The Secretary of State was asked—
Residential Buildings: Remediation
It is wonderful to see such a strong contingent from Lancashire in the Gallery. Skelmersdale and Ormskirk will be proud of their new MP, I am sure.
Developers are lining up to sign our contract to remediate approximately 1,500 buildings. Some 95% of those buildings with the most dangerous Grenfell-style cladding have already been remediated or have work under way. The number of buildings that are being fixed by the building safety fund has doubled in the past year. The pilot for our new mid-rise scheme is making good progress ahead of its full opening in the coming months.
Even after the horrors of the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, the Government have failed abysmally to get to grips with the cladding scandal. While the Government dither and developers delay, the leaseholders of potentially dangerously clad apartments are stuck in limbo. Many, including people living in West Central in Slough constituency, and in other blocks, cannot sell or remortgage their apartments, and many face ever-rising service charges and other charges that they cannot now meet. Does the Secretary of State think it is fair for my Slough constituents to have to continue to suffer intolerably under such dire and demoralising conditions?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the plight of his constituents, but the action we have already taken will ensure not only that the ultimate owners of those buildings—whether that is the developers or the freeholders—are responsible for remediation, but that those leaseholders who are currently trapped and unable to move will be able to do so and to secure a mortgage on their property if required.
I declare an interest: I live in a block with cladding. There are many real concerns, and I commend the Secretary of State for some of the progress he has begun to make, but there is still a big issue with insurance premiums that are way too high for the risk involved. Will he update the House on what progress he has made with the insurance industry to get premiums down?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Not only have insurance premiums been too high, but some of the middle people involved have been gouging at the expense of leaseholders. We have made it clear that there are responsibilities on the Association of British Insurers and others to change their ways. The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), is responsible for local government and engaged in work to make progress on that.
My constituent Joanne Davies faces a nightmare scenario. In a few weeks’ time, she will have to fork out £5,000 because of regulatory change in the light of Grenfell. She gets no support because she lives in a low-rise block. Will the Minister meet me to discuss her case?
I will absolutely make sure that I or another Minister meets the hon. Gentleman and takes up the case of his constituent, yes.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that issues like the cladding scandal being foisted on innocent leaseholders will continue until there is fundamental reform of the leasehold system? I know he has plans to do that. When does he think they might be put into effect?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We hope, in the forthcoming King’s Speech, to introduce legislation to fundamentally reform the system. Leaseholders, not just in this case but in so many other cases, are held to ransom by freeholders. We need to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.
Levelling-up and Town Centre Funding: Gillingham and Rainham
I am grateful for the question from my hon. Friend, who is a great champion for his constituency. He will know that his constituency has benefited from nearly £5 million of levelling-up funding since 2020, including £4 million from the Getting Building fund for the redevelopment of Britton Farm and the Connecting Rural Kent and Medway project, and £600,000 from the community renewal fund for the Medway Together project. His constituency will also benefit from £3.3 million that Medway Council was allocated from the UK shared prosperity fund.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but it was for the wider Medway. I think Gillingham received £2 million with regard to the Britton Farm skills hub.
Having worked very closely with Medway Council to put forward an outstanding bid for Gillingham Open Lines, covering an area with high levels of deprivation, I was disappointed to see that application turned down. It raises real concerns about fairness and a merit-based system of government, which the Prime Minister assured me would be the case. Will the Minister visit Gillingham with me and meet stakeholders to look at—
Order. Please, there are a lot of people on the Order Paper who I want to get in. Let us help each other. If somebody does not want to get in, please tell me and then we can help each other.
I will, of course, visit my hon. Friend’s constituency again, after a fantastic visit just a few months ago. I should really reiterate that all the funds in the Department are distributed fairly and objectively, and that different allocation methods are used for each fund to ensure that funding reaches those who most need it, but of course I will meet him to discuss his own project further.
I commiserate with the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and the people of Gillingham and Rainham for feeling let down. The Tory Mayor of the West Midlands went further. He said, after the disappointing results for his area—including Druids Heath in my constituency, one of the most deprived parts of the country—that it was time to end this “begging bowl culture”. Does the Minister agree?
I am sure the hon. Member will be very, very pleased to read the funding simplification plan we will be publishing in due course.
Rent Controls: Local Government
The Government do not support the introduction of rent controls in the private rental sector. Evidence suggests that they discourage investment, lead to declining property standards and may encourage illegal sub-letting, which would help neither tenants nor landlords.
In September last year, a survey by the tenants’ union ACORN found that 48% of private renters had received a rent hike from their landlord since January 2021. Some increases were as high as 67%. In a cost of living crisis, that is fuelling poverty and homelessness. Will the Government act now to freeze rents, allowing vital breathing room while more permanent solutions to tackle spiralling housing costs are devised?
In the UK, rent increased by 4.4% in the year to January 2023. We are clearly aware that there is a lot of pressure on household budgets, which is why the Treasury put together an enormous £37 billion cost of living package in 2022-23. A further £26 billion will be available in the coming year.
More than 40 households have been served with a section 21 notice every single day since the Government first announced their intention to scrap such notices. That is a total of nearly 53,000 households, and the number is rising. I must sound like a broken gramophone record, but the situation out there, in the real world, is desperate for so many people at the sharp end of the private rented sector. The Opposition are ready to support them. Enough of the talking: when can we finally expect the Government’s renters reform Bill to be put to the House?
The Government have a manifesto commitment to abolish section 21, and we will do so as soon as parliamentary time allows. We have just finished the consultation on the decent homes standard, which concluded in mid-October. It is important that we get this legislation right, and we intend to do so.
Trading Standards: Staffing and Resources
As my hon. Friend will know, local authorities are responsible for determining resourcing priorities in accordance with the needs of their local electorates, and the members of those electorates will differ according to the areas where they live. That said, the local government finance settlement for 2023-24 makes available up to £60 billion for local government in England in response to the requests of the sector, and the majority of that funding is ringfenced in recognition of the fact that local authorities are best placed to understand the priorities.
There is a widespread concern that some local trading standards teams are no longer capable of protecting local citizens from scams, fraud and rip-offs, or of delivering the strong and fair competition locally which will ultimately be the only route for levelling up jobs, exports and growth in left-behind communities. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the proposals for minimum standards in my Government-commissioned report “Power to the people”, so that we can level up opportunities in communities throughout the country?
I have read that report, and I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk more about this important issue, in which I know he has a long-standing interest.
Local Planning Authorities: Land for Employment and Industrial Use
National planning policy makes it clear that local plans and decisions should help to create the conditions in which businesses can invest, expand and, most importantly, create jobs and life opportunities. We are consulting on how the national planning policy framework could better support these developments, and we welcome contributions to that consultation.
And I welcome my hon. Friend to her new position.
The businesses and jobs of the future will need modern premises from which to operate. In my constituency, Rugby Borough Council recently agreed to review its local plan emphasising the provision of more land for employment to help levelling up and to create jobs and opportunities. What further support and incentives can the Department give local authorities such as Rugby which are seeking to do the right thing and enable our businesses to grow?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. We are delighted to see ambitious local authorities such as Rugby, which he doubtless champions on behalf of his constituents, promoting the development that will help to level up his area. We are therefore creating a new framework to make local plans easier to produce, and they will be given more weight in decision making so that we can create certainty and foster a genuinely plan-led system.
When land is available for urban development, external partners of local authorities often determine the future economic strategy for locations such as my constituency. How is the Department ensuring that there is a focus on a levelling-up agenda that benefits local communities, as opposed to a trickle-down agenda that benefits only the investors’ interests?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government are committed to levelling up areas throughout the country, including her constituency. Working with Homes England, we deliver significant investment funds to enable York and other partners to deliver homes and, more importantly, places that people will want to come to, in order to drive all-important economic growth and level up the country.
Statutory Public Consultations
Meaningful engagement with local communities is essential to the improvement of public services, and our reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will strengthen community engagement in planning and increase the opportunities for engagement through the development of digital services.
I thank my hon. Friend and welcome her back to her well-deserved place on the Treasury Bench. Would she agree that the Mayor of London’s decision to go ahead with the expansion of the ultra low emission zone despite overwhelming opposition to the scheme expressed in a public consultation shows complete contempt for the people of outer London? Would she further agree that what appears to be a clear attempt by Transport for London to interfere with the outcome of the consultation in order to predetermine the result further undermines the democratic process?
I thank my hon. Friend for his vital question. I have seen the reports he refers to and I totally share his concerns about the consultation process led by the Mayor of London. Clearly these plans will have a significant impact on the communities that my hon. Friend represents so ably, which is why we must get to the bottom of what happened and hold the Mayor of London to account.
We are advancing on all fronts, rolling out deeper and broader devolution across England, allocating extra resource to the poorest regions and taking steps to enhance productivity everywhere. In Portsmouth, £20 million has already been received through the levelling-up fund to transform the visitor economy, and nearly £7 million has been allocated from the future high streets fund. Portsmouth is also receiving £48 million as part of the national bus strategy.
The Government promised that their levelling up plans would provide much-needed funding to communities such as my own, but last month Portsmouth South was once again deprived of funding that would have revitalised our city centre. Having rejected a bid twice, can the Minister confirm what action the Government are now taking to make Portsmouth city centre a place that local people can be proud of once again?
I think we can all be proud of Portsmouth city centre, the visitor attractions and the historic communities that the hon. Gentleman is so fortunate to represent. I look forward to working with Gerald Vernon-Jackson and others like him across the party divide in local government in Portsmouth to ensure that the next bid can be successful.
On the subject of the next bid, my right hon. Friend will know that we are very disappointed in Lichfield that after two bids we were not awarded any grant to help with the leisure centre, but does he agree that an application for Burntwood, an ex-mining town in the Lichfield constituency, might be more successful?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for Lichfield. It may well be that his impassioned advocacy for the community that he has come to call Lich Vegas has meant that bids for the leisure centre might have been seen as de trop, but Burntwood certainly seems to be one of the communities that would be a prime candidate. I took the opportunity when I was in the west midlands recently to visit Willenhall to see how the levelling up fund was helping to transform communities there. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) has done an amazing job in making sure that communities that have been overlooked and undervalued for years are at last getting the investment they need. That is levelling up in action.
Levelling-up Fund Round 2
The second round of the levelling-up fund will invest up to £2.1 billion in 111 vital local infrastructure projects. We prioritised investment in high-quality bids in places that have not previously received levelling-up fund money in order to maximise the spread of overall funding from rounds 1 and 2. In this round of the fund, two thirds of the funding went to those places in the greatest need, which we designated as category 1. In Scotland, across both rounds, the amount of money awarded exceeded our public funding commitments.
The Earl of Rosebery said at the opening of the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens 125 years ago that they would be
“open to the people for ever and ever”.
The M8 motorway driven through the centre of Glasgow was called the
“scar that will never heal”.
Can the Minister tell me why Glasgow’s bids to address both of those issues were rejected in a process that she has already admitted to Members of this House was rigged?
I ask the hon. Lady to retract that statement, because in no way have I said that the process was rigged. It absolutely was not. The decision-making framework that we use was outlined in full, in writing, in the technical note that we published, and I would be happy to send her a link to it on gov.uk. She has raised the question of the People’s Palace, and I would be happy to sit down with her to talk about the bid once she has received the written feedback, to see if we can strengthen it for any future funding rounds, potentially including round 3 of the levelling-up fund, which will be announced in due course.
Projects to protect coastal communities against erosion and flooding bring significant economic and social benefits on their own. Can my hon. Friend therefore review the investment criteria for round 3 of the levelling-up fund to include stand-alone coastal defence schemes that are not part of a wider transport regeneration or cultural bid?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion not only for the east of England but, in particular, for coastal communities. We know that coastal communities add unique value to our country and offer significant growth potential, which is why 22 coastal areas are benefiting from more than £673 million of investment via the towns fund, why eight English freeports are in coastal areas and why coastal areas such as Ramsgate continue to benefit from the levelling-up fund, but of course I will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.
It was not just councils that put time and money into these bids; local people put their heart and soul into developing their community’s submissions, only to find that their bid would never have been allowed to win, that their time had been wasted and that they had been taken for fools. The Minister does not seem troubled about wasting Members’ time, and certainly not local authorities’ time, but surely she will apologise to those volunteers.
I have already expressed my admiration for the incredible work put in by local government officials, volunteers and Members across the House, and I have apologised—the hon. Gentleman can read the Select Committee transcript for himself.
I need to make the point that we had £8.8 billion-worth of bids for round 3 of the levelling-up fund and only £2.1 billion to allocate, which unfortunately means difficult decisions had to be made. We are not a Government who shy away from making difficult decisions, and my own county council unfortunately faced a detriment, too. Ultimately, in line with the decision-making framework outlined in the technical note, we were keen to ensure geographic spread so that the most areas possible benefited from the levelling-up fund across rounds 1 and 2.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
The Minister gave assurances in Westminster Hall less than two weeks ago that unsuccessful local authorities would receive feedback and their scorings. Local authorities are now being told that they will not receive their scorings. Why has that decision been taken?
As I outlined in the Westminster Hall debate, local authorities will receive detailed feedback on their specific bids in due course. Some areas have already received feedback, and it will be rolled out further in the weeks to come.
Let me recap, then. As the Minister admitted in Westminster Hall, councils that received money in round 1 were told at the very end of the process that they would not receive money at the end of round 2, despite the many hours that officials had spent putting bids together. We are now being told that councils will no longer receive their scorings. What confidence can local authorities have that this process is fair and transparent? Or is it simply the case that this policy is in tatters and no faith can be placed in this process?
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to visit some of the areas that are benefiting from the levelling-up fund. He should visit some of the incredible projects that are benefiting local communities and then look me in the eye and tell me that this policy is in tatters.
Metro Mayors: Transfer of Powers
Devolution gives local leaders the tools to level up. Mayors already drive economic growth, improve public services and respond to local priorities, which is why the Government are committed to deepening the devolution settlement for the most mature institutions, supported by stronger processes for accountability. The west midlands and Greater Manchester trailblazer deals will act as a blueprint for other areas.
Devolving powers seems like such a great idea, but is the Minister as concerned as I am that Mayors like Andy Burnham are using the role to build a personal power base and to implement policies, such as the so-called Manchester clean-air zone, that are diametrically opposed to Conservative values?
I thank my hon. Friend for staying vigilant on the creation of socialist power bases, which those of us on the Government side of the House take incredibly seriously. I believe that levelling up this country by devolving power is the best way to champion the Conservative values and principles of entrepreneurialism, innovation and individualism. As I have already outlined, this will happen alongside a deepened accountability framework.
I call the Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee.
The trailblazer deals in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester imply that everyone else will have to sit and wait, and not get extra devolution. Will the Minister disabuse me of that by setting out a timetable—nothing in her response indicates a timetable—for when the Mayors of other combined authorities will be given the same powers as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands?
Our priority at the moment is securing these trailblazer deals—securing the devolution of vital powers on things we know really matter to communities in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. Following that point, we will be talking to other metro areas about how we can deepen their devolution deals as well.
Does the Minister share my concern about the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s proposals for a workplace parking levy? It is a tax on business, jobs and families, is it not?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his community and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this policy further.
The Minister knows that I am very supportive of the devolution of more powers to Greater Manchester, but one area that she needs to look at carefully is the increase in scrutiny that will be necessary at a very local level. As powers shift from this place, where scrutiny is strong, to local government, where scrutiny is not as strong as it perhaps ought to be, we need to look afresh at those powers.
I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more on that point. If powers are being handed to local areas, which I think we all agree is right, it is important that that comes with a proper scrutiny framework. That is why we will shortly be publishing a detailed devolution accountability framework, alongside the trailblazer deals.
Local Authority Budgets
The local government finance settlement 2023-24 recently made available nearly £60 billion of funding for local government in England in the coming financial year, responding to the requests of the sector for clarity, space and additional resources.
Shropshire Council has recently reported that it needs to find £10 million of cuts this quarter and £50 million in the coming years. Some 85% of its budget is spent on social care, so 97% of residents are going to pay more for reduced services. Will the Government consider reviewing the fair funding formula, so that councils in rural areas can continue to provide proper services to their constituents?
The main message we heard from the local government sector in the past 12 months, after covid, inflation and all the pressures it had, was that it wanted stability. What we have tried to offer as part of the financial settlement for 2023-24 is a stable platform upon which colleagues in local government can plan, reform and work through where they are going in the future.
Both adult and children’s social care are in crisis, but the social care grant, which can be used for both, excludes from its flawed funding formula the needs of tens of thousands of vulnerable children across this country. That means that in London alone councils will miss out on some £600 million by 2025, leaving boroughs such as mine in Richmond struggling to provide high-quality care for those children in need. Will the Minister look at fixing this faulty formula so that the most vulnerable children in our society can get the care they desperately need?
As I said to the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan), we are prioritising stability this year. Of course we always look at elements of the settlement and what we can or cannot do, and how we can make them better for the long term. However, substantial additional funding, support and resources are going into the local government finance settlement, which we hope will make a difference on the frontline.
Over a decade of Tory cuts are not the only thing damaging council budgets; fly-tipping is a stain on our communities and costs nearly £400 million a year. Taxpayers are left footing the bill for the 16% increase in this crime under a Tory Government. Councils should not pay the price for Conservatives being soft on crime, so does the Minister agree that it is time to get tough on people who do not respect our neighbourhoods? Will he back Labour’s plan for stronger punishment for fly-tippers and the introduction of clear-up squads?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. I absolutely agree that fly-tipping is a scourge and a crime, and that local authorities have the resources and the ability to try to do this and to crack down on it. I encourage them to do so.
Antisocial Behaviour: Local Authorities
Across Government, we are developing an action plan to tackle antisocial behaviour. We are looking at stronger enforcement and swifter justice, as well as supporting young people into sports and other activities. This action builds on our wider investment in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, including our recruitment of an additional 20,000 police officers.
Antisocial behaviour and petty crime have long been a problem in Blyth Valley, which is why I have been meeting the police, community groups and local retailers to try to resolve the issues. Will my right hon. Friend please agree to meet me to discuss the matter in greater detail, and hopefully find where the support is?
I absolutely will. My hon. Friend, who is a spirited champion for the communities in Blyth Valley, recognises how important it is that we work together with other agencies to deal with antisocial behaviour, that we have swift and certain justice, and that we ensure that perpetrators clear up the mess they have created. Above all, we have activities to intervene upstream and ensure that the persistent absentees and truants of today, who could go on to become the antisocial actors of tomorrow, are helped back on to the right path.
My constituents on Ashby Road, the A511 and the former A50 trunk road, are suffering as a result of drivers racing along the road with no consideration for residents who need to pull in and out of their driveways. Excessive speed, aggressive driving habits and numerous traffic collisions are very worrying for those who live there. What support can my right hon. Friend give local authorities to help them tackle such instances of antisocial behaviour?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise this issue. Vehicle crime—whether those driving cars or using e-scooters in an antisocial fashion, or otherwise making life difficult for their neighbours—often needs attention. That is why an additional 231 uplift officers have been added to Staffordshire police, but I will be working with Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner to ensure that this issue is tackled appropriately.
Second Homes in Coastal Areas
The Government fully understand that beautiful areas attract large numbers of holidaymakers and, therefore, large numbers of second homes. That is why we have introduced higher rates of stamp duty land tax for those purchasing additional properties, which will help to support local areas that have a large number of second homes.
The ability to double council tax on second homes is a real step in the right direction to help communities, such as mine in North Norfolk, that suffer from a high concentration of second homes. However, clause 73 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill requires greater clarification. Currently, a district council such as North Norfolk benefits from just 8p in the pound from council tax revenue. Does the Minister agree that we ought to look at that clause and ensure that the communities affected by second homes are the ones that benefit from additional taxation raised?
My hon. Friend does a superb job of representing communities affected by large numbers of second homes. That is why the new council tax second homes premium will enable councils, particularly in areas such as his with a strong tourism industry, to generate significant additional funding for local services. If they introduce the maximum premium, they will benefit from double the council tax revenue. I am happy to discuss that issue with him in more detail.
The pandemic turbocharged the housing crisis in rural areas, especially in Devon and Cornwall. Families are being turfed out of their private rented homes under section 21 notices so that they can be turned into second homes and Airbnbs. Does the Minister agree with south-west supporters of the First Homes Not Second Homes campaign, which I run with Cornwall councillor Jayne Kirkham, that it is time not only for increased council tax on second homes but for a proper licensing regime, so that communities can decide how many second homes should be in their community, to stop them being hollowed out?
I thank the hon. Member for bringing this issue to the Floor of the House on behalf of his constituents and communities. We are looking at the issue of registration of second homes through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and other frameworks. We understand that, naturally, people want to go on holiday to beautiful areas, but there is an impact on communities. We need the registration scheme so that we understand and better mitigate that.
Rural Areas: Housing Provision
We want to ensure that affordable homes are available to anyone who needs them, including in rural locations where stock is limited and often difficult to replace. Our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme is one of the vehicles through which rural housing is delivered. It will provide thousands of affordable homes in rural communities such as his across the country.
I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker): we need to build more houses and put them in the right places and spaces, in the right style and at genuinely local affordable levels. One of the ways to do that is through community land trusts. Could the Minister outline how we can do better to support community land trusts in south Devon to build the houses that local people need, on a primary residency basis?
The Government completely agree with those comments. We are clear that the community-led housing sector offers significant untapped potential for helping to meet housing need. It is the support and close involvement of the local community that helps secure that planning permission, so that we can build the homes that local people support and can afford to buy.
May I once again welcome the new Minister to her place?
Over a quarter of a million people in rural England are on a housing waiting list, yet the Government are on course to miss even the paltry target of 13,000 new rural affordable homes set out in the current five-year affordable homes programme. At the same time, the steady erosion of our country’s social housing stock continues apace, with data released by the Department only last month making it clear that the Government presided over the net loss of 14,110 social homes last year. Is it simply not the case that, when it comes to providing rural and urban communities with the genuinely affordable rented homes they need, Ministers are failing woefully?
No, that is not the case. It is a pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman. This Government are taking the delivery of affordable housing across the whole country incredibly seriously. That is why more than 243,000 affordable homes have been provided in rural local authorities in England, such as those represented by Members across this House, between April 2010 and March 2022. We must get the planning system right. We have a mission to level up the country, which includes building affordable homes in rural areas, as well as in urban areas.
Housing Developments: Primary Care Capacity
New housing needs to be supported by the right infrastructure, including primary care services. The new infrastructure levy that we are introducing through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will be able to provide funding for local infrastructure and so contribute towards addressing that vital issue.
I am running out of ways to describe how unbelievably awful the current system is, which is failing to allocate sufficient increased general practice capacity when we build tens of thousands of new homes. Do the Government recognise the urgency of this matter? If we are going to build housing, people must be able to see a doctor when they move into their new homes.
Yes, the Government do recognise the urgency of this issue, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. He is right to be consistent about it, because, as we recognise, access to healthcare is one of the most important concerns—if not the most important concern —of local communities when new housing is planned. Our community infrastructure levy places much firmer requirements on local planning to engage with healthcare provision in the local community, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further.
Devolving Power to Local Communities
In 2022 we signed six new devolution deals—with York and North Yorkshire, the east midlands, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall, and the north-east—with £4 billion of long-term investment funding and key powers devolved to local leaders. When these deals are implemented, more than half of the English population will benefit from devolution.
My constituents benefit from access to places such as Ruislip woods and the Pinner Memorial Park as a means of getting to green spaces in the local area. What measures does my hon. Friend have in mind to ensure that, through the access to nature target, more local authorities can use these devolution powers to create good-quality green spaces?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of access to green space. My Department has made significant funds available to local areas, including through the UK shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up parks fund, which can be used to regenerate green spaces, but I would be happy to sit down with him to discuss the matter further.
Can the Minister confirm whether there is levelling-up funding within the Department that has not been spent or allocated?
I am not quite sure whether I understand the hon. Lady’s question. If she would like to write to me, I will certainly follow up in writing.
Building Regulations: Energy Efficiency
The part L uplift, which came into force in June 2022, delivered a significant improvement in energy efficiency. New homes now produce 30% fewer CO2 emissions, and new non-domestic buildings produce 27% fewer. The uplift will act as a stepping stone to the 2025 standards, which we will consult on in due course.
Is the Minister aware of a simple additive called EndoTherm, which can be added to both domestic and non-domestic wet heating systems for condensing boilers? Tests have proved that it reduces energy use and hopefully it will soon be standard assessment procedure-approved for testing. If he is not aware of it, will he meet me and Andrew Bean to discuss its properties?
I was not aware of it until now, but I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting it. As he knows from his time in the Department, our approach is agnostic on technology and materials, but where there are opportunities to find out more about how things are working and how we can improve things, I am happy to do so.
I was honoured 10 days ago to have the chance to meet the family of Awaab Ishak, the child who died so tragically in horrendous circumstances in Rochdale. I was able to thank them for their campaigning work and, as a result, with co-operation from bodies across this House, we are taking forward legislation in his name and in his honour to ensure that the scourge of damp and mould is at last effectively dealt with.
In the levelling up White Paper the Government rightly confirmed that they would match European Union structural fund receipts for Cornwall. They could do the same for South Yorkshire, Tees Valley, County Durham and Lincolnshire, but so far have not. Will they?
I think we may be arguing from slightly different premises, because it depends how one defines the replacement for EU structural funds. I am more than happy to take the hon. Gentleman through the figures and point out the ways in which the funding we have supplied through the funds at our disposal match European commitments.
Stoke-on-Trent and all the six towns are enjoying a renaissance under this Government in a way that they did not under the last Labour Government. We are ensuring that investment is going into Burslem, Tunstall, Stoke and Hanley in a way that did not occur under that Labour Government. Homes England is at the heart of that investment, providing new homes and cultural investment and ensuring that people who voted Conservative at the last general election recognise that they made the right decision.
We now come to the shadow Secretary of State.
I wish the Secretary of State good luck with that. Last week, he told ITV News that,
“nobody will get in the way of making sure we get money to those who are vulnerable and who deserve it”.
Was he referring to the Chancellor or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury?
Seriously, the Secretary of State no longer has the power to sign off on a park bench. There are now reports of significant underspends in his Department that are about to be clawed back by the Treasury. Can he guarantee to the towns crying out for investment in town centres, high streets and affordable housing that the full allocation of the towns fund, the future high streets fund and the affordable homes programme will be spent? If he cannot, will he tell us who is to blame—him, or the Chancellor?
Just before the Secretary of State replies, I remind him that we should not use the name of the Member but their constituency, and also that he is certainly a right hon. Member.
My apologies to you, Mr Speaker, and to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—the “human roadblock”, as he was once memorably described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Returning to the issue, it is absolutely the case that this Department is responsible for the disbursement, successfully, of funds to the frontline, helping to transform communities that were overlooked and undervalued by the last Government. No one is going to get in the way of this Department spending the money we need on the communities that need it. The only thing I would say is that there is not a single spending commitment that the hon. Lady has been able to make because of the shadow Chancellor. Labour—
Secretary of State, I do not want to do this every time we have questions. We get to topicals, and because the question is asked you feel it is a free-for-all. It is not your questions; it is Back-Benchers’ questions. Please, let us get everybody in, and let us start with Greg Smith, who wants to ask a good question.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Whole communities have been up in arms after perverse decisions by the Planning Inspectorate, most recently on a site between Askett and Meadle and another between Twyford and Poundon. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to reform the Planning Inspectorate to stop it walking all over local wishes?
The new national planning policy framework ensures that the Planning Inspectorate will work with, not against, local communities. The Planning Inspectorate also has a wonderful new chief executive officer—an official from my Department who helped to deliver the homes for Ukraine programme and understands what communities need and want.
We will do everything we can to expedite that funding to Northern Ireland.
Solar is an important part of the UK’s energy mix, and, as the Secretary of State will know, the sun always shines in Shropshire. Does he agree that solar farms, which are often of huge scale, need to be in the right place, not the wrong place? So often, a lot of good agricultural land is lost.
Shropshire, home to the “blue remembered hills” of A. E. Housman, is one of our most beautiful counties. It is vital, even as we pursue renewable energy across the United Kingdom, that we recognise that our environment is just as much about natural beauty as it is about striving towards net zero.
That money went towards ensuring that service families get the accommodation and support they deserve. If Labour wants to be taken seriously as a patriotic party, it should stop talking down our armed forces and ensure that they receive the money they deserve.
Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset secured £152 million from the levelling-up fund last month. The four counties make up the region’s new powerhouse, the great south west, of which I chair the all-party parliamentary group. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the fantastic opportunities that lie ahead for the great south west?
I absolutely will, and I will make sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), is with me as well. There is nothing that the two of us enjoy more than hearing good news from fantastic constituency MPs such as my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp).
Let us hear from another: I call Emma Lewell-Buck.
Actually, the way that this Government have handled Ofwat has ensured that we have done more to improve water quality—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady were to ask the chief executive of any water company about the toughest Environment Secretary that they have had to deal with, they would know. But anyway, on the key question of South Shields, I agree that it is beautiful, and I will have the chance to visit soon. The additional money that we are making available for the devolution deal for the north-east should help, but I would be delighted to visit and find out more.
There have been multiple frivolous applications in my beautiful South West Hertfordshire constituency, including in my hometown of Tring, where such applications would increase the population by 30%. What advice can the Secretary of State give me on how best to engage with his Department on these issues so that my constituents’ voices are heard clearly?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that the new Minister of State for housing and planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), will be meeting him shortly. It is absolutely vital that communities in the suburban green belt such as his have the opportunity to ensure that people have the new homes that they need and that we preserve the communities that make his constituency so attractive to so many.
Fisherman’s Green has been identified by the local council as a potential housing development site in Eastbourne. Local people do not support that, and I support them. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the council, which owns the land and has put the site into the strategy, can take Fisherman’s Green out of the strategy without sanction?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I have been taking a close interest in the activities of Eastbourne Borough Council. The decision to develop Fisherman’s Green is the council’s alone, so the council could easily take it out—the changes that we have made in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill would allow it to do that. I am afraid that there has been a campaign of dissimulation on the part of her local council; it is a case of Lib Dems spinning here.
I could not agree more that the north-east is on the up. Newcastle and Sunderland are doing well in footballing terms, but even better in political terms, thanks to the leadership of local figures, who are uniting with central Government to deliver devolution.
Antisocial behaviour is causing misery for my constituents, as I can tell from responses to my survey. Does the Secretary of State therefore welcome the stronger action that we have seen from Staffordshire police since its new local policing model was introduced last June? In the last month, that action has included a closure notice in Knutton, working with Asda to stop boy racers in the Wolstanton car park, and a section 34 order in Chesterton. It is a big issue, but we are moving in the right direction.
Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner is certainly moving in the right direction, as is Staffordshire police, supported ably by my hon. Friend and others such as my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Kate Kniveton). Boy racers and others who cause misery for their neighbours need to be dealt with effectively. That is happening in Staffordshire and should be happening more broadly as well.
Many constituents are contacting me about the rental market; I am sure it is the same across the country. The shortage of available properties is making it hard for private renters who are seeking accommodation. One constituent emailed to say that she had been told to keep requests to a minimum if she wanted to have a chance of getting a property. What will the Secretary of State do about the frankly disgraceful emails that tenants are receiving from letting agents?
There are challenges in the private rented sector and with housing supply everywhere. I would say two things: first, we need to work together to unlock additional supply, which is why it is important for the Mayor of London—I am not criticising him—to play his part; secondly, we need to ensure that renters have the protections that they deserve. That is why we are bringing forward legislation, which I know the hon. Lady supports.
The Help to Buy scheme has helped hundreds of my young constituents to get on to the housing ladder, yet it is due to end shortly. Can the Secretary of State assure me that he is badgering the Chancellor to ensure that that vital scheme continues?
I do not need to badger the Chancellor; we are not just constituency neighbours, but brothers from different mothers. More than that, the newly appointed Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), was immediately on the case. We will secure an extension to make sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents get the benefits from the scheme that they deserve, and I look forward to meeting him next month.
Does the Government’s commitment to look at helping blocks below 11 metres with cladding apply not only where that cladding is found to be dangerous and needs to be removed, but where lenders are still demanding EWS1 certificates, which cannot currently be provided?
Let me look into the specifics of any individual case. It should be the case, however—as the conversations that the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), has had with lenders show—that there has been a significant diminution in the demand for EWS1 forms. Where they are still being demanded, however, I would like to know more, so I look forward to working with the right hon. Gentleman to find out more about any kinks in the system.
On-street parking is a policy of Warwickshire County Council. Does the Secretary of State agree that the council has got it wrong in allowing people who drive internal combustion engines to park all day directly in front of the electric vehicle chargers that it has provided?
I will have to look closely at that. It is rare that Warwickshire gets things wrong, in my experience, but my hon. Friend seems to have identified an anomaly that stands in the way of the effective transition to electric vehicles, so I look forward to considering more closely the issue that he raises.
How can taking away £25 million from Halton Borough Council over the next three years be classed as levelling up? For Cheshire West and Chester Council, it is nearly half a billion pounds since 2010. That is not levelling up. When can we expect a genuine, fair funding review?
It is the case that at the last spending review, we secured a significant increase in local government spending, and as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire pointed out when we had the debate on the local government finance settlement, authorities such as that of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) have received the funding they need in order to deliver the services on which constituents rely.
Does the Secretary of State agree that when we build thousands of new homes, we need to do as well at providing extra general practice capacity as we do at providing extra primary school places? If he does, what will he do about it?
I do, and our new infrastructure levy in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is designed to do just that. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and with the new Minister of State for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch, in order to make sure that the infrastructure levy delivers as we both would want.
While people in Levenmouth certainly welcome the fact that the levelling-up process gave us some of our own money back again, can the Secretary of State identify a single measure of need or deprivation by which the Prime Minister’s constituency is as needy and as deprived as the Levenmouth area in my constituency, and more deprived than the entire city of Glasgow?
First, as I mentioned earlier, the reason that money has gone to the Prime Minister’s constituency is that it is going to help service families who do so much in order to make sure that we are all kept safe and protected. Secondly, I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that it is a good thing that the UK Government are distributing this money in this way. It is the case that his party used to oppose that, but we are now delivering that money; for two successive years, cash has been delivered to Glenrothes, to Glasgow, and to other communities.
The third thing I would say is that I hope the hon. Gentleman is not the SNP MP quoted in The Times at the weekend as saying that the thing about the Scottish Government is that they cannot even—
Order. Richard Foord.
The latest round of levelling-up funding has once again failed to provide much-needed investment in my part of Devon. The proposals put forward by East Devon District Council would have funded vital investment in Seaton and Axminster. What does the Secretary of State say to people in towns that are attractive to tourists, who feel taken for granted and feel that this Government are not serious about levelling up for them?
I say, “Vote Conservative,” because with a Conservative MP such as my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), you have an effective advocate who can work with central Government in order to deliver.
More people rent privately in my constituency than own their own homes, and more people rent socially than both of those groups combined. When I visit those people, week in and week out, they are massively overcrowded with no prospect of renting in the private sector or buying. What is the Secretary of State doing to deliver properly affordable social rented housing?
The hon. Lady’s point is very similar to that made earlier by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), and my answer is also very similar: we need to work with the Mayor of London, who has clear responsibilities in this area. Once again, I am not criticising him, but I am stressing that the delivery of so much of the funding required to improve housing in the capital depends on effective action by the Mayor.
Some of the Homes for Ukraine six-month placements are now starting to come to an end, and some Ukrainian nationals in my constituency cannot get into private rented accommodation because they have no credit history. The local council is ready to look at rematching families, but if that does not work out, some of those Ukrainian refugees will have no choice but to present as homeless. Will the Secretary of State look at this issue, and look at the suggestion of a guarantor system backed by the Government?
That is actually a very fair and constructive point. Making sure that there are not just banking facilities, but the kinds of guarantees that the hon. Lady asks for, is something we have been looking at in the past. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), to talk to the hon. Lady and to St Albans council in order to make sure that the generosity of her constituents is not undermined by the activity of the financial sector.
That completes questions. Will those who wish to leave before we start the urgent question please do so?