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Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Brownfield Land: Development

The Government strongly encourage the reuse of suitable brownfield land. Our national planning policy framework makes it clear that local authorities should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes and other identified needs. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will further empower local leaders to regenerate urban centres by strengthening and adding to existing measures.

Homes England proposes to build up to 10,000 houses on greenfield sites west of Ifield in my constituency. What directive has my right hon. Friend’s Department given to the executive agency Homes England on the Department’s brownfield-first building policy?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. I cannot go into individual planning cases, but Homes England is leading a programme of urban regeneration. The work that we are doing in London’s docklands and in Leeds, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and other areas demonstrates our commitment both to levelling up and to making sure that, for environmental and economic reasons, we develop brownfield land first.

My I help out the Secretary of State? He is aware of the Grove Lane site on the Sandwell-Birmingham border, in which the West Midlands Combined Authority and its Mayor are also interested. It is opposite the new Midland Metropolitan University Hospital site and it is an ideal brownfield site for housing. Will his Department get on with it?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who refers to the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, the only metro Mayor to significantly exceed housing targets in the delivery of new homes. He is that rare thing: a Labour MP who welcomes house building in his own constituency. Of course I will support him.

My right hon. Friend may know that, in Durrington in north-west Worthing, more than 1,000 new homes have been built. Will he ask his inspectors—and the Leader of the Opposition—to recognise that Chatsmore Farm and Lansdowne Nurseries should not be built on? We must have some green fields between one habitation and another.

The Father of the House makes a very important point. Of course, his beautiful constituency—situated as it is between the sea and areas of outstanding natural beauty—has already seen significant development and we do need to ensure that settlements have the green belts around them protected.

On developing brownfield sites, will the Secretary of State consider giving powers to councils such as Westmorland and Furness, and to planning authorities such as those in the Yorkshire dales and the Lake district, to ensure exclusive provision for affordable and social rented housing so that we do not see communities such as ours dying out because all the houses built end up being sold for second homes?

From his perspective as an assiduous constituency Member, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but may I commiserate with him? At the recent Liberal Democrat conference, I am afraid he was defeated, and his party adopted a housing policy that he describes as Thatcherite. It is a source of sadness to me to be outflanked on the right by the Liberal Democrats, but may I welcome more defections to the Thatcherite cause from those who once embraced my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) as one of their own?

My constituents are frustrated with the planning system in that, although sites are allocated and protected in neighbourhood plans, when applications come in, their concerns about those sites are not listened to by local planning committees and by the inspectorate. Will the Secretary of State tell my constituents in Witham what measures are in place in local neighbourhood plans and local development plans to protect these sites from being built on, so that the focus is on brownfield sites first and foremost?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. If her local authority has an up-to-date plan, that is the best protection against speculative development. If, however, a local authority does not have a plan in place, there can be a presumption in favour of sustainable development and that can be upheld by the Planning Inspectorate, which could mean development on sites where local communities do not wish to see it. That is why it is so important for local authorities to adopt plans.

The Secretary of State is a very clever man, and he must know that if there had been a large amount of brownfield land, it would have been built on. The fact of the matter is that we in this country must bite the bullet and build on land other than brownfield, because there is not enough of it. Does he agree that courage along with intellect would help us solve the housing problem?

The hon. Gentleman is a man of independent mind, and he is straying from Front-Bench policy by decreeing me a man of intelligence—that is not the official Labour party position on these issues—but I should say that he is right. It is not only brownfield land that can be developed, but it must be brownfield first, and there is significant room for additional brownfield development if we invest in urban regeneration, which we are doing.

Regional Inequalities: Coastal Communities

2. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s levelling-up policies in reducing regional inequalities. (906510)

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who bravely used this moment to raise the challenges faced by people with chronic migraine? I thank her for her work and wish her the best of health. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

We have established 12 levelling-up missions principally aimed at tackling regional inequality and ensuring that, wherever someone lives—in cities, towns, island, rural or coastal communities—their opportunities are the same. Progress on the missions will be formally reported through an annual report as set out in our landmark Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which returns to the House of Commons tomorrow.

The Secretary of State says that we must have infrastructure that allows us to move towards zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible, but the biggest 14 cities in the north of England have fewer electric vehicle charge points than the City of Westminster alone. How does the chasm between the number of charge points in London and those elsewhere demonstrate levelling up?

The hon. Gentleman will know of the £20 billion reserved for transport investment in the north, and I am sure that some of that can be dedicated towards electric vehicles.

A conservative think-tank recently reported that coastal communities such as mine have lower life expectancy, inadequate transport links and people who are comparatively poorer. After repeated rejections for towns and levelling-up moneys, are my constituents not right to blame the Government of the last 13 years for this deliberate levelling down?

The hon. Lady, like me, represents a north-east coastal community, and she will be aware of our devolution agreement with the North East Combined Authority, which hopes to address some of the challenges in her area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his new post. May I remind him of the huge opportunity and pent-up potential in former industrial mill towns such as those in my constituency? One of the most gratifying things about the Government’s levelling-up programme has been how it has seen the potential in towns such as Rossendale, Rawtenstall, Bacup and Darwen and supported that with real money, with £120 million of town deal money for Darwen and £17.8 million for Rossendale. Does he think that this is the right Government to drive forward the ambition of people who live in mill towns?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. This morning, I met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen, and Blackpool, and they all agree with me that a devolution agreement in Lancashire will be fantastic. I am sure that you agree as well, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Minister to his new job. Several months ago, Essex MPs met his predecessor to talk about the possibility of a combined authority for Essex. We were overwhelmingly against it. The people of Essex do not want this ridiculous white elephant; there is no demand from them. This is all being brought about by some highly ambitious Essex county councillors and some officers who think they would do well out of it. As most people in Essex do not even know that it is going on, will he and his boss meet me and other Essex MPs to hear our objections?

Given the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on High Speed 2, when will local government leaders and Metro Mayors in the midlands and north of England get to know what additional resource they will get as a consequence?

That question is best answered by the Department for Transport, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman when I have further details.

I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Minister met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, and Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool councils this morning to discuss the enormous opportunity that devolving transport and skills responsibility to Lancashire presents. Will he and the whole of the Treasury Bench look favourably upon this? It is an opportunity that we are keen to take to deliver for people in Lancashire and South Ribble.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and to you, Mr Speaker, for your point. I hope to meet Lancashire MPs next week to discuss devolution. I hope that we are able to announce a devolution deal in advance of Lancashire Day at the end of November.

I welcome the new Minister to his place. In the Secretary of State’s address to his party conference there was barely a mention of levelling up, and no mention whatsoever of the Government’s 12 missions, which were central to the original White Paper designed to tackle regional inequalities across England. There now exists a gaping chasm between a transformative change promised by the rhetoric of levelling up and the actual reality. Is the truth of the matter not that Downing Street has totally lost interest in that agenda, while the Department’s leadership bumbles on directionless and toothless, its bold promises unfulfilled and, in many cases, utterly disregarded?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and her question, though I completely disagree with her. At the party conference we announced £1 billion for our long-term plan for towns, which will help us level up towns right across the country. I hope she welcomes that.

First-time Buyers

The Government have a range of schemes available to first-time buyers, including First Homes and shared ownership. The mortgage guarantee scheme helps to increase the supply of 95% loan-to-value mortgages. We have also doubled the threshold at which stamp duty land tax becomes due to £250,000, and expanded first-time buyer relief.

In West Fenham recently, Mr and Mrs Joyce told me how their daughter and prospective son in-law had lived with them for five years while they tried to realise their dream of home ownership. Even after saving a deposit, the failure of the Minister’s Government to build houses meant that they were constantly outbid on the few homes available. Labour has set out plans to get Britain building again. Will the Minister match our ambition, or is living with the in-laws the new Tory dream?

The hon. Lady asks whether we will match Labour’s ambition. I have news for her: from what I picked up from the Labour party conference, it announced the same targets that we are getting on with. I draw her attention to the fact that more than 860,000 households have been helped to purchase a home since spring 2010, through Government-backed schemes including Help to Buy, Right to Buy and First Homes.

I welcome the new “young” Minister to his post. I want to attach myself to tributes to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who is sitting next to me.

Last week, a freedom of information request showed that the Lib Dem-Labour controlled Greater Cambridge Partnership, which handles city deal money in my constituency, spent £4.7 million developing plans for a congestion charge that was then dropped because it was opposed basically by everyone. It also spent £16.5 million on the Cambridge South East Transport bus route, also now dropped, and £18 million on new car parks, none of which are actually open. That is a total so far of £160 million on transport projects, and virtually none of them functioning. It is now asking the Government for £200 million more. It is no wonder that in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, people think that the Greater Cambridge Partnership is unelected, unaccountable and a waste of public money. Does the Minister agree that we have to ensure public value for money? Will he meet me to talk about the details?

Order. That question is too long, and I am not quite sure how it fits in with first-time buyers.

Green Spaces: Protection

Through the Levelling Up Parks Fund we have made available £9 million for local authorities in areas of high deprivation to create or significantly refurbish green spaces. The fund also includes the planting and maintaining of trees and encourages projects to work towards green flag award status.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What steps is she taking to ensure that proposed sites for housing that are completely unsuitable for reasons of biodiversity or lack of access or proximity to a site of special scientific interest are not taken forward and built upon? Although this is a national, not local, question, I am thinking particularly of a contentious application on Water Lane in Knaresborough, which has previously been refused.

My hon. Friend will, I hope, understand that I cannot comment on that specific case or situation, but it is really important that local authorities make decisions according to their local plans, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out earlier. If local authorities have a plan in place, it allows them to set out where they would like to see development that benefits their natural environment take place.

In England, we have also set out that from January 2024 biodiversity net gain will apply to mitigate the impact of major development. That requires developers to deliver 10% biodiversity net gain.

In 10 days’ time Bradford Council is likely to give the green light to yet more houses to be built in Silsden on valuable green space. If approved, the additional 140 houses will follow many hundreds of houses currently being built in Silsden, and many more are awaiting planning approval. Silsden’s infrastructure simply cannot cope. Does the Minister agree that Bradford Council should prioritise Silsden’s infrastructure first, rather than seeing the area as a quick win for achieving its housing targets?

My hon. Friend is completely right. As ever, he champions his constituents over the actions of Labour-run Bradford Council, which obviously has a detrimental impact on his constituent’s lives. Local authorities have an obligation to spend section 106 receipts in line with the purpose for which they were agreed, for exactly the reasons he gives. We are committed to introducing new measures through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that will give greater certainty to local communities about the infrastructure that will be delivered in their area.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is going through its local plan process at the moment. I welcome the fact that the Conservative-led administration has reduced the overall number of new homes to 7,000, from the 11,500 in the previous, Labour-led local plan, which would have carpeted over our green spaces, as the Leader of the Opposition seemingly wants to do everywhere. Nevertheless, some people are unhappy. Would the Minister join me in urging the council in its next draft to further prioritise brownfield development, which is the key to regeneration?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is the Government’s policy to strongly encourage local authorities to make the most of brownfield land first, especially for new homes. It is right that if local authorities want to alter a green belt boundary, they have show exceptional circumstances. We Conservatives believe in preserving our green spaces, and it is interesting to hear the proclamations from the Opposition. I will be very interested to see whether they propose concreting over the green spaces surrounding their own constituencies.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings. We have undertaken an inquiry and sent the report through to Ministers. The recommendations from that were clear: while it is good to have healthy, energy-efficient homes, it is really important to have green space around those houses. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the report from the APPG? If not, I will ensure that she gets a copy, and I hope that she will then come back to me on the recommendations.

I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for his comments, and I would be delighted to read the report from his APPG and respond to him. I fully agree with his broader point that green spaces are vital for mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical health.

Towns Fund: Project Delivery

We are supporting 101 towns through our £6.1 billion towns fund, helping to level up across the country. I thank my hon. Friend for all his efforts locally in ensuring that the £25 million Dewsbury town deal delivers the positive outcomes that we all wish to see for his constituents.[Official Report, 25 October 2023, Vol. 738, c. 8MC.] My Department proactively engages with local authorities through our monitoring and evaluation process to determine the delivery support they require, including specialist support from the Department where needed.

On behalf of the people of Dewsbury, I thank my hon. Friend for the additional £20 million announced for our town centre, on top of the £24.8 million I secured after being elected. In light of Labour-run Kirklees Council’s financial mismanagement and failure to deliver regeneration projects in the past, how can we ensure that the towns fund monies are used to transform the town centre and not squandered because of the council’s inability to deliver anything on time or within budget?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being such a fantastic champion for Dewsbury. My officials are monitoring the town deal and working closely with Kirklees Council and the town deal board to ensure that projects are delivered quickly. Like my hon. Friend, I was pleased to see that there is an extra £20 million for Dewsbury as part of our long-term plan for towns, and I look forward to hearing more about Dewsbury and its ambitions soon.

Fifty-five towns receive support from the towns fund in England, Scotland and Wales, but none in Northern Ireland do. The excuse has been given that the Executive is not formed, although that is as much the responsibility of the Government as that of people in Northern Ireland, but given that the criterion has already been set, why has it not been possible to select towns in Northern Ireland to benefit from the towns fund?

We want to see the Northern Ireland Executive up and running as soon as possible, and I think that that is an ambition shared across the House. I hope that when it is up and running, we will be able to help it with the funds that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

We all know that this Government claim a lot, but now they are claiming that they have a long-term plan for towns while continuing to build them without any of the infrastructure that people want and need. Residents of Mid Bedfordshire know that all too well: like many others, they struggle to see a GP or get a dentist, and the council’s budget is half what it was in 2015. The Tories have gutted the elements that make a town a home. Can the Minister please explain why they persist in prioritising developers in our towns over the people living in them?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I completely disagree with her. Members need only look at the measures that we are introducing in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which will come to the House tomorrow, to see the huge changes that we intend to make to high streets to allow them to work better for local people.

New Homes

We have announced £10 billion of investment in housing supply since the start of this Parliament, and we are also investing £11.5 billion in the latest affordable homes programme to provide thousands of new homes across the country for people to rent or, of course, to buy. In July we set out our long-term plan for housing, with regeneration programmes in Cambridge, London and Leeds.

When the Department tried to change the nutrient neutrality rules, the Labour party fell at the first hurdle, showing that it had changed since its claims to be the party of house building. It blocked that, so will Ministers commit themselves to pushing through these essential changes afresh?

Absolutely. We have just heard from the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) a crude nimbyist appeal to the voters of Mid Bedfordshire, a week after the leader of the Labour party said he was in favour of

“the builders, not the blockers”

—but who could be surprised, given that, as my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out, when we put forward legislation for 100,000 new homes, Labour blocked it? It is unbelievable that the crew of gangsters over there are peddling the same nonsense week in, week out.

For all the sound and fury from the Secretary of State, he knows that the maths does not lie and that the Government have failed on their targets. They have downgraded their affordable housing targets, and have still failed on those. When will the Secretary of State bite the bullet and provide more properly affordable social housing for people in my constituency and others who simply cannot afford to buy their own homes?

I withdraw the word “gangster”, Mr Speaker; I should have said “huckster”.

I will tell the hon. Lady who has downgraded their social housing targets: it is the hon. Lady herself. When she was running for the deputy leadership of her party, she said that she wanted 100,000 new social homes every year. What is the target now? Zero.

It is essential that we boost the number of new homes built each year for private sale, but just as important is the need to significantly increase the supply of new affordable homes to buy and rent. The National Audit Office has confirmed that the Government’s target for its flagship 2016 to 2023 affordable homes programme was 250,000 starts by March 2023. Can the Secretary of State explain how on earth the public can trust this Government to address the housing affordability crisis when recent figures reveal that they have failed to deliver on their share of that target outside London?

The significant increase in the affordable homes programme that I outlined earlier is the means for that to be done, but the difference between us is that we have a target for social and affordable homes, while Labour has none.

Leaseholders: Residential Building Remediation

10. What recent progress he has made on supporting leaseholders with (a) cladding and (b) non-cladding remediation to residential buildings. (906518)

16. What recent progress he has made on supporting leaseholders with (a) cladding and (b) non-cladding remediation to residential buildings. (906524)

The Government expect those who have caused defects to step up to solve them. As the House is aware, 50 developers have now signed contracts to resolve cladding and non-cladding defects in more than 1,100 buildings. For other properties, the Government are making extensive taxpayer subsidy available to support cladding remediation, along with other mechanisms to pursue those who are responsible.

Help for people living in under-11 metre buildings that have fire safety defects does not go far enough, because of the huge amount of money involved. One of my constituents has described her experience as a “never-ending nightmare”. Will the Minister bring that nightmare to an end for constituents such as mine who are forced to pay to fix the mistakes of others?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a specific question about under-11 metre properties. Every property, be it over or under 11 metres, needs a fire risk assessment, and I encourage her constituent to ensure that a fire risk appraisal of external walls is undertaken against that property. If the FRAEW indicates that extensive work is necessary, I would be happy to receive a copy of it and look into it personally in order to deal with this.

I have written to the Minister about a constituent of mine who is a leaseholder living in an under-11 metre property and so is not protected by the Building Safety Act 2022. The cladding costs alone will be well over £100,000 and any non-cladding costs will be substantial. That is completely unaffordable for my constituent and it will bankrupt him. So when will the Minister provide a full update, which was promised to me back on 18 August?

As I say, if the hon. Lady wishes to raise the case of this individual building once again with me or talk to me separately outside, I will be happy to enable that. For every under-11 metre building we are made aware of as requiring additional remediation, we are going through and checking things, and compiling audits, where necessary, to get to the bottom of it. The Government strongly believe that under-11 metre buildings do not need extensive remediation, and we will be happy to talk more about any buildings where these issues have been raised.

Does the necessity for the Government to take that sort of action show the danger that leaseholders are under from the abuse of freeholders’ power? May I, through him, gently remind the Secretary of State of an assurance he gave me when talking about leasehold? He said:

“We need to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.”—[Official Report, 20 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 3.]

Is that still intended to be in the King’s Speech?

My right hon. Friend knows that I am not able to anticipate what will be in the King’s Speech. We are clear that, particularly with regard to remediation, some freeholders have stepped up and should be credited for doing so, but others have absolutely not done so. The Secretary of State and I will not hesitate to call out that activity where it occurs.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the action he and the Secretary of State are taking against developers that refuse to remediate tall buildings. What action will he now propose to take against developers that deliberately do not carry out this work and leave leaseholders with their lives in peril and potentially not able to sell or even insure their properties?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we are ensuring that developers uphold the promises they have made, through the developer contract and through the responsible actors scheme, which makes sure that if they fail to do so they could, in extremis, be banned from building in this country again. If there is any indication what he describes is occurring, we will be happy to take action and I will be happy to receive any information from him or others in the House.

More than six years on from the Grenfell disaster, where 72 people lost their lives, Sam, a disabled resident in a Galliard Homes building, is one of the hundreds of thousands of people still trapped in buildings that have not been remediated. Is this the new “do nothing” approach from the Department to building safety that was highlighted in The Guardian today, an approach that forced the resignation of a senior civil servant from the Department?

I think that question is somewhat beneath the hon. Gentleman, but let me state clearly what the Government are doing. They have recognised that there is an issue and have legislated to resolve that. They are working extremely hard to ensure that developers are held to account for that, and over the past few months, they have had success in ensuring that that process takes place. Where developers are no longer around, they are also stepping up and making sure that the cladding defects are covered. Hundreds of buildings have concluded their remediation over recent months, which demonstrates the progress that is being made.

Levelling Up across the UK

Levelling up is a UK-wide project. That is why we have delivered city and growth deals across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; why we have launched our investment zones programme, including zones in the north-east of Scotland and Glasgow; and why we are investing £4.8 billion through the levelling-up fund in projects ranging from the transformation of Burnley’s historic mills to the development of a cultural quarter in Peterhead.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, as he develops these policies further, will he remember that even in apparently affluent areas, there are pockets that would benefit significantly from levelling-up investment, especially across Basildon and Thurrock? Will he therefore tell the House what plans he has to include those areas in the next round of investment?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and in particular, it is vital to make sure that we level up that community in Thurrock. Our plans to extend the economic development of Docklands east to make the Thames estuary a powerhouse for economic growth have been inspired by my hon. Friend’s work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price).

It was a pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to Burnley two weeks ago, when he announced that Burnley was one of the many towns getting money as part of the long-term plan for towns, on top of more than £32 million from the levelling-up fund. I was particularly pleased to see that a key part of the long-term plan for towns is community engagement. Will the Secretary of State set out what that community engagement will look like? In particular, will it be a one-off, or can communities expect to be consulted throughout the decade for which the £20 million is allocated?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that this is a decade-long investment in 55 towns across the United Kingdom. We will work with people in Burnley, with its excellent Member of Parliament and with other representatives to ensure that we can tackle antisocial behaviour, revive high streets and make sure that the pride that people have in Burnley is reflected in investment from Government.

One of the economic sectors that provides levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom is the creative industries, whether that is film production, theatre, the arts, video games or modern high tech. Will the Secretary of State have conversations with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury about the proposals to change business rates, which may have a dramatic effect and curtail the opportunities for the creative industries?

Absolutely. The vital role that our creative industries play across the United Kingdom in levelling up is one we need to not just protect, but enhance.

The delivery of local services is so important to levelling up all areas of Britain. The Secretary of State will be aware that in rural areas, the cost of delivering public services is much higher than in their urban counterparts. In rural counties such as Shropshire, for example, the cost of providing social care is much higher and the proportion of people who need that care is higher, because there are older residents. Will the Secretary of State consider taking into account the cost of providing those services when determining the local government settlement in the future?

It is a very fair point, and absolutely, on the Government side of the House, we understand that rural communities need additional investment, not least when it comes to the cost of adult social care.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) has said, there are pockets of deprivation even in wealthier areas, including Lichfield. Will the Secretary of State give some indication of what sort of timescale there is for the next round of applications?

I simply cannot believe that there are any pockets of deprivation in Lichfield, given who has been representing that constituency since 1992. The idea that there is any home unvisited by its Member of Parliament or that there is any hearth where there is a chill seems to be inconceivable. But nevertheless, we will make sure that levelling-up fund round 3 is brought forward just in advance of the autumn statement, and Staffordshire, I hope, will have its voice heard.

We understand that the Secretary of State is planning some rushed, back-of-a-cigarette-packet devolution deal with Hull and the East Riding. Can I urge caution? After 13 years of deliberate, sustained and savage cuts to our city, the last thing we need now is a botched deal ahead of the general election. The very least I expect the Secretary of State to guarantee is proper consultation, so that the people of Hull, who have been badly let down by this Tory Government, get the opportunity to understand the implications and to speak on the issue. Will he guarantee that?

I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but we are not rushing or embarking on any botched process. We are talking to representatives from both the East Riding and Kingston upon Hull councils in order to ensure that we can get a devolution deal that works. We have devolution in York and North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire; as far as we are concerned, east Yorkshire should not be left out in that progress, but it is important that we get that right. In the meantime, we are developing a levelling-up partnership with Hull, in order to ensure that vital investment, not least in transport, matches the investment that we have already secured on the south bank of the Humber.

Prior to Scotland’s being dragged out of the European Union against its will, EU regional development policies allocated up to £827 million from 2014 to 2020. Crucially, the Scottish Government played a key role in directing the funding, in stark contrast to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which bypasses Scotland’s Parliament and undermines devolution. Will the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues stop playing politics and devolve levelling up to Holyrood?

We are devolving levelling up—we are devolving it to local government. That is why our recent towns fund announcement was welcomed by all councils, including SNP-led councils. I say to the hon. Lady, with respect, that the SNP conference, meeting in Aberdeen today, has decided that if the SNP gets 29 MPs, that is a mandate for independence. Given the rate at which the SNP is losing MPs to defection and by-election, it will be at 29 by Christmas, so let us discuss it then.

Voter Identification: Minority Groups

14. What assessment he has made of the impact of the Government’s voter identification policies on the turnout of minority groups at elections. (906522)

As we committed to doing in legislation, we are conducting an evaluation of the impact of voter identification at the May polls. We will publish that evaluation no later than November this year.

The Electoral Commission’s report into voter ID is utterly damning. It found that awareness of the new rules was lowest among black and minority ethnic communities, and take-up of voter authority certificates was minimal. Even the Government’s own MPs can see the reality of this failed experiment. The right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) said:

“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them”.

Does the Minister agree with her own Conservative colleagues?

I remind the hon. Lady that 99.75% of the electorate were able to vote successfully. I also remind her that it was the Electoral Commission that called for voter identification. It has existed in Northern Ireland for two decades and was introduced under a Labour Government, and it exists in most European countries.

On the hon. Lady’s point about ethnic minorities, everyone deserves fair and free elections, and it has been ethnic minorities in areas such as Tower Hamlets and Birmingham who have been the victims of electoral fraud.

Social Housing: Accountability to Tenants

15. Whether his Department is taking steps to help ensure that social housing providers are accountable to tenants. (906523)

We are taking action to improve the quality of social housing. The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which received Royal Assent in July, will deliver transformative change across the sector, introducing proactive consumer regulation and rebalancing the relationships between landlords and tenants, ensuring that landlords are properly held to account for their performance.

I welcome the steps the Government are taking to support people living in social housing, but many people in Carshalton and Wallington who live in social housing are still concerned about the level of service they receive from their providers. I have received complaints about a number of housing associations, including Liberal Democrat-run Sutton Council’s housing arm, Sutton Housing Partnership, and Metropolitan Thames Valley, which provides housing in Roundshaw. Will the Secretary of State assure those residents that they have somewhere to go when things go wrong?

Yes, those residents absolutely do have somewhere to go. My hon. Friend, the excellent Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington, stands up not just for his constituents, but for the most vulnerable in society, with clarity and moral authority. Our legislation will make sure that Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and, indeed, Liberal Democrat-led Sutton Council are held to account for any failures.

Topical Questions

Last Thursday, I was privileged to be invited to join a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary at which we heard from the Community Security Trust about the deeply unfortunate rise in antisemitic incidents following the terrorist attack that we marked at the start of today’s sitting. The increase in antisemitic incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust and its partner, Tell MAMA, is 494%. It is a melancholy trend, and I know that everyone in this House will join me in doing everything we can to defeat antisemitism and to promote peace and justice.

I welcome the comments that the Secretary of State has just made, but may I take him to task about some of the comments that he made earlier? He talked about having conversations with Hull City Council about transport. This comes after the Government’s decade-long refusal to back the electrification of a line to Hull. It also comes after the exclusion of the northern Mayors in the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2. Why should any of the people in Hull and East Riding—

Order. Topicals should be short and sweet. The right hon. Lady should just finish her question very quickly.

I am a huge fan of the right hon. Lady. The proof of the pudding will be in the continued engagement that we have with the people of Hull and, indeed, with their Liberal Democrat council.

I have been running a “fair deal for new estates” campaign in my constituency to ensure that new estates are completed in a timely manner. I am talking about not just the housing, but the play areas, the planting, the drainage and the pavements. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this campaign, which is important locally and is achieving progress for residents in Harrogate and Knaresborough?

My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in raising the concerns of his constituents on the Floor of the House. I know that those concerns are also raised with many other colleagues. That is why, in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are strengthening planning enforcement powers, including powers to tackle uncompleted developments. I hope his constituents will welcome that, and I would be pleased to meet him and discuss it in more detail.

It is a pleasure to face the right hon. Gentleman for our first questions. I hope he enjoyed his party conference, cancelling a meat tax that nobody had planned, abolishing seven bins that do not exist and announcing that they would build a series of transport links that already do exist—not so much conference season as panto season. I shall keep my question to a problem that definitely does exist. One million families are waiting for social housing. How can he justify handing back to the Treasury billions of pounds that are desperately needed to tackle the housing crisis?

It is because we spend our money effectively. The affordable homes programme—the £11.5 billion investment that we are making—will lead, and has led, to investment in social and affordable housing across the country. The right hon. Lady has a challenge when it comes to credibility on social housing. She secured the deputy leadership of her party by saying that the Labour party should be building 100,000 social homes every year, and yet its current target is zero. Why did she retreat?

The right hon. Gentleman just comes out with flannel—I think he is auditioning for panto season this afternoon. He can dress it up however he likes, but the truth is that he could not spend this vital funding quickly enough in the middle of a housing crisis. It is clear that the Prime Minister shares his disregard for struggling families. In his hour-long speech in Manchester, the Prime Minister did not mention housing a single time—not once—but the Housing Minister did tell conference that renters are not all weed-smoking gangsters, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows all about, as he mentioned gangsters earlier today. Can the Secretary of State assure us that, despite the tone of those remarks, the Renters (Reform) Bill will not be scrapped before the King’s Speech?

Yes, we are bringing reform to the rental market, but I note that at her own party conference the right hon. Lady shared with the public not just her policies but her recipe for a cocktail called Venom, which apparently contains a bottle of vodka, a bottle of Southern Comfort, 10 Blue WKDs and a litre of orange juice. We know what the real lethal cocktail from the Labour party is: a mix of unfunded spending commitments, massive borrowing, greenbelt development and hypocrisy on housing.

T7. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the amazing Hope Centre in Northampton, which for 50 years has been turning the lives around of people who have been homeless, getting them into a home of their own and into a secure job. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the staff and volunteers at that amazing charity? (906541)

I am delighted to congratulate the staff and volunteers at the Hope Centre on 50 amazing years of supporting venerable people in Northampton. That work is critical in meeting the Government’s commitment to reduce homelessness and to end rough sleeping for good, which is backed by a Government investment of £2 billion over three years.

Antisemitism is abhorrent and hateful, and there must be meaningful legislation to protect Jewish people. I appreciate that the Department introduced the anti-boycott Bill to help to tackle that, but as the Minister may recall, in Committee the Bill was not supported by many human rights organisations and no Opposition amendments were accepted. We need to work on a cross-party basis, so will the Secretary of State and the Minister meet with me to discuss what support the SNP can provide to tackle the hatred of antisemitism?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the way in which she couched her question. I take this opportunity to thank the First Minister of Scotland who, in his visit to a synagogue in Edinburgh last week, I think spoke for all of Scotland in expressing his solidarity with the pain being felt by Scotland’s Jewish community. I look forward to working together on a cross-party basis if we can.

T9. The new Levelling Up Minister has got off to a flying start by awarding £20 million to Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. Barry is Wales’s largest town and has been ignored by the Welsh Government for decades. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give me that local priorities will determine how that money should be spent? (906543)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a persistent champion of Barry in his constituency. I am delighted that Barry has been chosen as one of the 55 towns and will receive £20 million to deliver its plan. I look forward to working with him to see Barry’s potential realised.

T2. Chester, like city centres up and down the country, as well as rural and coastal areas, is seeing rents going up and the supply of long-term private rented lets going down. The Government consulted on short-term lets earlier this year. What progress has been made in tackling the issue? (906535)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. As she rightly points out, the abuse of short-term lets is a significant issue in rural and coastal areas, and we will respond to the consultation shortly.

Over 200 of my constituents at the Mill development in Ipswich have been living in a cruel form of limbo for over 10 years. The building has deep cladding and structural problems. RSM, the administrator, could run out of money next March or April. My constituents fear that they could be turfed out of their homes. What steps are the Government taking to support my residents, give them clarity over their future, and come to a lasting settlement that funds the problems of the building and allows residents to move on with their lives?

Like my hon. Friend, the Department and the Government want to see a resolution to the Mill, which is complex and challenging. We accept the points that he makes. I look forward to continue meeting with him, and we will try to find a positive resolution.

T3. Local authorities are struggling to retrofit ageing rural council housing stock, which has allowed mould to set in. What will the Minister do to avoid councils having to spend huge sums of council taxpayers’ money on positive input ventilation units to provide mould-free homes? (906536)

The scourge of damp and mould, particularly but not exclusively in the social and private rented sector, is an issue that the Government recognise that we need to tackle. That is why we are providing additional support to local government and to housing associations in order to deal with that issue. I look forward in particular to dealing with the hon. Gentleman to assess the situation in Tiverton and Honiton.

I thank the Secretary of State for the tremendous support he has provided to Blackpool, with more than £140 million in levelling-up moneys allocated so far. Is he able to provide an update on the plans for further housing-led regeneration in the Bond Street and Revoe areas of my constituency?

I fully recognise the importance of supporting Blackpool and places across the country in their ambitions for regeneration. Homes England and my Department are continuing to work closely with Blackpool Council to level up the town and improve the quality of housing. I look forward to my Department’s saying more about that in the future.

T5. The Secretary of State, in our consideration of his Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill tomorrow, intends to remove reducing child poverty as a levelling-up mission. Does he think it is possible to level up without reducing child poverty, or is it just the case that the Government do not care? (906539)

That is a fair question. Of course we care about reducing child poverty; that is why the steps we are taking across 12 levelling-up missions, including on education and welfare, are designed to reduce poverty across the United Kingdom.

Berkeley Town Council has created a much-needed regeneration plan that will make the town worthy of the tourist attractions nearby, such as Berkeley castle and the Dr Jenner’s House museum, but we have little faith that the Green and Labour-led district council will get the levelling-up bid over the line. It failed before and its local plans have also been withdrawn. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue?

T6. Some 4,240 households in London alone were evicted last year using the no-fault possession grounds that the Government first promised to scrap four years ago. How many more households will be evicted before the Government meet their promise? (906540)

We are committed to introducing our Renters (Reform) Bill, which will end section 21—something that, when Labour were in government, it did not do.

Levelling up is about levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom—north, south, east and west, including areas that did not get levelling-up funding in rounds 1 or 2 or the recent announcements, such as Gillingham town centre. Will the Secretary of State visit Gillingham with me and ensure that we get our fair share and allocation of resources?

T8.   Some 54 months ago, the Government promised the Renters (Reform) Bill. Since then, 10,000 Londoners have been threatened with eviction and renting is simply too insecure. We are trying again to ask this: when will the Government be bringing in the Bill? (906542)

That is a good question; I liked it even better when the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) asked it. As I explained, we will be bringing forward our legislation shortly.

As he is reforming the national planning policy framework and introducing a new infrastructure levy, how will my right hon. Friend ensure that our constituents get the doctors and dentists capacity that must go with new homes?

The infrastructure levy that we are bringing forward will ensure, through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, that the money is there to provide services when new development takes place. We will work with the NHS to ensure that GP and dental provision is part of that. We have a plan for an infrastructure levy; Labour has no plan.