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Local Infrastructure

Volume 714: debated on Monday 16 May 2022

11. What recent progress he has made in delivering an “infrastructure first” approach for planning and house building. (900025)

This is essential to our planning reforms. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill introduces a new infrastructure levy. It will ensure that developers contribute funding for infrastructure such as schools, GP surgeries and new roads, and it will give local authorities control over how that is provided to best meet the needs of local people and development.

Can I encourage the Minister in his push for an “infrastructure first” approach with an example from my constituency? Quite a few years ago, a developer in the village of Biddenham proposed that a GP surgery be located there, and gave some land for it. It was to bring in patients from Biddenham and the neighbouring village of Bromham. All the houses have been built, but no part of that new GP surgery has been built. The good news is that the building will start later this year, but can the Minister assure me that the problem regarding the interactions between the clinical commissioning group, Bedford Borough Council, NHS Estates, GPs, the developer and the builder will be cleared up? No one is to blame, but I bet that if he had already introduced “infrastructure first”, we would have that GP surgery today.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Councils, health bodies and everybody else need to get much better at this. Local planning authorities and CCGs should work together to provide the planned provision. Under our new levy, councils will be able to borrow against future levy receipts to forward-fund the infrastructure that is needed. I am arranging meetings with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to discuss the very issue that he brings to our attention.

It is vital that infrastructure is provided before development is allowed. It is also vital that houses that are given planning permission are then used for the purposes agreed on when the permission was granted. I am talking about second home ownership. Homes that are built for local families become second homes, and that leads to communities being hollowed out. Will the Minister look again at bringing in new change of use rules through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, so that second homes and holiday lets fall under a separate category of planning use, and homes in Cumbria can remain for local families, and do not become part of ghost towns?

I seem to be dealing with the issue of second homes daily; colleagues from around the country are raising it with me and highlighting their concerns for their communities. The Bill allows local councils to increase council tax on second homes, but there is more that we need to explore. That is why I am holding a series of roundtables across the country. Perhaps I could come up to the Lake district and hold one there.

On-site community facilities are also vitally important. Last summer I was at the St Clements development in east Ipswich, where Bovis, Vistry and Trinity Estate Management have failed to meet many of their obligations. The Foxhall community centre was meant to be brought back into use, but has not been, and there are many concerns over littering and lighting. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can hold developers to account to make sure they do not let residents down, as they have over the St Clements development?

Again, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. He is right: when communities think that a development is coming and that there will be a particular benefit for them, and it is then not developed, it erodes trust in the whole planning system. That is exactly what our Bill is designed to address, so that communities can have more engagement, and more confidence that what has been agreed will be delivered.

Will the Minister wake up to the reality of what is going on in local authorities up and down the country? Cuts since the 2010 election have run down the resources of every planning department in the country. There are not enough professionals being trained, and not enough people to provide an adequate service. What will he do about the planning authorities across this country that cannot deliver for the public?

One of the points of the infrastructure levy is that it takes out the necessity for negotiation. It will be a set levy that developers cannot wriggle out of, and it will be for local authorities to set the levy. Of course, we are looking at the broader issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will hopefully report further on them in future.