Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2022

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I agree that we need a response and a sign and memorial right at the heart of our democracy. I cannot personally commit to legislation, but certainly we will look at that. It will be a decision for the next Prime Minister, but we will have a robust response as best we can.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con)
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The building of the national holocaust memorial was a manifesto commitment by this Government. It has cross-party support and it also has the support of every living Prime Minister and all the faith leaders of this country. It is a cause of great sadness to me that a small number of individuals, many of whom are local residents, are causing this great national project to be delayed. They will not succeed. All they will succeed in doing is ensuring that fewer survivors of the holocaust live to see the memorial open, and that is a national disgrace. Will the Minister bring forward the simple three-clause Bill that is now required? If he will not, I put him on notice that I will amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to do just that, and I am sure that colleagues across this House will support me in ensuring that this project proceeds.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. As I have said, any legislation will be the decision for the next Prime Minister. It remains a manifesto commitment to build the holocaust memorial so that we remember. On the location, 90% of the gardens will remain unchanged and open. Less than 10% will be used by the memorial, which will be open to the public. That is why Government believe that it fitted within the existing legislation. That is also why we will be reviewing the court case to see what it says, and our response will be in place accordingly.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Thursday 27th January 2022

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2022.

I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) for co-sponsoring today’s debate. I am only sorry that the right hon. Member for Barking could not be with us because she is recovering from covid. As Margaret is not here, and therefore cannot be embarrassed, I thought I would say a few words about her. She has championed holocaust remembrance throughout her 28 years in the House and has proven to be one of our most courageous warriors against antisemitism and racism of all kinds. I will miss her enormously when she steps down at the next general election, but I feel fortunate to have served alongside her and to be able to do so for some time yet. I am sure we all wish her a speedy recovery.

Holocaust Memorial Day has been a national day of commemoration for over 20 years and our debates have become a regular fixture in the parliamentary calendar. We use this day to fulfil a solemn obligation, an obligation of remembrance: to never allow the memory of those who died in the holocaust to be forgotten by anyone anywhere in the world. This year’s theme, “One Day”, encourages us to put aside our differences for just one day, to come together to understand more about our past, and to resolve to act for a better future. I hope that Members from across the House will join me at 8 pm this evening and light candles in our windows as a mark of remembrance.

Today, the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we remember a dark stain on human history, the greatest evil perpetrated by man against man in the long catalogue of human crimes. Today, we mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. We remember the names, the faces and the promise of the 6 million Jews who were murdered. Today, we pay tribute to those who survived and, for all these years, have borne witness to that evil and have served humankind in doing so. Today, we honour and remember the memory of the allied forces, including the 3.3 million British servicemen who left hearth and home, suffered appalling casualties and freed a continent from the grip of tyranny. We pay tribute to the memory of those non-Jewish heroes and heroines who saved countless lives—those people who the people of Israel call the righteous among the nations. In an age of indifference, they acted. In an age of fear, they showed courage and their memory is an example to us all.

As time passes, the importance of this day grows. In 2020, 147 survivors of the holocaust passed away in this country. In 2021, 134 died. The youngest survivor of the camps is currently 77. As the survivors die, the holocaust is moving from living memory to vital history, which is why we must keep their experiences alive. It is why I pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, run by the brilliant Olivia Marks-Woldman; the Holocaust Education Trust, led by the indefatigable Karen Pollock; the Wiener Holocaust Library; the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre, which is in my own constituency in Nottinghamshire; and many other organisations and charities for the work they do to document, record and educate.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking the Prince of Wales for his initiative in having the portraits of seven holocaust survivors painted? This is one way of ensuring a lasting legacy, and of Holocaust Memorial Day remaining in the public’s consciousness.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will, and I thought the images of those survivors and their families with the Prince of Wales—just yesterday, I believe—seeing the unveiling of their portraits at the Royal Gallery was extremely moving.

Those are some of the reasons why, as Secretary of State, I worked to gain approval for the National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, so that, when the time when the last living survivors leave us does come, there will be another permanent centre to reflect, honour and remember those who suffered and died, and to educate future generations. I am grateful to Members on all sides of this House who continue to support that initiative.

Our debate in Parliament also matters. I have come year after year to share my own or my constituents’ experiences of the holocaust. I have talked about my own family, many of whom perished in death camps in what today is Ukraine, but two of whom miraculously survived—my children are their great-grandchildren. Had the right hon. Member for Barking been present, she would have shared with us the experience of her brother-in-law, who is gravely ill.

Herbert was born in Germany in 1930 into a successful middle-class Jewish family. One of his earliest memories is Kristallnacht in November 1938, when his grandfather was assaulted and had all his teeth knocked out. His father had already lost his job as a judge because he was a Jew. Herbert and his little sister were among the very few children who escaped on the Kindertransport. He still has the passport with the Nazi swastika imprinted on it. He remembers little of the journey he took to Liverpool Street—he was only eight. From London he went to Wales, where the children were joined by their mother, who managed to escape. His father did get to Switzerland, but the family were never reunited. Although a refugee, Herbert served in the RAF and has enjoyed a full and fulfilling life in Britain.

The right hon. Lady and I both know how powerful it is to have heard these stories from our own family members, to feel their impact and to have had a personal relationship with those who were victims of the holocaust. It is—I think I speak for all of us in this House who have met them—one of the greatest privileges to meet survivors. It was a huge privilege for me to meet Sir Ben Helfgott, Lily Ebert and Susan Pollack in July, when together we marked the granting of planning permission for the memorial in Victoria Gardens. All were very emotional that day. One said to me, as we walked away, that she could die easier knowing that they had contributed to that project and to educating future generations.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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The right hon. Gentleman is making a very important and powerful speech. I had the privilege of meeting Gena Turgel, the bride of Belsen, when she spoke to schoolchildren in my constituency. Does he welcome the work of the trust, which is propagating those memories to the next generation and how important it is that that continuous word-of-mouth is passed on?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I certainly do and the hon. Gentleman makes the point very powerfully. The way we remember is changing. For example, Dov, the great-grandson of Lily, whom I met in Victoria Gardens, is now using his 1.3 million TikTok followers to educate the next generation with her stories. I strongly encourage those who have not seen them to do so. The importance of remembrance remains as strong as ever.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend mentioned Susan Pollack. Some years ago, I stood with other Conservative Members at the memorial in Kigali, which is probably the largest grave in the world, with more than 250,000 people murdered in the Rwandan genocide. Does he acknowledge that one of the most important points of a debate such as this is to look at where we have failed since the holocaust, and where sometimes the very noble sentiments we express in this House have fallen short?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Absolutely. My right hon. Friend has a long record, of which he should be proud, of drawing the attention of the House to exactly those issues. That is exactly the point I was turning to.

Since the holocaust, human civilisation has advanced by virtually every metric. We live today in the most advanced human civilisation in history, yet we are still capable of such evil. To acknowledge that fallibility and where it can lead is the best corrective to these indescribable tragedies. The genocide committed on the Jews, the Roma, the Gypsies and the disabled in Europe in the 1940s was, as my right hon. Friend says, not an aberration in history. There have been subsequent genocides in our living memory: the millions of victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; the million-plus victims of the Rwandan genocide; and the 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were murdered in Srebrenica.

Today, atrocities continue in Darfur, and last month the Uyghur Tribunal’s judgment in London found beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China is responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and torture in Xinjiang region. Its findings were supported by this House in the debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). In each of those cases, we see what happens when the powerless cry for help and the powerful fail to answer.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, it is appropriate that we reflect on the atrocities of the past to draw connections with those of the present. While Britain is, as I can attest from my own family, one of the most welcoming places for Jews anywhere in the world, antisemitism is on the rise at home. This year, the Community Security Trust found that anti-Jewish hate incidents rose by 49%.

Shailesh Vara Portrait Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
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On the issue of rising antisemitism, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very good that there are opportunities for schoolchildren to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, to see personally the horrors that were inflicted on those poor people, and that that is something that should be encouraged, to ensure that more people understand the reality of what happened? May I also just compliment him on managing to secure this debate and on his very powerful speech?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I thank my hon. Friend, and return to my thanks to and support of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which sends hundreds of thousands of our young people to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. I hope this Government will continue to support the trust, as previous Governments did, enabling those visits to continue.

Social media is fuelled with antisemitic hatred, with conspiracy theorists growing their followers daily. According to research published last year by the Antisemitism Policy Trust, there were up to half a million explicitly antisemitic tweets per year made viewable to UK users. During the pandemic, we have seen the use and abuse of holocaust language and imagery, with anti-lockdown protesters carrying signs reading “Vaccine Holocaust” and wearing the Star of David. In May last year, we saw a convoy of vehicles drive through north London with speakers blasting out antisemitic slurs and threats against Jews. In December, the passengers on a bus in Oxford Street, who had been celebrating Hanukkah, were subjected to vile and frightening abuse, with racists banging shoes against the bus.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I think it was in the dying days of the Obama Administration that Obama told students at a university that

“ignorance is not a virtue.”

Do we not need to put that across again and again? Ignorance is not a virtue. It is education and knowledge that lead us to understand and not to commit such atrocities against others.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The hon. Lady makes her point eloquently, and of course I agree entirely.

Some of us here have been on the receiving end of antisemitism—I know the right hon. Member for Barking has on many occasions. I recently received a letter telling me to teach my “Jewish Zionist wife” to “put out fires”, as they intended to burn our house down and cremate our children.

As Communities Secretary, I encouraged universities to adopt and use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, a cause taken up strongly by the current Education Secretary, but despite those entreaties some universities have not done so. Only last year the University of Bristol, one of our most respected universities, acted painfully slowly to discipline Professor David Miller, a purveyor of antisemitic conspiracy theories that went well beyond the bounds of free speech. Such incidents are one of the reasons I champion the brilliant Union of Jewish Students.

I will end my speech today as the right hon. Member for Barking would have done, by quoting a diary extract of her grandfather’s. Old, ill and interned, deemed an enemy alien at the time, in an entry before Christmas, he wrote,

“Is the present time a blip? Is Hitler only an episode? Are these ideas going to disappear and the better side of humanity re-emerge?”

We owe it to her grandfather Wilhelm, and all the survivors of genocides, to do all we can to learn from their experiences.

Today, we remember not simply the liberation of the camps, but the triumph of freedom and the human spirit. We marvel at the strength, the resilience and the faith of those survivors and of Jewish people here in the UK and around the world. We must continue to tell their stories. We must use this day to continue the fight against hatred in all its forms. Then, perhaps, one day we will have a future without genocide.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It may or may not be known to the House—it is known to the Government—that permission has been given to appeal the planning approval for the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. I think we need to be careful about how we speak about it. I did not want to interrupt the exceptionally good speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on a very important subject.

--- Later in debate ---
Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in the debate. I have attended these debates on almost every occasion since I was elected eight years ago, and to me this was the most personal and powerful set of contributions I can remember. The contributions also continue to be prescient, with antisemitism on the rise at home and genocide and violence abroad.

When I attend these debates, I often think of the debate that took place in this House before the second world war, on 21 November 1938, which ultimately led to the Kindertransport. That debate was opened by the then Member for Derby South, Philip Noel-Baker, who said:

“Dr. Goebbels said the other day that he hoped the outside world would soon forget the German Jews. He hopes in vain. His campaign against them will go down in history”,

as one of the greatest stains on humanity.

He added:

“Let there go with it another memory, the memory of what the other nations did to wipe the shame away.”—[Official Report, 21 November 1938; Vol. 341, c. 1440.]

I often wonder whether I would have attended that debate and been one of the 40 Members of Parliament who spoke. I hope I would have done so, and that I would have acted. We are, after all, the legislators of this country, the leaders of our communities, and the responsibility to act today is ours.

I close with a prayer in honour of the 6 million souls who perished in the holocaust:

Oseh shalom bimromav

Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu

V’al kol Yisrael.

V’imru Amen.

May he who creates peace in the heavens create peace for us, and for all the world.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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We will never forget the inhumanity or the cruelty of the atrocities, or the unconscionable pain that millions suffered. Not in our name. Nor should we ever forget the bravery of so many people who fought against this evil.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2022.

Building Safety

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

These are three very important points. First, we will make sure that we provide leaseholders with statutory protection—that is what we aim to do and we will work with colleagues across the House to ensure that that statutory protection extends to all the work required to make buildings safe. Secondly, to ensure that there is not an adverse impact on social housing or on the work that Homes England is leading to bring together and remediate brownfield land for new private-sector development, we will do absolutely everything possible so that, ultimately, those with big balance sheets and big bucks discharge their responsibility. He and I will know that the seven major housing developers do much good work but that in the last three years they made profits of £16 billion. Understandably, people are prompted to ask that those significant sums be devoted to ensuring that the building safety crisis is met, alongside the building supply pipeline of the future.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con)
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I welcome these further measures to provide critical support to leaseholders and to restore a greater degree of confidence to the housing market. In particular, may I welcome the future support for those in medium-rise buildings? It is a pity that the Treasury did not agree to that proposal in January of last year, but such is the way with this issue. May I ask my right hon. Friend about two particular points? First, he has agreed a backstop with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury whereby the ultimate risk will be borne by the provision of social housing. I am sure that he would agree that it would be quite wrong for social housing tenants and the homeless to pay the price for solving this issue, so will he say that that will not be the case? Secondly, I see that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has failed to make good on the conversations we have been having for several months, if not years, to instil a more proportionate and sensible approach into the assignment of risk. What further steps—he alluded to some in his remarks—can he take against RICS, because its behaviour is now bordering on scandalous in not taking this issue seriously?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, my predecessor. I have had the opportunity since joining the Department to see just how hard he worked, facing a number of frustrations, to secure justice for those who are our first concern. I heard some comments from some Opposition Members seeking to decry that. If they knew what I know about how hard Robert had worked to try to secure justice, they would not be trying to make a cheap point about it. We all care about this issue, but few care about it as much, and certainly no one currently in this Chamber has worked as hard to try to help those people, as my right hon. Friend. So I am not having it.

The second point that m right hon. Friend made is absolutely right; we need to ensure both that there is more social housing provision and that we improve the quality of social housing—that is a core mission for the Department. His third point, about RICS, is right. There have been all sorts of difficulties with that organisation in the past, but I am now hopeful that we are on a more positive footing. We have the potential to take steps to improve the governance of the institution, but I am hopeful now that, given some of the conversations we have had, including with lenders and others, we can be on a more positive footing. Let me once again underline and affirm my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for his incredibly hard and dedicated work to try to bring this situation to a satisfactory conclusion.

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords]

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con)
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It will come as no surprise to right hon. and hon. Members to hear that I strongly support the Bill. It would be surprising if I did not, as I was one of the Ministers who instigated it, although stranger things have happened in politics.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his hard work in bringing the Bill to the House, the noble Lord Greenhalgh who has worked extremely hard on this issue for many months, and the fantastic civil servants at the Department who have taken this forward. There is a very strong, albeit very small, team of civil servants who have been beavering away on this issue for many months and will have a lot of work to do ahead of them not just in taking the Bill forward but, perhaps more importantly, in preparing the next Bill, which I will come on to speak about in a moment.

This is an important step on the road to leasehold reform. It is a road that really began with the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which gave tenants of houses the right to buy their freehold. It then took the next step forward with the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, which gave leasehold tenants of flats the right, collectively, to buy their freeholds. There was a great deal of opposition, back during the Major Government, to that reform in this House, the House of Lords and from propertied interests, who said that it would be a disaster for the housing market. It was not and those rights have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people pursuing the dream of home ownership across the country. Then the last Labour Government took it forward one further step, with the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, which introduced commonhold, albeit not nearly as successfully as they would have hoped or as I would like to see taken forward in the years ahead.

The destination of those reforms is not just a better situation for leaseholders, but the gradual elimination of leasehold altogether. It is, as some have said here today, essentially a feudal form of tenure: a product of our rich and ancient history as a country, but one that is no longer fit for purpose. It does not exist in any other developed country and it does not, in essence, have a place in a modern society.

The Bill is, as my predecessor as Housing Secretary, the noble Lord Young, said in the House of Lords, the appetiser for the main course. It is a comprehensive piece of legislation to remove more of the iniquities of the present leasehold system, and to pave the way for the wholesale introduction of commonhold.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very encouraged to hear that my right hon. Friend is so forward-looking on this matter. May I ask him to explain to the House how one rather backward step took place some months ago, which was the allowing of it to become routine that additional storeys could be added to existing blocks of flats? I have lived through that experience and found not only that it is terrible to have a floor inserted above you, but that when things go horribly wrong with the construction and the company goes bust or winds itself up, it is the leaseholders who have to pay thousands upon thousands of pounds to put right the faults. Would he not like to revisit that change that was made and perhaps suggest that it ought to be looked at again?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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It would not be for me to revisit that even if we wanted to. The purpose of that legislation, which was supported by many Members, was to deliver more homes—particularly on brownfield sites and in urban areas—as part of the mission of us all to deliver more homes and to tackle the housing crisis, and particularly to enable individual homeowners to build upwards on their home as their household expands, particularly if they have young children or if elderly relatives move into the home. That is an important step forward, but, as with any of these changes, we should keep it under review. If there are common instances of abuse or malpractice, we should see whether there are ways to eliminate them.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will make progress, if my right hon. Friend does not mind.

The Bill was born out of two issues. One is a recent phenomenon, which the Front Benchers and other hon. Members have mentioned: the abuse of leasehold in recent years. A system that was never perfect and that many of us would wish to see reformed was subject to wholesale abuse and rip-off practices by developers and freeholders, who used ground rents as an income stream and escalated them, leaving leaseholders in a perilous position. Leasehold was used for properties for no good reason, purely to benefit from ground rents. We have heard about such examples, and particularly the use of ground rents for houses. It is difficult to see that any house needs to be built as a leasehold property. In different times, I have bought into the argument that there might be exceptional reasons why one would need to build such a home, but it is very difficult to think what those would be. The system is not used in other countries around the world, including in the United States, where there are gated communities, communities for the elderly—all manner of different homes. They are not being built as leasehold properties, so I do not see why they should be in this country.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree fully with that point. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this practice had largely gone away. For years, houses were not built as leasehold properties, but in the north-west and in north Wales, a group of builders decided that this would be an extra way of scamming—I use that word deliberately—even more money out of the people buying the properties.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; I do not disagree in any way. The north-west was particularly targeted, for reasons that I do not understand, with tens of thousands of homes built in this manner. It really was disgraceful. It gave leasehold a very bad name and necessitated these changes and others that will be introduced in future. The Bill ends these practices for new properties; that is key. It will ensure that the business model behind ground rents—the creation of such properties as leasehold to benefit commercially—will come to an end. We are already seeing its gradual reduction, and the Bill will lead to its elimination.

I want to address the point that was raised about why the proposals should be extended to retirement properties. As Secretary of State, I came under fierce resistance and lobbying from the retirement property sector. Its lobbyists approached Members of Parliament and my Department and threatened judicial review of our proceedings. I considered it to be an unfair practice, targeted at the most elderly and vulnerable in our society, that in addition to paying their service charge they should pay a ground rent that might escalate at a significant pace. Why not have a fairer and more transparent system where an elderly person knows exactly what they are getting when they pay the purchase price on their property and then when they pay the service charge on an annual basis, instead of receiving two bills every year? I think that is a simple matter of fairness and transparency, and it was the right decision to bring that to an end. We did, however, give a longer period for businesses to transition and to change their business model, which is why that part of the industry will not feel the force of the Bill until 2023.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done to try to get the right balance and stand up for the interests of homeowners rather than large corporations. Does he have any reflection, further to the point made by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), on the knock-on effects of allowing additional storeys to be built on existing blocks of flats? In my experience, there is an exploitation issue both for people who live in flats with top-hatted development—I think that is the word—and for the neighbours. In the area that I represent, there have certainly been a number of problems for neighbours to those blocks. Does the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) have any further reflections on that point? If he were still Secretary of State, would he have allowed that development to go ahead?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I think it should be kept under review, like any permitted development. As we have seen with past examples, there are always cases at the edges that concern us, and there are usually ways to refine the permitted development over time to ensure that those cases do not happen again. With the permitted development that the hon. Gentleman mentions, I think—from memory —that we ensured that the developer has to work with the local council to ensure that there are not issues with building safety or loss of amenity to the leaseholders in the building, and that the design of the extra storeys is broadly in keeping with the neighbourhood. I certainly think that the issue should be kept under review.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will, but I appreciate that many other hon. Members want to speak.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I do!

It would be quite unlawful for the capital cost of the communal areas in a retirement living community to be paid for through an administration charge, so we come back to the question whether it is in the interests of the purchaser to pay a ground rent or to pay the up-front cost in the purchase price. For a category of elderly people, it may well be in their interests to pay the former.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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My right hon. Friend gets to the nub of the issue. The debate, exactly as he says, was whether it would be better for a retired person looking to move into such a community to pay a somewhat lower purchase price for the property or the share in it that they were taking, and then, for as long as they live there, pay a ground rent, which might escalate at an unfair level, and a service charge. That is not a system that occurs in any other country in the world, including countries such as the United States that are far more advanced in their take-up of retirement properties. I took the view that it would be much fairer and more transparent for an individual to know exactly what they had to pay from the outset: they pay their purchase price and then their service charge, but they do not have to face escalating ground rent. That makes sense to me; I appreciate that there will be differences of opinion, but it was done as a matter of basic fairness.

I make it clear that the reason for the Bill’s very limited scope was to bring an end to unfair practices as quickly as possible. That was the advice of the Law Commission, which said that it was better to have a two-step process so that the iniquity of escalating ground rents could be brought to a close, and then we could move on to the much more complex piece of legislation that will inevitably take the Department and Parliament a great deal of time to prepare and pass. I think that that was probably the best way to proceed.

Two further points emerge as a postscript to the events of the past few years. First, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said, we need to think about the conveyancing solicitors who gave or failed to give advice in the process of house sales. They failed in their duty to their clients: many constituents have come to my surgeries who were oblivious about the homes that they were buying. That applies not only in the situation we have discussed, but with respect to management fees, which may be very high or—as the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) mentioned—may involve charges, for example for putting up a satellite dish, building a conservatory and so on. Conveyancing solicitors need to take much greater care to bring such matters to the attention of their clients.

Secondly, the work of the Competition and Markets Authority must move forward at pace. It has already ensured that some of the major developers have settled, but I encourage all developers behind the sale of these properties, many of which they mis-sold to members of the public, to do the decent thing—the inevitable thing—and settle, so that the purchasers get some compensation for the issues that they have faced. I see that many are on the cusp of doing that, but I hope that the remaining ones will do so quickly.

I also hope that the Government will ensure that the second Bill features in the next Queen’s Speech and is delivered early in that Session. There is, as I have said, a great deal of work for the Department to do in preparing that Bill and ensuring that it is sufficiently comprehensive, but I think it extremely important that it does so, and that within the course of this Parliament we deliver comprehensive reform to leasehold. It should include 990-year leases, a simpler, cheaper enfranchisement process, ending marriage value, improving the position of leaseholders in the management of buildings, and ending—as has already been suggested—the building and selling of new houses as leasehold, because there really is no justification for that.

Finally, I hope that that Bill will look to the destination of a world beyond leasehold. That is the end point towards which we must work. I established the Commonhold Council to see how we could chart that course, and it seems to me that all the complex issues that are raised are surmountable—that is the evidence from the council so far. It also seems to me that commonhold will never take shape to any substantial degree in this country without a major Government intervention, which means indicating that it is our tenure of preference, or setting an end date for new leasehold properties. I favour the latter: I think we should say clearly that, beyond a certain date, no property, whether it be a flat or a house, should be built unless it is commonhold. I hope that the Bill to be introduced in the next Session will set that course, because I think it would be an important step towards ending a feudal system and helping us to move forward as a country.

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Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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The hon. Gentleman makes some good points and I am not saying that in certain circumstances commonhold cannot work. He pointed to the simple situation of a non-adopted road to which local residents have to contribute for the upkeep and it can certainly work in those situations, but I am just trying to point out that there are situations where it would prove difficult to make the system work.

Every jurisdiction—those in Australia or the US or Scotland—is different, and the UK is unique in various ways, one of which is in having a high proportion of absentee owners, such as in central London, where we all see blocks of flats that seem to be rarely occupied. Problems might arise in managing such blocks with for instance 100, 200 or 300 commonholders; there might be disputes and difficulties, such as in debt collection.

On the point about simple things to manage, the biggest issue is complex developments, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned. Let us consider a block of 300 or 400 flats built above a tube station or adjoining a shopping mall; effectively there will be a common freehold in that development but would anybody here be keen to sit on a committee managing that entire block with, for example, joint M and E—mechanical and electrical—so joint electrical, heating, ventilation and broadband installations, managed not just between the 300 units but the other infrastructure in that development? There are concerns that that would be beyond the appetite of many commonholders who manage that kind of development.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Hansard - -

Yet it is done in every other country in the world—is that not the point? I share my hon. Friend’s reservations yet every other country in the world with equally complex cinemas and tube stations and infrastructure manages it in a way that is broadly commonhold.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises a good point and has an advantage over me as I do not know in depth how that would happen in, for instance, Manhattan, but I think we should understand that situation more before pushing ahead and ruling that commonhold will effectively become the default for every single development in the UK. The Government have done a great job in many things and one of them is in increasing the rate of development in the UK, and I have a concern that some developers might be inhibited in taking on a very complex project because of fears about selling the residential units or renting the commercial units. I just think we need to understand more before pushing ahead and rolling complex developments into the legislation, rather than exempting such developments from it as we on the Select Committee recommended and Lord Lytton recommended in his speech—he tabled an amendment.

I just think we should look at this area and make sure we get it right, because one law we constantly effect in this place is the law of unintended consequences and we must avoid that. So peppercorn leasehold and commonhold are fine, but we need to make sure we look at those complex situations. I personally think that if we do not find a simple solution and cannot demonstrate that it will work in the UK, because the UK clearly has some unique elements to the property market, then we should set a cap on the ground rent in exempted developments, for instance of £100 or 0.1% of value, whichever is the lowest, to make sure it is always affordable for leaseholders. I absolutely understand that this has been a problem, but we must make sure that developers do not avoid exploiting development opportunities—particularly brownfield development opportunities in city centres—because of complexities.

Aside from that, I am very happy to support what the Government are trying to do.

Building Safety Bill

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today marks the next significant step on our path to a robust but proportionate building safety regime that delivers high standards of safety for people’s homes, particularly those that are high rise, while providing reassurance to leaseholders, residents and the market that the vast majority of homes in this country are safe. In February, I announced our five-point plan to support leaseholders and address building safety issues: a plan to remove unsafe cladding where it is necessary and proportionate to do so; to provide certainty to leaseholders in the significant minority of buildings that require works; to make industry pay its fair share for its failures and poor practices and ensure a change in the broader culture and attitude of the industry to quality and safety; to create a world-class building safety regime; and to inject confidence and certainty into this part of the housing market, which has been suffering from market failure, with significant detrimental effects for many homeowners across the land.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will do so in a moment, and I will also give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).

The Bill delivers on our promise to create that world-class building safety regime, but one that is sensible and proportionate, reflecting the true level of risk that living in these buildings poses and thereby safeguarding the broader interests of homeowners and residents.

Today I will set out the key measures in the Bill and update the House on the progress of our plan, including providing further detail on a written ministerial statement that I have just published, representing a significant intervention by the Government and lenders in response to expert advice on building safety in medium and low-rise blocks of flats and the use of EWS1 forms that I commissioned earlier in the year.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we have to get away from the term “cladding” as a generic issue and start to focus on genuine fire risk? There is a real danger of us creating unnecessary anxiety and cost where there is little or no increase in fire risk and, what is worse, using taxpayers’ money to remedy non-fire risks that should be the responsibility of the building industry.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. That is exactly the approach that we now need to follow as a country. I hope that the written ministerial statement, which I will come on to explain in a moment, will provide further reassurance to him.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I note the provisions in the Bill for working with the Welsh Government on the levy, the charges and so on, but it is my understanding—I have checked with them today—that the Secretary of State and the Treasury have yet to confirm to the Welsh Government, despite repeated requests, what the consequential will be of the funding announcement that he made many months ago? My residents are deeply concerned, and until the Welsh Government have clarity on the money they are going to get from the UK Government, they cannot proceed with their own building safety fund to deal with these many issues.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I understand the important point that the hon. Gentleman raises. That is really a matter to be directed to my right hon Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which is responsible for the management of the Barnett consequentials. I would just point out—this is not a criticism of the hon. Gentleman, who is understandably standing up for his constituents—that the Welsh Government have yet to bring forward a scheme that would use the funding they have already been given by the United Kingdom Government. I appreciate that they would always like to have further funding, but they have not yet spent the money that the Government have already given them.

After the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the Government appointed Dame Judith Hackitt to review the current building safety regime and to recommend reform. Her findings were clear. Too often, regulations and guidance were misunderstood or misinterpreted. There was ambiguity around who is actually responsible for the safety of buildings, with insufficient oversight and enforcement. She called for an overhaul of the system, and her recommendations underpin the Bill before this House. We have tested these measures through consultation with industry, with regulators, with local government and with the public, and we have also taken on board many of the recommendations made following scrutiny of the Bill by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. I am grateful to the Select Committee for the work that—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. Would the Secretary of State care to clarify the matter?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I would be delighted to, Madam Deputy Speaker. A written ministerial statement will be laid shortly, which is market-sensitive. It is difficult to suggest that there is no scrutiny, because I am here before the House to explain that statement in the context of the wider debate. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) will give me a few moments, I will be very happy to set out, in the remarks I am about to make, exactly what we have agreed with lenders and the position we have come to.

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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. The Secretary of State has explained that the reason for the specific timing of the laying of the statement is that it is market-sensitive. If the Secretary of State says it is market-sensitive then I accept that it is market-sensitive. I trust that it will be available very shortly?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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indicated assent.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Very shortly. I am quite sure that we will be able to facilitate Members holding the Secretary of State to account for the contents of that written statement when it becomes available, because he is here in the Chamber. I trust that it will become available before the Secretary of State concludes his opening remarks.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Absolutely. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I chose to make the statement directly to the House of Commons and I will come on in a moment to set out the contents of it. The written ministerial statement merely summarises that.

In the actions we have taken and those we take today, we have always prioritised public safety. As I said earlier, the Bill before us will create a strong regulatory regime for all new high-rise buildings. However, it is also important that we put the risk of a fire, and in particular the risk of a fatal fire, into context. It is very low for all buildings of all heights. Dwelling fires have reduced by more than a quarter over the last decade and are now at an all-time low. It is right that we address safety issues where they exist and are a threat to life, but we must do so in a proportionate way guided by expert advice. That is why, through the Bill, we are drawing a very clear line at 18 metres for the enhanced regulatory regime. That is on the advice of building and fire experts that those are the buildings that pose the greatest safety risks in the event of fire spread or structural failure, albeit even there the risk should not be overstated given the low occurrence of fires and the even lower occurrence of fatalities. We are also including hospitals and care homes that meet the height threshold during their design and construction.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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The Secretary of State mentioned discussions with the industry. What can he say to companies in the Glasgow South West constituency, such as Bell Building Projects Ltd, that cannot get the appropriate indemnity insurance because insurance companies will not provide it? That company specialises in cladding. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with insurance companies to enable that company to do cladding across the UK?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I have been working intensively with those in the insurance sector and it is incumbent on them to bring forward products. We do not believe that it is the role of the state to step in and correct the market failure in its totality, but we are bringing forward a product—I will say something more about this later in my remarks—with particular reference to professional indemnity insurance for those assessors who are conducting EWS1 forms or equivalent. That is designed to give them the confidence to take the most proportionate risk-based approach to those assessments, which some are not able to do today.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I spoke to the Secretary of State beforehand. The charity Electrical Safety First, which promotes sustainable electrical safety, was brought to my attention, and probably to that of a few others in this House. It states that 54% of electrical fires are caused by an electrical source of ignition. Has the Secretary of State had the chance to speak to the Electrical Safety First charity to ensure safety is paramount in the Bill? If not, could he come back to me on that, please?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I would be happy to speak to the organisation the hon. Member refers to or ensure that my officials do so if they have not done so already. Of course, we take the risk of electrical fires very seriously, and the Government have taken a number of steps, particularly in the private rental sector, to ensure higher standards than there are today.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, and then I must make some progress.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He made the point a moment ago that the risk of a fatal fire is very low. Can he therefore explain why thousands and thousands of leaseholders are paying for expensive waking watches, having been told by their local fire services that, unless there is a waking watch, the building will be closed down and all of them will have to leave? There is a clear contradiction between those two positions.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I think the right hon Gentleman makes an important point, and that is one element of the market failure we are seeing today. Waking watches are being used excessively. They can be rip-offs and, in many cases, they can be replaced by modern fire alarms. That is why I created the waking watch relief fund last year, which is assisting with the issue, but has not closed it down entirely. The National Fire Chiefs Council has now produced further guidance, which essentially says that waking watches should be used only in the most exceptional of circumstances, and where they are used, they should be used only for short periods. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking forward that work with fire and rescue services, and I would like to see most waking watches, barring the most exceptional of circumstances, brought to a close as quickly as possible.

The Bill will deliver improvements across the entire built environment. It will strengthen oversight and protections for residents in high-rise buildings. It will give those residents a greater say and will toughen sanctions against those who threaten safety. Its focus on risk will help owners to manage their buildings better, while giving the home building industry the clear, proportionate framework it needs to deliver more high-quality homes.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will make some progress, if I may, but I will return to the hon. Lady.

While strengthening fire safety requirements in all premises regulated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and improving competence and oversight generally, the Bill rightly focuses the new more stringent requirements on those buildings and those issues that pose the greatest risk. It provides a framework to ensure that, during design and construction, defined duty holders have clear responsibilities and that compliance with building regulations occurs. They will have to clear a series of hard stops through the new gateway system for in-scope buildings. In occupation, every building in scope will have an identified accountable person with clear responsibility for safety matters. Importantly, it will be a criminal offence not to carry out these duties effectively, punishable by an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

If we are truly to build a world-class regime, then residents must be at its heart. That is why, as well as championing social housing residents through the social housing charter that I created last year, we are giving residents a stronger voice in the system through the Bill, making it easier for them to seek redress and to have their voices heard. The Bill will require an accountable person for a high-rise residential building to engage with their residents and establish a formal complaints process for residents to raise concerns.

These measures are strong, but fair, and they will be overseen by the new building safety regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. The regulator will be equipped with robust powers to crack down on substandard practices, and as I said earlier, it will ensure that proportionality is embedded within its operations.

Dame Judith’s review pointed to an industry that needed significant culture and regulatory change to be fit for purpose, and I am sure I am not the only Member who has been shocked by the recent testimony at the Grenfell inquiry. This has exposed a corrosive culture of corner cutting and at times a cavalier attitude to building safety. We await the findings of the inquiry, and indeed whether criminal proceedings will follow.

The Bill creates powers to strengthen regulatory oversight for firms that manufacture and sell construction products, overseen by the new national regulator for construction products. Crucially, the Bill will have powers to remove unsafe construction products from the market swiftly and to take action against those who break the rules.

Our new regime will help those living in high-rise residential buildings to raise these issues, but we need to expand legal safeguards for everybody, regardless of the type of property they live in. We are strengthening redress for people buying a new build home, through provisions for the new homes ombudsman, which will provide dispute resolution and resolve complaints involving buyers and developers. As Members of Parliament, we all know of examples of shoddy workmanship by developers and of cases where complaints about things ranging from snagging to much more serious issues have not been properly addressed. There will now be a forum where these issues can be settled and consumers provided with the outcome they deserve when making the biggest investment in their lives.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for the kind words he said about the Select Committee’s scrutiny of the legislation. On the new homes ombudsman, many of us have been shocked by what we have seen from developers of new housing and the cavalier attitude they have towards their developments. Will he confirm that the new homes ombudsman will have the powers to deal with the appalling practice of non-disclosure agreements which some people have been asked to sign in order to get builders who have not built their homes properly to put that right? Will he consider going a step further and requiring the builders of new homes which have faults to put right all similar faults in other homes, just as a car manufacturer would have to do?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Those are two important points. I would like to see the new homes ombudsman be able to take the kind of action that the hon. Gentleman describes. I will have to revert to him on whether the powers exactly allow that. If they do not, that is the kind of issue we should progress during the passage of the Bill. I give way to the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and apologise for keeping her waiting.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Returning to the issue of waking watch and risk, London now has 900 waking watches, with the number having risen significantly. The London Fire Brigade says that there remain a number of buildings under 18 metres, or seven storeys, that in its view present equal or greater risks than those currently in scope. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he believes that the LFB is wrong?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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As I understand it—I stand to be corrected if I have the wrong information—the 900 figure that the hon. Lady cites was a misinterpretation of the figures that were released earlier. None the less, the actual number is significant, albeit fewer than 900. We want to see waking watches used only in cases where they are absolutely necessary. The recent statement from the National Fire Chiefs Council has suggested that they are being used too often and that they can be reduced significantly. If she has constituents in that situation, as I am sure she does, in the first instance I would recommend that they make use of the waking watch relief fund to install a fire alarm, which can cut the costs very considerably.

This Bill takes an unusual step of retrospectively extending the period during which compensation for defective premises can be claimed—it more than doubles the current period, from six to 15 years. This significant step forward was requested and campaigned for by groups impacted by the cladding issue. We are going further, expanding the scope of the work for which compensation can be claimed also to include future major renovation work to buildings. These measures will not help everyone, but they do provide a step change in redress for raising issues. I hope that, in time, builders will extend their warranties to cover this period and provide the maximum amount of confidence to house purchasers.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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While my right hon. Friend is considering this point about the extension, will he please consider the point made by Robert Ayling, at Grosvenor Waterside, that the Building Act 1984 provision should be extended to six years after the plaintiff is aware of the defect? I am not asking for an instant answer, but such a measure would help to deal with the current situation very well.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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I will give that further thought and revert to my hon. Friend on it.

It was clear after the fire at Grenfell Tower that action was required to address safety concerns with respect to existing buildings, and my predecessors rightly took a safety-first approach, as I have also tried to do. We have provided expert advice and accelerated inspections of all high-rise buildings, and that work continues, with substantial progress having been made by the National Fire Chiefs Council on the building risk review, which is likely to be concluded by the end of the year. We have provided £5 billion in grant funding to carry out vital remediation work targeted at the buildings we know to be at the greatest risk from fire spread—those over 18 metres—and we have banned the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, providing industry with a clear standard for the construction of new builds.

Some 474 buildings have been identified as having Grenfell-type ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding. We are now well on the way to remediating all of those buildings. Over 95% of the buildings identified at the beginning of last year have either completed or started remediation work; 70% of those have now been fully remediated, and that is rising every week. That means that around 16,000 homes have been fully remediated of unsafe ACM cladding, an increase of around 4,000 since the end of last year. Despite many building owners failing to provide adequate basic information, almost 700 buildings with other types of unsafe cladding are proceeding with a full application to the building safety fund. We have already allocated £540 million, which means that owners of 60,000 homes within high-rise blocks can be reassured that their remediation will be fully funded.

We currently forecast that over 1,000 buildings with non-ACM unsafe cladding will receive support of the same form through the building safety fund, providing a guide to the cohort of high-rise buildings where remediation is actually required. That is being progressed by a dedicated team in my Department and our two delivery partners, Homes England and the Greater London Authority. The Government have played their part: the unprecedented £5.1 billion we are providing gives assurance to leaseholders in eligible buildings that unsafe cladding on their blocks will be replaced at no cost to them.

I know that there will be strong feelings across the House about industry needing to fix and pay its fair share for problems that is has helped to cause. I recognise that some house builders have stepped up, too, thus far committing over £500 million for remediation since my statement in February. But some have not stepped up, or at least not in the way I expect them to. Ballymore, for example, has yet to commit to fully funding the remediation of its buildings.

The industry needs to go further. That is why we are introducing a new levy on high-rise residential buildings. We have published today a consultation document on the levy and I welcome views from all interested parties on its design. The levy will sit alongside a tax being developed by the Chancellor to raise at least £2 billion to contribute to the costs of historical remediation. This Bill also introduces the building safety charge to provide residents with clarity and certainty on the costs of building works, and we have listened and ensured that that charge only includes the cost of management of building safety in their building.

As I said at the outset, in bringing forward this new building safety regime we need to take a sensible, proportionate approach driven by expert advice. The Bill ensures that the building safety regulator will regulate in line with best practice principles, be proportionate and transparent, and ensure that the interests of leaseholders are protected. In 2020, only 9% of fires were in flats of four storeys or more. In 2019-20, only 7% of fires spread beyond the room of origin in such buildings. And, while every death is of course tragic, thankfully only 10 people died in 2020 as a result of a dwelling fire in flats of four storeys or more. We strongly believe that our proportionate approach is in line with these facts, ensuring that remediation works are undertaken only where absolutely required, and leaseholders should not be landed with bills for unnecessary work.

Unfortunately, that is not the position today and we need a significant reset. Too many people living in lower and medium-rise buildings have told us of feeling trapped in their properties, held back from selling their homes because of excessive caution in the lending, surveying, insurance and fire risk assessment markets. Understandably, this has caused residents to worry over safety and has led to unnecessary costs. I want to be clear that the vast majority of residents in all homes in this country, including blocks of flats, should not feel unsafe. Driven by these concerns, earlier this year I asked a small group of experts on fire safety to consider the evidence and advise me on the steps that should be taken to ensure a proportionate, risk-based approach to fire safety in blocks of flats. I thank them for their time and their expert advice, which I will publish later today.

The key finding of the experts’ advice is clear: we cannot and should not presume systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats. I quoted some of the statistics earlier, but let me repeat them. Dwelling fires are at the lowest point that they have been since we started to collect comparable statistics in 1981, despite the fact that in 2020 people spent significantly greater amounts of time in their homes as a result of covid restrictions. On that basis, the expert advice includes five significant recommendations to correct the disproportionate reaction that we have seen in some parts of the market. First, EWS1 forms should not be a requirement on buildings of less than 18 metres.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If I may, I will finish this point. I am also conscious of time, as many Members want to contribute to the debate.

Secondly, in the small number of cases where there are known to be concerns, these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation.

Thirdly, there should be a clear route for residents and leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work, and to seek assurance that proposals are indeed proportionate and cost-effective.

Fourthly, the Government should work with the shadow building safety regulator to consider how to implement an audit process to check that fire risk assessments are following guidelines and not perpetuating the risk aversion that we are witnessing and which in some instances are taking unnecessary costs to leaseholders.

Finally, fire risk assessors and lenders should not presume that there is significant risk to life unless there is credible evidence to support that. This will ensure that they only respond to the evidence and adopt a far more proportionate and balanced approach.

This advice is supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institution of Fire Engineers. The Government support and will act on the recommendations. Delivering real change for leaseholders requires a concerted effort from all those actively involved in the market. The Government have in recent weeks been working intensively with lenders, valuers and fire experts in this regard. We welcome the expert advice and support the position that EWS1s should not be needed for buildings of less than 18 metres.

I am pleased that all major lenders have today welcomed this advice, with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and others agreeing that the expert advice and Government statement should pave the way for EWS1 forms no longer to be required for buildings below 18 metres, which will further unlock the housing market.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will not.

I am extremely grateful to those in industry who have already engaged and shown the necessary leadership. This is a highly complex issue, but the Prime Minister and I expect that the appropriate next steps will be taken expediently. The market is shaped not only by the Government but by lenders, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the fire and rescue service, and fire experts. All of us need to act to achieve a market correction and relieve the pressure on homeowners. There can be no bystanders in this action. I am hopeful that other lenders will follow soon, and that RICS will rapidly reflect on the expert advice and update its guidance accordingly. This concerted cross-market approach will open up the housing market for the remaining affected leaseholders.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will not because I need to conclude my remarks now.

With the Health and Safety Executive, we will explore ways to deliver a fire risk assessment—

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I regret to have to raise this matter as a point of order, but the written statement that the Secretary of State has laid makes no clarification about whether this approach applies to England only, to England and Wales, or indeed to the whole UK. Given that it is UK-wide and market-sensitive—there are many leaseholders who will be concerned in all parts of the UK—and given that it applies to UK-wide lenders, with significant financial implications, how can I get an answer from the Secretary of State for the leaseholders who will be watching this debate in other parts of the United Kingdom? It would be very helpful if the Secretary of State could just confirm that point or if he would take a simple intervention to clarify it.

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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order and I reiterate it. I wonder whether the House authorities have done that—I do not know but I ask them to do so immediately.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker—

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman, but in answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), my domain as Secretary of State on these matters is within England, but of course the lenders will apply practices at their discretion throughout the whole United Kingdom, so I think his question is probably better directed to the lenders who, following this announcement, will no doubt set out in the coming days how they intend to amend their lending practices in different parts of the United Kingdom. I do not think it is for me to explain the lending practices that they choose to adopt, other than in respect of the quotations that the lenders have given, which I believe will be published later today.

I shall take an intervention from the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and then, if I may, I will conclude my remarks.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a very significant statement, and it is difficult to read it quickly and grasp it, but it says that EWS1 forms

“should not be needed for buildings less than 18m. This position is a significant step and one supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institute of Fire Engineers.”

That is a significant step, so will the Secretary of State explain, if the form is not necessary for those buildings, whether he is saying that, in effect, apart from cladding removal, significant remediation works are not necessary on buildings below 18 metres? Is that what the Government are saying? Because that is a major step in this debate and the House needs a lot more explanation.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The expert advice that I commissioned has concluded that there is no systemic risk to life from purpose-built flats in this country and in particular—this was the question that I asked of the experts—from those flats that are low and medium-rise, meaning those of 11 to 18 metres. The experts’ advice, following on from that, is that they do not see a need for lenders to ask for EWS1 forms in the ordinary course of business. They also recommend that fire risk assessments are conducted in the usual compliance cycle, rather than on demand, in order to satisfy a market transaction such as purchasing or remortgaging a property. They do not conclude—as one would not expect them to do—that all buildings below 18 metres are safe. One can never say that, and there will be buildings that need remediation below that level, but because there is no systemic risk and the number of buildings is likely to be very small, it is not appropriate, in their opinion, which the Government have accepted, that lenders and other parties in the market should act as if there was a widespread and systemic issue. That is a subtle but important change of tone and one that I hope will lead—the initial support of the lenders suggests that this will happen—to a significantly different housing market.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will, and then I would like to conclude my remarks.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On first reading, there are bits of this written ministerial statement that are very welcome, but it raises many questions. I put on record my regret that we have only had this chance to digest it. The Public Accounts Committee and our sister Committee, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, have been looking at this issue, along with hon. Members in this House for several years. We have been making recommendations along these lines. Our constituents have been paying for safety works and dealing with the fear and anguish created by the very issues that our Committees have raised as problems. What the Secretary of State has come to the House with is a start, but why so late, when this issue has been raised by Members of this House and the Select Committee corridor for some time? I am just puzzled by the late timing.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I do not agree with the hon. Lady in this regard. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, advice was published by Government that sought to provide information to the market where there was a significant absence of expert opinion. The market in the years since then has reacted and taken what I have described as a safety-first approach.

In more recent times we have seen—Dame Judith Hackitt, our expert adviser, has used these words herself recently—extreme risk aversion, and that is leading to fear and anxiety above all for members of the public who have a sense of risk with respect to their homes that is not borne out by the evidence in terms of the number of fires or the likelihood of dying in a fire in a high-rise or a purpose-built flat. Secondly, that risk aversion is leading to other market participants, whether lenders, insurers, surveyors or assessors, seeking remediation of those buildings over and above what might seem to be absolutely necessary to achieve an acceptable level of life safety.

Earlier this year, as I have set out in my remarks today—Members will see this in the written ministerial statement, which merely summarises what I have already said to the House directly in somewhat more detail, which is why I chose to say it to the House directly, rather than simply via written ministerial statement—I asked a series of experts to conduct a serious review and analysis of this issue and to present their findings to me. That is what they have done today, and we are publishing them later. We have chosen to accept those and have worked very closely with as many market participants as we could, bearing in mind the market sensitivity of the issue.

I am pleased that a large number of those organisations have welcomed this step and have chosen in one form or another to support it. I do not want to overstate that, because this is a highly complex market and the Government are merely one player within it. It will now require all market participants to think carefully about what the consequences are for their own practices and organisations. I hope that in time they will strongly support the Government’s position, and that this will lead to a significant market correction to the benefit of all our constituents and the whole country.

I will conclude my remarks simply by noting a few other points within the written ministerial statement. With the Health and Safety Executive, we will explore ways to deliver a fire risk assessment audit process that ensures assessments are carried out in a risk-proportionate way, avoiding unnecessary and costly remediation works where they are absolutely not needed. We will explore options to provide a clear route for residents and leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work. That will be progressed alongside the steps we are taking to ensure a proportionate response to risk is embedded in the market, including: developing guidelines for fire risk assessors, such as, and principally, PAS 9980 and the withdrawal of the consolidated advice note; and launching a Government-backed professional indemnity insurance scheme for qualified professionals conducting external wall system fire risk assessments to help ensure there is sufficient capacity in the market to allow EWS1 forms to be completed in a timely manner, where they are necessary, and that those conducting them feel the confidence and security to be able to do so in the most sensible and proportionate manner.

Taken together, all these measures should provide a measure of reassurance to the market and to those living in blocks of flats of any height. I am hopeful that they will have a significant impact, but of course much depends on the willingness of the other market participants to show leadership and commitment and to work together through these complex challenges.

The fire at Grenfell tower was a terrible tragedy, and those who lost loved ones remain in our thoughts. The issues that became clear following the tragedy are multifaceted, and so our response must be as well. It is clear that the actions we have taken and will continue to take, and the world-class building safety regime delivered by this Bill, should deliver a robust but proportionate regime, meaning that people in this country should never feel unsafe in their home.

I commend this Bill to the House.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, it is not actually legislation. The hon. Lady is wrong about that. Yes, of course, we would welcome that. The crucial words that she said there were “should not”, not would not, and that is a different thing entirely. We still need to know on what terms that will be enforced, what recourse would a leaseholder have, and to whom, and what teeth will they have in order to put that into effect. Is it legislation? [Interruption.] I think the Secretary of State is trying to tell me that it is going to be legislation. [Interruption.] Oh, it is just down to the lenders. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants to explain.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady seems to misunderstand what an EWS1 form is. An EWS1 form is a product of the lenders and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. It is not the law and neither is it a product created by the Government.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am fully aware what an EWS1 form is, thank you. Its scope and its effect came about from the advice note that the Government issued in January 2020. If it is a matter for the lenders, what recourse do leaseholders have? There is nothing in the Secretary of State’s statement about recourse and accountability and where the buck stops. That is my central argument here. In the vacuum of leadership, everybody from insurers to mortgage lenders, risk assessors and others are too concerned about their liability, leaving thousands of buildings with endless fire safety requirements, some of which are potentially life threatening, but others are an unnecessary symptom of this crisis in confidence. Who is it that says which is which? Where does that sit? With whom does that lie? The Government cannot leave this to industry and the private sector to sort out. The market cannot sort this, because it is completely broken—the Secretary of State said today that the market was completely broken as if this was news to him. Yet he says that he will not intervene in that broken market. The power is with him to intervene if he wanted to. That is why we have been calling for a building works agency. I am talking about a crack team of engineers and experts appointed by the Government, going block by block, assessing the real fire risk and what remediation works are absolutely necessary; commissioning and funding those works from the building safety fund; and then, crucially, certifying the building as safe and sellable. This rigorous approach would also keep costs down, and the agency can then go after those responsible for costs. It has been done before in Australia and it can be done again here—if the Secretary of State was prepared to step up, lead and intervene rather than leave it to the broken market he describes.

Building Safety Regime

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(1 year ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Hansard - -

Today marks the next major step on our path towards a robust, but proportionate, building safety regime. We seek a regime that delivers high standards of safety for people’s homes, particularly those which are high-rise and therefore somewhat higher risk while providing reassurance to leaseholders, residents and the market that the overwhelming majority of homes are safe.



The Grenfell Tower tragedy and subsequent independent review of building regulations led by Dame Judith Hackitt exposed serious issues in the regulatory system and construction of some high-rise buildings: developers cladding buildings in combustible materials that should never have been used; construction product manufacturers ignoring safety rules, gaming the system and rigging the results of safety tests; building owners failing to take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their residents; and the Government’s regulatory system lacking the strength and oversight to identify these failings and enforce standards.



That is why, as a Government, we have taken a safety first approach in our response to buildings that we know to be higher risk—those over 18 metres. We have:



Engaged Fire and Rescue Services to survey all buildings over 18 metres to assess their safety;

Targeted Government funding at the buildings we know to be at greatest risk if a fire spreads—those over 18 metres with unsafe cladding—investing over £5 billion to make those buildings safe as quickly as possible;

Banned the use of combustible materials in new buildings over 18 metres, providing industry with a clear standard for the construction of new builds;

Incentivised the installation of central alarm systems in high-rise buildings with a waking watch through our Waking Watch Relief Fund; and

Today, we have reached Second Reading of the Building Safety Bill, our landmark legislation that brings forward the biggest improvements in building safety in a generation. The Bill introduces an enhanced safety regime for higher-risk buildings, defined as those over 18 metres—or seven storeys—we have enshrined this scope on the face of the Bill.

The Fire Safety Act, which received Royal Assent in April will also ensure that the external walls of buildings are considered as part of routine fire risk assessments for all multi-occupied residential buildings.



We are making good progress in bringing those high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding up to an acceptable standard of safety:



Over 95% of buildings with “Grenfell type” cladding identified at the beginning of last year have been fully remediated or have workers on site. By the end of the year, I expect works to have started on all buildings barring a handful of cases where ACM cladding has only recently been identified or where remediation works are especially complex. This means around 16,000 homes have been fully remediated of unsafe ACM cladding—an increase of around 4000 since the end of last year.

Despite many buildings’ owners failing to provide adequate basic information, almost 700 buildings, with estimated remediation costs of £2.5 billion are proceeding with a full application to the Building Safety Fund. We have already allocated £540 million which means owners of over 60,000 homes and properties within high-rise blocks are covered by Building Safety Fund applications and can be reassured that unsafe non-ACM cladding on their blocks will be replaced. All eligible applications currently made to the Building Safety Fund will proceed, and we are working with applicants to ensure work gets underway as soon as possible. For any buildings that may have missed the original registration deadline we will be reopening for registrations in the autumn. This will ensure we meet our commitment to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres and over in England. We currently forecast that works of some form will be supported by the Building Safety Fund on over 1,000 high-rise buildings.

One hundred and ninety-one buildings are already benefiting from the £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund. More buildings will benefit from the fund as final decisions are made on applications. Leaseholders are expected to save on average £137 per month, or over £1,600 a year, on waking watch costs.

It is right that we have taken a safety first approach and safety will always continue to be our priority and inform the decisions we make. However, it is also thankfully the case that fires in homes in England are extremely rare in all dwellings and I have become concerned to hear from leasehold residents feeling trapped in blocks of flats, particularly those lower than 18 metres in height. In many cases these residents have been held back from selling their homes and moving on with their lives because of excessive caution in the lending, surveying and fire risk assessment market. Understandably, this has caused some residents worry over safety and unnecessary costs due to a failure, on the part of many parties, to adequately explain the true nature of risk which statistics demonstrate is very low. I want to be clear—the vast majority of residents in all homes, including blocks of flats, should not feel unsafe in their homes. Residents need to be urgently reassured and the evidence presented clearly to them. And other market participants need to exercise their professional judgment and not perpetuate this climate of extreme caution.



Driven by these concerns for leasehold residents, earlier this year I asked a small group of experts on fire safety to consider the evidence and advise me on steps that should be taken to ensure that a more risk-proportionate approach is taken to fire safety in blocks of flats: an approach through which genuine life safety risks are tackled swiftly, and where all blocks of flats meet statutory requirements on life safety, but where excessive caution and unnecessary costs are avoided.



The experts I commissioned were:



Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

Sir Ken Knight, Chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel on building safety following the Grenfell Tower Fire

Ron Dobson, former London Fire Commissioner

Roy Wilsher, adviser on fire reform, former Chief Fire Officer

The key finding of this advice is clear—there is no evidence of systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats:



Dwelling fires are at an all-time low since comparable statistics started to be collected in 1981-82. This is despite the fact that, in 2020, people spent a significantly greater amount of time in their homes as a result of covid restrictions.

The vast majority of fires—91%—were in houses, bungalows, converted or low rise—three storeys or lower—flats or other properties, while only 9% were in blocks of flats of four storeys or more.

Very few fires spread from the room where they start. In 2019-20, 7% of fires spread beyond the room of origin in blocks of flats over four storeys, compared with 9% in blocks below four storeys and 14% in houses, bungalows, converted flats and other dwellings.

Any death in a fire is tragic, thankfully only a small proportion of fires resulted in a fire-related fatality in 2020: 176 people in total lost their lives in dwelling fires, down from 257 just a decade earlier, of which only 10 fatalities were in blocks of flats of four or more storeys. This is the lowest number of fatalities from fire since comparable statistics began to be collected 40 years ago. I thank the Fire and Rescue Services for all that they do to keep us safe.

On this basis, the expert advice, which I have published today on www.gov.uk, reaches five recommendations to correct the disproportionate reaction we have seen in some parts of the market:



EWS1 forms should not be a requirement on buildings below 18 metres.

In the small number of cases where there are known to be concerns these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation.

There should be a clear route for residents/leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work and seek assurance that proposals are proportionate and cost effective.

Government should work with the shadow Building Safety Regulator to consider how to implement an audit process to check that fire risk assessments are following guidelines, not perpetuating the risk aversion we are witnessing, in some instances, at the present time.



Fire risk assessors, and lenders should not presume that there is significant risk to life unless there is evidence to support this. This would ensure that they respond only to the evidence and adopt a far more proportionate and balanced approach.

Having carefully considered these recommendations the Government will support and act upon them.



Delivering real change for leaseholders requires a concerted effort from all participants in the market including Government, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), lenders and fire experts, and we have been working intensively with these groups.



As a Government, we are clear that we support the expert advice and the position that EWS1s should not be needed for buildings less than 18 metres. This position is a significant step and one supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Institute of Fire Engineers.



Government will work with the Health and Safety Executive and others to explore ways to deliver an effective fire risk assessment audit process that ensures assessments are carried out in a risk-proportionate manner and do not recommend unnecessary and costly remediation works where they are not genuinely needed. We will also rapidly progress exploration of options to provide a clear route for residents and leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work.



It is crucial that all market participants show the necessary leadership to help end the nightmare that has impacted the lives of many leaseholders. I thank everyone for coming to the table and supporting the Government’s efforts.



I am pleased that all major lenders have welcomed this advice. HSBC UK, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and others have said that the expert advice, and our clear response, paves the way for EWS1 forms to no longer be required for buildings below 18 metres and will help further unlock the housing market. I hope and expect other lenders to follow suit swiftly. I am very grateful to these organisations for their constructive work with Government on this critical issue—I appreciate that it is a complex and some parties have further work to do, in which the Government will support them.



Through concerted, cross-market action I believe we can help open up the housing market, allowing thousands to buy, sell or re-mortgage their homes.



This work will be progressed alongside existing steps we are taking to ensure a proportionate response to risk. This includes:



Development of new more risk-proportionate guidelines for fire risk assessors, including PAS9980. The consolidated advice note, the product of the need for reliable safety information in the period following the Grenfell Tragedy will shortly be retired.

Launching a Government-backed professional indemnity insurance scheme for qualified professionals conducting external wall system assessments. This is aimed at supporting those qualified professionals to complete EWS1 forms, where genuinely needed, in a risk-proportionate manner and will help ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the market to allow EWS1 forms to be completed quickly, helping people to buy, sell and re-mortgage their homes. With the comfort Government backing provides, professionals must exercise their judgment in a proportionate manner and refrain from proposing works that are not strictly necessary to achieve an acceptable standard of fire safety—and risk management and mitigation should always be considered before costly remediation.

Working with the National Fire Chiefs Council to re-emphasise the scope of the simultaneous evacuation guidance, the temporary nature of waking watches and the alternative proportionate fire safety interventions to be considered before implementing a waking watch, particularly in buildings below 18 metres.

Latest indications are that the number of residential blocks between 11 metres and 18 metres in height are 61,000. Data from one major lender suggests that 7% of flats in buildings up to six storeys currently require an EWS1 assessment and in a majority of these cases EWS1s are found to already be held, leading to requests for an EWS1 form on approximately 5% of flats. Of these buildings, the vast majority do not need any remediation work at all. This is reinforced by initial results of surveys of medium rise blocks of flats indicating that the vast majority are free from serious safety risks associated with combustible cladding requiring remediation, and from any associated costs. If the market reacts as we would hope to the expert advice these numbers should reduce yet further and hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be able to get on with buying, selling or re-mortgaging their homes. To reiterate, the Government see no reason why an EWS1 form, or equivalent, should be requested on buildings below 18 metres. For the very small number where works are required, the presumption in favour of mitigation should also reduce remediation costs.



It is my expectation that these actions will significantly ease the challenges faced by the vast majority of leaseholders looking to buy or sell flats in high-rise buildings and ensure that leaseholders do not face huge bills for unnecessary remediation works. In the very small minority of cases where remediation works are identified in 11 metre-18 metre buildings as part of the normal statutory requirement for buildings to have an up to date fire risk assessment, I can reaffirm that leaseholders will be protected from unaffordable costs by a generous financing scheme through which their monthly cladding repayment costs will not exceed £50.

[HCWS228]

Local Government

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Wednesday 21st July 2021

(1 year ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Hansard - -

On 12 October 2020 [HCWS502] I told the House that I had issued invitations under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (“the 2007 Act”) to principal councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset, including associated existing unitary councils, to submit proposals for moving to unitary local government in those areas. Councils in these areas had requested such invitations and had been developing ideas about restructuring local government in their areas for some time.

The consultation

On 22 February 2021 I told the House [HCWS785] that I was launching a statutory consultation on all of the eight locally-led proposals for reorganising local government that I had received on 9 December in response to the invitation. These proposals were, four from councils in Cumbria, two from councils in North Yorkshire and two from councils in Somerset. In the case of each area there is a proposal made by the county council for a unitary authority covering the whole area. In the case of North Yorkshire and Somerset there is a proposal from district councils for two unitary authorities in each area. In Cumbria district councils have made three proposals, each of which involve establishing two unitary authorities.

When launching the consultation I made it clear that I welcomed views from any interested persons, including residents, in addition to the named consultees. The named consultees were the councils which made the proposals, other councils affected by the proposals, councils in neighbouring areas, public service providers, including health providers and the police, local enterprise partnerships, and certain other business, voluntary sector and educational bodies. The consultation closed on 19 April and I have received a total of 13,020 responses. I will be depositing a summary of the consultation responses in the libraries of Parliament.

The decisions on unitary proposals

I am now able to inform the House of my decisions as to which of the eight proposals, subject to parliamentary approval, are to be implemented. The 2007 Act provides that I may implement a proposal with or without modifications. I have decided that in each of the areas to make no such modifications.

In reaching my decision, I carefully considered each of the proposals. I assessed each proposal against the three criteria set out in the invitation sent to all the principal councils on 9 October. These criteria provide that for a proposal to be implemented, that proposal is likely to improve local government and service delivery across its area; commands a good deal of local support as assessed in the round overall across the whole area of the proposal; and any unitary councils to be established have a credible geography.

I have also had regard to all the representations I received, including those received through the consultation, and to all the relevant information available to me, including the results of the local poll that the Somerset district councils held during the period from 18 May to 4 June and the representations received about the poll and its conduct.

For Cumbria I have decided to implement, subject to parliamentary approval, the proposal for two unitary councils, an east unitary council covering the existing areas of Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland and a west unitary council covering the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland. I considered that this proposal met all three of the criteria.

I also considered that the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of Cumbria also met all three of the criteria. However, having regard to the size and geography of Cumbria, including the geographic barriers of lakes and mountains, and the rurality of its population, I have decided that it would be more appropriate to implement the east west unitary proposal, allowing for more localised decision making, which could be important given the geography of Cumbria.

I have decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils, one council comprising the existing areas of Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster City and the other council comprising the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden. I considered that this proposal did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria. I have also decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils, one council comprising the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle and Eden and the other council comprising the existing areas of Barrow, Copeland and South Lakeland. I considered that this proposal did not meet the credible geography criterion.

For North Yorkshire I have decided to implement, subject to parliamentary approval, the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of the existing administrative county of North Yorkshire. I considered that this proposal strongly met all three of the criteria. I have also decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils, one council comprising the existing areas of Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and the current unitary of York, and the other council comprising the existing areas of Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire. I considered that this proposal did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria.

For Somerset I have decided to implement, subject to parliamentary approval, the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of the existing administrative county of Somerset. I considered that this proposal met all three of the criteria, strongly meeting the improving local government and service delivery criterion. I have also decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils, one council comprising the existing areas of Mendip District and South Somerset and the other council comprising the existing areas of Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton. I considered that this proposal did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria.

Future steps

I now intend to seek parliamentary approval for the necessary secondary legislation to implement my decisions. I intend to lay the draft structural changes order before Parliament around the turn of the year and they will include provisions for appropriate transitional arrangements, including for elections in May 2022 for the future unitary councils; for cancelling elections currently scheduled for May 2022 for existing councils, including those rescheduled from May 2021 as a result of the orders made earlier this year; and for the unitary councils to assume the full range of local authority responsibilities on 1 April 2023, when predecessor councils would be abolished.

Establishing these new unitary councils will be a significant step towards ensuring the people and businesses across Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset can in future have the sustainable high-quality local services they deserve. I expect all the existing councils and their partners to work collaboratively and constructively together to drive forward the process of establishing unitary councils and transforming local service delivery for the residents, businesses and local communities of these three areas.

I would like to reiterate that Government will not impose top-down Government solutions. We will continue, as I am now currently doing, to follow a locally-led approach where councils can develop proposals which have strong local support. However, restructuring is only one of the different ways that councils can streamline and make savings, and deliver strong leadership. This has been the Government’s consistent approach since 2010, when top-down restructuring was stopped through the Local Government Act 2010.

When considering reform, those in an area will know what is best, and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out in his speech on 15 July we remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. We are open to devolution where there is strong local leadership, whether supported by two tier local government, unitary structures or various joint arrangements. Our plans for doing this and strengthening local accountable leadership will be set out in the forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper.

[HCWS234]

Building Beautiful Places

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(1 year ago)

Written Statements
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Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Hansard - -

The Government have set out to put beauty and design, for the first time, at the heart of the local planning system. To that end, we are changing the system so that local people are empowered to set standards for beauty and design in their area through local design codes. These codes will reflect their area’s unique aesthetics, culture and heritage, with tree-lined streets accompanying new developments.

The Government are publishing today the revised national planning policy framework (the framework), the new national model design code, and the Government’s response to the consultation on both. The consultation on the draft framework and national model design code ran from 30 January to 27 March and the Government are grateful to all who responded. In light of comments received, the Government have made important changes to this framework and national model design code.

The new framework is fundamental to ensuring local authorities and communities can shape and deliver beautiful places to live and work, with a greater emphasis on quality, design and the environment than ever before.

The changes we have made take forward the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission that national policy should place a stronger focus on the creation of beautiful buildings and beautiful places. The framework will ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens, that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes which do not meet locally set standards, and greater certainty to those schemes that do. This is part of the Government’s programme of improving the planning system to put high-quality, environmentally friendly design front and centre of new development.

Our policy changes will ensure the system helps to create buildings that fit in with places, while maintaining the framework’s existing strong focus on delivering the homes and other development which communities need. The changes:

Make beauty and place-making a strategic theme in the framework

Set out the expectation that local authorities produce their own design codes and guides setting out design principles which new development in their areas should reflect

Ask for new streets to be tree-lined

Improve biodiversity and access to nature through design

Put an emphasis on approving good design as well as refusing poor quality schemes

We have also made a number of environment-related changes, including on flood risk and climate change. These changes are an initial response to the emergent findings of our joint review with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) of policy for building in areas of flood risk. For instance, highlighting the opportunities from improvements in green infrastructure and natural flood management techniques. We are also amending guidance on flood risk to emphasise that checks done by local authorities should steer new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding from any source.

Our changes also include:

emphasis of the importance of retaining and explaining the historic and social context of historic statues, plaques, memorials or monuments rather than removing them

an update on the use of Article 4 Directions

an expectation that local planning authorities take a proactive approach to engaging with key delivery bodies and other stakeholders at the pre-application stage of local plan making

Alongside the national planning policy framework, the Government are also publishing the national model design code. This provides detailed guidance on the production of local design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design. It expands on the 10 characteristics of good design set out in the national design guide, which reflects Government priorities and provides a common overarching framework for design. The national model design code forms part of the Government’s planning practice guidance. Creating more beautiful places requires a greener approach that supports progress towards our 25-year environment plan goals. The national model design code sets a baseline standard of quality and practice which local planning authorities are expected to take into account, including the approach to landscape, green infrastructure, biodiversity and tree-lined streets.

The national model design code should be used as a toolkit to guide local planning authorities on the design parameters and issues that need to be considered when producing design codes and guides. It also sets out methods to capture and reflect the views of the local community from the outset, and at each stage in the process. Design codes are important because they provide a framework for creating healthy, environmentally responsive and sustainable places, with a consistent and high-quality standard of design. This will provide greater certainty for communities about the design of development and bring conversations about design to the start of the planning process, rather than the end.

Our changes will ensure that new homes in England are built to a dramatically higher standard, embedding the work Sir Roger Scruton, Nicholas Boys Smith and everyone involved in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission began. And we are now establishing the Office for Place within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), advised by a board led by Nicholas Boys Smith, who will look to help local authorities across England create user-friendly but effective design codes for their communities. Fourteen councils across England are now testing this new approach and we will undertake further pilots over the course of the year.

[HCWS216]

Oral Answers to Questions

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Monday 19th July 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to modernise the planning system in England.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We will modernise the planning system, ensuring a simpler, faster and more predictable system that delivers more homes, more infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, and honours our commitment to net zero and the environment. Our reforms will also make the planning system more accessible through digital plan making, ensuring more local people—more than the 1% who currently engage with the planning system—can get involved. We are taking power out of the hands of the big developers and giving it back to local communities and small builders so that, together, we can build back better.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend and Ministers for their engagement and correspondence over the last year. As he will know, I have asked what mechanisms exist to challenge the housing targets for my constituency. As such, will he confirm my new understanding that the local authority housing needs target is not set in stone and is a starting point for negotiation, and that it is the local authority’s responsibility to challenge the housing target as part of its local plan?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend and I have spoken about that on a number of occasions—as have I with you, Mr Speaker. He will appreciate that I am unable to comment on the specific local plans because of my quasi-judicial role. However, he is right to say that housing targets are only a starting point. All local plans are subject to an independent examination. Following consultation with the local community, anyone who wants to make representations to change a plan must be heard by the inspector. That process will take into account local land constraints such as the green belt, sites of special scientific interest, national parks and so on in coming to a sensible and credible way forward.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is right that planning reform is overdue, but in Buckinghamshire there are serious concerns that the voices of local people will not be heard. For example, we know that in Aylesbury many thousands more houses will be built in the coming years, but the town is already merging into nearby villages and infrastructure is at breaking point. What reassurance can he provide that when residents raise legitimate concerns, they will be listened to?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is right to say that significant housing delivery is occurring at the moment in Aylesbury. There are two principal things that the Government seek to do to support his constituents. The first is to ensure that more infrastructure accompanies that housing; we will do that principally through our infrastructure levy, which will capture more of the land value uplift and put more money at the service of his excellent local council in Buckinghamshire. Secondly, we will ensure that more local people can be involved in the planning system by digitising it so that, at the touch of a smartphone, people can access and understand a plan and comment on or even object to a planning application. By doing so, we expect that we can boost the number of people who engage in our system and drive a truly localist approach.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a great deal of concern in my Heywood and Middleton constituency and across Greater Manchester about the amount of green belt approved for release by the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, as part of his Greater Manchester spatial framework. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me about protection of the green belt as part of his Department’s new planning reforms?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Hansard - -

This Government made a manifesto commitment not just to protect the green belt, but to enhance it. At the moment, planning policy is clear that building on the green belt should be contemplated only in the most exceptional circumstances, and we intend to continue that through our modernised planning system. I appreciate the pressure that my hon. Friend and his constituents are under as a result of the proposed Greater Manchester spatial framework, which does not seem to accord with the wishes of local residents. I hope that as we come out of the pandemic, Manchester City Council and others with a good record of house building and regeneration will find opportunities for imaginative building on brownfield sites and around the city centre.

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend’s earlier answer, but does he agree that in any future planning reforms we must increase protection for our green belt? In Sevenoaks and Swanley, we are 93% green belt, yet we are constantly inundated by speculative planning applications such as that at Broke Hill, which worry the local community. The message should be clear: if it is green belt, it is protected, and if a planning application is put in for the green belt, the answer will be no.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The point that my hon. Friend touches on is that the current planning system is not well regarded and is not producing the kinds of outcomes that we want; that is precisely why we want to reform and modernise it. We want to ensure that protections such as the green belt have the weight that they deserve in the planning system and that we can cut out speculative development unless it is approved by democratically elected local councillors at their sole discretion. The system that we are bringing forward does exactly that. Local authorities will need to have a plan; if they have a plan that is allocated land, there will be no need for issues such as speculative development and the five-year land supply.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The anti-corruption campaign Transparency International says that the Conservative party has become overly dependent on donations from developers. It is particularly concerned that Ministers failed to report the details of what they talked about to developers in over 300 meetings about which they simply disclosed generalisations such as “housing” or “planning”; it fears that that could amount to what it calls aggregate corruption. Will the Secretary of State now publish the full minutes of all those meetings so that the public can see exactly what Ministers agreed to do for their developer paymasters?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As the hon. Gentleman knows, all meetings that Ministers have are correctly identified on the register of interests, but I have to say that he has been on quite a journey. One adviser who worked with him as leader of Lambeth Council has been left bemused: is this the same Champagne Steve he remembers meeting with developers? It is not just him who has invited charges of shameless hypocrisy; the Leader of the Opposition has received thousands of pounds of donations from developers, and the deputy leader of the Labour party caused a splash in the papers the other day for accepting £10,000 from developers for her leadership campaign.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. Could the right hon. Gentleman withdraw the word “hypocrisy”? Hon. Members would never be hypocritical.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will certainly withdraw that, at your request, Mr Speaker. We can only imagine how much the deputy leader of the Labour party will be asking for when it comes to her impending leadership campaign.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not surprising that the Secretary of State is refusing to be transparent, because we all know who benefits the most from their developers’ charter. Just weeks ago, this House passed Labour’s motion to guarantee residents’ right to a say over local planning applications in their own neighbourhoods. This week, councillors of all parties—including the right hon. Gentleman’s—in Medway and Richmond passed similar motions. How many more councils will need to do the same before he ditches the developers’ charter and his plan to pay back developers by selling out communities?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am sure that Conservative councillors the length and breadth of the country were over the moon to receive the hon. Gentleman’s letter. I can see the scene now over the summer recess, when the gate rattles or there is a knock at the door and he rushes to check what the post has brought in, but like a jilted lover or a pen pal who assumes his letters got lost in the mail, he finds nothing there except just another letter from Croydon Council telling him that the bills are going up as a result of the terrible mistakes and mismanagement that his friends and cronies are making over at Croydon. He has taken an avowedly anti-house building approach. This is a far cry from the Labour party of Attlee and Bevan, who said that this was a social service and a moral mission. This Government are going to keep on building houses, but we will build them sensitively. We will build beautiful homes, we will protect the environment and we will help young people and those on lower incomes to enjoy all the security and prosperity that comes with owning a home of their own.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that the Secretary of State has seen the Select Committee’s report into the planning reforms. We were supportive of a number of aspects, including the need to strengthen local plans and how they are drawn up. Could I ask him two things in relation to our recommendations? We need to recognise the serious change in moving to a zonal system and the importance of getting the details right, and I wonder if he might consider the recommendation to move, at the next stage, to a draft Bill, so that we could give it serious pre-legislative scrutiny as to what it would mean in practice. Secondly, will he have another look at the distribution of housing under his latest proposals? Under the proposals, large areas of the north outside the major cities will see their housing numbers fall, which seems to be in contradiction to the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the members of the Select Committee for their interesting report, which we have considered carefully as part of the broader work that we have done to listen to the views of colleagues here in Parliament on both sides of the House and in the country before preparing our response to the White Paper in the autumn. I will of course bear in mind his suggestion about pre-legislative scrutiny, which may be a good way forward. On his second point, I must respectfully disagree, because I think levelling up involves ensuring that our big cities of the midlands and the north build more homes. That is the way we will ensure a brownfield-first approach. That is also the way we will ensure inspired regeneration and get aspirational middle-class families back into some of those great cities, and ensure that councils have the revenues they need to invest and to prosper; and of course it is the way to protect the countryside from unnecessary development.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What progress he has made on the Government’s new deal for social housing since the publication of the social housing Green Paper in 2018.

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Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to regenerate towns and high streets.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As we build back better from the pandemic, we are transforming our high streets into the kind of places that people want to call home for generations to come. Last week, the Prime Minister announced the last 15 of our 101 town deals worth £2.4 billion, alongside launching our £150 million community ownership fund and our high streets strategy. That set out a vision for cleaner and more vibrant high streets where entrepreneurs can thrive and local businesses are supported, with permanent al fresco dining and where derelict eyesores are transformed into quality homes.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Now then, Ashfield has benefited from more than £70 million from the towns fund and the future high streets fund, which is welcome news to our struggling high streets, but the independent traders in Kirby-in-Ashfield are up in arms at Ashfield District Council’s decision to double car parking charges on a four-hour stay. This is after it has increased its own allowances by £55,000 a year. Will my right hon. Friend please remind the politicians at Ashfield District Council that, while they are taking Government cash to help regenerate our high streets, they, too, could help by not doubling car parking charges, which hurt our shoppers, our shopworkers and our high streets?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s constituency has received that £70 million to deliver exciting regeneration projects across his local area. He is right to say that it would be perverse if the Government are doing so much, with his help, to support the people of Ashfield for his council not to play its part as well. We want high streets to be as accessible as possible, whether that is by car, walking or cycling, and to be attractive places for local people to visit, to live in and to shop.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Secretary of State for coming to visit me in Newcastle-under-Lyme earlier this month. Newcastle-under-Lyme is benefiting from more than £34 million of investment through the towns deal and the future high streets fund. He knows the town very well and will know that the Ryecroft site, in particular, has been an eyesore for a long time, along with the derelict former Sainsburys site and the former civic offices. Does he therefore welcome, as I do, the fact that we now have a Conservative council under the leadership of Simon Tagg that has a proposal for the site, with the demolition of the old offices, and that with our future high streets funding we will see that developed in the next couple of years?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It was a pleasure to visit Newcastle-under-Lyme once again with my hon. Friend—a town that I have known for more than a decade. It was heartening to see that a good Conservative council very ably led by Simon Tagg has a real 10 or 20-year plan for the town centre backed by tens of millions of pounds of Government investment. That is exactly what we want to see replicated on high streets across the country.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am backing an exciting multi-million-pound bid put forward by Devon County Council and East Devon District Council to help regenerate east Devon’s largest town, Exmouth. If the bid is successful, the planned Dinan Way extension will improve journeys into Exmouth and cut congestion, and will also see the town centre spruced up around the train station. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to make sure that every corner of the country, including the south-west, sees the full benefits of levelling up?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We have already committed over £430 million of investment in the south-west alone through the getting building fund, the future high streets fund and the towns fund. My hon. Friend and I have spoken many times about Exmouth and I visited the town with him a year or so ago. It is exactly the kind of place that these funds were designed to support. I very much look forward to reviewing the advice from my officials with regard to the bid for the levelling up fund, and, if it is a successful bid, to seeing positive change for his constituents in the months and years ahead.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is great to be able to announce that after a long campaign through my parliamentary petition and an Adjournment debate in this House, a bid for the levelling-up fund has been submitted by Rotherham Council to improve Dinnington high street. However, I am greatly disappointed that Rotherham Council has not submitted a bid for other high streets across Rother Valley such as Maltby, Thurcroft and Swallownest. What can this Government do to ensure that Rotherham Council has plans for and improves all our high streets across Rother Valley?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I wish my hon. Friend a happy birthday. I am delighted that the council put in a bid for Dinnington high street, where he and I met for the first time in 2019. He asks a very important question about what the Government will do for smaller towns across the country, particularly those in ex-mining and ex-steel communities—places that I know well in north Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. That is one reason that we brought forward the levelling-up fund, which I hope his constituency will benefit from. It does require councils such as Rotherham to step up and develop with their local Member of Parliament high-quality bids, so I hope it will do so in the years ahead for the other towns in his constituency.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent discussions he has had with devolved Administrations on delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

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Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As the Prime Minister said last Thursday in his speech on levelling up, the Government’s vital mission is about raising living standards, spreading opportunity, improving our public services and restoring people’s sense of pride in their community. That is why I was delighted to launch last week the Government’s new high streets strategy. It is why I was pleased to launch our £150 million community ownership fund and the final details of our multibillion-pound towns fund. Last year, my Department introduced changes to make it quicker, easier and cheaper for restaurants, pubs and cafés to set up outdoor sitting and street stalls to serve food and drink, sparking, for the first time in my lifetime, a real pavement café culture. I am delighted that the Government have announced that we are making these changes permanent—something I think we can all drink to as we enjoy a truly great British summer.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Good afternoon from West Dorset, Mr Speaker. Dorset Council has done a huge amount of effective work to protect vulnerable people by tackling domestic violence, and there is no doubt in my mind that the extra funding given by my right hon. Friend’s Department will help substantially. However, this funding is ring-fenced for reactive responses to domestic violence. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to look at providing non-ringfenced funding for new burdens under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, so that Dorset Council can continue its vital work in preventing domestic abuse, not just reacting to it when it happens?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Domestic abuse is a terrible crime, and I, like Members on both sides of the House, was pleased that we passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act earlier this year, and that the Government are fully funding the duties on local authorities with £125 million. I have written to all local authorities in England, asking them to use that money for its intended purpose, and to ensure that money goes to refuges, which are not the only thing we should be supporting but are a very important part of the answer in protecting victims of domestic abuse. I will take his comments with respect to Dorset Council seriously. I have heard that it is taking a number of important steps, including, for example, spending £650,000 to tackle this issue.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor to ensure that any legislation introduced after the current consultation on access to cash will include a statutory obligation on banks to provide adequate access to cash withdrawals free at the point of use and that meet the needs of our high streets and our communities?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady raises an important point, particularly for rural communities and those that are harder to serve. The pandemic has had a profound impact on access to cash, with many stores—perhaps the vast majority—moving to a cashless society, but we must not forget those people who are left behind by that, so I will take her comments back to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as he prepares to respond.

Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituency has seen massive housing development over the past couple of decades, and that growth has put enormous pressure on our local infrastructure and resulted in a shortage of school places, increased traffic congestion and one of the highest patient-to-doctor ratios in the country. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is put in place to solve those problems, and what will he do to ensure that no further housing developments take place in my constituency unless and until the correct infrastructure is put in place first?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that it is vitally important that new housing development is supported by commensurate infrastructure —both physical and social infrastructure—and affordable housing. Of course, it is also true that the majority of that infrastructure today is funded by developer contributions from new housing, but we need to ensure that developers pay their fair share. That is the idea behind the infrastructure levy, whereby local areas can themselves set the rate of taxation they require to capture more land value to put at the service of local communities. I think that if we can secure that passage—I hope we will get cross-party support for this—it will make a big difference, particularly in those parts of the country where planning is particularly challenging at the moment.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is good to see the Secretary of State here, having survived yet another thankless broadcast stint on behalf of those in No. 10—sent out to defend the indefensible, only for them to U-turn as soon as he finished on air.

The Big Issue warned this week:

“More people are at risk of homelessness now than at any time in living memory.”

So can the Secretary of State tell us what assessment he has made of the number of evictions that will happen as a result of covid, and how much will the resultant homelessness cost local councils in temporary accommodation? In March 2020 he said that

“nobody should lose their home”

as a result of the pandemic. Can he confirm that this promise has now been abandoned, and if not, how is he fulfilling it?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

This Government took exceptional steps early in the pandemic, with cross-party support, and they were the right things to do. We legislated and, for example, we increased the notice periods for people with tenancies under section 21. That protected many thousands of people in a very difficult period for this country. They were also a product of a time when the housing market was closed as a matter of law, so it was impossible to move house. The position today is different— people are able to move house and the housing market is very open and active—but we still want to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We are doing that with longer notice periods and further support through the benefits system and local housing need, and of course we will keep this under review. However, I pay tribute to councils across the country for the phenomenal achievement of our Everyone In programme, which has seen rates of people sleeping rough on our streets reduced by almost 40%, and we must keep that going.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Wolverhampton, green space has been put forward for housing development by the city council. I am sure that the council would welcome reassurance from the Secretary of State that there can be discussions with his Department about the accuracy and reasonableness of those numbers going forward. Does he agree that city centre living is key, and that councils must be imaginative when incorporating housing into retail and leisure developments? I am thinking specifically of the Westside development in Wolverhampton, which could be reviewed. That is key to supporting a city centre economy—

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As a son of Wolverhampton, I know the city well and I wish it well. It is absolutely right that we need to build more homes in our town and city centres, and that is what the Government are doing. That is why we brought forward changes to permitted development, why we created the right to demolish and rebuild a building, and why we are bringing forward reforms to modernise the planning system. That is the way we protect the green belt for future generations. From Wolverhampton and the Black Country, one has to drive only a few miles into the most beautiful countryside of Shropshire and south Staffordshire. I want to preserve that, which is exactly what our planning reforms will do.

Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Ind)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was enthused to hear recently that a positive discussion is ongoing with the Welsh Government about a freeport in Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree that a freeport would be massively beneficial, particularly if it spreads the entire length of north Wales, taking into account its borders at the port of Holyhead, as well as manufacturing centres in Wrexham, Deeside and Delyn, to drive forward economic benefits for our entire region?

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Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of the buildings in my constituency that have been found to have cladding defects, including Norfolk House, St Peters Gardens and Leeward Court, are under 18 metres and therefore ineligible for the building safety fund. The only offer made to impacted leaseholders is a loan scheme, with no clarity about how it will work and when it will be made available. When will the Secretary of State’s Department finally step up and extend funding to those blocks under 18 metres that are in need of remediation?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

In terms of buildings with the most dangerous form of cladding, there are five that I am aware of in Lewisham. One has completed work and is awaiting building control sign-off, three have had their unsafe aluminium composite material cladding removed altogether, and the other one has works under way, so we are making good progress there, as we are elsewhere in the country. On buildings below 18 metres, we need to take a more proportionate approach. There are leaseholders who are being asked to pay bills for those buildings that are unconscionable and likely to be unnecessary. I am working intensively with lenders, insurers and building safety experts to change that, because we have to adopt a more proportionate and sensible regime than the one we are experiencing right now.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Darlington Borough Council has provided 169 authorised pitches for members of the Gypsy, Romany, Traveller community, and planning for a further 25 is currently being assessed. That is a leading example of how local authorities should be providing for their Gypsy, Romany, Traveller communities. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to encourage other local authorities to provide sufficient and adequate legal sites?

Yvonne Fovargue Portrait Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The last year saw a record rise in council tax arrears of £1.5 billion, as families struggled under the weight of the pandemic. With tens of thousands more people likely to receive a call or a knock on the door from a bailiff in the months and years ahead, will the Secretary of State look at proposals from the Centre for Social Justice for an enforcement conduct authority, developed through a historic coming-together of bailiffs and the debt advice sector?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I would be happy to look at those proposals. I have already seen them, but perhaps the hon. Lady and I can meet to discuss them in further detail.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my right hon. Friend knows, there are building safety issues other than cladding, including missing firebreaks. Will he therefore tell me what advice I can give to my constituents who are currently unable to sell or let properties that they bought in good faith a matter of only a few years ago?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Shoddy workmanship of that kind is disgraceful, and developers should step up and pay for any works that are required. We are changing the law through the Building Safety Bill to give homeowners a longer period of redress to take action against developers and builders who build poorly. As I said in answer to an earlier question, it is also important that our response is proportionate, because some of the works relating to that kind of non-cladding issue—not all, but some—that leaseholders are being asked to pay for are unnecessary. We will be saying more about that soon.

Kim Leadbeater Portrait Kim Leadbeater  (Batley and Spen)  (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

During the recent by-election campaign in my home constituency of Batley and Spen, fellow residents raised with me their concerns regarding proposals to build a large Amazon warehouse in Scholes. The Government are proposing to shift power away from residents and towards developers, so will the Secretary of State assure me that the rights of local people to be fully informed and have their objections taken seriously will always be respected?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place in this House. As a former by-election winner, I know what it is like to enter in a class of one. I am sure she will thrive, as others have done, including several members of the Opposition Front Bench.

We are seeing an increase in the number of applications across the country for logistics sites, born of the pandemic experience of increased online shopping. It is an issue that other local authorities are experiencing and we are alive to it. Of course, any reforms we make to the planning system will continue to have the hon. Lady’s constituents at their heart. They will continue to be able to allocate sites in the plan making process, including commercial sites, and to object to planning applications if they wish.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Although I would have loved Hyndburn and Haslingden to be a beneficiary of the towns deal, my understanding is that those decisions were made in October 2019, before I was elected, and I wish that those in charge in Hyndburn and Haslingden had done more to secure one. However, we are now in a position to bid for the levelling-up fund, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that an announcement will be made soon on the second round so that we can put forward our case for the well-deserved investment?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It is disappointing that proposals have not been brought forward so far, but we want to work with my hon. Friend and her local council. I saw from Accrington when she and I visited just how much potential it has. It is a very beautiful town centre, but in need of investment. We will bring forward proposals shortly for the second round and I or my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set that out later in the year.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford  (Eltham)  (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Rather than create a developer’s opportunity to provide slum living accommodation through the relaxation of permitted development rights, why does the Secretary of State not force developers who have planning permission for 1.1 million homes, according to the Local Government Association, to bring forward those plans and also the planning applications for the 1 million homes that can be built on the sites that have been designated for housing?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The good news for the hon. Gentleman is that that is exactly what we are going to do, so I hope he will be an enthusiastic champion of the planning Bill when it reaches the House. He is right to say that there is an issue with developers not building the homes they have got permission for. Successive studies suggest that it is overstated, but none the less, it is an important issue, its time has come and we as a Parliament should tackle it. The planning Bill will include such proposals and I hope that we can work on a cross-party basis to achieve them.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listened to the Secretary of State’s earlier answers and it seems to me that the dream of home ownership is something that this party still supports and has always supported. The fact that young people have not been able to buy houses at the same rate as in the past is a matter of intergenerational unfairness. May I therefore welcome the Government’s proposals, the consultation they will conduct and the fact that we are doing something about it while the Opposition do not appear to have any policies on the matter?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Conservative party has always been the party of home ownership, which is a fundamental tenet of what we seek to achieve. We want to extend opportunity to all. We are bringing forward the Bill to help the next generation of young people on to the ladder. Of course, we are also doing brilliant things such as First Homes, whereby we offer discounts of up to 30% to 50% to local first-time buyers throughout the country. I was pleased to unveil the next site for those near my hon. Friend’s constituency in Cannock the other day.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Delivery of Food and Essential Goods

Robert Jenrick Excerpts
Thursday 15th July 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
- Hansard - -

I wish to update the House on the measures the Government are taking to ensure the availability of food, sanitary and other essential goods.

The food sector is facing a new, exceptional challenge resulting from the acute shortage of HGV drivers across the distribution network. This is resulting in missed deliveries of food and other essential goods and has the potential to lead to significant shortages. The Government want to respond to this proactively by ensuring the industry has the tools available to effectively respond to these pressures to minimise any disruption to the public.

My colleague the Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), introduced measures on 12 July 2021 aimed at proactively addressing this issue, through the temporary relaxation of HGV driving time regulations. I wish to complement these measures by making this written ministerial statement about the enforcement of planning conditions relating to delivery hours to retailers of food, sanitary and other essential goods. This will allow for both measures to work in tandem, providing the industry with much-needed logistical flexibility. We believe these measures will provide supermarkets, other retailers of food and essential goods and their suppliers with increased flexibility over deliveries to ensure a consistent supply of essential goods.



Many supermarkets, food retailers and distribution centres in England are subject to controls which restrict the time and number of deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles, particularly at night. These include planning conditions, which are necessary to make the development acceptable to local residents who might otherwise suffer from traffic, noise and other local amenity issues as a result of these deliveries.

The national planning policy framework already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.

The purpose of this written ministerial statement, which comes into effect immediately, is to make clear that local planning authorities should take a positive approach to their engagement with food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry, to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential goods.

Local planning authorities should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential goods during this period, having regard to their legal obligations. The Government recognise that it may be necessary for action to be taken in relation to the impacts on neighbours of sustained disturbance due to deliveries outside of conditioned hours, particularly where this affects sleep. In this case a local planning authority should consider any efforts made by retailers to manage and mitigate such disturbance, taking into account the degree and longevity of amenity impacts.

On 13 March 2020, I made a similar statement to the house in response to the covid-19 pandemic. We kept this under review and extended the provisions with additional statements as necessary. This statement will replace all my previous statements on the matter.

This written ministerial statement only covers England and will expire on 31 January 2022, giving direction to the industry and local planning authorities over the next six months. We will keep the need for this statement under review.

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