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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 730: debated on Monday 27 March 2023

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Social Rented Housing

Before I answer the questions, may I on behalf of the Government extend my congratulations to Humza Yousaf on his election as leader of the Scottish National party? We look forward to working with him in the future. It has been noted that he won by 52% to 48%, so I hope that SNP colleagues will agree that there is no need for another vote.

Everyone should have access to a high-quality and safe affordable home. Our affordable homes programme is investing £11.5 billion to deliver tens of thousands of new affordable homes, and a significant proportion will be made available for social rent, directly helping those most in need.

I was shocked to read recently that only 6,400 new social rent homes were built in England last year, when pretty much everybody agrees that about 100,000 are needed every year to deal with present and future housing needs. What figure between those two numbers does the Secretary of State think would be acceptable in developing social and rented housing in future years?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Actually, I believe that the figure was closer to 30,000 overall, but I believe, as the National Housing Federation and others have made clear, that we need to increase the proportion of new homes for social rent, and that is one of the aims as we reprofile the affordable homes programme.

Last year the Public Accounts Committee assessed the Government’s affordable homes programme. It concluded that targets were being missed, that areas with high demand were not prioritised and that savings to be made by reducing temporary accommodation were not assessed. In Wakefield the council is using hotels such as Citilodge to house homeless people, because it lacks the funding and resources to acquire enough social housing. When will the Government step in and help councils to address the social housing shortage?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the point he makes. There is a housing shortage overall, not just in social housing, and we need to work with local government and others to increase supply. The affordable homes programme is a critical part of that, and that money would not be available if we were to follow the prescriptions on the economy that those on the shadow Front Bench put forward.

The Conservative group at North West Leicestershire District Council has already committed to hundreds of additional houses for social rent. Will my right hon. Friend inform the House how his Department is going to help my council deliver on that very welcome commitment?

North West Leicestershire is one of a number of local authorities with which we are working. The affordable homes programme and, indeed, the ability to use right-to-buy receipts are critical to making sure that we deliver the social homes the country needs.

Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Growth Arc: National Infrastructure Commission Report

2. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of updating the report on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth arc published by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2017. (904308)

The Government completed a 12-week public consultation gathering views to shape a vision for an Oxford-Cambridge arc spatial framework. We are currently considering the responses to that consultation and will provide more information in due course.

Over the past decade, housing growth in Bedfordshire has been two and a half times the national average, with acute pressures on our GPs, dentists and other local services. Today’s progress review by the National Infrastructure Commission confirmed what many of us have always known—namely, that East West Rail is an excuse for even greater housing development in Bedfordshire and the region. Will my hon. Friend please meet me and ensure that we do not progress housing growth in the Ox-Cam arc before the shortages in services are settled?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the concerns of his constituents, which are shared by many communities. We know how important it is that infrastructure is delivered alongside housing growth. That is why, through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we will require local authorities to produce an infrastructure strategy as part of the infrastructure levy. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it further.

Last week London Economics reported that the University of Cambridge contributes almost £30 billion per annum and supports 86,000 jobs across the whole country. When Cambridge does well, the whole country does well. The arc is the key to future UK prosperity, so will the Government play their part by giving local leaders the tools and access to investment so that they can use the wealth that we create to set the stage for Labour to achieve our mission to be the fastest-growing economy in the G7?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), we are considering the report of the National Infrastructure Commission, but this Government are committed to levelling up and to devolution across the country. We saw in the Budget, delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, that we have devolved significant powers to Mayors across the country, such as Andy Street in the west midlands. That is the right thing to do to drive prosperity across the country.

National Planning Policy Framework: Consultation

3. What recent progress his Department has made on its consultation on the national planning policy framework. (904309)

Our consultation on proposals for the national planning policy framework closed on 2 March. We are now considering all the comments that we received and will publish an update in due course.

Sites in Chiswell Green and Colney Heath in my constituency and the north of St Albans district are under threat from the Government’s top-down housing targets that do nothing to tackle our problems of overcrowding or the lack of affordable homes, but do decimate the green belt. In 2015, Ministers issued a statement saying that these targets could not constitute a very special circumstance for allowing green-belt destruction, but they failed to incorporate that statement into the national planning policy framework. Seven years on, can the Secretary of State please say when those changes will be made and whether they will be put in place in time to stop the planning inspectorate forcing through speculative applications if they go to appeal?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. It is precisely because we want to stop speculative developments wherever possible that we are encouraging a plan-led system, and our changes to the NPPF should achieve precisely that. But under threat? Honestly, the Liberal Democrats have a right cheek on this. They say nationally that they want more than 300,000 homes everywhere, and then, on individual planning applications, they out-nimby every other political party. I know that the word “hypocrisy” is unparliamentary, Mr Speaker, but there is no other way to describe Liberal Democrat policy on planning and housing.

Notwithstanding the answer that the Secretary of State has just given, can he assure me that when we do come back with the NPPF revisions, there is very much a brownfield-first thread throughout the guidance and rules?

Absolutely. Our aim, as always, is to promote brownfield first housing delivery and urban regeneration. It will sometimes be the case that individual planning authorities will designate sites for development that are not brownfield sites. The new NPPF will, I hope, give both communities control and developers certainty.

Investment Zone in Scotland

4. What discussions his Department plans to hold with the Scottish Government and local authorities on proposals to create an investment zone in Scotland. (904310)

My ministerial colleagues and I are in constant contact with our counterparts in the Scottish Government. My officials have had positive discussions so far with the Scottish Government to co-create an approach towards investment zones in Scotland and we will continue to work together to develop an investment zone, or zones, that build on existing Scottish strengths and our shared national strategies.

Given that both the green ports went to the east coast of Scotland, which flies in the face of the well-known convention that west is best, can the Minister assure me that when Inverclyde Council puts together its bid for an investment zone, the Minister will balance that against the devastation caused in the area by the lack of investment over decades by consecutive Labour and Conservative Governments?

Greenock and Port Glasgow are two of the most attractive communities on the west coast of Scotland, but I do have to say that pitting east against west within Scotland is as bad as pitting Scotland against the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland succeeds when all of us work together. The new Leader of the SNP is simultaneously a Glaswegian and a Dundonian, which is one of his many achievements, and I do believe that we should work together east and west, north and south, in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.

A total of 7,000 council jobs in Scotland are under threat from SNP cuts to local government. Council leaders across Scotland have written to the former First Minister warning of the devastating impact of those SNP cuts—huge job losses and vital local services across Scotland slashed. Can the Minister confirm what the impact of those job losses will be on people in Scotland, and can he say what the difference is between Tory and SNP cuts to councils, or are they just two sides of the same coin?

Talking of the same coin, we have the same coins in England and Scotland because we are one United Kingdom, and it is the SNP that wants a separate currency for Scotland as part of its plans for separatism. I have to say that there are excellent SNP councillors in Scotland, but they are being let down by the Scottish Government. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is up in arms at the way in which the Scottish Government have undermined local authorities, in contrast to here in England where we are working in partnership with local Government to devolve more power to the frontline. I refer the hon. Lady to the paeans of praise for our approach that we had from Labour leaders of local government just last week. In contrast to that, I am afraid local government in Scotland has been let down by the SNP. It was a key feature of Kate Forbes’s leadership race that she said more powers should be devolved within Scotland, and I hope the new First Minister will take note.

New Homes: Regenerated Brownfield Land

10. What steps he is taking to help ensure that planning authorities prioritise housebuilding on brownfield sites; and if he will make a statement. (904317)

This Government are committed to making the most of brownfield land. The national planning policy framework sets out that planning policies and decisions should give “substantial weight” to using suitable brownfield land, and through our brownfield funds we are investing significantly in supporting redevelopment and release of brownfield sites for housing. We have also committed to launching a review to identify further measures that would prioritise the use of brownfield land.

Under the leadership of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and Conservative councils such as that in Walsall, we are demonstrating the value of regenerating brownfield land to create the homes we need while regenerating communities and protecting precious greenfield in areas such as mine around Streetly and Aldridge. I welcome the £100 million deal we received as part of the trailblazer devolution deal, but will my hon. Friend continue to look at the possibility of creating a register of brownfield land, as a further tool to deliver a brownfield-first approach?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her consistent advocacy in championing this vital issue. That is absolutely what the Government are doing. We are introducing a number of measures, as she set out, to support that brownfield-first approach, including requiring every local authority to publish a register of local brownfield land suitable for housing in their area.

In Chelmsford there are many households living in temporary accommodation. New affordable homes are being built on greenfield sites, but that is not keeping pace with the need. Will the Government look at better ways to use brownfield sites, such as office block to residential conversions, to help to deliver more affordable homes?

My right hon. Friend is doing a superb job of pushing forward affordable homes for her constituents in Chelmsford, and we are wholly committed to that shared agenda. Since 2010, over 829,000 households have been helped to buy a home by Conservative Governments. That is a massive achievement. However, it is vital to prioritise brownfield sites such as those in Chelmsford, and we recently consulted on proposed policies to further encourage the use of those small sites. I am happy to meet her to discuss that further.

Does the Minister agree that prioritising brownfield sites is important particularly to take the pressure off small villages, which face many speculative planning applications and do not have the infrastructure to support them?

I know my hon. Friend expresses the concerns of his constituents who live in those villages in the Tewkesbury area. That is why we have already introduced range of policy and funding initiatives to support the development of brownfield land. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will go much further to empower local leaders to regenerate those towns, cities and villages by introducing a new infrastructure levy, which will capture a higher land value uplift to enable more infrastructure to be delivered alongside housing.

On 1 March, the Secretary of State received a letter written by 10 civic societies from Britain’s biggest cities, including Coventry, about the 35% housing uplift. Given the widespread condemnation of that arbitrary target, will the Minister meet me to explain why it has been imposed on Coventry?

I will be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss housing targets in Coventry. In the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill we have set out the measures under which local areas will have more power to ensure that the right housing is built in the right places. I am happy to discuss that with her.

In Yorkshire, there are tens of thousands of families desperate for affordable housing. CPRE, The Countryside Charity, says that there are 115,000 potential brownfield sites in our county alone, and tens of thousands of more are land banked, with planning consent already given for housing. Yet there is executive housing popping up like mushrooms in a forcing shed all over my constituency on the green belt. Is the Minister happy that her legacy will be a Government that poured cement and tarmac all over Yorkshire’s green and pleasant land?

I think that this Government will be extremely proud of our legacy of delivering affordable homes and homes for first-time buyers all over the country. We need a locally led planning system; that is why we are delivering measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to require more infrastructure and a brownfield-first approach, backed by billions of pounds-worth of funding.

The statutory requirements for the houses that we build today fall far short of the challenges of a changing climate. Humber is the second most flood-prone region in the UK after London, with more than 190,000 at-risk homes, which equates to a third of all properties in the region. Will the Minister consider urgently introducing to the national planning framework stricter statutory requirements for flood protection and mitigation?

The hon. Lady raises a vital issue. We recognise the importance of protecting communities from flood risk. That is why we have been clear in the national planning policy framework that areas of flood risk should be avoided and that, where that is not possible, all risks should be mitigated. That is further supported by the flood risk and coastal change guidance, which has been updated. I am very happy to discuss that in more detail with her as it affects her communities.

Voter Identification Requirements: Local Election Turnout

6. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the introduction of voter identification requirements on voter turnout for local elections in May 2023. (904312)

We all know that turnout can vary significantly from election to election because of a wide range of factors, so it is not possible to model robustly the impact of a single factor on voter turnout. That was noted by the Electoral Commission during its review of the 2019 voter identification pilots. Our measures were introduced to help protect the integrity of our democracy—something that every one of us in this House should seek to do.

Was the Department’s decision earlier this month to give the Electoral Commission an extra £1.5 million to promote voter ID made before or after the Department realised that take-up of voter authority certificates was very low?

Part of the reason is to spread awareness about the new voter ID regulations. We have given that additional funding to the Electoral Commission, as well as additional funding of more than £4 million to local authorities, to promote those additional measures locally. We do not want to price anyone out of democracy, but we must protect its integrity at all costs.

Will my hon. Friend join me in reminding the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) that it was Labour that first introduced voter identification, in Northern Ireland in 2003? The Electoral Commission was unable, in its 2021 public opinion tracker, to identify a single respondent who said that they were unable to vote.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has made the case for why the measures are needed and will benefit our democracy.

I am told by the Association of Electoral Administrators that some returning officers plan to use greeters at the front doors of polling stations to check whether people have the correct ID. If they do not, they will be turned away. Currently, those who are turned away will not be logged as having been refused a ballot on the grounds of a lack of ID. Such a person will be logged only if they make it to the main desk and are refused there. That is totally daft and will, of course, completely skew the data for the independent review. I cannot believe that that is what the Minister wants. Will she commit today to correcting it?

We know that about 98% of electors have the right identification. We have put additional funding into rolling out our information campaign so that people know what identification is required. It is right that local authorities take whatever measures they can to ensure that people have the right ID. Ultimately, we are confident that this will not reduce voter turnout.

Private Rented Sector

8. What steps he plans to take to sanction landlords who do not meet their obligations to vulnerable tenants. (904314)

In our White Paper, we set out plans to reform the private rented sector, giving renters greater security and safer, higher-quality homes. We will introduce legislation in this Parliament.

I listened to the Minister speak to the Renters’ Reform Coalition last week. She handled the questions very well, and I was pleased to hear her announce that a Bill would be introduced by autumn of this year. But since she gave the speech, 900 people have been served section 21 notices. Every week that we wait means thousands of people being evicted. Today, her Government have announced tougher measures making it easier to evict people. Will she give me assurances that renters will be protected, not forced out, by her new Bill?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his kind words, and I am delighted that he was there to hear me reaffirm the Government’s commitment to abolish section 21 evictions as soon as parliamentary time allows. We are levelling up the private rented sector to produce more safeguards for renters and allow more renters to live in safe and decent homes.

I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. Bracknell is blessed with many people who rent their accommodation from private landlords, and it is really important that we do the best we can for them. But by the same token, good law is balanced law. Will she please outline what is being done to protect landlords against tenants who do not fulfil their responsibilities?

As I said at the public event, good landlords have absolutely nothing to fear from our reforms, which are right, proportionate and balanced. As my hon. Friend is asking, we will strengthen the grounds for landlords to use to regain possession, including when a tenant is at fault. That includes making it easier and quicker to evict tenants who commit antisocial behaviour, as set out in the action plan today.

On the answer that the Minister has just given, I should say that the Select Committee recommended that when section 21 goes there has to be a means of dealing speedily with cases of antisocial behaviour. I am pleased that recommendations are made in the antisocial behaviour action plan to prioritise such cases in the courts. But antisocial behaviour also occurs in the social housing sector, and it can often take a year or more to get to court. Will the Minister agree that if we are prioritising such cases in the private rented sector, we should have a similar system for prioritising them for social housing as well?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much; it was a real pleasure to discuss those issues and many others when we met last week to talk about the renters reform Bill. He has made a very good point, and I have committed to take it away and look at it with my officials.

Blackpool has a significantly higher than average proportion of private rented houses. I am sure that my landlords will be delighted to hear about the increased flexibility that they will have to deal with more problematic tenants. However, has the Minister considered extending the provisions on mould and damp that will now apply to the social rented sector to private rented properties as well, to level up the private rented sector?

I thank my hon. Friend very much for drawing the House’s attention to the issue of damp and mould. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been extremely active in pushing forward improvements to social rented housing. It is right that we should level that up to private rented housing. We will be bringing forward the decent home standards in the private rented sector in the renters reform Bill.

Service Charge Increases: Leaseholders and Social Housing Tenants

11. Whether he plans to take steps to help tackle significant increases in service charges for leaseholders and social housing tenants. (904318)

Service charges must be reasonable and works and services must be of a reasonable standard. We will empower leaseholders by legislating, so that service charges are more transparent. We are encouraging registered providers of social housing to limit service charge increases for social housing tenants to 7% or less.

I have been told by constituents who live in housing association properties that not only their rents but their service charges will be going up this year. One constituent has told me that their service charge will increase from £15.18 per week to £127.74—over £5,800 per year more for their service charge. These constituents are already struggling at the top of their budgets to accommodate increased heating and living costs. The Government have placed a cap on the maximum that their rent can be raised by, but that is surely arbitrary if the service charge can be increased by such a drastic amount.

As I have said, service charges are payable only to the extent that the costs have been reasonably incurred. If the hon. Lady’s social housing tenant believes that the costs have not been reasonably incurred, I really encourage them to go to the housing ombudsman. Similarly, leaseholders can also challenge any service charges through the first-tier tribunal.

Following on from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), although it is welcome that the Government have capped rent rises below inflation for those in the social rented sector, residents of Hyndburn and Haslingden, and across Lancashire, are also facing rises in service charges—increases of up to 11%—so can the Government set out what support is available for those who cannot afford a combined rent and service charge increase?

Obviously, we are very sympathetic to those who are feeling cost of living pressures, which is why the Treasury put together the £37 billion package at the autumn statement, followed by a further £26 billion. Service charges should be reasonable, they should reflect costs and there should be access to the ombudsman, as there is.

Attracting Investment: Support for Towns

12. What steps he is taking as part of his Department’s levelling up policies to support towns in attracting investment. (904319)

The Government are supporting towns to attract investment through a wide number of levelling-up initiatives. We are establishing freeports and investment zones designed to incentivise private sector investment and job creation in some of our most deprived communities, and devolution deals are giving local areas the opportunity to tailor policy to local investors. The £2.6 billion UK shared prosperity fund has been designed around a key theme of growing the private sector across the United Kingdom, and the levelling-up funding programmes, totalling almost £10 billion, are designed to revitalise town centres and grow local economies.

Manchester and Trafford are cracking on with regenerating Wythenshawe and Sale town centres in my constituency, despite submitting excellent but ultimately unsuccessful levelling-up bids. Does the Minister really think that the best way to level up is to force cash-strapped councils to waste millions of pounds entering endless beauty parades, just to get the investment that they deserve?

That is why the Government will be publishing a full funding simplification plan in due course, but it is also why we are focusing on devolving more power and more money to local areas. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the fantastic trailblazer deal that we have just introduced in Manchester, which is giving the power and authority there to complete projects such as the one that he has referenced.

In Darwen, we have taken our £25 million town deal and managed to increase that to £100 million with private sector investment, and in Rossendale, as part of our £50 million-plus levelling-up funding—I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the £18 million in the Budget to level up the Rossendale valley—we look forward to going out and courting businesses. Does the Minister agree that the whole point of the levelling-up fund is to ensure that local authorities have to work with their local businesses to make sure they deliver best for their communities?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; Government funding is just one part of the puzzle to ensure that local areas get the investment they need. Attracting that private sector investment is absolutely crucial, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done locally to make sure we are fully levelling up Rossendale and Darwen.

Building Safety Costs: Support for Leaseholders

The Building Safety Act 2022 introduced extensive protections for leaseholders in buildings above 11 metres. Developers in Government schemes will pay for cladding remediation, and developers that have signed contracts or are associated with landlords will also pay for non-cladding work.

It is a national disgrace that nearly six years on from the Grenfell tragedy, leaseholders in Battersea are still stuck in buildings that are below 11 metres. It is not right for the Secretary of State to say that this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis when we know that shorter buildings will have more vulnerable people in them, will have more cladding, and will suffer from greater fire safety defects. When will the Government finally get a grip and allocate resources, and prioritise those according to risk?

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady, but it absolutely is the case that buildings under 11 metres typically have a lower set of issues associated with them when reviewed on the basis of the PAS 9980 principles, which are utilised to assess whether issues are there or not. Where colleagues are aware of problems in buildings, we have asked—and continue to ask—them to get in touch with us, so that we can look at those problems. We are doing so—I looked at a case in Romford only last week. If the hon. Lady wants to provide me with further information, I would be happy to look at those individual cases.

As my hon. Friend will know, the cost to leaseholders does not just end with funding safety measures; many are paying extortionate insurance premiums. Can he tell the House what discussions he has had with the Treasury about reducing those costs and making them more affordable?

Along with my colleagues in the Department, we are trying to find an industry solution for insurance, and we have been working closely with the Association of British Insurers and with insurers directly on what they can do and how the costs for insurance come down as remediation is concluded. I spoke with the ABI only last week, and I will continue to meet it regularly to try to resolve this incredibly important issue.

They will only ever deal with a fraction of the problem at best, but the developer remediation contract and the forthcoming responsible actors scheme are welcome. Yet, as things stand, all we know is that the scheme will initially focus on sufficiently profitable major housebuilders and large developers, and it may then expand over time to cover others. Blameless leaseholders trapped in unsafe buildings deserve far greater clarity now as to whether or not the contract and the scheme may eventually cover their building. Will the Government give them that certainty by committing today to publishing a full list of all developers that the Department believes are eligible and should therefore ultimately participate or face the consequences—yes or no?

I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but the reality is that he cannot suggest that only a fraction of buildings are covered by the developer contract. Just in the past two weeks, it has been confirmed that more than 1,100 buildings will be fixed, with £2 billion of work covering 44 different developers. There will be more announcements in due course, but where individual leaseholders have concerns about moving those buildings forward, we are happy to hear about them, but extensive Government support schemes are already in place to allow remediation to occur without waiting for the conclusion of these developer discussions.

English City Region Capital Regenerations Projects

14. What the timescale is for English city region capital regeneration projects to complete their work. (904321)

I was delighted that my Department could provide more than £200 million of additional funding to 16 transformational capital regeneration projects, including Rotherham’s vital bid to regenerate Dinnington and Wath upon Dearne. My officials will be working closely with applicants to ensure that these projects can kick-start regeneration in these local areas as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister’s response, and it is great news that Dinnington high street got £12 million from this new pot of money. Can she confirm that she will also look kindly on further bids, when I bring them, for my other high streets, such as in Maltby, Thurcroft and Kiveton? Will Rother Valley still be eligible for round 3 of the levelling-up fund, as we got this money from a different pot?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Rother Valley, and I know that two of his councillors who have been championing this project are sitting in the Gallery—Councillor Ball and Councillor Mills—and I thank them for their dedication. This project is due to provide almost £20 million for local regeneration schemes, including in Dinnington and Wath upon Dearne, but that is of course in addition to Rotherham’s two successful levelling-up fund schemes in the first round, worth a total of £39.5 million. Labour let the Rother Valley down, but the Conservatives are levelling it up.

Thornley Lane North is literally the boundary between Denton and Reddish, and the Minister will not understand the incredulity of local residents to see these huge electronic billboards plastered with “Levelling up”. Denton did not succeed in round 2 of the levelling-up fund. Reddish did not succeed in round 1. What is the Minister going to do to help me level up Denton and Redditch, rather than leaving us out?

I am certainly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those levelling-up projects. We have had a huge swathe of fantastic projects that have been funded around the country.

Levelling-up Fund Bids

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the delivery of funds for successful levelling-up fund bids. (904322)

The levelling-up fund continues to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life for local residents across the UK. Levelling-up fund projects that are in delivery are closely monitored through quarterly reporting, with payments made to local authorities every six months. We have also agreed a £65 million support package to ensure that local authorities have the capacity they need to deliver. I am pleased to say that details of the next round of the levelling-up fund will be outlined in due course.

For generations the people of Billingham have made a massive contribution to the British economy—through the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, among others—and they continue to do so today. Sadly, the once state-of-the-art town centre, also built on their backs, has seen better days. Can the Minister explain why, when it comes to levelling up, the Government have turned their back on those who have contributed the most and deserve investment in their town?

I suggest that perhaps the reason that some areas have been run down is due to decades of poor Labour management and investment. This Government are putting billions of pounds into regeneration, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make sure a bid comes in for round 3 of the levelling-up fund.

I was delighted that the Chancellor confirmed in his Budget that the next round of levelling-up fund bids would go ahead. The Minister has just said that the next round will be “in due course”. Would she like to be a bit more specific about when we might expect the deadline for bids, and will she confirm that her Department will work closely with Bradford Council to make sure that the much-needed bid for Bingley town centre will be successful next time around?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic champion for Bingley. As I have said, the third round of the levelling-up fund will be announced in due course, but of course I will work with him and Bradford Council to ensure that the bid is as strong as it possibly can be for that round, so that we can deliver for the people of Bingley.

Barnsley Council has lost 40% of its budget and half of its workforce since 2010, which is a loss of £1.2 billion. Just £10 million has been given back to the borough through levelling-up funding, with nothing for my constituency of Barnsley East. Does the Minister really expect communities to be grateful for that?

I would encourage the hon. Member to visit the Barnsley Futures project—I actually had the pleasure of visiting those involved a few months ago—and tell me that they are not grateful.

Stoke-on-Trent was delighted to receive a UK-leading £56 million from the levelling-up fund, righting the wrongs of 70 years of Labour neglect and failure, when instead it has spent £60 million on brand-new council offices. Having already seen Tunstall’s £3.5 million for the old library and baths, will my hon. Friend allow Stoke-on-Trent another bid for the great mother town of Burslem so that we can invest in our indoor market, the Queen’s theatre and the Wedgwood Institute?

My hon. Friend is never quiet in his forthright campaigning for Stoke-on-Trent. He is a fantastic champion, and of course I will work with him to ensure that any additional funding opportunities are there for Stoke. He has had a fantastic record so far on attracting Government investment, but of course we want to do more.

Mr Speaker, you and the rest of the House will probably know that Huddersfield is a very large town that has never shown all that much interest in becoming a city, but we are feeling very aggrieved that we are not getting the help we need for some prime development projects, particularly with the old market site. Could the Minister look into our area, which is very split between Labour and Conservative—and I am asking quietly and I hope persuasively?

I very much appreciate the hon. Member’s constructive questioning, and I would of course be happy to meet him to discuss such projects further.

For decades, Ynys Môn has suffered from lack of investment. Now, thanks to this Conservative UK Government, who are committed to levelling up left-behind areas such as Ynys Môn, this has changed, with £17 million from the levelling-up fund to regenerate Holyhead and the brilliant news that Anglesey is to be a freeport. I would like to put on record in this House my sincere thanks, and those of my Ynys Môn constituents, to the UK Government—diolch yn fawr.

I want to put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend for her brilliant campaigning for Ynys Môn, really putting the island on the map. Ynys Môn is benefiting from an incredible sum of money from the levelling-up fund, and of course has the incredible benefit from that freeport, in no small part thanks to her brilliant campaigning.

Homeless Children: Bed-and-Breakfast Accommodation

16. What steps he is taking to reduce the number of homeless children placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. (904323)

The Government have been clear that the long-term use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for families with children is inappropriate and unlawful. We will continue to work with local authorities to limit its use, and we are giving councils £654 million through the homelessness prevention grant for 2023 to 2025 to help them prevent homelessness.

I thank the Minister for her response, but the reality for a constituent of mine is very difficult. My constituent has been stuck in a Travelodge for seven months with his wife, a wheelchair user, and two sons. One son is autistic and has been increasingly distressed at constantly changing rooms. The number of families living in B&Bs for more than six weeks has increased by 180% in London in a year, as councils struggle to find affordable accommodation for families on benefits. Can the Government commit to uprating local housing allowance at least by the rate of inflation?

I am sorry to hear about the circumstances of the hon. Member’s constituent, and I am happy to talk in detail. There are currently 1,200 families in B&B accommodation for over six weeks. As I have said, we think that is inappropriate. We have made it clear to local authorities that B&Bs are a last resort, and they are an interim measure to more stable accommodation.

Every year since 2011, the number of children in temporary accommodation has risen—we are talking about well over 120,000 children without a home to call their own. It is a form of homelessness that is out of sight, out of mind and on the rise under this Tory Government—thousands of children stuck in bed and breakfasts for longer than the statutory maximum of six weeks. What do Ministers intend to do about the shocking numbers of homeless children in temporary accommodation, and when? May I remind the Minister that they are in charge of the parliamentary schedule for as long as they have left in government?

Homelessness and rough sleeping is one of the biggest priorities of this Government. We are devoting £2 billion over three years to alleviate homelessness and rough sleeping. This is a major priority of ours. Every family and child deserve to live in decent, secure and safe housing. That is why we have helped half a million people since the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came in to prevent homelessness. We have spent £366 million this year on the homelessness prevention grant and £654 million over the next two years. The Government are committed to getting people out of temporary accommodation and into long-term, stable accommodation.

Topical Questions

Today, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister launched the cross-Government antisocial behaviour action plan. My Department plays a critical role in ensuring that the facilities are available to divert young people from antisocial behaviour and into productive youth work.

Regeneration is taking place across Burnley and Padiham thanks to this Government, but to realise the potential we have to crack down on antisocial behaviour in our town centres. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to crack down on ASB in town centres?

My hon. Friend is right. Across the country, we need to have more uniformed officers in crime hotspots and faster justice, so that those who are responsible for damaging an area make reparation. Above all, we need to ensure that the moral relativism that those on the Opposition Front Bench have taken towards crime is at last countered by a robust, pro-law-and-order response from this Government.

It takes some brass neck from a Government whose Prime Minister has two fixed penalty notices to accuse us of “moral relativism” when it comes to antisocial behaviour. In fairness to the Secretary of State, he has had a busy weekend: another week, another promise and another press release—he is at least consistent with that. But I have here a document that reveals that, even on his flagship levelling-up policy, he has been able to get only 8% of his funds out of the door. He is good at getting press releases out the door—why not our money?

In the Budget just the other week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for making sure that tens of millions of pounds were spent, including £20 million in the hon. Lady’s constituency and tens of millions of pounds across the country, in order to level up. We heard during earlier from Members across the House who have received support, had projects delivered and seen change delivered. This Government are impactful, effective and focused. On the other side of the House, I am afraid all we hear is the cackle of impotence.

The desperation is absurd, Mr Speaker—8% of the levelling-up funds have been spent. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Budget, because in just one day his Government spent three times more on a tax cut for the richest 1% than they have managed to spend on the whole of the north of England in well over a year. Doesn’t that just sum the Government up? They can get their act together when it comes to the 1%, but when it comes to investment in our town centres, local transport, decent housing and delivering on a single one of the levelling-up missions, why do the rest of us always have to wait?

The hon. Lady does not have to wait for the truth. The truth is that, in the Budget, we adopted a policy put forward by the Labour shadow Health Secretary to get waiting lists down. Now that a Conservative Government are actually acting, the Labour party turns turtle on it. That is no surprise coming from the hon. Lady. When we published our White Paper on levelling up, she said that our levelling-up missions were the right thing; in fact, she wanted an additional mission. Now she says that those missions should be scrapped. One position one week, another position the next. Inconsistency, thy name is Labour.

T2. Next month, as I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, is National Pet Month. Sadly, I have been contacted by a number of constituents renting in the private sector who have been refused pets. Will he confirm whether he is still committed to enshrining, in the renters reform Bill, the right for tenants to request a pet and for such a request not to be unreasonably refused? (904334)

May I say, as a dog lover myself, that my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. Pets can bring joy, happiness and comfort, which is why the Government will prevent landlords from unreasonably refusing a tenant’s request to have a pet. We will give landlords more confidence by allowing them to require insurance to cover pet damage.

May I add to the Secretary of State’s congratulations to Humza Yousaf, who shares many constituents with myself? It is a great day for Glasgow Pollok and Glasgow South West. May I ask the Secretary of State some questions on intergovernmental relations? A third tranche of levelling-up funding is yet to be distributed, £90 million of which should go to Scotland. Rather than the botched and broken system, seen in the last month or so, of funding distribution from this place, is it not time to devolve the funding to devolved Administrations to enable its fair and efficient use?

I welcome the desire of the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Scottish Government, to work with us on levelling up. I hope that that means there will be a legislative consent motion passed for our Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. We will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that funding is spent as effectively as possible, but it is UK Government money that supplements the block grant, over which the Scottish Government have total control.

Before the spring Budget, the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, sent a letter to the Chancellor raising several concerns, all of which were ignored. What does it say about the state of intergovernmental relations when the UK Government refuse to consider even a single concern raised by devolved Administrations at Budget time?

We not only consider, but meet regularly with our colleagues across the devolved Administrations. Last year, we had over 270 intergovernmental ministerial meetings, bringing together colleagues. Of course, from time to time, given our respective positions, we may disagree, but there have been a number of significant successes where we have agreed, not least the delivery of two green freeports in Scotland—an example of both Governments working together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.

T3.   I applaud the announcement today by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on cracking down on the tiny minority of scumbags and scrotes who fly-tip, deal drugs and commit antisocial behaviour. In Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, we have launched a campaign for safer streets, with 400 constituents signing so far for new alley gates and CCTV in places like Smallthorne, Cobridge and Tunstall. Will the Secretary of State add his support to the campaign and meet Staffordshire police and crime commissioner Ben Adams to see how we can get that funding to our local area? (904335)

I absolutely will and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work he has done to ensure that our antisocial behaviour action plan hits criminals where it hurts. I should add that apparently the Leader of the Opposition was in Stoke-on-Trent North the other week. He gave a speech on crime, taking over 30 minutes, without any new policies. He should be arrested for wasting police time!

T4. Does the Secretary of State believe that the concept of levelling up across struggling communities with hard-pressed families is undermined by footage of MPs in his own party grubbing around for £10,000-a-day contracts on top of their MP salary and other earnings? If so, will he condemn his Tory MP colleagues’ behaviour? (904336)

Obviously, the capacity of people who are Members of this House to do work to supplement the role they perform here is one that is properly—if there is anything improper about it—a matter for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Privileges Committee. I should say, however, that the hon. Gentleman was happy to serve under the leadership of Alex Salmond when he was, at one point, a racing columnist for the Glasgow Herald and, at another, a paid—

Order. Secretary of State, please, try to help your colleagues. They all want to put a question to you. You’re that popular, but you won’t be if you keep talking for too long.

T5. Home ownership is an important milestone in many of my constituents’ lives. Many have excitedly bought new build homes, particularly on the Harron Homes estate in Wickersley, or the Redmile estate in Aston, only to move in and find major problems that developers are refusing to make good. Does the Secretary of State agree that they should rectify them immediately? (904337)

That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing it to our attention. We are committing to providing buyers of new build houses with strong powers of redress. We have legislated to establish the new homes ombudsman scheme in the Building Safety Act 2022, membership of which will be mandatory for developers.

T6. The one good thing about the Elections Act 2022 was giving overseas voters the right to vote. But with the election likely no more than 18 months away, there is a real risk that they will again be denied their vote. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of the regulations and provide assurances that they will be in place for the next election? (904338)

T7. Local elections are fast approaching, but my local council has said that, from now until 4 May, I can continue to send in casework but it cannot reply. I will not know whether the council has lifted eviction orders or responded to dangerous damp conditions—the list goes on. I champion my constituents’ situations, but that will compromise what I can do to support them. Does the Minister agree that the council’s ruling is wholly disproportionate? (904339)

T9. The leasehold system too often traps homeowners, including many of my constituents. They have complained to me of fire safety risk, poor building maintenance, astronomically high service charges and poor customer service. Labour has been calling on the Government to end feudal leasehold systems. Will the Secretary of State bring forward legislation on further leasehold reform in this Session, so that all homeowners can live in a safe, decent and affordable home? (904341)

The shared prosperity fund is vital for many people, as it replaces EU funds. Last week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard from First Steps Women’s Centre, Women’s Support Network, Mencap and the Kilcooley Women’s Centre, among others, about their huge budget problems, particularly given the lack of a functioning Executive. Can the Secretary of State update us?

My hon. Friend has been vigilant on behalf of communities in Northern Ireland. We will make a statement later this week. The Minister for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), and I will do everything we can to ensure continuity of funding for those services.

The south-west is one of the least affordable areas in the UK. The Liberal Democrat council in Bath wants to build at least 1,000 more social homes for rent by 2030, but faces significant barriers to purchase land. Will the Secretary of State give councils the first right to purchase public land as it becomes available, so that they can build desperately needed social housing?

We will do everything we can. I congratulate Bath and North East Somerset Council on wanting to build more social homes. It must be a first that a Liberal Democrat council is in favour of homes for its residents—normally, they oppose such developments. I am glad to hear it.

A number of charities make sure that all play parks, both new and refurbished, are fully accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. That is a given in my patch and a Government commitment, but the national design codes are still too vague. Will the Minister hurry the officials up and unlock this for all children?

At a meeting in Leeds on Saturday of leaseholders affected by the cladding scandal, nearly two thirds said that they have absolutely no idea when their home is going to be made safe—six years after Grenfell. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is completely unacceptable? What is he going to do to make their homes safe?

I saw reference to that meeting on the right hon. Gentleman’s Twitter feed. I owe him a visit to Leeds to talk to his constituents about that.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming up to Hinckley only last month to hear about the problems we are having with the Liberal Democrat-run borough council, which does not have an up-to-date local plan. The biggest problem it causes is to my community, who put in neighbourhood plans that are ridden roughshod over. What is his message to my constituents?

Well, I think the message has to be “Vote Conservative”, because as we have heard there is a Liberal Democrat council in Eastbourne that is not answering letters, a Liberal Democrat council in Hinckley and Bosworth that is not ensuring that it has a local plan in place, and a Liberal Democrat council in St Albans that is paralysed in the face of the need for new housing. The message is very, very simple: if you want action, get the Liberal Democrats out.

This Friday, hundreds of groups across Northern Ireland will face a situation where their funding finishes and they will have to close their doors. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the problems with the shared prosperity fund, which was meant to replace the European structural funds, will be sorted out and that those groups, including Monkstown boxing club in my constituency, will be given an assurance of funding?

The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) has been working incredibly hard. I am grateful to Members of Parliament from the DUP and to the Chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee for holding our feet to the fire.

Devon needs a devolution deal to deliver new powers and money to the towns there. A good deal would give local leaders the levers they need over affordable housing, public transport and local skills. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can get the best deal for Devon?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a formidable champion for Devon, unlike the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord), who is not in his place today when these issues are being raised. I do not know what he is doing, but what he is not doing is working for people in Devon, which my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp) does so effectively.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s words in the media yesterday, saying that it is unacceptable for private sector landlords to raise rents above the level of inflation, which is a big issue in Vauxhall. Just last week, someone in Brixton contacted me to say that their rent had been doubled in a year. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State needs to hurry up, put words into action and bring forward the renters reform Bill now?

First, I thank the Secretary the State for the money for the Eden Project Morecambe; it has been gratefully received in Morecambe.

However, we have another problem that I would love to meet the Secretary of State to discuss. The town council or the parish council has raised the precept from £200,000 two years ago up to £1.5 million. Apparently, that is to buy a piece of land that is already owned by the public for a knock-down price of £1 million, when it was bought for £3 million. If that is not the case, the remaining money will go into a fund. As we both know, funds cannot be raised against what is already there, unless it is half. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the issue as soon as possible?

Order. Topical questions are meant to be really short and not as long as hon. Members wish. I think we need to give the hon. Gentleman an Adjournment debate. Come on, Secretary of State.

We can definitely meet. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being reselected as the Conservative candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale, with a unanimous vote. I look forward to him being re-elected as MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Do Ministers still intend to honour their manifesto commitment to make sure that no region loses out as a consequence of the loss of EU structural funding?

Solar companies across the country are cynically putting in for just 49.9 MW to avoid having to get national approval from the Government for their solar farms. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss this playing of the system and the Mallard Pass solar farm proposed in my constituency, which will be built with Uyghur blood labour?

Those are three very important points; I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. We must not have the system gamed. We certainly need to be vigilant about any commercial ties with firms that exploit people in China, but we do need more renewable power.

Will the feudal system of leasehold finally be kicked into the history books with the next tranche of legislation in the King’s Speech—yes or no?

In response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State said how important locally-led planning policies were, but frequently the Planning Inspectorate drives a coach and horses through decisions made by local planning authorities, as was recently the case in the village of Wootton, in my constituency. What is he going to do to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate takes more notice of local opinion, expressed through local councils?

Our changes to the national planning policy framework are designed to do exactly that. I talked to the new chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate earlier last week to reinforce the point that my hon. Friend has consistently made on behalf of his constituents in Cleethorpes.

Earlier today, the Minister was keen to pray in aid the Electoral Commission in support of the Government’s voter ID plans. Will she remind the House: in the commission’s detailed analysis of the 2021 elections across the whole of Great Britain, how many cases of voter impersonation produced enough evidence to lead to a police caution? If she does not know the exact number, I will give her a hint: it is half the number of people on the Government Front Bench right now.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The point is to ensure that the integrity of our democratic system is maintained, which is something I will never apologise for.

I, too, have many constituents who are leaseholders and who are stuck in limbo and facing astronomical bills through no fault of their own. Meanwhile, developers such as Galliard have refused to sign the Government’s latest pledge. What is the Secretary of State doing to fix that aspect of the building safety crisis?