Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)12.41 pm
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require local authorities to publish a register of derelict buildings in their area; to make provision in respect of the preparation and maintenance of such registers; and for connected purposes.
My home town, now my home city, is a place I am very proud of. Doncaster has many wonderful assets and the people are the best in the land. However, although 95-plus per cent. of it is great, some parts are not so. The Bill will make a real difference to that.
Derelict buildings are a problem. They blight our cities, towns and villages. This place has provided local authorities with powers to tackle derelict buildings. Sadly though, those powers are not being used as we intended. The Bill will provide an incentive to local authorities to do their duty and exercise their powers for the community as Parliament intended. It will start to address their dereliction of duty. We do not even know exactly how many derelict sites there are or precisely where they are. How can we as a society tackle the problem of derelict buildings until we truly know the scale of the problem? It is a problem of real significance.
As I come home on the train to Doncaster from Parliament on a Thursday evening, the first listed building I see is Denison House by the railway station. The windows are smashed, weeds are growing out of the guttering and there is general neglect—derelict. I walk through the station and see the Grand theatre, another listed building—derelict, again. I walk through town past Waterdale—derelict. I pass by the new expensive and shiny but half-empty council building, and on South Parade I see another Denison House—also listed, and also derelict. This is the former home of Sir Edmund Beckett-Denison, the man who in 1848 brought the railways to Doncaster. That building of his is now an eyesore—derelict, again.
As I drive to the towns and villages across my constituency, I pass Tyram Hall—derelict. I keep on driving into Thorne to view the works to reopen the leisure centre, and I drive by Haynes House—derelict. I pass Thorne brewery—derelict. I have a Secretary of State visit Doncaster, and I take him to Edlington’s leisure centre—derelict. Prince’s Crescent—many properties there are also derelict. The list goes on and on.
Why is this so? It is because there is no register, no personal responsibility and no example set by Labour-controlled City of Doncaster Council; the powers they hold are not being exercised. Labour’s care for our city is seemingly as derelict as the properties I have described. We cannot let this state of affairs continue; if we do, all we shall see is further deterioration and more derelict buildings. It drags us all down to their level—levelling down, not levelling up.
My Bill would ensure that all derelict buildings are identified. It would answer three questions: first, what is the definition of a derelict building; secondly, who will create and maintain the list; and thirdly, how will it be accessible to the public?
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said this about solving problems:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
I have given this considerable thought, and it seems to me that the first step must be to have a register of derelict buildings. The obvious body well placed for this exercise would be the local authority. Local authorities already have the necessary infrastructure and resources. They have a list of all the empty buildings already. They maintain records for council tax and business rates for properties, including those that are exempt. They will accordingly have a list of all buildings and structures within their area of jurisdiction, within their boundaries. It is important to note that their departments for planning and building control, as well as for council tax and business rates, will have records that can be cross-referenced. Not only are local authorities an obvious candidate, but they are the ones best placed.
There is no need to set up a quango, no need to spend enormous sums of taxpayers’ money and, as we have seen, local authorities already have the infrastructure and the records. It would merely be a question of identifying which of the empty buildings are derelict. They all have websites with information accessible by the public. The small steps required of them by the Bill would not incur substantial additional expenditure. Ongoing maintenance of the records would not require much time, effort or expense either.
My Bill will be the first step on this journey to addressing the blight of derelict buildings in our communities. This is the first step to the solution. By passing a law requiring all local authorities to identify derelict buildings in their area, we can start to make progress.
Let me start with the definitions. A derelict site is defined in my Bill as a site that has a structure or structures upon the land that are ruinous, derelict or in dangerous condition. The next step is to identify the derelict buildings and properties. Council officers would first check their existing records for empty properties. Most such properties, if not all, will be easily identified by their status regarding payment of council tax or business rates. A provisional list can be easily created which then should be published.
Additionally, all local authorities have district councillors, who should know their wards intimately—Conservative councillors do; that I do know. It seems to me that each councillor could easily provide the council with the details and addresses of buildings they believe are an eyesore in their locality, and they should be put on a provisional list. I would not expect there to be many that were not in that list. Those properties would then be visited by council officers to establish the condition.
The properties on the provisional list would then be classified as derelict and the owner given 28 days’ notice of the intention to give that classification to the property. Any owner would have the right to object, providing reasons in writing. These objections could then be reviewed. The local authority could then either withdraw the classification or confirm it.
So why is such a list of any value to us? The advantages are numerous. It would enable us first to know the scale of the problem. It would provide an incentive to all areas to see that list reduce, rather than increase. Should the buildings be left as they are, be improved or be demolished? These are questions that will arise, and the right answers may be different across the board. Should improvement works be exempt from VAT? Should compulsory purchase orders be made? Should owners be required to carry out improvements or demolition? Should they be persuaded to address that by carrot or stick, or indeed by both?
Many such questions arise. The Bill does not attempt to answer them. It would, however, enable us for the first time to understand the scale of the problem faced by every part of this wonderful country. I want to ensure that our cities, towns and villages are not blighted. Derelict buildings are a blight—there is no doubt about that. Let us identify the scale of the problem. Let us learn from the wisdom of Albert Einstein. Let us think about the problem. The Bill would enable us to do exactly that. Then, and only then, shall we find the solutions and return all our towns and cities to their former glory.
Question put and agreed to.
That Nick Fletcher, Dr Liam Fox, Antony Higginbotham, Mark Eastwood, Damien Moore, Paul Bristow, Brendan Clarke-Smith, Mark Jenkinson, Danny Kruger, Lia Nici, Alexander Stafford and Miriam Cates present the Bill.
Nick Fletcher accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 378).