Bob Seely debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities during the 2019 Parliament

Local Government Finance

Bob Seely Excerpts
Wednesday 7th February 2024

(3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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Today, we are confirming the major parts of the settlement announced in December, as well as reiterating the £600 million additional funding boost announced in January. Local government has welcomed the extra money as important in offering the ability to provide further support to children, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities, while also being mindful of the increased demand for social care. Governments always need to take tough decisions, and despite the suggestions of some in this place, there is always a balance to be struck: infinite worthy demands, but finite resources. None the less, we recognise that it is important to support local government in the face of increasing demands for services and the rising inflation and costs that are the legacy of the war in Ukraine and instability in the middle east. That is exactly what we are seeking to do.

In recognition of those challenges, I am pleased to announce a settlement totalling nearly £65 billion for local authorities in England for the next financial year. The settlement includes an increase in core spending power of up to £4.5 billion compared with 2023-24; a £1.2 billion uplift to the social care grant, which can be used for children’s or adult services subject to individual local priorities; an increase in the funding guarantee, which will ensure that all authorities see a minimum increase in core spending power of 4% before any local decisions are made on council tax rates; additional support for rural councils through a £15 million increase to the rural service delivery grant; funding worth £3 million to support authorities experiencing significant difficulties because of internal drainage board levy costs; and additional funding for the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly, in recognition of their circumstances and their physical separation from the mainland. As a result, available funding for local government in England will rise by 7.5% in cash terms for 2024-25.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am most grateful for the Minister’s statement, and I am also grateful for the uplift in funding for the Island. As I understand it, that is higher than average—we are most grateful—and that took place after meetings between me and Ministers. I am also grateful that they have specifically mentioned and accepted the additional costs that the Isle of Wight faces by dint of being an island, and that we are in effect now catching up with other parts of or other islands in the UK. I am very keen for this uplift to be seen as permanent, and then to be built on. Will Ministers meet me to discuss ways in which we can ensure that the uplift for the Island and the recognition of island status are now fixed?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for, while I have been in post looking at this portfolio specifically, his invite to the Isle of Wight, his support in facilitating that and his continued work on behalf of the Island. The change, which has been brought forward today by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and the Secretary of State, is in direct recognition of the work he has done, and I am grateful for it. I know that the Under-Secretary will meet my hon. Friend to continue that discussion.

Long-term Plan for Housing

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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There is a long section at the end of the revised NPPF that explains the arrangements for councils that are in the process. We are trying to strike a delicate balance, ensuring that councils go through that process to the extent that they are able to, while recognising that those in an earlier part of the process may want to consider some of the changes. It generally is the case, if I recall correctly, that when councils have passed the regulation 19 stage—the second consultation—there is a greater expectation that they will stay in the process. It is ultimately for them to make their own judgments, but the Government will be watching the result.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I think overall that this is a very good plan and very well delivered by the Minister. I welcome in particular the remarks on character, on beauty, on the importance of agricultural land, on the importance of community support and on the fact that targets are a start point and not an end point. Those are significant changes that mean that communities can be listened to. Will the Minister just confirm that the exceptional circumstance will be available—perhaps even welcome—for examples including islands separated by sea, such as my Isle of Wight constituency?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The footnotes to paragraph 61 use as an example

“areas that are islands with no land bridge that have a significant proportion of elderly residents.”

I hope my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that that sounds very much like the Isle of Wight.

Housing in Tourist Destinations

Bob Seely Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2023

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) for securing this debate on housing provision in tourist destinations.

Today’s debate is timely. We must ask ourselves: do we have the right balance? I think most people in this room would understand the answer. Do we have the right balance between local people, who want to get on the housing ladder, and property owners who are looking to buy a second or even third home? Do we have the right balance between having enough visitor accommodation options in popular areas and ensuring that local workers have somewhere to live? Finally, do we have the right balance on regulation? Are the Government’s proposals going to make a real difference and make more homes available in tourist destinations? Or will we still be debating this issue in one, two, three or 10 years’ time? We cannot afford to be doing that.

To be clear, I absolutely want to see a thriving tourism industry in my corner of Devon. I am proud to represent East Devon; my home county is a desirable place to live. Many people visit and immediately fall in love with the place. They may choose to come back year after year, staying in a variety of accommodation options, such as bed and breakfasts, seaside hotels and town centre short-term lets. Others visit and choose to lay down their roots there, not least for retirement.

One thing is for sure: visitors can always be sure of a warm Devon welcome. I head up the all-party parliamentary group for hospitality and tourism, and I know from first-hand experience that the industry has put on a brave face this year to continue to provide outstanding service and a warm welcome to visitors. That is why it was very welcome to hear that the Chancellor’s autumn statement announced an extension of 75% business rates relief until 2025.

Devon and Cornwall are dependent on the summer months for tourism income, and the business rates relief extension is very good news after a summer in which visitor numbers were down by a fifth. The seasonality of our tourism has knock-on effects on the local housing market. We are all too familiar with parts of Devon and Cornwall resembling ghost towns in the middle of winter. It is a really sad sight to see, when strolling down the seafront, second homes and summer holiday lets lying empty.

In 2019, 14% of annual visitor spend was in August, with 5% of spending occurring in January. Data from Cornwall Council shows that in some parts of that county 40% of properties are used as second homes. Without question, seasonality and second-home ownership combine into a noticeable problem in the region. Although I fully respect someone’s right to purchase a second home, including those used for short-term holiday lets, it is having a seismic impact on our local housing stock. Homes for local people to long-term rent and buy have simply become unaffordable in some areas. An easy way to assess the problem is to compare the average house price with the average salary of residents. In my constituency, East Devon, that ratio is 12.7; in Tiverton and Honiton, it is 10.6; in North Devon, it is 12.2; and in Totnes, it is 14.3. Bear in mind that the average ratio in England and Wales is 8.9.

What can the Government do to get the balance right on policy and regulation so that people can get on the housing ladder in tourist destinations? First, I welcome the Government closing tax loopholes for short-term holiday lets. It was a hard-fought campaign by Conservative MPs in the south-west to close the loophole that allowed second-home owners to avoid paying council tax by registering as a holiday rental, signing up for business rates, and then receiving business rates relief. To be business rated, properties will need to be available to let commercially for 140 days a year and actually let commercially for 70 days a year. That levels the playing field.

Secondly, the Government’s proposals for greater regulation include a registration scheme, which would help local authorities to monitor compliance with key health and safety regulations and give them much-needed data on activity in their area. The scheme will not just be another burdensome form-filling exercise for property-owners: the data will be critical in helping local authorities as they look to use new planning powers to restrict the way in which homes can be flipped into short-term lets. The Government consulted on the proposals over the summer but have yet to respond to the consultation. I urge the Minister to press on.

Thirdly, I believe that the Government can go further. When we build new homes, there is a risk that they get snapped up by property investors to rent out as short-term letting accommodation, which is why the Government must not only build new homes in the right places but make sure that they get into the right hands. Councils that can demonstrate a high number of holiday lets and second homes in their area should be able to reserve a percentage of new builds for people with a local, family or economic connection to that area.

At the moment, local planning authorities can impose on new developments a planning condition called a local connection test, but I am not aware of councils readily using that power to make sure that local people get first dibs on new homes specifically in tourist destinations. That is why I would like to see councils being able to reserve a percentage of new builds for people with a local, family or economic connection to the area. Under my proposal, the purchaser would have to meet conditions, such as living or working within 25 miles of the property, being born within 25 miles of the property, or having a care network within 25 miles of the property.

Ultimately, we need to strike a better balance, to help local people to rent or buy a home while also supporting tourism.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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As ever, my hon. Friend is making an incredibly eloquent speech, with some important points about balance. One of the things that I hope the Minister will talk about is the need for constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s and mine—especially as mine is an island—to use exceptional circumstances to enable us more easily to design a housing policy that protects our landscape, which we need for quality of life and our visitor economy, while at the same time allowing us to relentlessly prioritise our local housing need. The one thing that we all share, apart from living in very beautiful parts of the UK, is that our tourism economy often means that our GDP per head is lower than it is in other parts of the UK, so it is sometimes more difficult for people to buy.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp
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I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. He represents a beautiful constituency which, as an island, has its own unique issues, and I really respect that.

We need to strike a fairer balance so that local people can work in vital local industries such as tourism and hospitality without having to travel miles to get to work. Without workers behind the bar, in the kitchen or at the high street till, the hospitality and tourism industries simply would not exist in constituencies such as mine. Today’s debate goes to the heart of the sustainability of our communities and the south-west. That is why it is so important that we get the balance right.

Isle of Wight Local Government Finance

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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It is good to see you in the Chair again, Mr Deputy Speaker. Islanders sometimes ask me what the purpose of these debates is, and the answer is simple: they are occasions for me, as the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight, to raise issues of importance for the Island and to do so on the public record—in Hansard—and then to get a considered response from a Minister of the Crown, who in this case is my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and I welcome him to his new role. His predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), was good enough to visit the Island and engage in this issue consistently. I know that the Minister has some big decisions to make in a short amount of time, so I will help him make those decisions as much as I can by trying to make as strong a case as I can.

The critical point that I will argue is that the Isle of Wight is the largest island by population in England—an island being separated by sea from the mainland—and the only island authority in the UK that does not receive a permanent uplift to council funding to reflect the additional costs resulting from separation by sea from the mainland. I will make two arguments. The first is on why the Isle of Wight is treated differently from every other island with a sizeable population separated by sea from the mainland. Secondly, I will look at what that uplift in financial terms would be.

A couple of hours ago, I received a letter from the Minister in which he said:

“Island funding is an issue you have raised with the Department numerous times, and I am pleased we have progressed this issue to this stage.”

He is certainly right that I have raised it numerous times. I have raised it on dozens of occasions, with the most significant of those—debates in the House and letters to Prime Ministers—being: 9 May 2018; 25 September 2019; twice in October 2019; twice in October 2020; 15 June 2021; 10 August 2021; 30 November 2021; 28 November 2022; and 26 September 2023. As I said, there were multiple occasions in between.

We do not get an island factor and, as I said, we are the only island that does not. We were recognised to have that analysed in the fair funding formula, and it was the Prime Minister, when he was in my hon. Friend’s role as local government Minister, who committed in the fair funding review to look at the cost of providing services on an island and on the Isle of Wight. Sadly, thanks to covid, that fair funding review was never implemented. I consider that to be an historic injustice. We have in effect gone back to the era of modern government that started in the 1960s.

There is a generalised rule for islands that is not being applied to my constituency of the Isle of Wight. There is no logic or consistency to that position, and I suspect it is one that would be difficult to defend, either morally here or legally in a court of law, because one of the principles of modern governance is consistency and fairness, neither of which seem to apply in this case.

I turn to a series of studies. Since 1989 there have been six major studies into the impact of separation by sea on the funding of public services on the Isle of Wight. The most recent was published by the University of Portsmouth, to which I am grateful for its work—it shows the value of working with academic institutions and doing really good quality, peer-reviewed work. Portsmouth argued that the additional costs of providing government services on the island were up to 25% of net expenditure. It identified three factors that inflated our costs and made it difficult to provide Government services for the same amount of money.

The problem for my hon. Friend the Minister is the methodology. If the inputs are incorrect, the outputs will not be correct either, and if nobody is taking into account the additional costs of providing government services because the methodology does not allow that, we will not get outputs that are fair and consistent either with other authorities of the same size or with islands.

Portsmouth identified three factors: first, the lack of a spillover of public goods between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, which forces us to be self-sufficient, but at a cost; secondly, the Island premium of higher prices charged by suppliers on the Island because there is a smaller market, combined with the ferry costs— I will come to that—and thirdly, the additional costs to the Island that result from physical and perceived dislocation. Personally, I do not understand why anyone would not want to live on the Isle of Wight—considering that there are 8 billion people on the planet, it is probably quite good that most choose not to—but it is sometimes quite difficult for us to find experts, such as senior NHS doctors. Those are the three factors.

I want to make it clear that since I became the Member of Parliament in 2017, working with other people, the NHS and the council, we have got and delivered a better deal for the Island. We have got major investment in the NHS, the railway has undergone significant repair, Isle of Wight College is about to be demolished and rebuilt, and both our levelling-up bids have been accepted. We have also saved shipbuilding in East Cowes and got £20 million from the towns fund for Ryde. We have £175 million in total, which is buying good things like a better health service, better jobs and better life chances for our constituents. I am proud of that record, but that £175 million is a capital sum. The issue is the annual funding settlement to the council. It is an element of getting a better deal. We have a better deal in many areas, but I want a better funding settlement for my council.

Related to all that, the elephant in the room is the ferry crossing, which has one of the highest costs in the world. I will not dwell too long on this, because I want to hear the Minister’s eloquent response, but we have some of the most expensive ferries on earth. We have had lots of good ideas about what to do about them, but we have never had a shared manifesto that the MP and the council can agree on. The Island’s council has no powers over the ferries, despite being the transport authority, and as far as I can see it has never taken a policy position. We have the Transport Infrastructure Board, under the great leadership of Christopher Garnett, but the ferry firms’ participation is voluntary, and I think that is wrong.

I understand that soon the ferries will start to have discussions about grants and Government support to move to net zero. At that point, when public money is being spent, there should be a quid pro quo, such as a public service obligation of some kind. I am also moving towards the idea of a Solent ferry regulator, which would have the legal power to sign off on timetables, debt levels, changes to ownership and other issues related to the ferries. The council should also have a seat on both the Wightlink and Red Funnel boards.

I will leave the ferries element there because I will develop it in the new year, but it is part of the additional costs that the Island faces, adding cost to everything physical that we try to get over, and to people coming over as well. In fact, I think the fair funding formula said that a foot passenger adds about 35 miles, and a vehicle bringing stuff on to the Isle of Wight adds the equivalent of a drive from London to Peterborough—about 70 miles.

Going back to the reports on the Isle of Wight, the most recent one, commissioned last year by one of the Minister’s predecessors, was won by a company called LG Futures, which is a local government think-tank that does good work developing ideas for local government. The Government commissioned the report to review the evidence and work out the additional cost of providing public services on the Island. LG Futures peer-reviewed the evidence and concluded that every relevant study undertaken independently—that is the key word—confirmed the additional costs of providing parity of public services on the Island. The critical point is that the Island cannot simply access the services provided by neighbouring authorities, because we are separated by sea. We have the dislocation and the island factor—eloquently outlined in the University of Portsmouth’s report, and indeed reports going all the way back to the Edwards commission in the 1960s. Therefore, the Island provides fewer services compared with comparative councils, neighbours and unitary authorities. That is why we believe that the current system is unfair.

I will speak for another eight minutes or so, because I want to make sure that the Minister can get a word in edgeways. I persuaded the Government to reopen the examination of Island funding earlier this year, and I thank the Minister’s predecessor for doing so. We have engaged closely with his Department. The work we have done this year is probably the most detailed to date. Throughout the process, the Isle of Wight gathered all the data that we have been able to, and we made estimations where we were not able to get statistical data. One of the issues we have found is that perfect data is not readily available, therefore a level of ministerial judgment is needed. In our evidence, we believe that the total net expenditure and unit costs on the Island are about 14% above the statistical average of our neighbours. When Portsmouth says up to 25% and zero is no change, the estimates we have come up with this summer, working with the Minister’s Department, show an additional cost of 14%.

There has been a series of letters, and I know the Minister wants to have another look at the evidence. He is perhaps writing to us again. I am very grateful for that, because it is another chance for us to make our case. Once we provide that evidence again, I would like to speak to the Minister again, if he has time, just to make sure that he understands the arguments we are presenting. His own Department now says that

“there may be additional costs associated with Island status.”

I am grateful for that acceptance of our case. It is somewhat hedged because we are dealing with public servants and there is a degree of ministerial judgment here, but I disagree with the equivocation. There are clearly associated costs. For me, it is a question of how much. Unless the Minister seriously wants to argue today that we can provide the same level of public services for the same money on an island with a smaller market and hyper-expensive ferries as we can on the mainland, then with great respect to him—I am sure he will not be making that argument—that would simply not be a credible argument.

That brings me back to the core point and the issue of the principle here: why is the Isle of Wight treated differently from other islands that are effectively the same, separated by sea? Once we accept the principle, what is the monetary value put on it? For England’s only other island authority, the Isles of Scilly, the uplift or island factor is 50%. It is different from the Isle of Wight. It is smaller and there is an increased difficulty in providing services—I get that—but that is a 50% uplift. If we look at perhaps more comparative islands, the special islands needs allowance in Scotland provides a 10% uplift in general funding for Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. For councils with significant populations, the allowance is allocated between 5%, 20% and 50%. In all cases, a simple fact is recognised: there is an island uplift because it costs more to provide Government services on an island.

I come back to my central point. I sent the Minister my speech early. I have edited and tweaked it a little bit, but he has had a copy of it for a day or so. I would like very much to ask him for the Government to accept in principle that the Isle of Wight should have an island uplift, as all other islands separated by sea from the mainland do, and then to work with me and the council’s experts to find a number. For me, the most important element is the acceptance that the Isle of Wight should be treated equally—I think that is legally and morally justified—as an island as others are. We negotiated last year what the Government described as a temporary uplift. It was about £1 million. I would like to see that uplift at the heart of an island settlement that is then, frankly, increased. I am very grateful for the £1 million, but it is not a great deal of money.

To sum up, I am very grateful to the Minister for listening so closely and I really appreciate the work he is doing on this issue. It is a complex area and he is trying to balance lots of things. I would say that a significant uplift for the Isle of Wight is effectively an accounting error for most large councils. Relatively modest sums would make a great deal of difference. For example, they would enable us to keep our regeneration team. We need that team. We had two levelling-up bids accepted, which shows we need the money, and that we had the professionalism to put good cases and go out and get it. If we have no non-discretionary spending at all, it makes it very difficult for us to build a future that we want for our islanders.

The Isle of Wight is an exception to the current rule. I think that is wrong and that we are seeing an historic injustice. The study suggests that our island status, the fact of being the Isle of Wight, makes it between 4% and 25% more expensive—between £10 million and £60 million—to provide similar sets of services. I urge the Government and the Minister to continue to talk with me and, on the first point, to recognise that the island should be treated the same as other islands separated by sea, and secondly, to work to provide a realistic figure that will make a difference to my constituents and my council.

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) not only on securing this important debate, but on advancing the argument in the way that he did. Let me also add my thanks to Wendy Perera, the chief executive of my hon. Friend’s council, to Councillor Phil Jordan, its leader, and, of course, to Chris Ward, the section 151 officer. They all work very closely with my Department, advocating for the Isle of Wight as my hon. Friend does, and my Department and I are very grateful to them for their engagement over this period.

Let me start by saying that the Government are, of course, committed to serving the needs of diverse communities across our country. This debate has provided an excellent opportunity to discuss the Island communities for whom my hon. Friend has long been an effective campaigner. As he mentioned, my predecessor visited the Island recently, and found it immensely helpful to hear from local voices about the issues faced by Island authorities.

I now have a confession to make. I have never visited the Isle of Wight. If my hon. Friend would like me to undertake a state visit with full pomp and ceremony, with flags and with town bands playing, I should of course be delighted to accept. I must warn him that I do get a little seasick, so we had better choose a slightly calm sailing day.

I have heard what my hon. Friend has had to say, as has my predecessor and as have officials in the Department. I say this in no way to rile him, and he should not take it personally—in fact, I know he does not—but having been in this job for nine days and in this place for eight and a half years, I have yet to see any right hon. or hon. Member doing cartwheels up and down the Library Corridor or across Central Lobby while declaring how perfectly satisfied they are with their local government settlement. There is always room for improvement.

My hon. Friend, and the House, will know that the local government finance settlement is in progress, and I want to give as much correct information in as timely a fashion as I can throughout that process to local councils across the country. Against that backdrop—very much early doors, as it were—I know my hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot and will not pre-empt the formal process of determination and decision making, but I hear very clearly what he has said both in this debate and in representations. He kindly acknowledged that he was in receipt of my letter of today’s date—which shows that the systems are working—and it may be helpful if I read some of it into the record. It includes these words:

“we have concluded the evidence-gathering part of this process and I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you”—

—my hon. Friend—

“and the Isle of Wight Council for your co-operation throughout this process. Island funding is an issue that you have raised with the Department numerous times, and I am pleased we have progressed this issue to this stage.

My officials are currently assessing the evidence submitted by your council and intend to share a draft of the report for comment to…Council officers in due course.”

Let me assure my hon. Friend that this will happen during the process of making final determinations on the funding settlement, not afterwards. It will be done in a timely and sequential way.

My letter explained that the council officers

“will then have the opportunity to comment on the report and my officials are happy to respond to any further questions and comments”

that may arise from that process—as, of course, am I.

A go-to phrase of Ministers at the Dispatch Box is to refer to a right hon. or hon. Friend as a “doughty champion”. That phrase sits well in the parliamentary vocabulary, but if it were to be worn as a crown—I say this in all sincerity to my hon. Friend, and I hope it gives confidence to his constituents and to those other deliverers of public services across the Isle of Wight— then, based on the list of correspondence and strong representations he makes not only to my Department but to Departments across Government, that crown would fit his head as if bespokely tailored. I congratulate him for all he does on behalf of his constituents, who should be very proud that they have such a doughty champion.

Let me turn to the hard figures. As a statement of principle and fact, we recognise the key role that local government plays in and across our communities. The word that we share is, of course, “government”—central and local. So long as the Prime Minister keeps me in post, I want to advance cordial relations and co-operative and collaborative working. Whether in town hall or Whitehall, we are all focused on serving people’s needs, and very often those people are among our most needy and vulnerable constituents. The work done by local government in helping to meet those needs is profound and widely recognised.

This year’s local government finance settlement for the Isle of Wight was £162.9 million—a more than 10% increase in core spending compared with the previous year. As the local authority has responsibilities for social care, the demographics of the Isle of Wight will throw up particular challenges, as do the demographics in many rural areas across the country. I know the council benefited from the additional social care funding announced last year, receiving an increase of over £4 million in its social care grant allocation. That was in addition to funding from the improved better care fund and the market sustainability and improvement fund. The increase was above the 9.4% average for local authorities across England. Overall, the Government made available up to £59.7 billion for local government—an increase in core spending power of up to £5.1 billion compared with 2022-23.

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the challenges and opportunities faced by island communities differ greatly from those facing other authorities in England. The separation from the mainland by water can lead to increased costs in some areas. I pause for a moment to say that, as a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency, I have long argued in speeches and representations to Ministers from the Back Benches that the additional costs of delivering public services in a rural area should be taken into account. Of course, we do that through the rural services delivery grant.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I completely accept the argument about isolation in a rural area, be it Dorset or Cumbria—a large part of the Isle of Wight qualifies as a rural area, too—but there is a specific additional cost that comes from ferry use, in terms of time, funds and the greater difficulty in sharing services. Does the Minister accept that point?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The fact that the best way to get to the Isle of Wight is by ferry is not something that any Minister of the Crown would wish to dispute with anybody who lives on the Isle of Wight. That is, of course, true, and I will turn to that in a moment. I hope my hon. Friend recognises that the Government have taken it into account, and I intend to continue taking it into account in my deliberations.

It is, of course, for that reason that the Government have consistently stood alongside the islands of our country to provide additional support in recognition of the unique circumstances they face, as my hon. Friend has set out for the House this afternoon. As he will be aware, the Isles of Scilly, for example, receives bespoke funding at the local government finance settlement for that. Our response to my hon. Friend’s previous calls for the Government and my Department to recognise that has been that in recent years, as he has noted, we have provided an additional £1 million in grant funding to the Isle of Wight, in the light of the exceptional circumstances faced by the authority.

I am certain that he would have liked that money to be more, but, again, I say to him that the Government and I have to take decisions in the round, against the backdrop of a series of interdepartmental calls for public money and very strong calls for public money within the Department for different elements of the delivery of local government. That is why I said earlier, not as some flippant point, but as a serious one, that he should not take this personally. I receive and am receiving representations from Members from across the House and from across the geographies of our kingdom about how the Government will support local government this coming year.

Let me say a word or two about the evidence base and evidence gathering. My hon. Friend has mentioned that my Department has worked productively with the Isle of Wight Council this year on evidence gathering, to help us better understand the additional costs faced by the Island. As he highlights, it is challenging to quantify an island effect, but I hope he will agree that the joint work on the evidence gathering exercise has been a valuable process, both for the Isle of Wight and for the Government. Let me assure him and, through him, his constituents that my Department and I will make the very best use of this information, provided by the Isle of Wight Council, in order to come to a decision.

Too often, I fear, these things are commissioned and looked at, and then someone realises that a window with a slightly dodgy sash needs a bit of a prop if they are to have ventilation and these reports are used for that purpose, or for propping open a door while people are coming in and out. The documentation submitted will be on my desk and it will be at the forefront of my mind when I look at the figures on the settlement for the coming financial year. As always, we will be announcing our proposals, which are subject to consultation, in the upcoming local government finance settlement. We will do that in the usual way later this year.

The autumn statement, which many have welcomed, was comparatively late this year, which means that my officials and Department will have to work at pace to get the figures out to local authorities for them to think about their draft budgets and for us to undertake our consultation. I have set two challenges for my officials. Let me pause to say, albeit having been only nine days in the job, that I have unchallengeable support and admiration for them. They are the most phenomenal team of public servants, who are fully seized of and alert to the challenges of delivering public service in the local government arena. They have risen to the challenges I have set them and accepted them with alacrity. The challenges are that the data that we provide to local authorities must be delivered in as timely a fashion as possible; and, more importantly, that any figure work that we provide to them must be correct and beyond peradventure.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the invitation to visit the Isle of Wight is in his private office as we speak. Tennyson used to invite people in poetry, but I am afraid that, just because of the time, I have done it in prose. For many of the figures that he is talking about, we will be able to get Chris, Wendy and others, including the NHS, to come to talk about the additional costs. We hope that he will be able to see proper, physical, practical examples to back up the numbers that we have provided.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his uber efficiency in organising such a trip. My Speedos will be dusted off—don’t get excited, Mr Deputy Speaker—and I hope to share a 99 with him at some bracing seaside venue. In sincerity, I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I look forward to that hugely.

To draw my remarks to some form of conclusion, I hear the representations that my hon. Friend has made. In turn, I hope he has heard my total commitment from the Treasury Bench to studying with great care, as my predecessor did and as my officials do, all and any submissions made by him and his council. We hope to arrive at a circumstance and solution that works for the people of the Isle of Wight.

Government support to the Isle of Wight, as my hon. Friend was kind enough to reference in his remarks, is manifest outwith the local government finance settlement. We are investing in key capital projects across the Island, as part of our aim to level up all parts of the country. The fantastic and magnificent work of the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) is testimony to that. In recent funding announcements, the Island has benefited from £20 million for the town partnerships endowment, which will support the town of Ryde in the development of a new long-term plan; £5.8 million in round 1 levelling-up funding to the East Cowes marine hub; and, only this week, £13.6 million from the levelling-up fund to deliver the Island green link, providing cycle and walking infrastructure extending from Ryde in the east to Yarmouth in the west of the Island.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. While I am not able to give him the figures in pounds, shillings and pence, I hope I have been able to persuade him of the seriousness with which I take his case and with which I will approach this issue over the coming weeks and months. I am committed, as are the Government, to doing as much as we possibly can to ensure our fantastic councils, not just in the Isle of Wight but across the United Kingdom, can work alongside us and deliver for all of our constituents.

Levelling Up

Bob Seely Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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As the hon. Member mentioned, we are funding Leeds in this round for the “Heart of Holbeck” scheme, with almost £16 million of funding. As I said in my statement, Leeds is also the beneficiary of a new investment zone announced earlier today. This Government have continued to focus on levelling up, and I will work with him to ensure that the benefits of that can be felt in Leeds and across West Yorkshire.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am delighted that the Isle of Wight’s bid has been accepted, and I am grateful to the Minister for pushing it through. Our cycle group—CYCLEWight—has raised with me the condition of current cycle routes on the Island. As well as this funding delivering new routes—especially the west Wight cycle route, which is incredibly important—when we are reconfirming the bid, will we be able to tweak elements of it so that we can spend some of that money on improving and repairing the existing cycle routes, namely Sandown to Newport?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I apologise to my hon. Friend that I am not able to give him that assurance today. We have an adjustment process where we work with local authorities to ensure that the projects that they have received funding for can still be delivered. If that is not the case, we will work with them to see what can be delivered through the bid. I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to do just that.

New Housing Supply

Bob Seely Excerpts
Monday 5th June 2023

(8 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for a really fascinating speech and hope that the debate will be of equal quality. There is an issue with density. Garden cities are a fantastic idea, whether Hampstead garden suburb, Welwyn Garden City or the others, but we have some of the lowest density cities in the world. We are a small country with a high-density per-kilometre population compared with elsewhere in the world. How does he square that circle with the high-quality environment that he wants to see?

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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Part of that fits in with what my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) said, but I will deal with the point about the high density of the population in a moment.

Let us talk about the politics of nimbyism. Today, in a village in my constituency, a small development of 100 homes would generate thousands of objections. That is inevitably what happens. A garden town could deliver tens of thousands of homes and, if put in the right place, would probably generate a few hundred objections. I will talk about how to minimise that, too. Such a scheme would be fruitless unless we can ensure that new developments generate the funding they need to become places where people actually want to live. That is key.

Part of the problem with the existing process is that a mass of potential funding for infrastructure can quickly disappear, captured not by the local community but by landowners and developers. As soon as a hectare of farming land gets planning permission, its value will shoot up roughly a hundredfold. That is the order of magnitude. It goes from £21,000 for the average hectare of agricultural land to an enormous average residential land value of £2.1 million per hectare—that is outside of London. However, the vast majority of that will go to the landowner and the developer. About 27% will be captured by the state, mostly by the Treasury—that is over and above the money brought in by section 106 agreements.

There is no guarantee that money will be spent locally. Indeed, there is almost a guarantee that it will not be spent locally—I am looking at my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), a former Treasury Minister, as I say that. This system starves local communities of funding that could pay for necessary infrastructure within the development, such as schools, roads, train stations, GPs and hospitals, fibre optics or cycle lanes—you name it—or even funding that could pay for larger and cheaper homes, which comes to the point about density. The result is piecemeal development around existing settlements that lacks the proper amenities to cope.

The solution lies with the example I have referred to already, set during the 20th century. The construction of new towns was centred around radical but effective legislation that allowed new town development corporations to buy large tracts of land at their existing use value. That meant that when buying up farmland for garden towns, the corporations paid the agricultural use price rather than the hope value, or hypothetical market price. I want to propose a slightly more sophisticated approach, because I do not really like expropriation—I am a Conservative, remember. We will have to have some sort of compulsory purchase, but there should be a proper compensation for that.

Consider an example of a 1,000 hectare garden town, a little smaller than Welwyn Garden City. Purchasing 1,000 hectares of land at agricultural value would cost £21 million, but as soon as it has planning permission the value would rise to £2.1 billion—remember that number. There is no change to the underlying land usefulness and no work undertaken—that is just a change of planning permission. But a Government-created garden town development corporation might pay the existing owners, let’s say, 10% of the development value. That is still £210 million, so we are now talking about a pretty rich farmer. That is ten times the existing use value and a profit for him of £190 million, but it still leaves £1.9 billion of uncaptured asset value. That £1.9 billion surplus can be used to invest in the town’s infrastructure, schools, medical centres, parks, pedestrian walkways, high-speed optical links, and road and rail connections.

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David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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Well, that is the rest of the argument. My aim is to create a well-designed town, which is attractive to live in. I looked around my own part of the world and I thought, “I can see where they would go.” I am not going to say it publicly as I do not want to change the land values, but I could certainly see that.

These developments would be built in areas of comparatively low population. They will not be on top of an existing town, as my hon. Friend describes, so they can, to a large extent, sidestep the nimby problem. Even in cases where there is a hamlet near to a proposed site, considering the size of the surplus, it could be used to buy out those who are objecting, with a small premium on the existing market price, a little bit of help with moving and the payment being tax free. That would minimise the nimby problem.

It is not as though we are short of space for these new developments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) said, we often hear that the UK is full or that further development risks damaging our beautiful countryside. I am afraid I do not agree with such arguments. My hon. Friend has been in a helicopter more times than I have, so he will know that if he flies from London to York or Hereford to York, or wherever he likes, if he looks out of the window he will see that unless passing over a major conurbation, it is like looking at a golf course. Only 8.7% of England is developed; in Scotland, it would be a tiny fraction.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My right hon. Friend may find that that figure is disputed. When we look at motorway service stations and urban lighting, we see that urban sprawl means the number is significantly greater than 8.7%. That number represents a very narrow definition and there are people who would at least double it.

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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Like all mathematicians, as I am, I always treat numbers carefully. My hon. Friend might note that I said, “Look out of the window of a helicopter.” If he does that, he will see what I am talking about—large amounts of free tracts of land. I am talking about not just any old land, but land near motorways, railway hubs or the old Beeching railway lines, if we wanted to rebuild some of those. There are a whole series of places where we could put people.

It is not just a numbers game either. As the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) and others have said, new communities need to have character. They need to be attractive to all sorts of members of society. Garden villages and towns make that possible. I am not necessarily trying to introduce another policy aim, but instead of shoehorning new houses into any nook and cranny we can find in existing settlements, we can build good-quality, spacious homes in new developments.

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John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Mayor. I think this is a very important debate—[Interruption.] I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was away with my local government head on there, rather than my parliamentary one.

Clearly housing matters. We should never forget that a house is a home, a place where people live as individuals and bring up families. Therefore, we want to see improvements in housing. We want to see increased quality and we want to see quantity improve. We want to ensure choice in social housing, in the rented sector and, most importantly of all, in the owner-occupier sector. We must also remember the other markets, such as the student let and the holiday let markets, that have a role to play in housing.

As has already been said, in many respects the solution is straightforward: we simply need to build more homes. However, I appreciate that there are barriers to achieving that.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I have listened to all the contributions, and I am probably out of step with quite a few hon. Members here, but nobody is talking about the failure of the builders to build. The builders are getting the permissions in their tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, but they are land banking the permissions and the land promoters speculate on that. If we could tackle that, would we not get closer to solving the problem?

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
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I am not totally convinced that that is correct, but it is an interesting point that my hon. Friend makes.

I appreciate that in housing there is a degree of controversy in particular parts of the country, but we should be careful about making lazy assumptions. There is not a national housing market; there are many variations up and down the country. London is different from Manchester, Cornwall is different from Leeds. There are differences between urban and rural, and in many respects the housing market is regional and sub-regional. In my county of Cumbria, the Lake district is a very different market from Barrow or Carlisle. What is affordable also varies considerably depending on values, supply and of course salaries. Therefore, the housing market is a bit more nuanced than we sometimes think, and we must respect and consider that when we come to making policy.

It is also important that we do not see housing policy in isolation. Tax, whether it is council tax, stamp duty, capital gains tax or inheritance tax, can influence the housing market. How we organise our infrastructure and connectivity—train lines, roads, access to housing and housing developments, bus routes—also has an impact on the housing market. So too, most importantly, do businesses and economic and employment activity.

There are solutions, which hon. Members have already touched upon. I wholeheartedly agree that the responsibility for a local plan lies with the local authority and, if it does not produce one, one should be imposed upon it by Government. I think that is right. On tax incentives, we need to look again at our tax regime, particularly stamp duty and council tax, and hon. Members have already touched upon the planning rules that also need reform.

However, we also need to be bigger in our thinking. We need to think strategically. The Government need to be bold, imaginative, visionary and above all brave. We have an unbalanced nation, principally a north-south divide in our economic performance. The north clearly needs a great deal more investment, both public and private.

We have economically underperformed in the north for many years, but there are opportunities emerging. We have the green revolution, we have the energy policy and the prospect of nuclear plants, and there is an industrial renaissance—I hope—starting to happen. The northern economy is still 15% manufacturing, so there are opportunities. We need more business investment and we need to grow that economy.

The Government should make a commitment to build half a million new homes in the north of England and shift activity to those areas. To achieve that, we need better connectivity and greater incentive for business. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about new towns. That is an eminently sensible solution. Garden villages can also be part of the solution, as can reclaiming brownfield sites.

I will give two little examples of what can be achieved. In my Carlisle constituency, we have a proposal for a garden village of 10,000 homes. That has been opened up by housing infrastructure funding that will improve the road infrastructure, which will release those 10,000 homes over the next 10 to 20 years. It is well supported: people want to see places such as Carlisle grow, because we need critical mass to support the services that we have in our area. We are, in many respects, an area that needs to attract a greater population.

I was involved with the borderlands growth deal initiative. There are 1.5 million people in the borderlands area. If we superimposed a plan of that area over London, it would stretch to Brighton and almost to Cambridge and Bristol—an area that contains more than 20 million people. There are opportunities for housing and places for people to move to, but at present we do not have the housing supply. With economic activity, private investment and public infrastructure investment—housing policy cannot be seen in isolation—that would be a win-win for all. It would take pressure off parts of the south, create a stronger north—fundamental to improving the overall performance of our country—create a more balanced country and, above all, create homes for all.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) on securing the debate. He will be familiar with New Earswick outside York—the first garden village, and such a desirable place to live today. As York nears the end of its 77-year journey to secure a local plan, I hope that the inspectors look at Labour’s proposals to create new garden towns on the edge of York. That is very much in keeping with the history of our city, where we have 15-minute connectivity and the infrastructure—schools, healthcare and transport facilities—that we need to make the community work.

York has a significant housing supply challenge: along with a low-income economy, the cost of housing is exceptionally high. A single person can afford just 5.6% of properties, but finding those properties is a real challenge. Last year, the cost of properties in York rose by 23.1%—the highest rise anywhere in the country. That costs our economy and families. The challenges are not abating. The only difference is that last month York voted for a Labour council. We are committed to doing everything possible to build homes that people can afford to live in. We need to look at how we can develop supply, especially when it comes to starter homes and social homes.

I encourage the Government to ensure that, when analysing their consultation on short-term holiday lets, robust measures are applied to return lets to residential use. Today, 2,079 lets are being advertised across the York area, and we need those homes back in circulation.

Starting with land, Labour has set out its stall on compulsory purchase. Land needs releasing at scale and at pace, not just for local authorities but for housing associations. Too much is banked, and although that may be profitable for developers, it prevents much-needed house building. We need measures under which land is re-evaluated and brought into use—through compulsory purchase orders, if necessary. Too many are gaming the system. Although our policy and priority is “brownfield first”, green spaces—green lungs—must, where appropriate, be placed in the centre of our communities. That is so important for people’s wellbeing and mental health. We saw throughout the pandemic the price paid by people who were locked into high-density communities.

Secondly, we must address funding. In 2012, the Government imposed a housing revenue account debt on local authorities. Despite the HRA debt cap being removed, councils still have to put money aside to pay the debt and interest. The amount available for repairs and retrofit of existing stock is therefore squeezed, blocking the development of social housing, as that money has to be available to pay off the loan. That is freezing development in York and elsewhere.

In York, the HRA holds about 7,500 properties. The council had to pay for that housing stock using the Public Works Loan Board loan of £121.5 million, which demands £4.5 million of interest payments each year. We need the Government to address this issue, as it is restraining development. I urge that the debt is lifted from local authorities’ balance sheets, as it is choking off development opportunities and local authorities do not have the resources to meet the demands. The Government will respond that they have lifted the cap on the HRA, but borrowing will be at an even higher interest rate, so we need to see that debt moved to a different balance sheet. I want the Minister to respond to that point, because the debt is having a chilling effect. Local authorities also need greater flexibility with right-to-buy funding, with receipts currently capped at 40% to reinvest.

York’s income from its stock is only £30 million, so once we have addressed our old stock—retrofit and repairs—and put in sustainable measures, there is very little to spend on development without getting into greater debt with greater interest, so we end up with low build and a housing crisis, as many of our authorities face today. The Government need to build out at pace and scale, so we need to address refinancing. If we think about housing as an investment—and as a 60-year investment, because we want to build the quality homes that are needed—we start seeing the equations change, and that investment will bring forward not only housing but opportunity.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The hon. Lady says that the Government need to build out. The Government do not have these planning permissions; it is the planning industry and the developers that do. How would she persuade the developers to build out? Is that not the issue?

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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That is what I have been talking about; it is about the structure and the infrastructure of the building environment, which the Government do control.

Thirdly, the Government need to build sustainably. That can be achieved if Homes England is properly funded. I am grateful to Homes England for its time and for enabling me to see what it can achieve. It must not be underfunded, as it needs the right resources to build the required volume and to provide the injection of funding that local authorities need. We need adequate grant funding, as required by the local authority, to build volume at the necessary standard, rather than having to waste precious land—as we see on many sites—on luxury developments that are often set aside for the far east market as opposed to being brought into local use. We need to build according to need, so that we do not waste resources and build luxury developments that nobody can live in; that is a real frustration for my community.

Fourthly, we need to make the numbers count. Rather than having targets, we need obligations. The Government made a significant mistake in bringing house building numbers down to targets only, because the numbers we need to see and the scale we need to talk about will be drawn back.

On planning, we need to ensure that the larger developers are not just sitting on sites, stalling development and gaining on the land. We need to get those sites into use as quickly as possible. That has been a significant failing, because as prices rise, the market itself rises too; we are certainly seeing that in York. We need investment in planning departments. We recently took control of the council in York, and found that the planning department had been hollowed out. We do not have a chief planner and the department is significantly understaffed. Even if all the infrastructure is put in place, if we do not have the planning staff on hand, the opportunity for development will be stalled.

We need land, resources, workforce and ambition. In 18 months, Labour will build the homes people need, tackling the burning injustice of housing poverty, and realigning government priorities to create a new generation of sustainable homes. I trust government will move soon.

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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I think the issue of land banking is something of a straw man in these debates, because I have never seen compelling evidence that it happens. I think the reality is that developers need a predictable land supply in order to have a programme of forward build, and that is what largely accounts for that question.

I do not want to make this a starkly political debate, but I am very conscious that it is often the hon. Lady’s party that is—I am afraid to say it—the worst offender when it comes to campaigning cynically against the development that we need. I refer colleagues across the House to the Chesham and Amersham by-election a few years ago to see just how detrimental that policy has been to the wider debate. Arguably, it was that election result that led to the disastrous removal of targets, which I think is what is driving tonight’s debate in the first place.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My right hon. Friend talks about the planning system being the problem, not land banking per se. Does he accept the figures from Lichfields, which show that from getting planning permission, it takes eight and a half years for a first house to be built on a large housing estate, and that on average, a 2,000-home housing estate is built out by developers at a rate of 160 homes a year? It takes the best part of two decades to build out a 2,000-home housing estate. Is my right hon. Friend really saying that the development industry is not the problem?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I think it is much more about the developers seeking to make sure that they can sell the homes that they are building and about their having a supply of land predictably available to allow them to build into the future. Developers are obviously very constrained at the moment by the scarcity of supply.

The consequence of where we find ourselves is that, according to Schroders, the last time house prices were this expensive relative to earnings was 1876, the year that Victoria became Empress of India. That should make us all reflect on what kind of society we have become. Clearly, part of the problem is that we need to control immigration more strictly, and I strongly believe that the numbers announced just before recess were unsustainably high, but this is fundamentally a home-grown problem. Our society does not build the homes that we need to accommodate our existing population, and therefore we need to establish clear targets for housing supply. Doing so is not some kind of Stalinist five-year plan; it is the best way we have yet identified to prevent councils from backsliding on their responsibilities and caving in to what are often small, if noisy, pressure groups. It is my view that the regrettable decision taken by the Prime Minister last year to weaken those targets by removing their legal force was a mistake that has already had far-reaching consequences.

I am prepared to have a sensible debate about how we set our housing targets. We could change our approach and take as our starting point the existing occupied housing stock of an area and apply a rate at which it should be increased in line with the national house building target of 300,000 homes a year. Urban areas would see the highest levels of need, allowing a brownfield-focused policy, and no part of the country would be asked to contribute more than its fair share. This stock-led starting point for a standard method would remove the reliance on discredited housing projections, and it could be nuanced with carve-outs for AONBs, sites of special scientific interest and places with high concentrations of holiday lets or, indeed, where historic drivers of demand, such as university expansion, have ceased to exist.

One thing I would say is that we cannot insist that the green belt should be out of bounds wholly and completely, as the Prime Minister implied recently. The green belt was a 1940s mechanism to prevent urban expansion, pretty crudely drawn on the map. It is not—I repeat, not—a sophisticated environmental protection measure. It is, however, the beneficiary of effective branding. We have to raise awareness that about 11% of our brownfield land lies within the green belt and that 35% of the green belt is intensive agricultural land of minimal environmental significance. The public deserve to know that. Perhaps areas of the green belt that do not have genuine environmental value could be designated as orange or amber belt, capable of being developed in exchange for substitution elsewhere.

There are other things I could talk about. I could talk about the onerous nutrient neutrality rules, which are blocking huge swathes of housing from the Solent up to Darlington.

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Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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It is a genuine pleasure to be involved in this debate and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who is not currently in his place, on bringing the debate to Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) said, this is something that needs cross-party consensus, and I think that broadly we have achieved some degree of consensus over the course of the debate. That is important because successive Governments over the past four or five decades—perhaps even longer—of every colour and political persuasion, have tried to resolve the housing issue. Unfortunately, the interventions they have made have been probably no more than tweaks, which have further distorted the complex feedback system that is what we call the housing market. It is not really a market in the traditional sense. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) noted, it could at best be described as a series of local markets, distributed pretty randomly around the country.

Most of the interventions that Governments have made over the last half century or so have been demand-side. We have had far too many demand-side interventions, which have just driven up prices and driven away affordability. We are simply not building enough houses in the right places and the shortage of housing supply has a direct impact on house prices. The cost of home ownership and renting has been rising steadily, outpacing wages and inflation. In the UK, the gap between house prices in high demand areas such as London and the rest of the country has doubled over recent years. So our market is broken. Land prices follow economic activity and drive up house prices.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I apologise for intervening yet again. Developers restrict build-out in order to keep land prices high. Is not the answer a “use it or lose it” rule, or to put pressure on developers, or to find a market mechanism that makes developers build more quickly? There are 1 million outstanding permissions, 500,000 of which are on brownfield sites.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I think he might be zeroing in on a particular aspect of the picture that I have painted of the broken market. The behaviour—or perceived behaviour, in some cases—of developers and builders is not necessarily the cause of issues that I have been discussing; it is more a symptom.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am going to break the consensus slightly, but not, I hope, in an unhelpful way.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who made some excellent points, especially about shops. This is one of the things that nimby rebels such as me raised with various right hon. Friends: the need to use the stock that we have. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for securing the debate. I agreed with a lot of what he said, but it is not an “either/or”; it is an “and”—yes to new towns, yes to new villages, and yes to new green garden villages, towns and cities. But we also need to get the system working.

I take issue with those who say that this is a system failure. I think that, above all else, it is a market failure. I agree with the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) about the need for rural affordable housing, which is a massive problem in my patch. On the Isle of Wight we have doubled our population in the last 50 or 60 years, but we have never really built for locals. We need to prioritise local building, and I would overwhelmingly prioritise affordable housing. Yes, I would set lower targets, because we have an amazing landscape—75% of the Island is protected, and we need to maintain that protection—but we also need to look after our own people, which is especially important on an island.

I am going to throw out some facts. I know that we have a problem with house building in this country, but I do think that it is important to note some of the facts. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) that we have built 2.5 million homes since 2010. Last year, according to the House of Commons Library, there were 400,000 first-time buyers, the best figure for 30 years; 829,000 people have been helped under this Conservative Government; and since 2015 we have built, on average, 222,000 homes a year. That is quite respectable, especially, dare I say it, in comparison with new Labour’s—according to the Library—171,000 homes a year. We have a problem, but those who say that we are not building, when we have built 2.5 million homes since 2010 and 222,000 a year since 2015, should slightly nuance the points they are making.

We know that other factors are playing a role in this. For instance, we have huge rates of immigration. When the net immigration figure is 600,000, unless we are building close to 1 million homes a year we are in trouble. As a sensible man such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will know, the printing of money—quantitative easing—is very bad news because it leads to inflation in house prices and assets. Interest rates have been too low for too long. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) will also know, we have a problem with second homes.

In the few minutes that I have, I will rattle through a few more points. What do I mean by “market failure”? Following the crash, 70% of supply is delivered by the 10 largest developers, and they are responsible for a vast number of our planning permissions. According to the surveyors Lichfields—a very respectable outfit that does a lot of the thinking on this sort of thing—it takes 20 years to build out a housing estate of 2,000 homes, and the period between the initial permission and someone having their first home is eight and a half years. I am sure that we could speed that up. Much of this is due to developer slowness. There is then a build-out rate of 150 or 160 homes a year. That means that a developer who is granted a 2,000-home planning permission now will finish the development in 2043.

Is there something we can do to speed up that process? Should not a builder with a good reputation who has a small brownfield site and is going to throw in some social housing, or who is working with affordable housing, go to the front of the queue? A builder who says that they will build out very quickly will bounce the big developers into better behaviour. I wonder whether there is much more that we could be doing.

I want to say a few things about the so-called nimby rebellion—which I do not think was very nimby, and I am not even sure it was a rebellion. We had a few issues, including a significant issue with something that pains me: the lazy developer reliance on greenfield, low-density, out-of-town housing estates, because they are unsustainable. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) made an impassioned and eloquent speech, but when it comes to greenfield land, where does “develop, develop, develop” fit in with our climate change agenda?

We know that high-density cities provide a critical way of reaching net zero, but we have some of the lowest-density cities in the world. Sheffield’s population density is one tenth of Barcelona’s. That is an extraordinary statistic. Sheffield has 1,500 people per square kilometre, while Barcelona has 16,000. They are both slight outliers, but London has 8,000 or 9,000 people per square kilometre, while Paris has 12,000. Newcastle, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham have about 3,000, while the density of Valencia, Basel, Milan, Bilbao and Geneva is almost double that. So we have a problem with density in our country.

Then there are top-down housing targets. The problem with those is that developers game the system. They get the permissions, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire said, and sit on them for eight or nine years. Then they come back to councils such as ours on the Isle of Wight and say, “You haven’t built, so we are going to push through more.” That system is not working.

But what else do the so-called nimbys want? We want greater powers for compulsory purchase. We want Government to say to lazy developers who sit on places for years, “You have six months to build out or we will put the place on the market for you.” We have also strongly recommended a character test for builders, so that a bad builder who does not treat people with respect or who does not build will not get the permission. We want more focus on smaller sites. We need still more focus on the half million brownfield site properties. London is particularly bad; it is building a quarter of the homes that we need, which is stifling the targets and the numbers.

I love the idea about properties above shops. We said that to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities when we were negotiating for this, and we want more emphasis on that. We also want more emphasis on affordable housing so that councils such as Shropshire and mine on the Isle of Wight can force this stuff through. Rather than being nimbys, what we are doing often is finding a better way to fix the system. That could include plans for last-time sellers. If someone is old and they want to downsize, they could pay a significantly reduced rate of stamp duty. This would encourage people to free up the market. We could have 50-year or 30-year fixed-rate loans so that people would know what they were getting. Last year, before interest rates started going up, although house prices were rising, interest rates were low and housing was statistically relatively affordable, historically. It is less affordable now because interest rates have gone up to 5%, a historic average, rather being at a historic low. I hope the Government stick to the agreements. There is a lot that we can do to free up the market and to make the market work, rather than just attacking the system.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to a disgruntled Back Bencher. If he reads the NPPF letter, the “Dear colleague” letter, he will find that although there is leeway on housing targets, there is set to be higher density and more liberalisation in many areas. A lot of what we tried to achieve was to free up the market to make it work better.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. Whether it is by means of the emphasis in the proposed NPPF on locally prepared plans providing for “sufficient” housing only, the softening of land supply and delivery test provisions, the ability to include historical over-delivery in five year housing land supply calculations or the listing of various local characteristics that would justify a deviation from the standard method, the intended outcome of those changes is to allow local authorities to plan to meet less than the targets that nominally remain in place.

As I said, the choice the Government made entails a deliberate shift from a plan-led system focused on making at least some attempt to meet England’s housing need to one geared toward providing only what the politics of any given area will allow, with all the implications that the resulting suppressed rates of house building will have on those affected by the housing crisis and economic growth more widely. The next Labour Government will fix this mess. When it comes to housing and planning, our overriding objective will be to get house building rates up significantly from the nadir we will surely inherit, including, as part of that effort, markedly increasing the supply of affordable homes and, in particular, genuinely affordable social homes to rent. We do not intend to pluck an annual national target out of the air and ineptly contort the system to try to make the numbers across the country add up, as the Government have done by imposing an entirely arbitrary 35% uplift that most of the 20 cities and urban centres in England to which it applies are clear cannot possibly be accommodated.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - -

rose

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not give way.

But we will insist that the planning system is once again geared toward meeting housing need in full. To that end, if they are enacted as expected, a Labour Government will reverse the damaging changes the Government propose to make to the NPPF in relation to planning for housing. However, although reversing those damaging changes to national planning policy will be an essential first step, more far-reaching reform will be required if we are to overcome the limitations of a speculative house building model, a broken land market, and a planning system that is at once both too permissive and too restrictive. That will mean, among many other things, overhauling England’s dysfunctional planning structures so that the system more effectively facilitates strategic housing growth across those sub-regional areas with significant unmet need. That might be by way of extensions to existing urban settlements or entirely new settlements—I would argue that we need both in good measure. It will mean more proactive public sector involvement in housing delivery on large sites across the country, so that quality place making and long-term value creation become more than just the rare exception.

Let me make it clear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Labour’s approach will not be premised on a drive for units at any cost. We appreciate that many local communities resist development because it entails poor-quality housing in inappropriate and often entirely car-dependent locations, without the necessary physical and social infrastructure for communities to thrive, or sufficient levels of affordable housing to meet local need. We would argue that that outcome is a direct consequence of the Government’s over-reliance on private house builders building homes for market sale to meet overall housing need. Yet when it comes to house building, there need not be an inherent trade-off between quantity and quality. A Labour Government will be determined to see increased rates of house building, but equally determined that much more supply comes via a long-term stewardship approach so that, if not removed entirely, public opposition to significant development in contested areas should at least be much reduced.

Similarly, we reject the notion that building more homes must come at the expense of wider national policy objectives. In addition to increasing housing supply in a way that prioritises quality of build and quality of place, we will act to ensure that the housing and planning systems play their full part in addressing other pressing national challenges such as the drive towards net zero, the need for urgent nature restoration and the need to improve public health.

To conclude, it is not the only way of solving England’s housing problems and it certainly will not be a panacea for them, but building more homes remains the most effective way that we have of tackling almost all of the housing-related problems with which our country is contending. The Government needed to build more homes before the so-called planning concern group extracted its damaging concessions late last year. As a result of the Government’s appeasement of that group, we now face the very real prospect that house building rates will plummet over the next 12 to 18 months.

We desperately need a change of approach, but it is a change that the present Government and the Ministers on the Front Bench are incapable of delivering. It is high time that we had a general election, so that they can make way for a Government who are serious about ensuring that we build to meet housing need in full and boost economic growth.

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Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for securing this important debate. It is a tribute to him that so many people have come to the Chamber to reflect the experiences of their constituents and to speak about local housing conditions.

I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western); the two former Housing Ministers who spoke, my right hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke); the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley); my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer); the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury); my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey); the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan); my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson); the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell); my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous); my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford); and my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby). All of them gave thoughtful, constructive, knowledgeable and, in some cases, rightly challenging contributions.

The points that have been raised today have underscored the importance of this Government’s mission to drive up housing supply and to deliver on our manifesto commitment of delivering a million additional homes by the end of this Parliament. They have emphasised the urgency of our work to build more homes of all tenures in the places where they are so desperately needed. [Interruption.] Is somebody trying to intervene?

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I was looking for a point to come in to show my support for the Minister. I remind her that this Conservative Government have averaged 222,000 homes a year, when new Labour managed about 171,000. Therefore, even when we are doing allegedly badly, we are still 50,000 ahead of Labour.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, which I was just about to make.

The Government remain committed to our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year—homes fit for a new generation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said. I agree with him: as a Conservative, I support a property-owning democracy, and despite the economic challenges of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and global inflation, we have made real progress towards that target. In 2021-22, more than 232,000 homes were delivered—the third highest yearly rate in the last 30 years. Since 2010, more than 2.3 million additional homes have been delivered. That is the achievement of a Conservative Government, and it is fantastic compared with the woeful record of the last Labour Government.

At the same time, we are not complacent about the scale of the challenges that have dogged England’s housing market for decades, as many hon. Members have mentioned: demand outstripping supply, local shortages and residents being priced out of the places they grew up in. That is why we have committed £10 billion of investment to increase housing supply since the start of this Parliament to unlock, ultimately, more than 1 million new homes.

Hon. Members will know how committed the Government are to the supply of affordable housing. I think every single hon. Member who spoke referred to that. That is why, through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, we will deliver and are delivering tens of thousands of affordable homes for both sale and rent.

Moving on to the specific campaign or proposal from my right hon. Friend—

Planning

Bob Seely Excerpts
Thursday 26th January 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of planning policy.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Vickers. I will not talk for too long, but I want to raise some issues relating to planning policy, especially after the productive and fruitful discussions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and I had with the Government.

For years, we have needed a planning system that is community-led and environment-led, and that drives regeneration. For years, we have not quite had the opposite, but we have certainly not had a policy that is as focused as it should have been on community, the environment or, frankly, levelling up and spreading wealth around our wonderful country. Indeed, in many ways the definition of “sustainability” has been the opposite of what it is in reality. Much development has been truly unsustainable, as many communities involved in bitter battles against distant developers know. There are residents’ groups on the Isle of Wight, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend and across Britain that have despaired at the top-down, developer-led process, which seems so often to have ridden roughshod over the wishes of local people and the genuine needs of communities.

That is why last year we built an alliance of a hundred likeminded Conservative colleagues and tabled 21 amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, as well as negotiating with Ministers and officials over a one or two-week period to secure what I hope is a workable change, and indeed what I think will improve planning considerably in this country. These are some of the things that I would like to touch on for the Minister today.

I will just say what we are against, because it seems to me that, unless people want a free market in housing, which in reality we have not had since world war two, they are described as nimbies. I find that level of argument pretty depressing, shallow and empty. I think what we were against—certainly, what I was against—was a couple of things.

First, there is the planning or development industry’s addiction to greenfield, soulless, low-density, car-dependent, out-of-town development. Those sorts of developments —we see them a bit on the Island, but we see them especially in the home counties and counties such as Cambridgeshire—are socially bad, as they are not designed around communities. Effectively, they are soulless housing estates, plonked down in the middle of nowhere, or where the developers can get planning permission. They are also environmentally bad from a transport point of view, because they are almost entirely car-dependent. These isolated, car-dependent developments are truly unsustainable, because we know that detached houses are the most un-climate friendly form of housing. They are land-banked by large developers and are often built against the wishes of local communities.

The second thing that we found really difficult was the structure of the industry. There is sometimes a more sustained approach in the industry towards keeping share prices high than there is towards actual development. That is one of the problems. Because we have become over-dependent on private developers, we have effectively become hostages to their agenda. Yes, they build houses—that is their business model—but it is also their business model to keep prices high, to keep the value of land high and to limit the supply of land, because that is how they keep their share prices high, their profits high and, frankly, their bonuses high.

We have not had enough in the way of council-led affordable housing. I am a big fan of affordable housing and council housing, and I very much want the Isle of Wight Council to get on and develop its own council house company again. But because we have been dependent on private developers, we have something like 1 million outstanding planning permissions, including over 400,000 planning permissions on brownfield sites, which are just land-banked by the big companies, because then they can plan for profits for years to come. If we want to build more, we need a slightly different system from the one we had, or at least one where councils and housing associations can build more and have access to more land. I will come to that in relation to Camp Hill on my patch.

As a result of so much of the pressure for housing moving down to the south-east—in places such as the Isle of Wight, but it is perhaps even worse in the home counties—we have skewed infrastructure spending away from the north and towards the south and the south-east. Again, because the infrastructure is there, that drives jobs and growth. We have a never-ending funnel—a never-ending hoover—of people from not only city centres to the suburbs but from north to south. That is bad for our country.

To give a snapshot of the £866 million allocated by the housing infrastructure fund up to 2018, half of it was directed to London, the east and the south-east, while the combined authorities of Liverpool, Manchester, Tees Valley, the West Midlands and the West of England received only £124 million. That is about a quarter of what was given to London and the south-east. At that time, over three quarters of the £2 billion allocated went to projects in London and the south-east. Up to April 2020, it was estimated that the same fund spent up to £700 million on roads for garden communities.

There is a problem in that, because so many of the planning permissions are given in the south-east on greenfield sites, that skews investment and the infrastructure spend. The reality is that that makes levelling up and investing in the great cities of the north and the midlands much more difficult. I will come on to that, because there are some fascinating pictures of declining populations.

After intensive negotiation with the Secretary of State and the Minister—it is a pleasure to see her here—we now have a much better deal that puts planning in a much better place. Before I turn to the wider issues of what I think we achieved with that, I will raise three issues with the Minister in relation to the Island. First, we would love more compulsory purchase powers. I know that the Minister will tell us that there is a compulsory purchase review out with the Law Society, which is looking at how we can make compulsory purchase more efficient.

In coastal communities, and maybe in levelling-up communities—if I dare describe them as such—we need that compulsory purchase power. It is way too difficult for us and our councillors, whether they are Conservative, Labour or independent, to do the right thing. There are too many buildings on the Isle of Wight that stand empty for years, especially those that have an impact on our communities, for example in Sandown—funnily enough, I was talking to the Mayor of Sandown less than an hour ago about post offices.

The Grand Hotel in Sandown has been empty for years. It is a gorgeous art deco building next to what used to be Sandown zoo—it is opposite the beach and next to the dinosaur museum. It should be a really important site for us. That building has stood empty for years. The Royal York Hotel in Ryde is owned by the same guy. Those buildings stand empty, and there are many others. With the Ocean Hotel I will be careful what I say; I do not think there are proceedings live at the moment, but at the very least there has been extraordinarily unethical behaviour in relation to that building—it may indeed be criminal. It is empty and, because of the legal disputes surrounding it, it may well lie empty for years. It is slap-bang in the middle of what should be Sandown’s tourism high street.

The more help that Government can give us, the better. They should give compulsory purchase powers to councils such as the Isle of Wight, so that it can force the sale of the Grand Hotel, the Royal York Hotel in Ryde or the Ocean Hotel—so that it can say to the owners of those hotels: “You have six months to a year maximum to develop, otherwise we force a sale.” We would use those powers to put those properties on the market, to be bought by people on the condition that they put forward planning within a specific timeframe and start realistically developing and completing within a specific amount of time. That problem is replicated across coastal communities and in some of our most deprived communities, up and down the country.

Secondly, I know the Minister will say that this is not her responsibility anymore, but I plead for quicker decision-making powers by Government. I give the example of Camp Hill—the third of our prisons on the Isle of Wight. The Minister was formerly Justice Minister, so she is probably bored of hearing about Camp Hill. I am bored of raising it. It has been nine years without a decision. The Americans put a man on the moon in less time than it has taken the Government to decide what to do with Camp Hill. I was thinking, half in jest, that if I set up as a squatter in Camp Hill, I would probably have ownership rights before the Government decided what to do with it, and if I could claim ownership of it, I could give it to the council. Can we please have a decision on Camp Hill?

We do not have many brownfield sites on the Isle of Wight—I think we have about half a dozen. Hopefully, the Minister will have some news about the greenfield funds, which I think she may have announced or will announce, but we will certainly be putting in for more money to clean up brownfield sites, because we have so few. Camp Hill is a really big potential brownfield site for us, and we would love to get access to it. I know the Minister is the Minister for housing and not a Justice Minister, but if the Government can sell that site to the Isle of Wight Council at a price that we can afford—in much the same way as they did for the Columbine Building, which is the hub of our shipbuilding industry in East Cowes—we can do good things with it. It is a brownfield site near Newport, and we can use the land to build decent, affordable housing for Islanders young and old, rather than having to rely on speculative greenfield sites outside our towns and villages. I urge the Government collectively to have better and quicker decision making.

Thirdly, and specifically for the Island, the Secretary of State and his adviser kindly suggested that they would write to me to confirm two things as part of our negotiations last year. The first is that, from now on, there is an expectation that exceptional circumstance is assumed for islands. My understanding from the negotiations is that exceptional circumstance for islands would be specifically mentioned in the footnotes of the national planning policy framework, or NPPF, and that that would be almost the expectation. We do not have a bridge—we are not Anglesey; we are separated by sea—and it costs 30% more to build a home on the Isle of Wight than elsewhere, because of the cost of getting material over by ferry. We have a restricted industry on the Island that builds between 200 and 300 homes a year. A target of 500, 600, 700 or 800 would be crazy and unachievable, because we have only ever built that sort of number on two occasions in the last 50 years, so it would be incredibly helpful if we could see the letter on exceptional circumstance.

That was my understanding—it was very accurate, I hasten to add—of the conversation that we had. The letter was also going set out what emergency powers the Government have to deal with unscrupulous caravan park owners and the planning lawyers who advise them, who game the system to build caravan parks and concrete over sites of special scientific interest on coastal islands, in very special areas of the Island or the country, and in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. I think there was going to be some suggestion about what the Government could do on that.

Those are three very specific issues, which I hope the Government should feel positive about. First, we want the Government to be ambitious on compulsory purchase, because it is so important to so many parts of the country that when property developers do not do the right thing, we can force the sale of sites, especially high-value sites that have a significant impact on our communities and our economy. Secondly, can we please have quicker decision making, specifically on Camp Hill? The council and I really want to build affordable homes on that site for folks on the Isle of Wight. Thirdly, I remind the Government of the letter they promised me on exceptional circumstance and caravan parks.

More generally, I thought we had some great discussions at the end of last year, and we still have targets. I am just so fed up of hearing that Back-Bench MPs are docile sheep who trot through and vote for anything, or that we are an ungovernable rabble. Actually, the planning debate that we had showed this place working at its best. We respected the Government’s agenda, the Government listened to Back Benchers, we had a negotiation, and we reached a better state afterwards than we had before. We were vocal about what we believed was right, the Government were vocal about what they believed was right, and we negotiated our way through. The Government avoided an unnecessary rebellion; we respected the Government’s position, and the Government listened to us. That is neither MPs being docile sheep nor MPs behaving like some rebellious rabble; it is Back-Bench MPs, especially, doing their job, and Government Ministers doing theirs. I actually thought it was a pretty good process.

Anyway, the housing targets remain, but they will be advisory, which I think is where they should be. We need to take a pragmatic, reasonable approach to examining the true housing numbers, and where there are genuine environmental constraints, councils will be able to propose a reduced housing number. Again, I point to the Isle of Wight as a really good example of that, because we have finite space. By way of example, I remind the Minister that in many areas of the south and south-east, the population has increased dramatically—I know that is happening in her patch. Over the past 60 years on the Island, we have increased our population by nearly 50%; it is about 50% in 50 years.

At the same time, there has been a decline—not a relative decline, but an absolute decline—in the populations of Newcastle, Sunderland, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Stoke. We have had two great trends over the past 50 years: a move from city centres to suburbs, and a move from north to south. A lot of the pressure in constituencies such as mine is due to the decades-long lack of investment, or lack of an attempt to drive prosperity, in many of those great cities. Newcastle is a fantastic and exciting city, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool likewise, yet they have all had declining populations since the late 1950s and 1960s. If we could reverse that trend and make those cities hubs that people will want to go to, because that is where the jobs and prosperity are, that would take pressure off communities such as ours, as the Minister knows.

The more we can get levelling up right, the better it will be for all of us, and the less pressure it will put on our communities. That means that more infrastructure money then goes back to northern communities and midlands city centres, which is where it should be in the first place. It seems entirely obvious to me that if one is developing a brownfield site in an existing community, the infrastructure spend is probably going to be lower. Widening single-track Victorian lanes in the east and north-east of the Isle of Wight—which is what is having to be done in my patch—costs a lot more than if it were happening in Liverpool and Manchester, because the infrastructure is there already. The more we invest in inner-city centres that have high-density populations, the better it is for those city centres, for Government services, and for communities such as mine.

The Government are also going to modify the existing five-year land supply rule to pretty much get rid of it. They are going to kill off the tilted balance, thank God—I think that is an incredibly pernicious thing. Again, rebalancing the economies of greenfield and brownfield use to regenerate empty buildings, disused sites and town centres seems to me economically, socially and environmentally important; it just seems to be an incredibly sensible thing to do. If there is more money for brownfield site clean-up, Isle of Wight Council will be very excited to hear it, so if the Minister has anything to say about that today, she is very welcome to say it.

I have gone on for a little bit longer than I thought I would, so I will wrap up.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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More or less?

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
- Hansard - -

I think we are in a good place regarding all the things that we negotiated. Obviously, we need to see them in the national planning policy framework, so I just want to check—I am sorry; I have been doing so much in the past week or so—is the new NPPF out now, or is it going to be out? We were promised that those changes would kick in come the new year. Have the changes in the NPPF happened yet, or is there going to be a date by which they will happen? Clearly, the Isle of Wight is now making its Island plan, and wants to use the exceptional circumstance assumptions that have been confirmed to it by Government, for which it is grateful.

We look forward to supporting the levelling-up agenda and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, so that we make sure that we get housing where we need it in the United Kingdom while respecting communities such as mine. We need housing for local youngsters and other local people. On the Isle of Wight, that means housing for Islanders of all ages. Some people are downsizing, and a lot of people are first-time buyers who are looking for affordability criteria of 60% of local rates, rather than 80%.

As much as is possible, we need to get housing associations on the Island building. I would pretty much rule out private sector housing estates. If we are to build housing on the Isle of Wight, it needs to be affordable, and for Islanders. If people want to move to the Island, they are very welcome to; that is what the back of the Isle Of Wight County Press is for, where there are all the ads for property. There is lots of property for them to buy on the Island. We do not need to build for people moving to the Island; we need to build to make sure that there are homes for young people. We need to engage housing associations. The more support there is for housing associations, and for building in existing communities, on brownfield sites, the more we can keep everybody happy. We can then build for our young people while respecting communities, who will not feel under attack from the threat of settlements being built on the greenfield around them.

The deal that we struck with the Minister and the Government is not perfect, but it is much better than what came before. I look forward to working with the Government on making a success of it.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I see that I do not need to remind Back Benchers to bob if they wish to speak.

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Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this important debate. It is important because planning policy impacts on everyone, and everyone has a view on it, whether that is negative or positive. Generally, it impacts on everyone’s life.

I will pick up on some of the absolutely valid points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) about the fact that a lot of planning policy has to be community-driven. Sometimes, it has to be generated at the grassroots level, rather than top-down. As has been said, it is incredibly important that planning policy is community-led. It has to consider the environment and relate to the needs of what is required within a specific community. It is important that we develop houses that meet and enhance the health and wellbeing of the communities we all represent.

I take a keen interest in planning policy because I studied architecture at Newcastle University and, in my year in industry, worked for a great company up in Newcastle that was involved in master planning exercises for housing regeneration schemes. One of the schemes we got involved with was in a deprived area of Sunderland, Southwick, and looked at how we could enhance a community through the quality of build of houses being developed. Indeed, I remember when I was at university, I did my dissertation on Byker and how the built environment can support communities. That is absolutely what planning policy should be about.

There are a few issues I want to cover in my contribution. I will consider local plans and how we can ensure that the infrastructure we all like to talk about—whether that is roads, GPs, schools or parks—is supported and there to enhance people’s quality of life with regard to housing. I will also touch on affordable housing and what an industrial strategy looks like when we are talking about employment use, and I will finish by talking about telecom masts.

My constituency of Keighley and Ilkley is going through a review of its local plan. Our local planning authority, Bradford Council, is looking at the local plan and will be putting it out for its second consultation in the not-too-distant future—I have been informed that that will happen shortly. One of the inevitable challenges is the drive to increase housing numbers across the whole of the Bradford district, which contains many different settlements, including not only Bradford city itself, but Keighley and Ilkley, which as towns are very different from the city. The complexity lies in the different make-up of those settlements and where the need is in those settlement areas.

Through the first consultation on the local plan, it became clear that the local authority seems to have an incredible will almost to offload some of those housing numbers to the easy wins—the easy wins being most of the outlying areas in the greenfield or in green-belt areas where it might be easier to get those planning applications through at a later date. The local plans are being developed at the moment that will create the next 15-year housing strategy, which will, we hope, be adopted later this year.

The concerns I have raised constantly are that the plan does not focus enough on prioritising brownfield development. We must refocus on those brownfield sites. Yes, they are more complex to develop—they may have contamination issues, issues with highways, challenges from some of the old mill settlements and so on—when trying to create a clean slate to drive that private inward investment into some of those sites. However, that has to be looked at because, unless we actually have a brownfield-first priority, we run the risk of not only reducing the soul of a settlement where those brownfield site holes in a settlement have been identified, but not actually developing houses where that need is identified.

My concern is that, in several of the towns I represent, the housing numbers that have been proposed are dramatic. They are way over and above the need identified for those settlements. In some of the discussions I have been having with the local authority, I hear that it has allocated the housing numbers to those settlements based on the deliverability factor—that is, it knows it can deliver x houses in those settlements because can build it on greenfield or take green-belt land out of the green belt for housing, rather than having a proper focus on brownfield first.

I will give some examples. There is Silsden—I should declare an interest, because that is the town that I live in. It is in the middle of the constituency, and it has had a proposed increase in housing numbers of about 580. Silsden is a relatively small settlement that has grown and grown; as we speak, we have an application from Persimmon Homes for 140 houses, to which I have put in an objection. We have had a Barratt Homes development; we have had Countrywide looking at putting in a development; we have Linden Homes currently building on site; and Skipton Properties has recently built a housing development.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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My hon. Friend is making a great speech, and I thank him so much for being here. Is not one of the problems with these big property companies, apart from the fact that they land bank, that they are interested only in really big sites? Since the great crash 10 or 15 years ago, a lot of the medium-sized and smaller building companies have gone out of business. We need to motivate smaller companies, or find financial incentives for developing smaller sites in a way that is much more acceptable to smaller towns and villages. That is better than Persimmon Homes, which, apart from anything else, has a dreadful reputation for the quality of its build, just plonking down 100 homes here or 500 homes there, and almost taking over and swamping the village.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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That is exactly the point that I want to come on to, because Silsden is being inundated with houses. A live application for 140 houses is being considered by Bradford Council. I am completely opposed to it, but it is one of about six planning applications made over a period of time, and some of those houses are still being built. The point is that there has not been a sensible conversation about the impact on infrastructure and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the quality of the build.

The road infrastructure going through Silsden is not great at all. I drive through Silsden weekly, and the roads are tight and narrow. The pavements are not wide enough, let alone the roads. There are no conversations about the school, the GP services and the other facilities that the town needs in order to stay vibrant. Settlements sometimes need to grow organically; growth must be driven by the requirements of individual settlements. There sometimes needs to be a focus on brownfield sites first, or on development of niche, smaller sites, which could be grown at an organic speed and delivered in line with settlements’ need.

In Ilkley, the average house price is somewhere around £420,000. That is very high, but local plan proposals suggest that Ilkley needs to grow by another 314 houses. I am constantly pushing back, because the community and I need to see the requirement for Ilkley to grow by that number of houses over the next 14 years.

Just down the road, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), Burley in Wharfedale has grown hugely recently—by about 700 houses. The implications for the GP service are huge. It has been a real challenge to unlock money, whether through section 106 or the community infrastructure levy, to improve the infrastructure. I have been helping out my hon. Friend with that.

I will come on to the quality of the build, which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made a really good point about. I have mentioned Harron Homes in this Chamber before; the quality of its build has been shocking, and it is not great to say that. I will give another example. About 50 houses were built—again, in Silsden. Other Members from across West Yorkshire have made this point in this Chamber before. The site was finished, in the developer’s eyes, yet there were huge snagging issues. The road was not even sorted out; in fact, sewage from the site had to be disposed of by a lorry that came in and emptied the tank, because the connection with Yorkshire Water were not sorted out. How can we ensure more enforcement against property developers when build is not of the quality that residents, and we representatives, expect? What can the Government do to put more pressure on developers to enhance the quality of houses, and of the master planning of the community that is being developed?

That brings me to industrial strategy. Inevitably, when it comes to planning, everybody likes to talk about houses, because that is quite an emotive issue, but I agree with the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made about the use of compulsory purchase powers. On North Street in Keighley, there are many empty buildings with fantastic architecture. How do we use compulsory purchase powers to unlock those sites, and force the owners to change them into housing, or get them into some sort of community use, so that they do not sit empty year after year? Those sites could be used by the town.

Dalton Mills is a fantastic building. It is an old mill—one of the biggest in Keighley—that has been redundant for many a year, although “Peaky Blinders” was filmed there. The quality of the site has deteriorated over many years, and last year there was a big fire— 100 firefighters and 21 fire engines came. The building unfortunately suffered a huge amount of fire damage, although the façades seem to be structurally sound. It is a unique site just outside the centre of Keighley, but we are unable to unlock it because the landowner seems aloof—we cannot get in touch with him. We cannot get traction with some of these key sites. How can we unlock them, in planning policy terms, using compulsory purchase powers?

Let me turn to the speed at which local authorities operate. In order to drive growth and job creation, we want light industrial units in appropriate places, but it takes too long to get the planning applications through the system and get those units built. I have been shown many examples in Keighley. About four years ago, a planning application was submitted to the local authority for eight or 10 light industrial units. It did not get any traction from the local authority until the early in the covid period. During the covid period, the units got built and occupied, and now those businesses are flourishing. The demand is there; we just need to increase the speed.

Of course we want to drive better connectivity, but telecom masts have to be in locations where they do not have an adverse impact on the beauty of a village, and they must not be too close to residential units. There needs to be a mechanism for putting pressure on organisations such as Clarke Telecom that drive some of the applications. We must ensure that they look at where the best sites are. I will give three examples.

Unfortunately, a telecoms mast was approved in Addingham. It has a huge impact; it does not look good on the drive into the village. There would most definitely have been a better site for it. Putting it elsewhere would not have affected connectivity. All the residents of Addingham are impacted when they drive into the village and see that ghastly telecoms mast. An applicant applied to put a telecom mast on a site in the middle of Ilkley that was not even part of the public highway; they just thought they could get away with it. They had to withdraw the scheme, which will now be reconsidered. I put a lot of pressure on them. There was an application for a mast on a roundabout in the heart of the beautiful village of East Morton. We want to drive connectivity, but we do not want random applications for masts all over the place, with applicants seeing what they can get away with. That is not acceptable.

We have covered loads of points. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight for securing this debate, because planning policy without doubt impacts all our constituents. Everyone is incredibly passionate about it.

The Government are absolutely going in the right direction, and I commend them for listening to the many concerns that I have raised about housing numbers. The key point that I want to reiterate before I close is that planning policy has to be driven by need. What we need, rather than local authorities aiming policy at quick wins, is to create housing where it is needed, and a “brownfield first” policy.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Vickers. I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this important debate, and on the clarity with which he set out his position. I thank the hon. Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore), and for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for their contributions.

The Opposition are in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight on the need to reform planning. After a decade of piecemeal and largely inept tinkering, the planning system that the Government are presiding over is faltering on almost all fronts. It is failing to meet the housing, amenity and infrastructure needs of many, if not most, local areas; failing to play its full part in addressing various national challenges, from the climate and environment emergency to improving public health; and failing to sustain what little public trust and confidence it still enjoys. There is no question but that it needs to be overhauled.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight will not be surprised to learn that the Opposition agree that action is required on several of the planning issues that he identified—indeed, I would say that action is long overdue. Let me address a number of those in turn. The first issue is land banking. We appreciate that developers require a pipeline of planning consents to manage capacity in the face of inherent uncertainty, and that reference to 1 million outstanding planning permissions is therefore an overly simplistic and, in some ways, inaccurate critique, but Labour agrees that developers regularly make use of current and strategic land banks to game the planning system. That represents a serious problem, and robust measures are required to address it, as well as build-out rates more generally; certainly, we need much stronger forms of intervention than the useful, but ultimately inadequate, set of measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

The second issue is brownfield land, which has been alluded to a number of times. Labour recognises that there are simply not enough sites on brownfield land registers to deliver the volume of homes that the country needs each year, let alone enough that are viable and in the right location. However, we absolutely support the prioritisation of brownfield land development, and agree that much more could be done to facilitate good brownfield development, not least by overhauling and repurposing Homes England.

The third is compulsory purchase. We are in complete agreement on the need for local planning authorities to have greater compulsory purchase order powers, and we have been clear at every stage of its passage that we support the CPO provisions in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, including those introduced in Committee on compensation in relation to hope value. Indeed, we have repeatedly urged the Government to go further and implement the proposals outlined in the second part of the compulsory purchase compensation reforms consultation, namely to disapply section 17 of the Land Compensation Act 1961 in certain circumstances and enable local authorities to acquire land at or closer to existing use value in order to increase the number of financially viable developments and expedite regeneration schemes on them.

The fourth is community participation, which has also been mentioned several times. Labour absolutely agrees that meaningful public participation in the planning system is essential. We believe that where it takes place, it helps to improve outcomes, and we want to see much more of it, particularly when it comes to engagement in the preparation of local plans. The problem is that the legitimacy of the planning system has been severely damaged in the eyes of the public over the past decade as a result of a series of changes, not least of which is the progressive extension of permitted development rights since 2013, and the slum housing—putting it bluntly—that it has so often been used to create. That has left communities with much less say over development in their area than they previously enjoyed. Various measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill undermine the status and remit of local planning, and deny or frustrate the right of communities to be heard, and that will only compound the problem. It was regrettable that members of the Conservative planning concern group ultimately chose not to join us in resisting them.

Where we fundamentally part ways with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and his colleagues in that group is on the importance that we attach to, among many other laudible objectives, ensuring that the planning system is explicitly focused on meeting objectively assessed housing need. For all the rhetoric about seeking a fairer planning system, in recent months, what the hon. Gentleman and his group have convinced the Government, in their weakness, to adopt is a proposed national planning policy framework that will provide local planning authorities with myriad different ways of avoiding delivering the homes that people need. Whether it is the emphasis in the revised NPPF on locally prepared plans providing for “sufficient” housing only; the softening of land supply and delivery test provisions; the ability to include historical over-delivery in five year housing land supply calculations; or the listing of various local characteristics that would justify a deviation from the standard method, taken together, the proposed changes will give those local authorities that wish to take advantage of it the freedom to plan for less housing, irrespective of whatever target nominally remains in place.

It is true that the proposed changes to the NPPF are only being consulted on, but we know that they will almost certainly be enacted. The effect of the signal that they have sent, as was surely intended, is already evident; numerous local plans have been paused, explicitly on the basis that the proposed changes justify a review. Local plans have been mentioned at several points in the debate, and in her response, the Minister will no doubt highlight the need to bring forward more. We absolutely agree. It is an indictment of this Government’s performance that after a decade of plan making, 59% of the country still does not have an up-to-date local plan. Although the proposed changes to the NPPF may well increase local planning coverage across England, they will almost certainly do so on the basis of numerous development plans that will not meet the needs of their given housing market areas in full. The Government are making the entirely arbitrary figure of a 35% uplift to urban centres policy by placing it in the NPPF. They clearly hope that it will mean that England’s largest cities and urban centres will do the heavy lifting on housing supply, but most of the cities that it applies to cannot, or will be unable to, accommodate the output it entails.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The hon. Gentleman agrees with us on some things, and disagrees on others; that is fair enough, but does he accept that the UK has some of the least dense cities on the planet? We are a very crowded, small island, and we need to increase density in our cities. The most attractive places in our inner cities tend to be those with the highest density, so high density is not a problem in itself. Actually, forcing higher density creates better-quality services, because it builds a market for those services. This is an incredibly sensible thing for the Government to do.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Let me be clear: I take no issue whatever with the drive to densify already developed urban areas, but as I argued, the cities and urban centres to which the uplift applies are pretty clear that they cannot, or will not be able to, accommodate the levels of housing supply that it entails, not least because of the constraints imposed on them by a number of the proposals in that NPPF consultation—I do not know whether he is aware of that, or how involved he was in the negotiations that he mentioned—and the absence of any effective means of managing cross-boundary housing growth.

The net result of all these changes, as I think everyone here knows full well, is that the Government have consciously accepted that fewer houses will be built in England over the coming years. That decision entails a deliberate shift from a plan-led system focused on making at least some attempt to meet housing need, to one geared toward providing only what the politics of any given area allow, with all the implications that entails for the housing crisis and economic growth. These latest politically driven changes leave national planning policy, and the planning system as a whole, more confusing and contradictory than ever.

Local planning authorities remain under-resourced, overwhelmed, demoralised and consequently unable in large part to process applications at pace. England’s planning structures remain dysfunctional; they are utterly incapable of managing housing growth at a strategic scale. Not only does the system as a whole lack a clear and overarching purpose but the unifying thread that ran through the 2012 NPPF—namely, the presumption in favour of sustainable development—has now effectively been jettisoned.

So I conclude by returning to my original point of agreement with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. The planning system is indeed crying out for reform, but not the reform that he and his colleagues are pursuing and the Government have conceded to. Instead, it requires reform that the present Government are now incapable of delivering. It is high time that we had a general election, so that the present Government can make way for a Government who are serious about ensuring that the planning system and national planning policy are designed to meet housing need and boost economic growth.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I thank everyone for taking part in this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of planning policy.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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As I mentioned just now, the Bill is not just about building; it is also about protecting the environment. A number of measures in the Bill will ensure that we protect our natural spaces—30% of our nature—and our local nature recovery strategies, which are due to begin across England as soon as possible, were committed to in the Environment Act 2021.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, following the talks between Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and me, we should have reached a compromise on a much more community-led, environmentally friendly and regenerative housing policy? As the Minister can hear, however, there is still considerable concern about making sure that we deliver the substance of these things as well as simply the words around them. Will that be reflected in the NPPF?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend, who has worked so hard with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet to make sure that we get our planning system right, on behalf of and with so many colleagues on our Benches. I assure him that we in the Department for Levelling Up—me and the Secretary of State—believe that we have come to a better solution. We are committed to delivering it, as I am sure my hon. Friend and others across this House will see in the policy that we will propose in the NPPF and bring forward before Christmas.

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Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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I want to make some progress, so I will not give way.

We take issue with the Government making local housing targets unenforceable in the absence of a viable alternative to try to maintain supply.

We believe it is essential not only that the process by which the Secretary of State must designate and review an NDMP involves minimum public consultation requirements and an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny, but that the scope of an NDMP to override local plans is suitably constrained. On that basis, I commend amendments 78 and 79 to the House.

Part 4 addresses the new infrastructure levy, which is the Government’s proposed replacement for the present arrangement by which local planning authorities secure developer contributions. We believe the new levy is one of the most consequential aspects of the Bill and has potentially far-reaching implications not only for the provision of core infrastructure but for the supply of affordable housing. Although we fully appreciate that schedule 11 merely provides the basic framework for the levy, with a detailed design to follow, and that the levy’s implementation will take a test-and-learn approach, we are convinced that, as a proposition, it is fundamentally flawed.

As we argued in great detail in Committee, the deficiencies inherent in a rigid fixed-rate mechanism for securing both infrastructure and affordable housing, based on the metric of gross development value, almost certainly means the levy will prove onerously complicated to operate in practice and that, overall, it will deliver less infrastructure and less affordable housing in the future, while putting the development of less viable sites at risk.

For that reason, we remain of the view that if the infrastructure levy is taken forward, it should be optional rather than mandatory, with local authorities that believe that the needs of their areas are best served by the existing developer contributions system able to continue to utilise it. Taken together, amendments 81 to 83 and 91 would ensure that local authorities retain that discretion, and I hope the new Minister, whom I welcome to her place, will consider them carefully, along with amendment 86, which seeks to address a specific concern about how viability testing will inform the levy rate-setting process.

Amendment 84 seeks to ensure that if the Government insist it is made mandatory, the new infrastructure levy must deliver sufficient levels of affordable housing. Since the publication of the Bill, Ministers have repeated ad nauseam that the new levy will secure at least as much affordable housing as developer contributions do now, yet the Government have so far been unable to provide any evidence or analysis to substantiate why they believe it can fulfil that objective. More importantly, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the commitment made by successive Ministers with regard to affordable housing will be honoured. At present, proposed new section 204G(2) of the Planning Act 2008—in schedule 11, on page 291 of the Bill—only requires charging authorities to have regard to the desirability of ensuring that levels of affordable housing are

“maintained at a level which, over a specified period, is equal to or exceeds the level of such housing and funding provided over an earlier specified period of the same length.”

Put simply, the Bill as drafted would enable—one might even say encourage—inadequate levels of affordable housing supply to remain the norm by making them the minimum requirement.

If we want to ensure that the new levy secures at least as much affordable housing as is being delivered through the existing developer contributions system—and ideally more—we believe the Bill needs to be revised. That is not a view confined only to this side of the House. In the foreword to a report published only yesterday by the Centre for Social Justice, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes)—himself a former Minister in the Department—argues in relation to the levy that

“it would be good to see stronger safeguards in primary legislation, rather than in regulations, for protecting and increasing the existing levels of affordable housing supply funded in this way”.

Not for the first time, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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One of the specific things that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and I requested in our agreement with Ministers was to make it easier for councils to increase the percentage of affordable housing. Clearly there is the economics of how that can happen, but we absolutely encouraged them to allow us to have that wording, so that in a place such as the Isle of Wight we could dramatically increase affordable housing as a percentage of housing. We actually put this at the centre of our plans.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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Increasing the supply of affordable housing, which is at pitifully low levels, is a laudable aim. I agree with the hon. Member on that, and I therefore hope he can support our amendment 84, because it would achieve the objective in relation to the infrastructure levy by requiring charging authorities to ensure that levels of affordable housing are maintained at a level that, over a specified period, enables any given authority to meet the housing need identified in its local development plan, and I commend it to the House.

Turning to part 5 of the Bill, this concerns the Government’s proposed new approach to assessing the potential environmental effects of relevant plans and major projects—namely, environmental outcomes reports. Chief among several concerns we have about the proposed EOR system are the deficiencies of clause 122 in relation to non-regression safeguards. While we welcome the inclusion of this clause in the Bill as a means of constraining the use of the wider regulation-making powers in part 5, we are concerned that the clause as drafted contains a series of loopholes. First, use of the relevant non-regression provisions is entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. Secondly, the Bill stipulates that the principle of non-regression will only apply to the

“overall level of environmental protection”,

rather than specific aspects of it. Thirdly, the definition of environmental law used in the relevant subsection will limit the extent to which it can provide protection against potential future regression.

The Minister who responded to the debate on this issue in Committee provided some measure of reassurance as to why the clause is drafted in the way it is, but our concerns have not been entirely assuaged. We have tabled amendment 88 to ensure that the new system of environmental assessment would not reduce existing environmental protections in any way, and I look forward to hearing how the Minister responds to it in due course.

We want to see many other changes to the Bill. Among other things, we have tabled amendments and new clauses to ensure that the Government undertake a comprehensive review of the extension of permitted development rights since 2013; to allow local authorities to hold planning meetings virtually or in hybrid form; and to place a duty on local planning authorities to appoint suitably qualified chief planning officers.

Of particular importance to us is the need to ensure that the Bill fully aligns the planning system with the UK’s climate mitigation and adaptation goals. In Committee, Ministers argued repeatedly that existing local and national duties, requirements and powers are sufficient to ensure that the planning system responds as required to the climate emergency, yet that is demonstrably not the case, given that the system regularly throws up decisions that are seemingly incompatible with the need to make rapid progress towards net zero emissions by mid-century and to prepare the country for the changes that are already under way. That is likely to remain the case until the Government produce clear and unambiguous national policy guidance, in the form of a revised NPPF, and legislate for a purposeful statutory framework to ensure genuine coherence between our country’s planning system and its climate commitments. New clause 98 would deliver the latter, and I urge Members to support it.

Before I turn to a number of the substantial Government amendments that have been tabled since the Bill left Committee, I will speak briefly to new clause 114. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, despite a notional majority of more than 80, the Government are developing an alarming habit of allowing national policy to be dictated by the demands of amorphous groups of their own Back Benchers. In the case of onshore wind deployment, the Government’s weakness in the face of such demands is all ostensibly to the good, because Ministers are now seemingly committed to amending the NPPF to finally end the harmful effective moratorium imposed on onshore wind since 2015.

However, the written ministerial statement published last Tuesday provoked more questions than it answered. For example, what criteria will Ministers specify to determine what qualifies as a demonstration of local support for onshore wind projects, given that there is certainly no clear indication that the Government are minded to bring consenting for onshore wind in line with other forms of infrastructure, as it should be?

To take another, there is the assertion in that statement that we need

“to move away from the overly rigid requirement for onshore wind sites to be designated in a local plan.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2022; Vol. 724, c. 9WS.]

What is meant by that? The Minister will know that sites do not have to be identified in local plans to receive consent for onshore wind deployment, but there is a strong presumption that they should be, and rightly so. If we are to strengthen our energy security, cut bills and reduce emissions, we need local authorities to proactively consider the opportunities within their boundaries for the deployment of all forms of renewable energy, including onshore wind generation.

Given the degree of ambiguity that now surrounds the Government’s position, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Secretary of State has simply sought to buy himself the time he needs to get this legislation passed by alighting on a form of words nebulous enough to temporarily appease the warring factions within his party.

New clause 114, in contrast, is clear and unambiguous. It would require the Government to remove the onerous restrictions that the NPPF places on the development of onshore wind projects, and it would ensure that local communities have their say via the planning process, without imposing a uniquely restrictive consenting regime upon only this form of renewable energy generation. It would ensure that local authorities must at least explore the desirability of renewable energy deployment, including onshore wind, as part of the local plan preparation process, and I commend the new clause to the House.

Turning finally to a number of the Government amendments that have been tabled in recent weeks, Government new clauses 49 to 59 insert an entirely new part into the Bill, as the Minister said, that enables community land auction pilots to take place. As many Members will be aware, such auctions are not a novel concept, having been first proposed as far back as 2005. On paper, the premise appears entirely sensible. Landowners would have the freedom to voluntarily come together to grant options over land in the area of a participating local planning authority, with a view to it being allocated for development in the local plan. On the assumption that the option value would be significantly less than the market value for housing development, and that landlords will release said land at the lower price to realise the guaranteed short-term return, the authority in question will be able to exercise or sell the option, capturing some of the increased value uplift and using it to support local development.

In practice, the idea is riven with flaws. First, the circumstances for which this theoretical arrangement is designed—namely, a collection of small and completely substitutable land parcels with multiple landowners—bears little relation to the characteristics of the actual land market across the country.

Secondly, the idea that auctions will drive down land prices in the absence of any element of compulsion is frankly for the birds. One need only look at Transport for London’s disappointing experience with the development rights auction model to see how the proposed arrangement will fall short in that regard.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy
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First of all, I commend the Minister on what I thought was an excellent opening speech. It was the first time I have been in the Chamber when she has given one. I thank her not just for that but for the time that she makes available to Back Benchers such as me for discussions on levelling up. I know that we all greatly appreciate it.

I also commend my hon. Friends on the Back Benches who have done so much work in putting forward important amendments. I hope that the Government will, as they have indicated, incorporate the vast majority of those amendments into the Bill. It is important that some of the issues raised by Back-Bench colleagues are addressed, and so far, I have been heartened by what has been said.

On the Bill itself, I was heartened when the Minister spoke about infrastructure. As many people will know, the constituency of Leigh has wanted a bypass for 60 years and has been waiting for it to be completed for 40 years. The problem is that the Atherleigh Way bypass runs across three local authorities and two counties, and it is difficult to get this stuff finished under existing laws.

As Andy Burnham—the previous incumbent of my seat—used to say, Leigh is one of the largest towns in the north-west of England without a railway station. Well, I am very pleased to say that, after 60 years, Golborne station is being reopened, and I am hopeful that we will be able to get a station opened for Leigh as well. Of course, levelling up is a cross-departmental discipline.

On regeneration, Leigh Means Business, the local community interest company, has provided me with information stating that almost 25% of commercial property in the centre of Leigh is vacant and unused. I think that goes to the point made by colleagues about the importance of bringing back into use brownfield sites in red-wall town centres such as mine before we start chipping away at the green belt and the green fields on the edge of town.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I am so delighted that my hon. Friend is making that point, because it is pretty much central to so much of what we want to see. We are accused of being nimbys and of saying no, no, no to everything, but we have a dozen-plus amendments because we want to find solutions for the Government. We loathe the top-down targets because they are fantastically un-Conservative, but we are desperate to try to find a way to change the balance between brownfield and greenfield development. Does he agree that if we can get that change in dynamic, we can fire up a development boom in this country? We could avoid so many of the stresses about greenfield development by focusing much more on brownfield.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy
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I am glad that my hon. Friend says that, because before my slip was withdrawn this morning, I was meant to be in Greater Manchester speaking about Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s “Places for Everyone” strategic development plan. I attended a session about two or three weeks ago, and the point was made—not just by me but by others, including the CPRE—that if we focused on addressing the proper use of brownfield sites in Greater Manchester, we would be able to fulfil the target set under the “Places for Everyone” plan without taking a single piece of green belt. I am delighted that these issues have been brought to the fore. I served for 13 years as a councillor on Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, and these arguments have been batted back and forth for many years, so I am tremendously pleased that we have been able to bring these issues to the fore.

On the technical matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) said that he thought it might be better if a separate planning Bill had been introduced, and I think there is a strong case for that, but we are where we are. As I said, I am pleased that the Government intend to listen to the concerns of Back Benchers and incorporate a number of remedies that I think will be of great importance for improving the Bill.

There is, however, one matter on which, I am afraid, I am not entirely on board with the Government. I am sure that it will not come as a shock to anyone on either Front Bench that I am not a tremendous fan of elected Mayors. To my mind, the correct approach to reforming local government is through localism, and not devolution, because the problem we have with the form of devolution that the Government have chosen is that it creates a number of unaccountable sinecures that will be run by regional Svengalis. The problem is that this encourages a form of challenge to the Government whereby a regional Mayor of whatever stripe stands up and says, “The Government are terrible, give me more money.” [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) is somewhat amused.

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Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Following the last speaker, we will move on to the ministerial response.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I am going to speak to new clause 34, and may make some broader points, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) did—I thank her for her great work and leadership on this issue. There are many good ideas that we have been discussing on all sides of the House today, and it is great to see such a brilliant Minister in her role and dealing with this Bill. Indeed, quite a few Ministers have been dealing with it, but I am glad that the buck has stopped with her. I welcome all and any measures to support levelling up.

The Isle of Wight is rich in so many ways, but economically is not necessarily one of them. We have a wonderful sense of community and a wonderful quality of life, but if I can achieve one thing in this place, it is to improve Islanders’ life chances and opportunities. I am delighted that in the last five years the Government have been listening more than they have done previously. We have got £120 million of additional investment. There is £48 million for the NHS—the build at St Mary’s is due to start in the next two weeks—and £26 million to rebuild the Island line. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I was at Ryde Pier with my little hard hat on—a Boris look-alike or whatever—because the rebuild of the railway pier is now happening as well.

The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) asked what levelling up has done. Actually, we have got a 240-ton-lift crane in East Cowes for our shipyard, which will drive dozens of new jobs and apprenticeships in shipbuilding on the Isle of Wight. The clippers that we see going up and down the Thames are made on the Island. We have lots of great things, including in training for Isle of Wight College.

One of the many things said by the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), which really sticks with me is that, “Talent is shared out equality in our nation, but opportunity isn’t.” We feel that, in a poorer part of a rich area.

I turn to compulsory purchase. If we go to any town or city in this country, apart from brownfield—I will come to that—we see long-term empty, derelict buildings. In coastal areas, as the Minister will know—it is fantastic that she has agreed to come to the Island and we very much look forward to hosting her—that problem is especially acute, particularly with former hotels. In Sandown, which is a town with a really lovely, wonderful community, some of our most important and valuable sites have stood empty for years. The Grand hotel is owned by a developer who seems to be unwilling to develop his own properties. The technical ownership of the Ocean hotel seems to change every month as it is flipped through a series of highly questionable companies. It is one of the most important sites in Sandown, and it is derelict and vandalised. We need the compulsory purchase powers. I respect property rights, but actually we need those powers to be as strong as possible so that communities such as mine and the Isle of Wight Council can use them to do good.

I am going to try this argument: I want to be able to get the Isle of Wight Council to compulsory purchase from the Government. Camp Hill prison site—the third prison site on the Island—has been empty for nine years. For five years I have been asking for a decision on Camp Hill. The Government cannot decide whether they want to turn it back into a prison, give us the land, sell it privately and so on. If they can give us that land at a price that we can afford, we can do real good with it, and we can build homes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet made the point that we want to propose good stuff. That is why, among 20 amendments and new clauses that we tabled, we have proposed new clause 34. There is an incredibly trite conversation around the issue, suggesting that those who object to top-down targets and the entirely depressing reliance on out-of-town, car-dependent housing estates plonked down in the middle of nowhere are somehow anti-young people or nimbys—a nimby is a local patriot, in my opinion—shouting, “No, no, no,” with their heads in the ground like ostriches. Actually, we are saying, “Yes, yes, yes” to so many ideas—we are trying to give the Government so many ideas—because we want planning and housing to be a success. We want to protect communities and, at the same time, we recognise that we need to build, but we want a system that is community-centred, environment-centred—environmentally friendly—and regeneration-centred.

When we have acre after acre of brownfield sites in towns and cities up and down the country, what on earth is the point of being reliant on developers lazily building on greenfield sites? That alienates older people in communities—they have their dog-walking routes and views ruined—yet so often, and especially in the home counties, those houses cannot be afforded by young people. All that happens is people move out of London. That is a problem in Essex, Kent and Hampshire. On the Island, the dynamic is slightly different because people retire to us, but either way, despite having increased our population by 50% in 50 years, one of the most depressing facts is that we still export our young people too often.

New clause 34, which would give us compulsory powers to act in the public good, is only one of a series of, I hope, good ideas supported by my right hon. Friend, me and many people. For example, I think that for new clause 21, on top-down targets, we have more than 55 colleagues. Regardless of what the Labour party does, we need to work together. We want to work together with the Government in a spirit of co-operation, but can they please trust us and listen to us?

Another example of a good idea, apart from new clause 34, is the new clause on having a “Use it or lose it” rule to stop planners land-banking. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that a fundamental problem is not that planners do not give out permissions—80% get passed—or that pesky nimbys stop everything, because we know that is a load of rubbish. The fundamental problem is that developers have a vested interest in only releasing land for housing slowly, because that keeps the value of land high, house prices high, share prices high and bosses’ bonuses high. I sound a bit like I should be on the Opposition Benches. I am a big fan of capitalism, but I want capitalism to work. I want the developer industry to serve the people of this country, not its bosses.

We will achieve that by getting a system that works, so we want a new clause for “Use it or lose it.” We want a new clause that says, “Okay, you will have a time here and if you do not build out, you’re paying council tax on that 200-house estate. If you haven’t built it, you’re still paying council tax come what may.” We want bigger sticks. We want some nice carrots for brownfield, but we want bigger sticks for developers, so that when someone gets a 1,000-acre site they actually have to do something with it, and they cannot just sit on it and inflate their share price.

We want what is in the public interest. As soon as some people become Ministers, they think they know best—I am sure that this Minister does not think that—and they want top-down stuff, because that is where they drive reform. However, we know that a community with a neighbourhood plan is more likely to welcome development. Why? Because they get to shape it. All the so-called nimbys actually think, “Okay, here’s a home for my kids, a home for my daughter and son-in-law, a home for my grandkids.” They buy into it.

That is why top-down targets fundamentally do not work. They create an incredibly divisive battle. The Government say, “You have to build this many houses.” We get ridiculous, absurd numbers for the Isle of Wight, considering that our indigenous population is meant to decline by 9,000 over the next 15 years. We get targets and local government is put under pressure. The developers then start plonking down greenfield permissions, because they cannot be bothered to look at brownfield sites, which alienates communities. It becomes fundamentally divisive and adversarial.

Changing economic incentives would revolutionise development in this country, so that it becomes a win-win for communities. We could create more disincentives for greenfield sites—a super-tax—so that every plot on a greenfield site has to pay twice the amount as those on a brownfield site. Some brownfield sites are dirtier than others, but if we had a tax that said, “Okay, you are giving up 1,000 acres of greenfield site in Cambridgeshire, Kent or Hampshire, but you are getting 2,000 acres of cleaned-up brownfield site” that would be a win. That is something we could accept. We need to think in much more creative terms and to move away from an adversarial system. That is why another amendment—along with new clause 34, which we love—asks the Government to look at the creation of incentives for brownfield and greater disincentives for greenfield.

Fundamentally, with the exception of one or two things, the Government are going in the right direction, but they need to go further. Another example is the new clause on character tests. Some shoddy developers have criminal records. They intimidate people, do not treat communities properly, never build out or build poorly. Why can that not be a reason to object? Do we not want to clean up the development industry? Do we not want socially responsible developers who do the right thing for their communities and actually make an effort? They can be rewarded by us supporting their development planning applications and we can stop people who want to build caravan parks in the wrong place but use loopholes. That is another of our amendments—it is a great amendment—which would do real good, so why are the Government not accepting it?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and I, the 55 colleagues who signed new clause 21 on top-down housing targets, and many others, including the—I think—30 colleagues who signed new clause 34 on compulsory purchase, all want to say yes to this stuff. We want our communities to feel that development works for them—that it works for the old and young folks in communities, that it works to regenerate and that it works to protect our environment, which is so important to our future and which helps the whole process of community-led regeneration. In that spirit, we tabled new clause 34 and all the other wonderful amendments, which we look forward to discussing with the Government when they come up with a second date. My plea is for the Government to work with us on this issue, because want to make this a win-win, not a lose-lose.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Bob Seely Excerpts
Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
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I suggest that the Secretary of State addresses a problem to which national parks are particularly prone, where a historic lawful development certificate is acquired because a caravan was previously located there, affording huge development on the basis of permitted development rights over which the national park authority and the planning authority have no control. That is a power that needs to be grabbed and given back to local authorities.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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And areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I hear the important point about national parks, and the echo from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) with reference to areas of outstanding natural beauty. The environmental protections in the Bill should meet that need, but I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend in Committee to ensure that the protections are there.

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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am shocked—shocked, I tell you—that a Liberal Democrat authority does not have a plan in place and, as a result, housing numbers are spiralling out of control. Imagine what would happen in other beautiful parts of our country such as Devon, in a community such as Tiverton, or Honiton, if Liberal Democrat politicians were in charge. I reassure my hon. Friend that this legislation will ensure that if you have a local plan in place—preferably one put in place by Conservative councillors—you will safeguard your green spaces and natural environment, and you will not have those developers’ friends—the Liberal Democrats—concreting over the countryside.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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On the Isle of Wight, we are separated by sea from the mainland. Our local building industry builds between 200 and 300 homes a year, and we cannot really build more. The standard methodology gives us ridiculous targets of 700-plus, and the nonsense of the mutant algorithm would have given us 1,200-plus. Even in the current consideration, we are forced to offer targets that realistically we cannot hope to build. What reassurance can he give the Island?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think it is the case that the thinker who coined the phrase “mutant algorithm” is my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), who is now an Under-Secretary in the Department and working with me and the Minister for Housing to address precisely the concerns that he outlined. We need to build more homes, but we also need to ensure that how we calculate need and how plans are adopted is much more sensible and sensitive.

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Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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My hon. Friend is an outstanding advocate for her community and we on the Front Bench absolutely support her call for proper action to deal with the crisis of flooding around the country. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) is here; she knows only too well, too the impact that flooding has on communities up and down the country and the shameful way that we have been treated by the Government, with promises of action and measures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said during the Secretary of State’s opening remarks, there is not a single mention of net zero in the Bill. What is the commitment, if it is anything at all?

I was starting to wonder what the Government had against Yorkshire, but then I saw yesterday that they had also casually scrapped the Golborne link. That decision appears to have been made in the face of pressure from Tory MPs ahead of a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. It is going to create havoc for people trying to travel by rail across the north-west and it plays into the real problems that we already have with east-west connectivity.

Then I saw that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) said that he had voted for the Prime Minister to keep his job after receiving assurances that there would be a funding review for his council. Can I ask the Secretary of State—

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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I certainly will, but I ask the Secretary of State: did he have knowledge of this? Did he sign it off? Let me say to him: that sounds awfully like corruption to me.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The hon. Lady completely misunderstands and she gets it completely wrong. Several years ago, the Prime Minister realised that the Isle of Wight was the only island in the UK that does not have a multiplier. The Isles of Scilly get a multiplier of 1.5 and the Scottish islands get the Scottish islands needs allowance. I said to the Prime Minister, “Will you commit to rectifying this wrong, which is a policy flaw?” He said “Yes,” and I reminded him of that promise beforehand. Did I ask for a bag of cash? No, and it is completely untrue for her to say that, so she can get up now and apologise.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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Of course I will give the hon. Member the opportunity—[Interruption.]

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
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I of course gave the hon. Member the right of reply, but I am quoting literally and directly a quote on his website. If those are not his words and are not correct, I leave it up to hon. Members to judge. I am simply quoting his words to the Secretary of State and asking whether that is correct, because we have had a report today that says, in stark terms, that the Department—

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a very serious allegation. Corruption has been alleged, but there is no basis for it and it should be withdrawn.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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This is a serious allegation. I am not in a position right now to weigh up one side of the argument against the other, because I do not have the evidence before me of whatever words were published and whatever words have been said. I ask the hon. Lady —[Interruption.] She cannot possibly be looking at her phone while I am speaking to her. No, no, she cannot possibly be looking at her phone while I am speaking to her! I ask her to get us over this part of the debate, and we can come back to this matter at another time. Will she please withdraw the—[Hon. Members: “ No!”] Do not shout at me when I am speaking from the Chair! Will the hon. Lady please withdraw the allegation of corruption, which is a very serious one, and perhaps find some other words to show that she disagrees with what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) said. We can then proceed with the debate and, if necessary, come back to this point at another time.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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I have a lot of respect for the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy)—she is not in her place but will be coming back very shortly—but I have to say that her speech was pretty dire, her allegations silly, and her withdrawal pretty mealy-mouthed. For the record, for those on the Labour Front Bench, and for anyone else who wants to listen, I make no apology for persuading the Government to treat the Isle of Wight like every other island in the UK. The Island is the most under-represented place in this country. I have twice as many constituents. We are separated by sea from the mainland, and I have to fight three times as hard to get any Government to listen to me. I make no apologies for speaking with passion and determination, and I make no apologies for fighting tooth and nail.

I shall tell those on the Labour Front Bench something else: we were not in the first round of levelling up, but by last December we were. We are now getting a new crane for Wight Shipyard, which means dozens of apprenticeships, and I am proud of that. If Labour Members want to insinuate anything about that, they are welcome to do so. I have one final piece of advice before I go on to the real issues here: the reason why there are so many of us here, not only in this debate, but in this House, is that, perhaps, we have a reputation for delivering for our folks. That is something that the Labour party may want to take into account. Anyway, that is almost a minute and a half of my life that I will not get back, so I shall now move on to the substance of the Bill.

The presentation of Tory MPs saying, “No, no, no!” to change is not true. We see the hundreds of thousands of unbuilt permissions and we worry. We know our youngsters cannot get on to the housing ladder and we worry. We see the loss of landscape in my patch celebrated by Tennyson, Turner, Keats and many others, and we worry. We see lazy developers relying on greenfield sites and we worry. We want the system to change. What we do not want is a system that keeps on giving to developers who give nothing back, who pocket development and then say, “More, please” like some inverted Oliver Twist. What we want is people who deliver for our communities and also for the nation.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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I would rather not give way as I have only one minute—

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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Okay, I give way.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
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I know the hon. Gentleman was desperate to get an extra minute. He is making a really impassioned speech and I agree with much of what he has said so far. He mentioned developers snapping up greenfield sites. In my constituency, the local community rose up to protect a site called Udney Park Playing Fields in Teddington, and thanks to a legal challenge it is now protected green space. The developer, however, will not now sell the site back to the community despite a good bid to turn it into playing fields, because they paid over the odds and they will wait years and years until planning policy changes. Meanwhile, the site is going to rack and ruin. Do we not need powers to tackle that?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. We need short interventions, because there are many people who wish to speak.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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The hon. Lady makes a very good point. She will probably have to wait 10 to 15 years. There will be a form of planning blight on that land. We have the same with an awful development on my patch called Pennyfeathers, which I wish had never been built. I wish the Secretary of State or, indeed, the wonderful Minister for Housing, had the powers to say no to it; we could go back to having a vineyard and green fields there, as there should be.

I am very supportive of my colleagues on the Conservative Benches who have made speeches this afternoon, but let me turn briefly to amendments. Targets are the bane of so many of my colleagues. They need to be advisory, not mandatory, and I remind the Government that neighbourhood plan areas tend to say yes to more developments because they get the chance to shape them. If we do not feel that developments are being shoved down our throats, and that we can shape them more, the Government will have greater success.

The Secretary of State has heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) and others about the pernicious loopholes, the vandalism of sites of special scientific interest and the way people corruptly game the system. Why is character not grounds for opposing development? Why can we not shut down those loopholes that do such damage to our countryside, national parks and AONBs?

I know this is not a tax Bill, but fundamentally we need to find an effective way of changing the economics from greenfield to brownfield sites, so that the half a million or a million properties on brownfield sites are developed. We also have a second homes problem, not only on the Island but in Cornwall, the lake district and other areas. We need to respect property rights, but communities in my patch such as Seaview, Bembridge and Yarmouth must not become Potemkin villages that are empty for much of the year. We must have a community that stays there.

There will be a series of amendments to the Bill, and I assure the Minister they will be as supportive as they can be, but I will finish with something close to my heart: compulsory purchase. I want the Government to give more powers to councils for compulsory purchase. In Sandown, a town in my patch, a Mr Steven Purvis owns the Ocean Hotel and is fighting forced redevelopment tooth and nail. Nick Spyker owns the Grand Hotel in Sandown. Those places sit empty year in, year out.

Sandown is crying out for investment. The Island cannot afford owners who, for whatever reason, keep those properties as empty eyesores, damaging our communities, our public health and our economy. We must ensure that our councils have the power to say to people such as Purvis and Spyker, “Invest, or jog on.” There will be a lot of amendments to this Bill, many of them supportive, but we need to get a grip and we need to drive development and levelling-up forward.