(1 year, 7 months ago)Westminster Hall
My hon. Friend speaks very powerfully on this issue and I agree with every word that he said.
I also bring to the Minister’s attention the fact that 2016 Office for National Statistics population forecast figures revised down Bury’s population by 43%, and recently released 2018 provisional figures show a further fall of 13%. On the basis of recent population projections, no homes would have to be built on the green belt in my constituency. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will review the use of projections published six years ago?
There are three questions in the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I have already commented on the funding that the Government are making available to assist local authorities in remediating brownfield sites—that will be very important. The question comes down to housing need. It is the easiest thing in the world simply to say, “We need to build more houses,” but we need a robust formula that allows each local authority to build the number of houses that they need and where they need them over the course of a local plan. I am making the point that using the most up-to-date population projections reduces the need to build on the green belt, and in my borough—I am sorry, I cannot comment in respect of the borough of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—that would allow properties to be built on brownfield sites.
The question, though, is the “brownfield first” policy. “Brownfield first”, again, is a statement, but there is nothing within the GMSF to force councils to build on the brownfield first. If the GMSF was in place, the green belt would undoubtedly be concreted over and no developer would be interested in building truly affordable homes on brownfield sites.
Coming back to the point, we have to build homes for people who need them, at a price that is affordable, in the right place. In the GMSF in respect of Bury, there was virtually no comment regarding building affordable flats in the town centres within my borough. That is one of many reasons why I believe the document is not fit for purpose.
I have grave concerns about how my own local authority, Wigan Council, has conducted itself during the Greater Manchester spatial framework process. When the plan’s first draft was announced, many local farmers and landowners were surprised to find that their land was earmarked for development. They had not put forward their land during the “call for sites” process. They had not even been consulted on whether their land should have been included in these plans.
When the landowners attended a public information event to protest the lack of consultation, they were told initially that, should they refuse to sell, the council would rely on the use of compulsory purchase powers to obtain the land. Following a public backlash against this approach, both the leader of Wigan Council and Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, stated that they would not using compulsory purchase powers after all.
The council has still not removed all these sites from the plans, however, which raises two issues: first, the deliverability of these sites and secondly, housing supply if these sites are allocated but not deliverable. Wigan Council’s approach towards the GMSF has generated an unworkable plan because of the lack of due diligence in ensuring site availability, a lack of consultation with the affected landowners, and an unwillingness to compromise when this was highlighted. I hope that measures can be put in place to ensure that this situation does not arise again.
Of course, we are discussing the Greater Manchester spatial framework in the round, which encompasses the 10 local authorities that would be working with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to put this in place. One problem has been that where there are some pluses—for instance around common ground, which would allow movements between the various areas—that is very much top-down driven, so we are waiting for the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester to tell us what we should have. I have been working with local residents, my constituents and neighbourhood groups, including Woodford Neighbourhood Forum and Save Heald Green Green Belt, and they want to know what is going to be right for their area. That depends on having the right figures, so we really do need guidance on those figures, and to bear in mind that we want a spatial framework or local plans that fit the needs of our local populations.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. One of our issues in Greater Manchester is that these areas have been allocated. I have allocations of green-belt housing of over 2,000 houses, so this is having a huge impact on my area, and people are fearful that the green belt is going to be built on. I have been pushing for “brownfield sites first”, and for a register in Stockport that should be entirely about building on those brownfield sites, but unfortunately, while those allocations are still in the Mayor’s plan, people feel we are going to have this housing there.
I am grateful to my constituency neighbour for giving way. Members might look a little surprised, given that I do not represent a Greater Manchester constituency. However, my constituency is right on the border and homes built in places such as Tameside or Stockport have a big impact on commuters in my seat, particularly on the A6 or through Mottram to try to get on the M67.
A big complaint has always been that we put in houses without the infrastructure to cope with them. To praise the GMSF—slightly unusually—one good thing is the proposal for a Gamesley railway station that is included in it. Will my constituency neighbour have words with his colleague, Andy Burnham, to see whether he can throw his full support behind that station, and will the Minister have words with the rail Minister about getting a train station built in Gamesley?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) on securing the debate. It might seem like a very localised matter, but it will affect 2.5 million people in Greater Manchester, and it is a huge issue for the Members of Parliament who represent them. It has been all-consuming for a few years now. I should probably declare my constituency position on this, which is that I do not support the spatial framework in its current form. The weight of responsibility for housing development is not evenly spread, either across Greater Manchester or within boroughs, and the process has led to mistrust. When I say that, I am just being honest about the weight of feedback that I get from local people.
The principle of a spatial framework is critical, and it was hard-wired into the Greater Manchester devolution deal: it was about Greater Manchester deciding for itself how it wanted to see its future. As to the idea that after being given that responsibility and power Greater Manchester should suddenly say to Government, “Actually, we don’t want to play anymore on this, because it is just too difficult,” I am afraid that that is not a mature way to do politics. We have to take responsibility for finding a way through. Ultimately, when housing development need is identified, it will affect our constituents, and we have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation will be provided for. We need to provide for the right type of housing in the right place in the future. There are no easy answers in this situation, but I think there may be an easier way to get where we want to go than the journey we have taken so far.
I have heard the politicisation of the issue, in terms of Greater Manchester having a Labour Mayor, among other things, but it does not matter what party the Mayor represents. There is a legal responsibility, passed down by central Government, to produce a spatial framework covering the whole of Greater Manchester —and, by the way, without a spatial framework the responsibility would fall on each of the 10 local authorities individually to create a new local plan, which would have a worse impact on most places, in terms of the distribution of development, and probably run a greater risk of a developers’ free-for-all if the plan was not in place at the right time. It is in our collective interest to try to find a way through.
My boss, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), should have been here today, but he is self-isolating. He has been clear from the outset about the balance between making the mature response and planning ahead, because that is the right thing to do, and giving voice to constituents. There are proposals to extend the Bredbury Park industrial estate into the Tame valley but he and local people have worked out that that could be accommodated at Ashton Moss. We have to find a different way of engaging the public, so that together we co-produce the future of Greater Manchester. We cannot have people believing that the future is being done to them or that the future of the places and communities where they live and grew up, and in which they have a stake, is being decided without them.
My first submission went to 70 pages. I have a quite geeky interest in some of the issues—and they are important. It was a call for the development of more neighbourhood plans. I would love people in my constituency to come together to co-produce the development of their area. The evidence from across the country is that when local people have the task of developing neighbourhood plans they come up with greater housing numbers than were originally proposed, because they know the infill sites that could be developed, and they know the community better. However, of course, for a geographical area as large as the one that the spatial framework covers, it is not possible to do those things within the timescale that has been announced.
I remember asking a previous notMinister in this Chamber whether the Government would give way and allow us to develop a new population evidence base. If we are not allowed to use the most up-to-date, bespoke evidence base for our population estimate, we will always provide more, because we will not believe the estimates are correct. I do not think that there is a single MP in the Chamber who believes that the current population estimates proposed by the Government are anywhere near the reality on the ground. They do not even take into account the impact of Brexit and the new immigration system, let alone other issues. There is also a general belief that even the employment land evidence base is not robust enough—and that is before getting on to the type of employment and the nature of the employment structure that we want in Greater Manchester. Time was, for a town such as Oldham, which was built on the mills, that tens of thousands of people came to work in the palaces of industry—to take a rose-tinted view of them. Now, square footage does not equal jobs. The rise of automation means that the huge factories and distribution centres that have been developed do not mean thousands of jobs. For a town such as Oldham, we want to be ambitious—realistic, yes—about the type of employment that we will get.
On infrastructure, as much as we talk about the need for schools, GP practices, hospitals, transport and all the rest, we should also talk about broadband and how the future world of work will be. What type of connectivity will people need? That is where Greater Manchester deserves great credit, because it is trying to connect the 2040 transport plan to ensure that we bring together how our conurbation will develop, in terms of planning, employment and physical development, and how people will get to work and share the area. There is no doubt that Greater Manchester cannot do that by itself.
Every Member of Parliament, regardless of which party we stand for—although I am afraid the weight falls on the Government—has to accept that if our shared belief is that “brownfield first” is a policy that we should pursue, we have to accept that a cost comes with that. It cannot be done on the cheap. It is not just about the cost of remediating a site that might be polluted; there is an issue in towns such as mine, where the end values are so low that the gap is even tighter. We need far more effort on that.
We also need a more radical plan to address the current housing stock, not just one that talks about building new stuff but ignores the substandard housing conditions that many people in Greater Manchester live in. The housing market renewal programme that was cancelled in 2010 intended to remove a lot of substandard accommodation—terraced streets in Oldham that were not fit for purpose—and replace them with decent quality family homes. When that money was taken away, nothing followed it. We have to address the poor quality that exists today and improve the standard across the board. Of course, we have to plan for the future, but that has to be done in partnership.
I genuinely hope that we will work together, not to pass the buck between Westminster and Greater Manchester, or between Conservative and Labour. The community expects us to be mature, to grow up and to work in partnership to find a solution. We need bespoke population data for Greater Manchester, in partnership with the Government and Greater Manchester, a more ambitious fund for brownfield sites in Greater Manchester, so the sites that we identify can be brought to market and developed in a reasonable timeframe, and far more ambition on the infrastructure investment that we need. I genuinely believe that if we work together, we can bring local people with us. But if local people continue to see debates such as this, where we pass the buck between different parties and from central Government to local government, I am afraid that will reflect badly on us all. Let today mark the change that our communities want, and let us begin to work together on it.
As I said, we believe it to be the better method. The hon. Gentleman has already pointed out that the more recent analysis has thrown up some anomalies, so we believe the 2014 figure to be the better one, but the Secretary of State has said that he will review the NPPF, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will watch this space.
I would also like to highlight a number of Government priorities, which are reflected in our national policy, such as our protections of the green belt.
We want to ensure that we build more appropriate homes. We know that we need those houses and the right sort of houses, with the right quality. Local need needs to be determined locally. The starting point is the minimum, not the maximum figure. The Secretary of State will talk about potential changes to the NPPF in due course, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make his further points in his own unique and eloquent way when the time comes.
In a moment, I will speak about our priorities on the green belt—support for prioritising brownfield development and our desire to see plans in place—but my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North also mentioned flooding as an issue of concern. As he knows, in the Budget speech last week, the Chancellor announced £5.2 billion of investment in additional flood defences. That will seek to ensure that communities around the country know that future development will be safe from floods. We will assess whether existing protections in the NPPF are enough, and we will consider options for further reform in our wider ambitions for the planning system. I hope that gives my hon. Friend and other colleagues some reassurance.
My hon. Friend also mentioned housing type as an issue, with large numbers of four or five-bedroomed homes. I draw his attention and that of the Mayor and the local authorities in Greater Manchester to the NPPF, which is very clear that local authorities need to identify homes of the right size, type and tenure, as necessary for local people. That needs to be reflected in their planning priorities, which I am sure is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North will make to the Mayor and his local authority.
(2 years ago)Westminster Hall
Everybody here can agree that is wrong, but it is about the steps that we will have to take to get the situation under control. We are looking at help for existing leaseholders, many of whom face, as the hon. Gentleman says, onerous fees and charges, including the doubling of ground rent in some cases. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and many existing leaseholders want the Government to legislate to amend those. We are deeply concerned about the difficulties that people are having with those charges, but we clearly have to look at how to unpick those contracts, which are set in law.
We are indeed looking at a much simpler model that people can understand and make sense of, and at how to make it easier, smoother and quicker to do.
We have also made sure that there is a voluntary way for the sector to come together to solve the problems of its own creation. The industry pledge is an important first step. It has been signed by more than 60 leading developers, freeholders and managing agents. We will work with them and keep a vigilant eye on how it is working. Through that pledge, freeholders have committed to identifying any lease that doubles more frequently than every 20 years and contacting the relevant leaseholders to offer to amend their lease where necessary. I acknowledge those developers that have signed the pledge not to insert such clauses into future leases and welcome that. The pledge is an important first step, but we need to keep our eye on it. We will continue to monitor how effective it is in supporting leaseholders and we will take further action where necessary.
(2 years, 3 months ago)Commons Chamber
I certainly do agree. It is such a frustrating scenario when it is not even possible to find out who is responsible. I think that the managing agents in that scenario will be particularly keen on sending their bills to my hon. Friend’s constituents and will not be very slow in forwarding those invoices.
Three years ago, residents at Kennyland Court in Hendon were asked by their managing agents to pay for roof repairs despite a 20-year guarantee being in place since 2003. The managing agents said in their defence that the guarantee was for 15 years and was on a reduced basis, but even my maths shows me that 2016, when the bills were issued, was still two years before the end of the guarantee. However, residents were just given two repair options and no real response to the matter of the guarantee. They felt that they were being bullied by the managing agents into accepting the repair bill without any answers to their legitimate questions.
A constituent at the Brinsdale Park development in Hendon is having difficulty with a managing agent over vague bills and a lack of invoices. She says that the managing agent has consistently sent coercive demands for what she believes to be incorrect service charges. She has now invoked sections 21 and 22 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Section 21 relates to service charge information and section 22 relates to a request to inspect supporting accounts. This all seems very reasonable: someone receives an invoice, invokes sections 21 and 22, and sees the information. However, the managing agent has responded by sending emails accusing my constituent of harassing him in seeking such information.
It appears, judging from this debate, that there is widespread dissatisfaction about the way that many of our constituents are being treated. Indeed, that dissatisfaction has been expressed by leaseholders themselves regarding service charges. Of 1,244 leaseholders surveyed by the Leasehold Advisory Service in 2016, 40% strongly disagreed that service charges represented value for money and 62% agreed that the services provided had not improved in the past two years.
The problems are quite simple. There is difficulty buying freeholds. There is a lack of transparency around the additional medium-term and long-term cost of a leasehold compared with buying a freehold. There are significant legal and surveying costs when leaseholders want to purchase part of the freehold, or, indeed, part of the land itself. There is an excessive increase in ground rents, a lack of transparency around service charges and freeholds not being offered to leaseholders before being sold off to a third party. This situation really is intolerable for so many people, particularly in my own constituency. I understand that the Government have sought a consultation. I hope that they act on it, because the way that residents are being treated is not only unfair but, in many ways, morally corrupt, and we must act sooner rather than later.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best thing to do in England or England and Wales, with, I hope, the Law Commission’s support, is to pass a simple statutory instrument that provides for a table of information, so that instead of people having to ask and argue with surveyors, they can look at the table and see the number of years, the ground rent and so on?
Buying a home is the biggest single commitment that anybody will take on. In this country, 85% of people want to own their own home. We encourage people to own their own home and to make it an investment. We encourage them so that, in later life, people have security and are not reliant on the state. If we are to encourage that, we need to make sure that we are giving those people every confidence in their investment and every protection we can.
I welcome the Select Committee report. I will not go into the detail of the whole report, which would be very difficult to do in the time we have this afternoon, but I want to touch on a couple of things. Commonhold features heavily in the report. This has been available since 2002 and the take-up of it has been very small. There are lots of legal practicalities and challenges for mortgage lenders and so on. But the basic fact is that developers, particularly those developing blocks of flats, want to retain some sort of value after they have completed the development and they want to be able to profit from the value they have retained. I can understand that in certain situations, such as retirement accommodation and so on, but if we are to encourage people to go to commonhold, we will have to legislate to take away from the developer the option to retain that financial interest in the property.
I would rather go for a simpler mechanism that would basically prevent developers from continuing to hold that interest in the property so that, as soon as all the flats are developed, the freehold interest reverts to the leaseholders who buy the long lease at the outset, and that can then be managed by the leaseholders. Those would be far better arrangements and, for me, that is where most people who own leasehold property fare best.
I also want to mention the conveyancing process. I say this as somebody who acted for thousands of people buying and selling residential property over a long period. Clearly, it is the job of the conveyancer—a licensed conveyancer, a registered conveyancer or a solicitor—to protect their client and they have a duty of care to their client. In the arrangements for new developments, new developers generally have two or three solicitors on a panel of solicitors that they will recommend and, by hook or by crook, they put virtually every single person who is buying to those people. The reality is that there is a lot of pressure on those firms of solicitors to exchange contracts, to complete and to expedite matters and, within that, they are therefore not necessarily providing the best impartial service for their clients. The link between these referrals and the solicitors in the advice given to clients needs to be broken. We cannot continue with the status quo in that regard.
We need to do far more about assignment fees, notice of mortgage fees and dealing with covenants. Things must be based far more on what it costs for a freeholder or managing agent to undertake a particular process, rather than adding exorbitant fees. It is absolutely disgraceful when exorbitant fees are charged, and they always come into play right at the end of a conveyancing transaction when the managing agent has the person who is selling absolutely over a barrel.
I will quickly mention dispute resolution. I welcome the announcements that have been made about the fees on leasehold tribunals, but there needs to be a far simpler process before people get to the tribunal for leaseholders. Onerous terms of leases are also a massive problem. I am aware of several constituency cases where that has caused families a major problem.
We also need to make sure that we do not have leasehold houses; there is no necessity for leasehold houses. I know there is a cost involved, but we should move to a system where very little is provided by a managing agent and a tenant. People should get value for the council tax and we should go back to more of an estate being adopted and paid for by the local authority. People can then hold their local council to account if they are not getting what they are looking for.