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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 717: debated on Monday 27 June 2022

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Housebuilding: Urban Densification

1. What steps his Department is taking to increase housebuilding through densification of urban areas using local authority-approved building codes that pre-approve buildings. (900712)

We want to build good-quality homes in the right places, and to give communities a greater say in the planning process. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill includes provision for new “street vote” powers which will allow residents to come together and bring forward the development that they want to see on their streets, in line with their design preferences. That will incentivise communities to consider the potential for development, especially in areas of high demand, and will support a gentle increase in density through well-considered, well-designed and locally supported proposals.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and agree with him that the “street votes” idea—which the Secretary of State described as “a cracking idea” a few months ago from that very Dispatch Box—is extremely welcome and at the core of the Bill. Will he consider applying the same principles of local consent and design codes on a slightly larger scale to increase supply and create wealth across whole neighbourhoods rather than just single streets, as outlined in chapter 4 of my recent paper “Poverty Trapped”?

My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity to promote his paper, and I commend him for it. Of course we want to ensure that every community has an opportunity to build the houses that it needs within the local plan that it is developing. I welcome many of the points that my hon. Friend raised in his paper, and look forward to working with him in future to see how we can develop them further.

Does the Minister agree that high density does not equate to high rise? In the light of tragedies such as Grenfell Tower, Ronan Point and others, will he look less than kindly on applications for high-rise developments?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not able, in a quasi-judicial role, to comment on individual planning applications. It is for local authorities to make those decisions. Density can come in a range of different ways, and it is for local communities to decide what housing they want built in their area.

Brownfield Development

2. What progress his Department has made on promoting responsible development on brownfield sites. (900713)

The Government strongly encourage the use of brownfield land and we have introduced new planning measures to make the best use of previously developed land while also boosting the delivery of new homes. A total of £550 million has now been allocated to the seven mayoral combined authorities in the north and midlands for brownfield development, including £120 million announced in the levelling-up White Paper.

In the heart of Keighley we have a unique open area known as the green space, and the town council, local residents and I are all determined to keep it green. However, despite there being many other brownfield options, Labour-run Bradford Council is determined to build on this green space and we will now have a public referendum on the issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that responsible brownfield development involves local authorities listening to what local people want, and that Labour-run Bradford Council should not ignore my constituents?

My hon. Friend will know that, due to the quasi-judicial role, I cannot say too much about individual plans or proposals, but I know that he fights incredibly hard for his constituents in Keighley. What I can say is that when a planning application comes forward, there is a period for local consultation. That consultation needs to be local, and the council should listen to the concerns. Much of what we are introducing in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will make it easier for the development of local plans and easier for people to engage so that they can decide what is built where in their communities.

Will the Secretary of State and his gang be honest with the British public? All the time I hear people on the Government Benches saying that we have to build on brownfield land, but if it is brownfield land that can be built on and it is where people want to live, it has usually been built on already. The fact is that if this Government want to build houses, they will sometimes have to build them on green-belt land and other sites, and they will have to be imaginative about it. Do not con the British people. Brownfield land building will not meet the needs.

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that we have run a national register and it has identified more than 28,000 hectares of developable land, which is enough for 1 million homes. I make no apology for wanting regeneration, and I make no apology for wanting brownfield before green belt.

At this moment there are 20 million tonnes of wheat locked up in Ukraine and we are facing a significant food shortage across the world in the years to come. Does the Minister agree that, at a time like this, using good productive land in the UK for solar farms is disgraceful and that the forthcoming national planning policy framework ought to discourage the use of agricultural land for solar farms rather than encourage it?

I know that my hon. Friend has recently secured a Westminster Hall debate on this issue. Where agricultural land is needed, we always suggest it should be the less good agricultural land, but we also need to ensure that we are producing our own energy for this country. That is a balance that needs to be struck locally.

Spatial Disparities: Annual Reporting

3. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of requiring Government Departments to report annually on the impact of spatial disparities across the UK on targeted outcomes. (900714)

The Government will publish an annual report on progress towards delivering the 12 levelling-up missions designed to address the UK’s spatial disparities. The obligation to publish the report will be established in statute, creating a regular point for Parliament and the public to scrutinise progress towards levelling up.

The levelling-up missions fall far short of what we really need to make progress in this country. They are nothing more than the Government marking their own homework. Communities desperately need a cross-Government approach that focuses on the different outcomes for people and places in health, education and so many other areas. Will the Minister consider working with colleagues to set clearer lines of accountability on levelling up across Government Departments so that they can be assessed on their effectiveness and on real outcomes for people?

The hon. Lady will find that the levelling-up White Paper and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill do the very things she is asking. On marking our own homework, she misunderstands the point. The fact is that these missions should not be set in stone. As the economy adapts, so might the missions to reflect the changing environment and the lessons learned from past interventions. Some targets cut across spending review periods, for example, and it would make sense to be able to review them before the next period begins.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is hard to deliver the long-term, ambitious levelling-up plans set out in law without a long-term mechanism for funding them? Will she agree to meet me and members of the Northern Research Group, which has called for a levelling-up formula to equalise Government spending across our United Kingdom?

Resolution Foundation research indicates that the true cost of levelling up is billions higher than accounted for by Ministers, owing to the continued investment in the south-east of England offsetting the productivity boost in other regions. How will Ministers look holistically at socioeconomic inequalities to better understand how to close the gap?

The Resolution Foundation’s report raises some very interesting findings, and it highlights the urgency of levelling up across the UK and the fact that the cost of living crisis is making levelling up more challenging and necessary. The UK shared prosperity fund will help to unleash the creativity and talent of communities that have been overlooked and undervalued. If the hon. Lady would like to raise anything specific with me, I would be happy to respond in writing.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

4. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of local and devolved government in Scotland and Wales on the UK shared prosperity fund. (900715)

7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of local and devolved government in Scotland and Wales on the UK shared prosperity fund. (900718)

8. What assessment he has made of the impact of the allocation of the UK shared prosperity fund on real-term funding levels for communities. (900720)

22. What recent discussions he has had with elected members in the devolved Administrations on the (a) equity and (b) transparency of the (i) levelling-up fund and (ii) UK shared prosperity fund. (900734)

The UK shared prosperity fund will deliver funding to all parts of our United Kingdom, and our allocation approach gives every region and nation a real-terms match with EU funding. Details are published on We have engaged with the devolved Administrations at all levels on the design of the fund, and their input has helped to inform the most appropriate mix of interventions and local allocations for each part of the United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that by directly investing in local communities, such as my Bridgend constituency, levelling up is extended so that all of Wales benefits?

My hon. Friend puts it very well. The UK shared prosperity fund, the levelling-up fund and, indeed, the community ownership fund, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is championing today, together help communities such as Bridgend, which my hon. Friend represents so effectively, to provide more opportunities to more citizens.

My right hon. Friend will share my surprise to hear that the Welsh Labour Minister for the Economy wrote to all council leaders in Wales on 14 June saying

“Welsh government will not help deliver UK government programmes in Wales we consider to be flawed.”

Will my right hon. Friend assure the residents of Aberconwy that such directions will not be allowed to frustrate the sharing of prosperity in Wales?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I am disappointed. Vaughan Gething is a nice guy but it is a mistake, when we are decentralising power and resources to local government in Wales, for the Welsh Government and the Senedd to take that position. It is vital that we work together in the interest of the whole United Kingdom. This Parliament has been clear about ensuring that funding is available to local government and councillors in Wales of every party. The Welsh Government’s approach does not serve Wales well.

This Government fought and won the last election with a commitment to ensuring that post-Brexit funding will, at a minimum, match European Union subsidies, but the shared prosperity fund allocated to the Liverpool city region is £10 million a year less than we previously received from the EU. Will the Secretary of State concede that this is the latest in a long line of broken Tory promises? And will he commit to reforming an out-of-date, inadequate and wholly arbitrary funding formula that has seen some of the most deprived communities in the country lose out on vital sources of funding?

I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. If we look at not just the UK shared prosperity fund but the other investment in the Liverpool city region, we will see that this Government are absolutely committed not just to matching but to exceeding the support that was given under the European Union. I am looking forward to visiting the Liverpool city region later this week to discuss with the combined authority Mayor Steve Rotheram and others how levelling up is working on the ground.

The recent Public Accounts Committee report reminds us:

“Economic development is a devolved power”,

but decisions that would previously have been made according to Scottish Government priorities are now

“based entirely on UK Government’s assessment of priorities.”

In short, that is not decentralisation; it is a power grab. What will the Department do to address the PAC’s scepticism about how closely devolved priorities have been accommodated within the shared prosperity fund and other policies?

The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, be aware that I had the opportunity of speaking to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, which covers these questions. I was struck by the fact that Scottish National party MSPs and, indeed, a Green MSP were all eager for the UK Government to play an even more assertive role in deploying the levelling-up and UK shared prosperity funds. The rhetoric of a power grab 12 months ago has been replaced by a desire to work constructively. I should note, of course, that the Chairman of that Committee is the partner of his party’s Front-Bench spokesperson here, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). Those MSPs are, I think, closer to their communities than distant West—Westminster figures.

I know. Some politicians don’t eat their own words—I swallow mine whole.

It is those MSPs who are closer to their communities, and unlike the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), they want the UK Government to work with them.

It has been very good to work closely with Pembrokeshire County Council over the last 12 months on a successful bid to the levelling-up fund to improve Haverfordwest town centre. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to Wales, local authorities really value the new direct relationship with the UK Government, and that the levelling-up fund creates new opportunities for partnership that do not exclude devolved Government and provide more opportunities for local Members of Parliament to get in and help their communities work on solutions?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I talk on calls to local authorities in Scotland, as well as local authorities in Wales, it is striking how grateful they are that the UK Government are taking a pro-devolution, pro-decentralisation approach. That is in stark contrast to the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government, who are centralising power in Cardiff and Edinburgh and not listening to the communities so well represented on these Benches.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), South Yorkshire will also be disadvantaged because of a miscalculation in the previous round of funding that has been baked into the new allocation process. This means that while Cornwall will get £229 per head, South Yorkshire will get £33 per head. I do not begrudge Cornwall a penny of that money, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will understand why I want a fair deal for my constituents in South Yorkshire. Will he help me get it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point and for reminding the House that we have stuck to our manifesto commitment to ensure that, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Cornwall was absolutely protected. I take his point about the calculations for South Yorkshire. I look forward to working with him, South Yorkshire MPs and Oliver Coppard to ensure that appropriate resource is provided. Just the other week, I had the opportunity to see the great work that is being carried forward in both Sheffield and Barnsley on his behalf.

Despite a manifesto promise to

“at a minimum match the size”

of the EU structural funds, the shared prosperity fund means £371 million less a year for English regions, as illustrated by hon. Members in the Chamber today. Of course, that cut comes at a time when the Conservative-led Local Government Association rightfully argues that the current council settlement falls £2 billion a year short of what is needed because of sky-high inflation. How does the Secretary of State plan to respond urgently to that plea?

It is important that we fund local government appropriately, and we can do so only because of the way in which our economy has been well managed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Interruption.] I am afraid that every time we hear from Labour Front Benchers, we hear another plea for more spending, but never, ever do they give an explanation of where the money will come from. The last time there was a Labour Chief Secretary, he left a note saying that there was no money left. Lord preserve us from another Labour Government, who would borrow and spend and take this country back to bankruptcy.

Despite the Secretary of State’s bluster, he will be aware that the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy has written to him—I have the letter right here—to express her deep concerns about the UK Government’s lack of engagement during the drafting of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and about how it cuts across devolved responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives from the Scottish Parliament specifically to discuss the democratic imperative of respect for the powers of that Parliament? Or does he simply not recognise the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament?

I love to visit the Scottish Parliament; all sorts of wonderful folk serve in it, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), and others who do such a brilliant job in holding the Scottish Government to account—

Well, he is holding the Scottish Government to account. Nobody else is doing it.

I had the opportunity to appear in front of Mr Ken Gibson a few months ago—what a pleasure it was. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are our partners in making sure that we can make levelling up a success. An example of that is the fact that the Cabinet Secretary whose letter the hon. Lady so elegantly holds has been working with the UK Government to deliver two new freeports in Scotland that would not have been possible if we were still in the European Union. I am glad to see the Scottish Government embracing one of the benefits of Brexit.

Tower Block Remediation Deadline

5. If he will impose a legally binding deadline for remediation works on tower blocks in England that are deemed unsafe as a result of (a) cladding and (b) other associated fire risks. (900716)

The Government are providing funds to remediate unsafe cladding in buildings above 11 metres and have secured unprecedented pledges from developers to fix the buildings they constructed. Today, I have written an open letter to all building owners of properties with critical building safety defects to remind them that we have taken powers, through the Building Safety Act 2022, to compel them to fund and undertake the necessary work to make all buildings safe.

We still have no legal deadline in place to fix cladding and fire safety issues and no justice for Grenfell, and thousands of buildings, including in my constituency, are still unsafe. The Government have been dodging their responsibilities for more than the past five years. In January, the Secretary of State said that leaseholders are “blameless” and that it would be “morally wrong” for them to pay. Why, then, does he think it is fair for so many leaseholders, including in my Battersea constituency, to potentially have to pay £15,000 for non-cladding costs to correct problems that they did not cause?

The hon. Lady makes a number of important points. It is fair to say, and most people in the House would acknowledge, that, although progress over the past five years has not been everything that it should be, in recent months we have succeeded in securing commitments from developers to remediate the buildings for which they are responsible. With the publication of the open letter today and the passing of the Building Safety Act, a requirement has been placed on freeholders to pay for the work that is required. We have a cap on the commitments that any leaseholder has to enter into and that cap is consistent with the precedent in Florrie’s law. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady, as an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, to make sure that those whom she serves are relieved of any obligation beyond that which is fair to ensure that their buildings are safe.

Most of the new build properties built in North West Durham are built to a high standard, but sadly some are not, and when they are not, people get in touch with my constituency office. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that by further extending the rights of residents to seek compensation for issues arising from poor workmanship during construction we will help millions of new homeowners throughout the country to have the opportunity to pursue developers for poor workmanship, so that no one is left in substandard new housing?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant campaigner not just for his constituency but for those who are in poor housing. Although the overwhelming number of new homes are built to very high standards, some do not meet the quality and decency thresholds that they should. I will work with my hon. Friend to achieve precisely the goal that he outlined.

Housing Regeneration: Former Industrial Areas

6. What support his Department is providing to deliver housing regeneration in former industrial areas. (900717)

Our levelling-up White Paper makes a new offer to support transformational regeneration in towns and cities across the country. We have already announced our support in Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Blackpool We are providing billions of pounds to support regeneration through our brownfield housing funds and levelling-up fund.

Will the Minister and his colleagues look at the wider remit of the Department, namely levelling up and communities, to deliver a workable policy on private-sector housing regeneration? My constituency suffers from a plethora of absentee landlord-owned derelict properties that are often a focus for crime and antisocial behaviour. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister listen to communities in Blackhall, Horden, Dawdon and Easington Colliery, which are in desperate need of levelling up in the form of housing regeneration, and come forward with a workable plan based on need rather than a beauty contest?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that matter, and we do take it incredibly seriously. Officials were up in his area not so long ago looking at those very issues. We are proud of the fact that we are getting a lot of support from political leaders of all persuasions to work with us in our mission to level up and address the very issues that he has just highlighted.

We all know that Stoke-on-Trent was the beating heart of this country’s industrial revolution. It is thanks to this Government and their investment in brownfield sites that we are building, on average, 1,000 new homes a year, of which 97% is on brownfield land, such as the Royal Doulton site that the Secretary of State recently visited. We have a game-changing agreement between Stoke-on-Trent City Council, ably led by Abi Brown and Carl Edwards, the portfolio holder, and Homes England to bring transformative and quicker housing to the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Will the Housing Minister welcome this landmark local council agreement?

I can do nothing but welcome my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for his city and for the amazing work that has been going on there. The collaboration between the Department, the Government and the city council under Abi Brown’s excellent leadership, shows that there is transformational change happening in Stoke-on-Trent, thanks to the fact that it has Conservative representation.

I welcome the initial support—it is initial I am sure—that the Government are giving towards regeneration in my constituency. However, there is a problem. Initially, Sheffield Council was planning under the local plan to build around 40,000 homes in the next 15 years. With the metropolitan uplift, that has increased the number to more than 50,000. That will mean unnecessary building on greenfield sites, which otherwise could have been saved, and it will take the impetus away from building on regeneration brownfield sites. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the council to discuss how we can avoid this double disaster from happening?

How could I possibly turn down an invitation to meet the Chair of the Select Committee? On the uplift, we are clear that this should be about the identification of existing sites and the regeneration of brownfield sites to meet that uplift. I will of course meet him to ensure that that happens. Regeneration is what we want, and I am glad that we are helping out in Sheffield.

Will the Minister take action to remove the excessively high housing targets that the Mayor of London has inflicted on the London suburbs, because they are making it harder and harder to turn down proposals that amount to overdevelopment?

My right hon. Friend has knocked on my door on many occasions to raise many of the issues that she has highlighted in her constituency. I would be happy to meet her again to talk about exactly what she has just raised with me.

There are nearly 200,000 fewer council housing properties today than there were in 2010. How have a Government who are committed to levelling up allowed that to happen?

Because we have given people the opportunity to become home owners for the first time in a generation. I am proud of the fact that we have done that, but my right hon. Friend and I are determined that we will do all we can with our £12 billion affordable homes programme to create more homes in constituencies such as that of the hon. Gentleman.[Official Report, 30 June 2022, Vol. 717, c. 6MC.]

As the Minister will be aware, both my constituents and I are deeply concerned that Three Rivers District Council continues to delay publishing a local plan until at least 2025. Local Liberal Democrat councillors are telling residents that it is Government targets rather than the lack of a local plan that is destroying our beautiful green spaces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils such as Three Rivers District Council need to publish a local plan as soon as possible to protect our beautiful green-belt land rather than blaming Government housing targets?

What a surprise that the Liberal Democrats are trying to spell out myths in my hon. Friend’s constituency. If they care so much about this issue, it is a shame that not a single one of them is in the Chamber for questions today. He is right that his council needs to get on with the local plan, and I encourage it to do so, because that will give the people in his community surety about where houses will be built.

Housebuilding: Social Homes

The provision of affordable housing is a central pillar of this Government’s plan to level up the country. We are investing £11.5 billion in affordable homes over the next five years. We recognise that there is a significant need for social housing; that is why our affordable homes programme will aim to deliver 32,000 social rent homes, double the figure of the previous programme.

I am inundated with casework on a daily basis from constituents living in shocking conditions, facing problems with mould, disrepair and overcrowding that are seriously impacting their quality of life and mental health. There are more than 4,000 families on Enfield’s waiting list for social housing alone. How can the Minister justify fewer than 7,000 social homes having been built in England last year?

The hon. Lady highlights an equally important point about the quality of the social homes we have. I hope she will welcome the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill already making its way through the other place, which is intended to reduce the number of non-decent homes by 50% by 2030. We are doing that not just in the social rented sector, but in the private rented sector.

I welcome more social housing, but in the rural parishes of east Sussex the housing provider Optivo is selling off stock to the private market, citing the cost of meeting rental requirements. I have tried to reason with Optivo and suggest that it only do so where it or other social housing providers are building more housing in the same parish. Can I meet the Minister to discuss that and to discuss accountability of social housing organisations?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the accountability of housing associations. It is our drive, through the Government’s work and the new Bill, to ensure that that accountability is increased. I am assured that the Housing Minister will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue with Optivo.

Having overseen the net loss of a staggering 135,000 genuinely affordable social homes over the past 12 years, the Conservative party now seems to have conceded that the country does not have enough and the Government need to do something about it. When it comes to reversing 12 years of failure on social housing, it is deeds, not words, that matter to the 1.2 million people now languishing on waiting lists across England. Can the Minister tell the House precisely how many extra homes for social rent the Government now plan to deliver by the end of this Parliament?

It is slightly disappointing when the hon. Gentleman turns up with a written question that I have already answered in the response to the previous question. However, it is equally important to note that during the 11 years where we had a Labour Government, they built fewer affordable homes than the Conservative Government have built subsequently, so I do not think we are in a position to take lessons from the Opposition.

Rough Sleepers: West Midlands

11. Whether he has had discussions with the Mayor of the West Midlands on steps his Department is taking to help rough sleepers into long-term accommodation. (900723)

The first thing Andy Street did when he became Mayor of the West Midlands was to convene a taskforce to tackle rough sleeping in the west midlands. He is a valued member of the Government’s rough sleeping advisory panel, where I welcome his advice regularly, and the Government have supported the west midlands with funding for a range of accommodation, including £1 million for new homes under the rough sleeping accommodation programme.

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Mayor of the West Midlands—oh my gosh, I have forgotten his name; oh yes, it has come back to me—Andy Street. How does the Minister assess the effectiveness of the Housing First pilot that the Mayor has initiated in addressing rough sleeping in the west midlands?

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, has been a strong champion of the Housing First programme and the pilots. That has already achieved 552 individuals securing a tenancy through the programme. They are provided not just with accommodation but with the incredibly vital support that is necessary to help people to sustain a tenancy.[Official Report, 5 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 10MC.]

I read a rather lovely interview with the Minister in a recent issue of The Big Issue where he reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to end street homelessness by 2024. All Labour Members want that to happen, and I actually think the Minister does too, but can he honestly tell the House that this pledge has his whole Department’s backing when the Secretary of State, sat next to him, is seeking to bring back the universally hated, cruel and antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824? If this Government really believe their own promise that they can end rough sleeping within the next two years, why are they seeking to recriminalise it now?

Our ambition to end rough sleeping in the lifetime of this Parliament does not just require the wholehearted investment of our Ministers but of Ministers right across the Government. We are working incredibly closely with Ministers from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that we do genuinely achieve that ambition. I look forward to working with Opposition Members in order to help us in that cause.

Digital Connectivity: Hardest-to-reach Premises

13. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving the digital connectivity of the hardest-to-reach premises as referenced in the levelling-up White Paper. (900725)

I am in regular contact with other Ministers on this subject, which is very important for rural areas. Through Project Gigabit we are investing £5 billion in better broadband. At the start of 2019, just 7% of Welsh households could get gigabit internet; now 51% can. We are investing a further £1 billion in the shared rural network, which will increase 4G coverage in mid and west Wales from 86% to 97%.

The Minister will be aware that some 19% of properties in Ceredigion currently receive broadband speeds of under 10 megabits per second. Although there are plans to improve connectivity in a number of these areas, there are other communities in villages such as Plwmp, Brynhoffnant, Blaenporth, Penrhiwllan, Ffostrasol and Rhydlewis that are not currently subject to any plans. How will the Government ensure that such communities will benefit from improved connectivity even when commercial companies have not thus far brought forward any plans?

That is a very important observation. I mentioned some of the huge investments that we are making and the pace that things are moving, but we want them to happen even more quickly. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Member, and if he would like to discuss further how we can make the new roll-out go even faster, I would love to do that.

Levelling-up Funds: Criteria

14. What recent assessment he has made of the impartiality of criteria used to award levelling-up funds. (900726)

The levelling-up fund targets money at those places that are most in need, using an index that includes metrics such as productivity, skills, unemployment and commercial vacancy rates. In round 1 of the fund, over half the money allocated went to the 20% most deprived local authorities.

I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Barnsley East to meet the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to discuss its regeneration proposals. He will have seen from his visit how, by every measure, Barnsley is deserving of levelling-up funding, so despite our previous two bids being rejected, will he consider Barnsley in the upcoming round?

The hon. Lady will know that the allocation is a completely transparent process. If she wants to find out more about the help sessions for local authorities, we can provide information on how they can improve their bids.

It is likely that Ipswich is going to be connected to two levelling-up bids, one from the county council and one from the borough council. Does the Minister agree that investing in sports opportunities for young people, particularly in deprived areas, can be transformative for levelling up, and will she therefore welcome our plans to transform Gainsborough sports and community centre? Will she confirm that the civil servants will work as quickly as possible so that my constituents can see results on the ground, like with the towns fund, where the civil servants are currently reviewing the business cases?

The recent report from the Public Accounts Committee was a huge blow to the way in which the Government are seeking to level up and it exposed once again the debilitating impact of beauty parades and unclear allocation criteria. If the Secretary of State thinks that was praise, then goodness me! This can be resolved in future by the Government accepting our calls for proper, sustained funding that is targeted at need. Therefore, to make sure that we are never in this situation again, will the Minister commit to accepting amendment 13 to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will start this process?

No, I will not commit to that. While we hold the Public Accounts Committee in high esteem, we reject much of the criticism and we will publish our response to its report in the summer.

Development: Water Treatment Infrastructure

15. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that the development of homes and commercial buildings does not overload existing water treatment infrastructure. (900727)

The national planning policy framework is clear that, through their local plans, local authorities should make sufficient provision for the development and infrastructure required in their areas to help deliver sustainable development. Water companies are expected to plan their future infrastructure investment to accommodate future growth and ensure that adequate infrastructure provision is not a limiting factor.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that it would be appropriate for water companies to become statutory consultees for local authorities and that their views on water treatment capacity should be sought before local authorities grant consent for significant developments?

There already is a statutory requirement in place for local planning authorities to consult water and sewerage companies on the preparation of local plans. Developer contributions can also be used to secure infrastructure improvements, including for wastewater. I understand that my right hon. Friend has already been in touch with the office of the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), on these matters and that the Minister is happy to meet him to discuss this in greater detail.

Topical Questions

I had the enormous privilege on Wednesday last week of attending the unveiling of the Windrush memorial, which marks the fantastic contribution made to this country over more than 70 years by migrants from the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth. I wish to place on the record my thanks not just to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), but to Baroness Floella Benjamin for the fantastic work she undertook to ensure that that fitting memorial could be unveiled.

I welcome the proposals to extend the decent homes standard in the private rented sector in the just published, “A fairer private rented sector” White Paper. Is it the Government’s intention to include their stated targets on private rented sector energy efficiency in homes in the decent homes standard? If they do that, what sanctions will the Government be proposing for landlords who fail to make their properties energy-efficient?

The hon. Gentleman is right that energy efficiency is a critical part of making sure that homes are decent, safe and warm, and we will be considering what steps and what proposals we might be able to put in place to ensure that landlords live up to their responsibilities.

T3.   Local authorities such as Suffolk County Council are facing major challenges in recruiting social care staff. That is cascading right through the health and social care system and causing major difficulties for hospitals in discharging patients, getting on top of the backlog of operations and getting ambulances quickly back on the road. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outline the discussions he has had with local government to remove this logjam? (900739)

Local authorities such as Suffolk County Council are facing major challenges in recruiting social care staff; that is cascading right through the health and social care system and causing major difficulties for hospitals in discharging patients and getting on top of the backlog of operations. I agree with my hon. Friend and want him to know that I have been working on the issue very closely with my counterpart in the Department of Health and Social Care. We have provided £462.5 million to local authorities to support them with those workforce pressures, and there is more that we will continue to do.

We have had a week of travel chaos while the Transport Secretary has sat idly by, and there is another crisis on the horizon: the local government cleaners, social workers and refuse workers who cannot afford to feed their families on the wages they are paid. They need and deserve a pay rise. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities knows that workers and council leaders struggling with record Tory inflation cannot square the circle alone. Nobody wants rubbish piling up in the streets, nobody wants older people left in their homes, and nobody wants families left to break. Will he commit to making a better fist of this than his hopeless colleague at the Department for Transport? He should do as they ask and come to the table to protect our vital workers, who kept this country going during the pandemic, and the communities they serve so well.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady talks about “Tory inflation”—presumably the inflation in Germany is Social Democratic inflation, inflation in France is En Marche inflation, and inflation in the United States is Democrat inflation. The truth is that when it comes to dealing with the cost of living crisis and ensuring that our economy is on the right track, she and her colleagues would be better served by using their links with the trade unions to get workers back to work, rather than she and her colleagues supporting the RMT in strike action that gets in the way of our economy moving forward.

It would be laughable if the Government’s failure to do their job had not brought this country to a standstill and was not about to get much worse. The Secretary of State talks about Labour Members doing their jobs, but the last time we had strikes on this level was under the Thatcher Government in 1989, and he was on a picket line—I prefer his earlier approach. If he is serious about getting the economy moving, why does he not do his job?

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) talked about the billions of pounds that the Government have poured down the drain on levelling up, because the Secretary of State does not have the first clue how to spend it. He knows that the only way out of this low growth, high tax spiral that his Government have created is to get the economy firing on all cylinders. Can he remind me again whose job that is? It is his. If he will not do it, why will he not get out of the way and give that money to local council leaders so that they can?

That was beautifully scripted. I offer my support to the hon. Lady in her leadership bid; I am behind her 100% of the way, as, I am sure, are her friends in the RMT and that other figure who joined Labour MPs on the picket line last week: Arthur Scargill. She talks about going back to the future, but she would take us back to the future of the ’80s with strikes, inflation and borrowing. She is the Marty McFly of politics: someone who lives in the past, even as she aspires to greater things.

I say to both Front Benchers that it is totally unacceptable to take that length of time in topical questions. Back Benchers are the people who are meant to be asking topical questions, so please consider the rest of the Chamber.

T6. Wrexham’s levelling-up gateway bid is supported by a 16,000-signature petition, which we will present to No. 10, to redevelop the Kop stand at the racecourse and create an international sporting stadium in north Wales for the first time. Does the Minister agree that people are at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and the amount of people who have signed the petition shows its true value? (900742)

Will the Secretary of State confirm his willingness to meet me, North Ayrshire Council and key partners to discuss the robust proposals for a fusion energy plant at Ardeer in my constituency? Does he agree that a successful Ardeer bid would provide a step change in local and regional economic prosperity, as well as being a catalyst for long-term sustainable investment in North Ayrshire?

Yes and yes. Even though they are not in my party, I must say that North Ayrshire’s elected representatives in this House and in Holyrood do a fantastic job for their constituents in championing nuclear power.

T2. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There is an alcohol harm paradox, whereby people in the most deprived communities drink less but suffer larger consequences. In Liverpool, 88% of alcohol is sold at below 50p a unit, and 24% of the population drink at high risk. More and more premises are seeking to open. Will the Secretary of State look again at making public health a licensing objective and review the way that licensing fees are set nationally so that they could be set at a local level? (900738)

I am sure the whole House knows of the hon. Gentleman’s courage and principle in campaigning on such questions. He makes a valid point. A health disparities White Paper is forthcoming soon and I will discuss his precise point with my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary.

T9. Planning applications have a major impact on communities, but too often communities feel excluded from the decision-making process because they are unaware of the procedure for the local plan. Could Ministers ensure that, in the planning reforms they bring forward, they will make changes so that communities can take an active part from the beginning? (900746)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is one of the key ambitions of the measures being introduced in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. We want there to be opportunities for communities to influence and comment on emerging local plans, and we will make sure that those powers are enhanced and that the planning system is digitised so that it is easier for people to engage, because local people need to decide where the local housing should be provided.

T5. The Secretary of State promised an overhaul of the building safety fund to put an end to the endless delays to the funding that people in unsafe buildings desperately need, but the delays continue. Three blocks in my constituency—the Swish building, the Radial development and Percy Laurie House—have all been pending for well over a year now, and they have heard nothing from the fund. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss these blocks, and stop these and many applications getting stuck? (900741)

Absolutely. In the first instance, I will ask Lord Greenhalgh to investigate, and then we will of course follow up with a meeting.

Burtree in the north of Darlington has been granted garden village status. However, the current difficulties posed by nutrient neutrality guidance from Natural England are causing delays not just for this developer, but others. What can my right hon. Friend do to rectify this situation? Moreover, can I press him to do all he can to unblock the bureaucratic backlog between Homes England, the Treasury and his Department, to enable Burtree to progress?

Absolutely. On nutrient neutrality, we are working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England to resolve this question. On the second point, I will apply appropriate pressure to tender parts.

T7. The Secretary of State will be aware of my interest in flood prevention from my ten-minute rule Bill—the Flooding (Prevention and Insurance) Bill—and how important the issue is to Hull and the East Riding. Will he be following the Labour Government in Wales in enacting schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 for England, which would ensure minimum standards of sustainable drainage systems on every new property? (900743)

Sustainable drainage systems are a vital part of future developments, so I will look closely at the recommendation the hon. Member makes.

While currently only local authorities can initiate levelling-up fund bids, has my right hon. Friend given consideration to giving other organisations, such as community interest companies or charities, the ability to submit LUF bids, so long as they have the backing of the local MP?

That is an intriguing idea, and it would be a significant development. My hon. Friend is, I think, probably the most effective Member of Parliament in the borough of Wigan, and can I say that I look forward to working closely with him on that?

Since the Tories came into power, 800,000 fewer households aged under 45 own their homes, nearly 1 million more people now rent—often at a cost higher than a mortgage—and the number of truly affordable homes and new social rented homes being built has fallen by over 80%. Is the Secretary of State ashamed of this record, which is failing a generation of young people?

I was very proud when this Government repealed the Vagrancy Act 1824 under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, and the last thing we should do is demonise and criminalise people who rough-sleep and beg. I absolutely appreciate that there can be antisocial behaviour with aggressive begging, but we have legislation —more robust and more modern legislation—that deals with that. Therefore, I was concerned to see that clause 187 of the new Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill disregards the repeal of the Vagrancy Act. When is a repeal not a repeal?

There will be no return to the Vagrancy Act. We will work with the Home Office to ensure that there are appropriate measures to deal with any form of antisocial behaviour, but criminalising rough-sleeping and begging is not on the agenda.

I have leaseholders in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington who are unable to sell their properties because the properties have not been painted for 40 years, despite the freeholder’s obligations. Why have the Government actually postponed their leasehold reforms from this Parliament?

Is the Secretary of State aware that in 2019 I took through Parliament the Parking (Code of Practice) Act with all-party support? This measure mandates the Government to introduce a code to make parking fairer for motorists. In view of the overwhelming support for this measure on both sides of the House, why are the Government now dragging their feet on the matter?

There is a challenge to some of the proposals we are putting forward, with which we have to deal in the courts.

Scotland receives 40% less money from levelling-up funding than it received from the EU. When does the Secretary of State estimate Scotland will get the same amount of funding as we had as a member of the EU?

Scotland is just as generously funded as ever before, but it would be even better for Scotland if the Scottish Government were not spending £20 million on campaigning for independence, because as we all know, breaking up the United Kingdom would be an economic disaster for Scotland.

Ministers are aware of the long-standing limbo the learned societies of Burlington House find themselves in because of the proposed rent increases from the Government, and I declare an interest as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Apparently the Secretary of State has promised the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) a meeting to get everybody around the table to sort this out. May we urgently have that meeting before the summer recess, and will he give us a date now?

My hon. Friend is a distinguished archaeologist and antiquarian—although still a youthful-looking antiquarian. Yes, we will have that meeting; it will happen before 22 July and I will invite both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

The Secretary of State has mentioned that there will be more opportunities for all of the UK as a result of the levelling-up programme, and of course we welcome that. He also knows there is a subsidy control mechanism in operation in Northern Ireland that prevents Northern Ireland from benefiting from levelling up and other generous benefits that flow from this place. Will the Secretary of State today ensure that everyone on his side of the House—and I encourage Members on the Opposition side of the House to do this too—votes for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, in which clause 12 will remove that impediment to progress?

The Foreign Secretary will open the Second Reading debate, and I hope people will listen to everything that she and indeed the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland say, in order to make sure Northern Ireland can fully participate in all the benefits of being part of the UK.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

There are two villages in my local area that will essentially become one due to a development that was granted approval on appeal. How is the Secretary of State addressing the current problem of the lack of a five-year land supply circumventing local planning decisions?

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and our forthcoming national planning policy prospectus will address precisely that question.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s new-found enthusiasm for the Scottish Parliament. Does that enthusiasm extend to recognising the mandate that Parliament has to honour the manifesto commitments on which a clear majority of its Members have been elected in 2021, 2016 and 2011?

In 2014 the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and were told at the time by the Scottish National party that it was a once in a generation vote. Eight years on from that vote it would be folly indeed, at a time when there is war on the European continent, we face cost of living challenges and we are all committed to working together to deal with the legacy of covid, to spend even more money attempting to break up and smash the United Kingdom instead of working to heal and unite.

Eastleigh Borough Council is scheduled to have £670 million of debt by 2025, with no sign of it reducing. Does the Secretary of State think this is acceptable, and what plan does his Department have to tackle such profligate councils?

As Eastleigh Borough Council is so profligate, I presume—I do not know; I do not have the facts in front of me—it must be a Liberal Democrat-controlled council, because profligacy and fiscal incontinence on such a level could only be engineered by the opportunistic gang that masquerades as the Liberal Democrat party.