 million in infrastructure projects in Northamptonshire, unlocking the development of more than 19,000 homes in Corby, East Kettering, and at the A43, for instance. The Government are supporting schemes with almost £80 million, which will together unlock more than 12,500 homes. That is part of more than £10 billion of investment in new infrastructure for housing across England.

That is wonderful news from the Secretary of State, but he missed out one constituency in Northamptonshire and that was Wellingborough. We are planning to build lots of new houses at Wellingborough North, but to realise the full potential of that housing, we must have the Isham bypass. Why can we not get that bypass? It seems to be held up by red tape, so does the Secretary of State agree that the Isham bypass would be an excellent project for the Prime Minister’s Project Speed? Let us get the bypass built.

We want to fast-track major building projects in all parts of the country to fuel the economic recovery and to create jobs, and Project Speed is just one part of that. With respect to the Isham bypass, I understand the Department for Transport has prioritised the project for major road network funding. Northamptonshire County Council is due to submit an outline business case later this year. The council has had to amend the route, and will require fresh planning permission and legal orders, but the Department for Transport’s officials are in touch with the council to discuss how best the scheme can be taken forward. Obviously, if there is anything my Department and officials can do to assist my hon. Friend, we will do it.

Renters Reform Bill

We are committed to bringing forward legislation to deliver a better deal for renters, including repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 as a priority. This will represent a generational change to tenancy, so it is only right that such legislation is considered and balanced to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, for tenants and, of course, for landlords.

The economic consequences of covid-19 could continue for years to come. Given the Secretary of State’s commitment that

“no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus”,

does the Minister agree that it is about time this Government looked at the measures the Welsh Labour Government are putting in place to protect renters from eviction by unscrupulous landlords?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question. This Government have brought forward an unprecedented array of measures to support tenants through the coronavirus epidemic. We have protected 8.6 million households because of our actions: we have increased the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile; we have given local authorities £500 million of crisis grants; and we have introduced the furlough scheme, which the shadow Chancellor, in a moment of lucidity, described as a “lifeline”. This Government are acting, and will continue to act, for tenants.

The evictions ban ends on 23 August and the Government could have already brought in this Bill, raised LHA temporarily to average rents, scrapped section 21 or given courts discretion in arrears cases, but they have not done any of those things and thousands of people are struggling with rent now. So will the Minister guarantee to honour the words of the Secretary of State in March:

no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus”?

Yes or no?

I know that the hon. Lady is coming under pressure from her extreme left wing to, in essence, write off all rents. I am not entirely sure who that is expected to help—it certainly will not help those people who are working very hard to pay their rents. As I said, the Government have brought forward an array of measures to support hard-pressed renters. We have introduced measures that will support those people. I believe my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is about to introduce a measure that will make it difficult for landlords who do not show “good cause” in bringing their application to court by describing what the effect on their tenants will be of an eviction—the courts will be able to adjourn those actions. That is practical support for people on the ground, not pie in the sky from the hon. Lady.

Covid-19: High Streets

What steps he is taking to support the safe reopening of high streets as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904954)

My Department has brought forward a range of measures to support the safe reopening of high streets across England, including providing flexibility for outdoor dining, which has helped to create an al fresco dining renaissance in this country; enabling business to operate on takeaways; making it easier to hold outdoor markets; and pedestrianising town centres and high streets to support local businesses. That is in addition to the Government’s VAT cut for hospitality, the eat out to help out scheme and the £50 million reopening high streets safely fund.

The Secretary of State and his Housing Minister are welcome to come for a bit of al fresco dining in Bexhill and Battle whenever they are around. I give credit to both of them for the way in which they have helped to reform the planning system so that high streets can reopen. Will they take further steps, if required, particularly in respect of temporary structures, where help with permitted development rights could be given, if that were so needed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. We are certainly open to further measures that we can take to make the lives of small businesspeople across the country easier as they seek to recover their businesses and livelihoods after the pandemic. In particular, I can give him reassurance that the existing legal framework that enables one to put up a temporary structure for 28 days is being extended to 56 days during 2020 to enable, for example, a pub to put up a marquee, a restaurant to do the same, or a market to operate for longer than it would ordinarily do—all designed to help local businesses to prosper in the weeks and months to come.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to ask the supplementary despite my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) being held up.

Does the Minister recognise that after all Government funding is taken into account, including the emergency funding, councils still face a funding gap of between £6 billion and £10 billion, while they are of course required by law to balance their budgets in-year and take appropriate measures to ensure that that happens? How many jobs does he estimate will be lost as councils are forced to make severe cuts to plug this gap?

Our engagement with councils has enabled us to understand pressures at a national and local level across England. To date, we have announced £4.3 billion-worth of additional resource to councils, including £3.7 billion of unring-fenced funding. We have also announced the sales fees and charges co-payment scheme to compensate for irrecoverable income loss that is designed to flex according to the extent of the losses as they crystallise. We will also extend the period over which councils must manage shortfalls in local tax income relating to this financial year from one year to three years. All those measures are intended to prevent councils from having to make difficult in-year decisions. I reiterate the message that I have now sent out countless times to individual authorities: any authority facing an unmanageable situation should make contact with my officials.

Local Authorities: Covid-19 Prevention

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the role of local authorities in helping to prevent local outbreaks of covid-19. (904957)

My Department has been working closely with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the Department of Health and Social Care to develop a framework for the local management of further outbreaks of coronavirus, and councils will play a crucial role in this process. All upper-tier local authorities have published their local outbreak control plans. I am in regular contact with my counterparts at DHSC. We gave new powers to councils to control local outbreaks of covid-19 that came into effect only this Saturday.

Eighteen of 55 patients who tested positive for coronavirus were transferred from North Tees University Hospital into local care homes between 1 March and 15 April. That was directly in line with the Government advice that a negative test was not required before discharge. A further 266 were transferred without a test. The policy changed on 16 April, but does the Minister accept that many deaths on Teesside, and perhaps thousands across the country, could have been prevented if the Government had got it right in the first place?

I pay enormous tribute to the care workers on Teesside and of course to our local NHS, which we share as Teesside MPs. This has been a constantly evolving and very complex situation, as Governments around the world, including our own, have obviously learned as matters have progressed. We have acted consistently and in good faith throughout. We have worked very hard with the care sector to protect patients. The £600 million infection control fund that we have instigated is designed to ensure that the care sector is safe, with a strong measure of containment against the disease for patients going forward.

The Minister may not know this, but on 1 June, following the Prime Minister’s appearance at the Liaison Committee, I wrote to him about local authority involvement in tackling this virus. In particular, I asked him to

“give an assurance that data will be shared fully with all partners…In particular…directors of public health.”

I have not had a response to that letter, but I have heard from Greg Fell, the director of public health in Sheffield, and other directors that they are only getting generalised data—they are not getting, on a daily basis, the names, addresses and NHS numbers of those infected and those they have been in contact with. Does the Minister accept, therefore, that while this information is held by Public Health England, it needs to be passed on to directors of public health, and passed on quickly, and will he give an assurance that that will happen this week?

Since 24 June, all local authorities have been able to access postcode-level testing data through their director of public health, and that is securely shared by PHE on a weekly basis. I understand that that has been going on pretty much from the moment that it became available. PHE also shares information with local directors of public health as part of the routine investigation of outbreaks and incidents. That includes information on individual cases and their contacts, as required, to support the public health response.

The Health Secretary quite rightly praised my local council of Blackburn for its efforts to bring down infection rates. I quote:

“On Blackburn, I think the council… are doing a fantastic job… they’ve taken… steps locally and I applaud that. This is exactly the sort of local action we want to see.”

Although Councillor Khan welcomes the praise, as do the communities that have worked closely with the council through this difficult time, does the Minister recognise that they have been failed by the test and track system? I raised that in the House last week. Data made available to me over the weekend shows that only 43% of people from the national service have been contacted successfully. Does he accept that the additional burden on the council requires resources to help keep services running and keep our communities safe? They need the funding now. Finally, will Minister agree to meet me and Councillor Khan to discuss the challenges going forward?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is obviously very important we get control of the situation in Blackburn. Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace are actively working with Professor Harrison and his colleagues there to ensure a rapid solution is implemented to support their local work. Clearly, this is precisely why we have allocated £300 million to support the wider test and trace programme. We are also supporting Professor Harrison and his team with additional mobile testing capacity and a local visit in order to better understand how the needs of the community in Blackburn can be supported. I am obviously very happy to meet the hon. Lady and Councillor Khan to discuss how we take this forward, as I have with a number of other authorities in a similar situation.

Housing: Environmental Standards

To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, what steps he is taking to ensure that new housing is of the highest standard of environmental sustainability. (904958)

Our proposed future homes standard will ensure all new homes from 2025 result in at least 75% lower carbon emissions than those built to the current standard. Earlier this month, the Chancellor announced £8.8 billion of new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects, including a £3 billion green investment package, which could help support around 140,000 green jobs, and upgrade buildings and reduce emissions.

Can I urge the Secretary of State to look at the letter from 18 conservation groups, deeply worried this morning by the fact that they believe that the planning system is going to be radically deregulated? Does he not agree that we want sustainably built homes in sustainable locations? Will he talk to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and get his act together over this suggestion that there will be no more environmental impact assessments worthy of that name?

I can give this assurance to the hon. Gentleman: the planning reforms that we intend to bring forward in the weeks ahead will not row back on any of our commitments to the environment. This Government want to bring forward homes that are truly fit for the future. We do not want to see homes being built in the years ahead that will need to be retrofitted at huge expense either to the state or to individuals in time. We want to ensure that we meet our obligations to the environment, to biodiversity and to the climate change challenge, and that is exactly what the proposals that I intend to publish later this month, or at the beginning of August, will do.

Residential Buildings: Cladding

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that dangerous cladding is removed from residential buildings of all heights. (904959)

We are taking action with the biggest reforms of building and fire safety in nearly 40 years through the Building Safety Bill, which we are publishing in draft form today. To tackle the most urgent problems, we have made available £1.6 billion to remove unsafe cladding systems, so there should be no excuse for further delay. We have made progress. Over two thirds of high-rise buildings with the most dangerous Grenfell-type aluminium composite material, or ACM, cladding have either been completed or they have started their remediation.

With applications for more than 1,000 buildings made to the building safety fund already, it is clear that £1.6 billion will not be anywhere near enough to remedy all high-risk residential buildings that still have dangerous cladding, more than three years after the Grenfell Tower fire. The Government are trying to find ways to fit a potential £15 billion liability into a £1.6 billion funding pot. Will the Minister commit to release more funding in line with the Select Committee recommendation to ensure that all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building are addressed, allowing residents to live safely in their homes without fear of bankruptcy?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. To date, we have received 1,378 completed registration forms for the building safety fund. We expect the money made available by the Chancellor in this fiscal year to be fully allocated by March, so that the buildings that most need remediation where the owners were not able to act quickly can be helped. We have always made it clear that we expect a significant proportion of remediation costs to fall on the shoulders of those responsible for the original work or the building owners, and certainly not on the leaseholders.

Although we welcome the publication, finally, of the draft Building Safety Bill today, the Department’s own figures highlight the fact that 246 buildings are still wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding and thousands more are cladded in equally flammable materials. How will the measures outlined in the Bill speed up remediation while increasing the size and the scope of the building safety fund?

Some 72% of buildings that had ACM cladding have had that cladding removed. I refer to the hon. Gentleman to the Adjournment debate secured by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) to which I replied. I said that tough enforcement action is on its way for those owners that are responsible but are not taking action to remediate their buildings. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman as the Building Safety Bill passes through this House and the other place to make sure that we have a good Bill that is fit for purpose. This Government are committed to doing so; I trust he is, too.

Housing Associations: House Building

We have announced a £12 billion investment in affordable homes, the largest in a decade. That will deliver up to 180,000 new affordable homes across England, with the vast majority delivered by 2026. That is building on our previous £9 billion affordable homes programme, which delivered about 250,000 affordable homes. Figures published last week show the highest number of starts of affordable homes since records began in 2010, and a 91% increase in homes for social rent over the year. We have also extended the previous programme by one year to ensure delivery of homes that would otherwise, regrettably, have been lost because of covid disruption.

The Prime Minister says that we need to build, build, build, and that is absolutely the right approach. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing join me in praising Bishop Llewellyn Graham and everyone at Nehemiah housing association for their amazing work in West Bromwich East, and work with them to ensure that local people are skilled up so that we can get the right homes built at affordable prices?

I will join my hon. Friend in thanking Nehemiah housing association for its work on housing in the west midlands over the past 20 years. Compared with the start of the decade, the number of homes built in the west midlands last year had doubled. She is right to talk about skills; delivering the homes this country needs depends on having a skilled workforce. The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that we will need 688,000 skilled construction workers if we are to deliver our target of 300,000 new homes every year.

Leasehold and Commonhold Reform

What his timetable is for bringing forward legislative proposals on leasehold and commonhold reform. [R] (904962)

We are committed to reforming the leasehold market and have already set out that we will reduce ground rents to zero on future leases and ban new leasehold houses. We are also working with the Law Commission on enfranchisement, commonhold and right to manage. Given the impact of covid-19 on the agenda and the Government’s wider work to restart the economy, we will bring forward legislation on leasehold as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Mr Speaker, if you and the Minister came to Worthing station and walked from there to my flat, you would walk past a site where Homes England could help Worthing Borough Council to produce extra social housing and potentially more leasehold or commonhold homes. Six times a year, on average, over the last 10 years, Ministers have talked of progress on ending leasehold abuse and providing better homes for the future, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said just now. This time, can we have action, and could Ministers also look at whether statutory instrument 2020/632, the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, takes into account the disbenefits to leaseholders of people putting extra storeys on leasehold blocks?

I know that my hon. Friend has raised issues about this particular statutory instrument. We believe we need to encourage the densification of our towns and cities to allow for additional homes. In the last four years, 60,000 additional homes have been delivered through permitted development rights for change of use. This new permitted development right could deliver an extra 800 homes a year for families across our cities and help to protect the countryside too. Of course, permitted development rights remain subject to prior approval by the local planning authority on a number of matters, including the amenity of neighbours and occupiers of the block.

Planning Reforms: Environmental Standards

What assessment he has made of the effect on environmental standards of the Government’s proposed planning reforms. (904963)

What assessment he has made of the effect on environmental standards of the Government’s proposed planning reforms. (904971)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the Government are committed to building not just better and faster but greener. As we consider reforms to our planning system, we are committed to ensuring that they create better outcomes for the environment and that decision making is properly informed by the science. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary set out this morning our intention to develop a reform framework for environmental assessment and mitigation.

In 1958, planning permission was granted for Droppingwell tip to open in my constituency. The local community managed to get the tip closed in the 1990s because of their serious environmental concerns. Now, with no consultation and the vagaries of the planning system, it has been given the go-ahead again. It is likely to reopen in the very near future and is an environmental timebomb. For the last four years, I have been raising this repeatedly with the Environment Agency and the Government but to no avail. Will the Minister please meet me to look into this disastrous plan and step in to stop this unwanted and environmentally damaging development?

I have every sympathy for the hon. Lady and her concerns in championing her constituents. I would point out that in my quasi-judicial role I cannot discuss individual planning matters, but I will refer her concern to my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary, and of course if she wants to talk to me about a broader range of issues, I would be very happy to do that.

Hounslow Council’s new council housing will no longer have gas boilers installed, only the newest low-energy systems available. Both the leader of Hounslow, Councillor Steve Curran, and community organisation Brentford Voice have said they would like national planning policies to require all new developments to incorporate low-emission energy systems. Will the Housing Secretary’s reforms require all new homes to be zero-carbon and affordable to run, yet still to be warm in winter and cool in summer?

We were the first Government in the world to legislate to be zero-carbon by 2050, and we intend to meet that pledge, which is why we have introduced the future homes standard to reduce carbon emissions from homes built after 2025 by between 75% and 80%. I am prepared to listen to and consider all proposals to make us greener and better, and I look forward to hearing those proposals from the hon. Lady.

Second Home Ownership

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the level of second home ownership on local communities. (904964)

Second homes can bring significant benefits to local areas, including boosting tourism, consumer spending and investment in the local economy. However, we are aware of the need to balance this with the housing needs of local people. We have taken decisive action to address these challenges through the introduction of a stamp duty surcharge on second homes.

Excessive second home ownership robs communities of life, schools and other services. Does the Minister understand, then, why people in the south Lakes are so appalled that the Government have chosen to give a £15,000 stamp duty bonus to those lucky enough to be able to afford a second home? When there are 3 million hard-working people excluded from Government support at the moment, are these not appalling priorities? Will he end the second homes bonus and instead support the 3 million excluded?

Second home owners contribute significantly to the economy of many parts of our country, particularly those parts that rely on the tourist economy. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in 2013, we removed the requirement to offer a council tax discount on second homes, and 95% of the 253,000 second home dwellings now have council tax applied to them. It is very important that we balance the needs of the local economy with the rights of local people. We think we have got that balance right as we try to get this country through a very difficult epidemic, and every penny spent locally matters to local businesses and people.

Topical Questions

This week, we announced the most significant reforms to building safety legislation in 40 years, delivering new and enhanced regulatory regimes. I welcome the voices of all right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House, as we move this critical legislation forwards.

Earlier this month, we set out our comprehensive financial plan to ensure that local councils can proceed with their crucial work with confidence, including a one-of-a-kind scheme reimbursing councils for lost income, measures to spread tax deficits, and an extra £500 million in un-ring-fenced funding. We are also making sure that as we recover from the pandemic, our communities can bounce back with investment in housing and infrastructure and for our town and city centres. Our announced reform of use classes will help to revitalise high streets and town centres, and the Chancellor’s stamp duty cut will help many to realise their dream of owning a home.

Many councils have had to use emergency accommodation and hotels to house rough sleepers during coronavirus. As we look to winter, it will not be possible to build enough social housing within the timeframe required to ensure that people are able to stay off the streets, and many options will need to be considered: for example, social lettings agencies could be established to deal with private rental procurement for vulnerable people and homeless people to access accommodation. All options require funding, so what measures is my right hon. Friend considering to keep vulnerable people off the streets come winter?

Can I say once again how grateful for and proud I am of the work of local councils and homelessness and rough sleeping charities across the country and the remarkable effort that they have made together to protect rough sleepers during the pandemic? That has undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives. We saw that in the recent Office for National Statistics figures that were published, showing that 16 rough sleepers had died in this country during the pandemic. Each of those deaths, of course, is a tragedy, but that number is far lower than that of any other major developed country. We are making £105 million of immediate support available for local areas to fund exactly the kind of interventions that my hon. Friend refers to., a digital platform supporting over 1,300 churches, estimates that faith groups are providing more than 10 million meals a month to people up and down our country who would otherwise go hungry. Our faith groups have missed out on weekly donations and opportunities to raise funds, and they are running out of money and are in desperate need of financial assistance. What assessment has the Minister’s Government made of the financial hit to places of worship, and why have the Government not provided ring-fenced support to ensure that they can continue their very much needed work?

I pay tribute to the work of faith groups across the country. I have been regularly meeting with faith leaders from all the major religions through our places of worship taskforce. I am extremely grateful for the hard work of that organisation, which has helped us to reopen places of worship safely. I am aware of the financial impact that the pandemic has had on many places of worship and faith organisations. The schemes created for charities by the Chancellor were open to those from faith organisations and many have taken part in them.

Town and parish councils across mid-Cornwall have done an incredible job of supporting their communities through the pandemic, going out of their way to provide extra services. As a result, they have incurred extra costs, as well as seeing their income drop because of car parks. I know the Government have made money available to Cornwall Council to support these hard-pressed councils, but so far it has declined to pass that on. Will the Minister join me in thanking town and parish councils across the country for all the work they have done in recent months? What more can the Government do to ensure the money they have made available gets to these parish councils? (905010)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is no question but that we owe an enormous debt to town and parish councils for everything they have done throughout the pandemic. We have encouraged principal authorities to discuss the funding provided with their town and parish councils where they are delivering covid-related services. The grant funding of £3.7 billion is un-ring-fenced, recognising that local authorities need to make appropriate decisions about how to meet major covid-19 service pressures in their local area. I certainly hope that Cornwall Council will give that proper consideration.

Over 820,000 people have already fallen into council tax arrears as a direct result of covid-19. The expiry of the emergency protection on 23 August will make it worse for vulnerable and struggling families, who could face unfair and unsafe bailiff action. Will the Minister consider the introduction of a pre-action protocol to protect them? (905011)

We have, for several weeks now, been in exactly those sorts of conversations with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who holds the relationship with the judiciary and the Master of the Rolls. The Lord Chancellor has already set out today some initiatives and I am hopeful that further announcements will be made shortly to provide exactly the kind of protection the hon. Lady asks for.

For a mainly rural large county such as Greater Lincolnshire, the effective management of change for local government reform and devolution is critically important to all businesses and individuals. I am aware of a recent speech by the Minister of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), and wondered if he had anything to add with regard to achieving the best outcome for his parliamentary colleagues and our district and county councils for a right and fair deal for my constituents. (905012)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I had recent constructive discussions with both Lincolnshire MPs and all Greater Lincolnshire council leaders on this subject. It is now for them to develop proposals for local government reform and I am committed to working with them. Levelling up all areas of the country by devolving money, resources and control from Westminster is a priority for the Government. Our devolution and local recovery White Paper, to be published this autumn, will set out our detailed plans, including for restructuring local institutions and establishing more mayors.

There are sections of my community blighted by absentee landlords, substandard housing and a total disregard for the need for tenant vetting. Will the Minister take this opportunity to support the Horden housing masterplan in my constituency to regenerate local housing, which could be replicated in neighbouring areas that face the same housing issues and create much needed jobs in the local economy in construction and the housing industry? (905014)

I would be delighted to discuss with the hon. Gentleman that masterplan and to learn more of its details. It is extremely important to us that we not only build more homes, but tackle substandard homes in all parts of the country. That means making them greener and, in some cases, regenerating parts of towns and cities that desperately need it. That will be a focus both for our planning reforms and future investment.

With the good news that leisure centres can reopen again from this weekend, my local council, Buckinghamshire Council, has identified, over and above the extremely generous and unprecedented level of additional spending for councils, a further £3 million cost pressure from waived management fees, loss of income from social distancing measures and so on. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that council tax payers in Buckinghamshire will not be left in the deep end? (905013)

I am extremely pleased that leisure centres will be able to open shortly, in a safe and socially distanced manner. The income guarantee scheme that we have already announced will reimburse local councils for 75p in the pound for lost income, including for the leisure centres that they own and operate themselves. I appreciate that many leisure centres are not owned and operated by local councils; I am working with my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary to see what further package of support we might be able to bring forward to assist.

Waiting until autumn for details of the shared prosperity fund means huge uncertainty for recipients of structural funds, loss of staff and expertise, and near impossible transition planning. So I ask again: why not just guarantee, as a minimum, existing EU funding allocations for next year—and do it now? (905015)

As my hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government said in his earlier remarks, we made a manifesto commitment to ensure that, at a minimum, each of the nations of the United Kingdom will continue to receive the same amount of funding as they did from within the EU. We intend to keep that commitment.

For many years, I have been working alongside community groups within my constituency at Chidswell, Mirfield and Skelmanthorpe, who all have genuine concerns regarding inappropriate developments on farmland, the green belt and areas susceptible to flooding. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss those concerns? (905016)

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend, who I know campaigns vigorously on these issues. I reassure Members on both sides of the House that the Government intend to bring forward a review of the planning system and how it interrelates with flood plains, to ensure that homes are not built irresponsibly on parts of the country that routinely flood.

On 20 November, two days after meeting Richard Desmond at a Conservative party fundraising dinner, the Secretary of State’s office instructed departmental officials to speed through the Westferry decision before the date when the new community infrastructure levy came into force. The Secretary of State was informing his officials of that date, so it cannot have been them who told him about it. That begs the question: who did? (905019)

The fact that Tower Hamlets Council was preparing a new local plan that included a CIL schedule attached to it was a matter of public record; anybody knowledgeable about London’s housing issues would have known that. It is a perfectly legitimate planning consideration to ensure that a decision is made prior to a material change like that. That is exactly how my officials rightly advised me.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps he is taking to ensure that dangerous cladding is removed from high-rise residential buildings and that the assistance is targeted to support leaseholders, who face large bills preventing them from being able to sell their homes at the moment? (905017)

We have brought forward the now £1.6 billion fund tackling not just ACM cladding—on which there has been some progress, although far more progress is required—but other types of dangerous cladding such as HPL. I strongly encourage buildings to come forward, apply to the fund and get that money out of the door.

As I said earlier this week, we have also published the building safety Bill in draft form. Once again, I strongly encourage colleagues to participate in ensuring that that Bill meets the challenges and radically improves the standards of building safety regulation in this country.

The Western Gateway project has the potential to mean up to £56 billion for the UK economy, benefiting businesses from Swansea to Swindon. Will Ministers commit to working with the new all-party parliamentary group on the Western Gateway, the Welsh Government and local authorities to realise its potential? (905023)

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady is now chairing the APPG. We were pleased to launch the Western Gateway initiative at the end of last year. I think it has huge potential to drive economic growth in that part of the country, to represent the south-west and south Wales on the international stage, and to attract international investment to her constituency and those of her neighbours.

My constituency feels like it is under siege from developers trying to build blocks of flats that local infrastructure just does not have the capacity to cope with. Will the Secretary of State reduce Barnet’s housing target and reform the planning system to end this reckless attempt to urbanise the suburbs? (905018)

We are very sensitive to the issues that my right hon. Friend describes, and I have had a number of conversations with her already. I appreciate that her constituents have particular concerns about high-rise buildings. We do need to build more homes in London, and that is why we are bringing forward some of the reforms that we have already announced to enable gentle densification, building up on top of people’s individual homes or blocks of flats so that homes can be built in a manner that maintains the look and feel of the suburbs.

My local authority faces a deficit in excess of £40 million because of its response to covid. The Government said that councils should spend what it takes, so why are they not assisting local authorities that have spent that sort of money? (905025)

We said at the outset of the crisis that we would ensure that councils have the resources they need, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have now brought forward over £4 billion of funding for covid-related expenditure. We have also created the income guarantee of 75p in the pound for lost income on sales, fees and charges, and I am working with the Chancellor with respect to tax losses so that councils have the confidence to move forwards and end the financial year in good financial health.

The Chancellor announced the other day our £400 million brownfield fund, which will support projects across the country, and our planning reforms that we have already announced, such as the right to demolish a vacant building and turn it into new housing, are exactly designed for brownfield sites.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.