One of the biggest divides in our country has been between those who can afford their own home and those who cannot, and that is why I am pleased today to see the Government launch our new mortgage guarantee scheme as we strengthen our commitment to build back better from this pandemic. Today’s 95% mortgages will help families and young people to get on to the property ladder without the excessive burden of a large deposit, helping to turn generation rent into generation buy.
As we cautiously reopen the economy and return to a semblance of normality, we are ready to grasp the economic lifeline that comes from getting out and supporting local businesses, returning to pubs, restaurants and cafés and providing our local economies with the love and support that they need as we continue down the recovery road map. As we seize this economic boost, we will ensure that prosperity is shared across all the UK’s nations and regions, having announced the details of our landmark new levelling-up fund, the community ownership fund and the community renewal fund at Budget.
Can the Secretary of State explain why local people in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire were not trusted to be asked about what they wanted devolution to look like locally and to help to shape those plans, rather than just being told by Whitehall what they must have, with permanent changes to local government in return for vague and, to date, unspecified promises of regeneration?
I am not sure what the right hon. Lady is referring to there. When we approach the local government reorganisation, we do so only in circumstances where there is a good deal of local support. We have taken forward a small number of proposals this year, including in North Yorkshire. Those are then subject to a consultation exercise where we notify stakeholders and take great care to take note of the opinions of the local population. It then comes to a Minister under the Act for the ultimate decision. Were local government reorganisation or a devolution deal to be negotiated in the right hon. Lady’s part of the world—I know that there is some local interest—we would of course follow all those legal requirements.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking all the volunteers he mentions for their hard work. As lockdown lifts, we want the countryside to look its glorious best this spring and summer, and he is absolutely right to say that councils should be using the powers that are available to them. Littering not only blights local communities but is ultimately a criminal offence. We have raised the maximum penalty for littering to £150, and we have published guidance for local authorities on the use of their powers.
There has been a 400% increase in donations to the Conservative party from developers under the current Prime Minister. In the interests of transparency, and to allay growing concerns about sleaze at the heart of government, will the Secretary of State publish notes of all the meetings that he, his advisers or representatives of No. 10 have held with any of those developers about changing the planning system and what they asked for?
All ministerial engagements are already published through our regular official engagement notifications and all donations to political parties, whether that be the Labour party or the Conservative party, over the statutory amount are also published. Of course planning decisions and the production of Government policy have nothing to do with donations made to political parties and there is a complete separation of the two.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Town Planning Institute and others have all condemned the Secretary of State’s planning reforms for handing too much control to developers and blocking communities from objecting to individual applications in areas zoned for growth or for renewal. Given their increased donations to the Conservative party, is he paying back developers by selling out communities?
Once again, the hon. Gentleman makes a low point. What we are doing is getting people on to the housing ladder. Once, the Labour party cared about young people, people on low incomes and people on social housing waiting lists, but those days are long gone. The Conservative party is the party of home ownership. This is the party standing up for the millions of people whose jobs depend on housing and construction. This is the party supporting the brickies and the electricians—the people out there trying to earn a good day’s living. The hon. Gentleman needs to get his priorities straight and support people who are working hard, trying to get on the housing ladder and trying to get this country going again after the pandemic.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The changes being seen on our high streets up and down the country are seismic. They require fundamental reforms to our planning system and that is exactly what this Government are doing. What a contrast that is with what the Labour party is doing. As far as I can tell, its only policy is to create a review led by somebody whom we asked to do a review 11 years ago. I have a great deal of respect for Mary Portas and I enjoy listening to her views, but we have already taken forward most of her recommendations. We are taking action. The Labour party is doing nothing and is letting the towns and cities across this country go into neglect.
I am disappointed to hear those remarks from the hon. Gentleman. Casting aspersions about the integrity of Dame Alison Nimmo is a new low for the Opposition. Alison is one of the most respected women in business today. She led The Crown Estate impeccably for many years, and now we are fortunate to benefit from her experience, commitment and public service. I think it is completely wrong that the hon. Gentleman—no doubt handed a question by the Labour Whips that he does not know anything of—
I was pleased to receive Goole’s town investment plan in January. It includes ambitious plans to diversify, to repurpose the town centre and to revitalise Goole’s economy. My officials are conducting their assessment in the usual way and I look forward to making an announcement in due course, which, if it is a positive one, will build on the excellent news we had at the Budget of a freeport in the Humber, bringing jobs and regeneration to the whole region.
The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point, as 53% of people sleeping rough on our streets are ex-offenders, so a crucial component of our strategy to end rough sleeping must be ensuring that more offenders, whether male or female, leave prisons to good-quality, secure accommodation, whether it is in the private rental sector or in social housing. I am working very closely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor; we put in a bid together to the spending review, to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will be able to update him on those plans in due course. The Ministry of Justice will be an integral part of our strategy.
I was pleased to read of the Woodland Trust’s recent campaign. My Department received over 10,000 postcards from supporters of the trust, which I have had the pleasure of looking over in recent months. We have proposed changes to the national planning policy framework to set an expectation that all new residential streets will be lined with trees. This builds on previous changes to the framework whereby we strengthened protections for ancient woods and trees. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will shortly publish further details of our wider cross-Government commitment.
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for her constituency. If I heard her question correctly, she asks about the support we provided for renters during the pandemic. We wanted to strike the right balance between helping tenants in need—that is why we increased the welfare provision, increased discretionary housing payments and increased the local housing allowance to 30% of local market costs—and ensuring that landlords have access to justice. As we transition out of the road map to recovery, we will be providing some further details on the next steps that we envisage to protect renters and ensure landlords get the best service and the help they need.
As champions of freedom and democracy, we are living up to our historical responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. I have made it the mission of my Department to ensure that all BNO status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive here. That includes an additional £43 million package across all UK nations to provide targeted support for new arrivals, including English language tuition where necessary and help with housing costs for those who need it. We are creating 12 welcome hubs across the UK to give practical support for everything from applying for a school place and registering with a GP to setting up a business. This month, I met four Hong Kong families who have recently arrived in the UK, and their profound sense of optimism about the future reaffirmed my belief that this programme will enrich our country for generations to come.