Debates between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 5th Jul 2022
Tue 5th Jul 2022
Thu 30th Jun 2022
Tue 28th Jun 2022
Tue 21st Jun 2022
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee stage & Committee stage

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Twenty Sixth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We are a sick nation physically. Our health outcomes are regressing and we are sinking into a mental health quagmire. Levelling up has to address this agenda, or else it has no purpose. The new clause recognises the inequality and demands change. It should be welcome and should integrated into the Bill, not least with the health disparities White Paper scrapped. If we have poor planning, residential or economic, people’s health is impacted. If we have poor transport planning, pollution reduces their life expectancy. If someone has a cold, damp house or faces housing insecurity, they will have poor educational outcomes and a poor job, poor pay and poor prospects, and they will get trapped in a cycle. Levelling up should break them free of that.

In his 2010 “Fair Society, Healthy Lives” review, Professor Sir Michael Marmot understood this. It is his life’s work to consider how planning, transport, environment and housing must come together to address wider health determinants. The new clause seeks to heed his work and to act. Planning has the most significant role to play, yet it does not have statutory engagement with this agenda. We urgently need to address inequality and shape sustainable, thriving and healthy places for physical activity and mental wellbeing—natural places for walking, cycling and wheeling that have clean air and that are accessible. Although there is an existing legal duty on local authorities and the Secretary of State to improve public health in England, there are no corresponding legal duties to reduce health inequalities and improve wellbeing in local authorities, but they are the delivery vehicle of this agenda.

A health inequalities and wellbeing improvement plan must integrate health, planning, transport, environment and housing to address social determinants. Let us make one. Delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods would not only change the way we live our lives, but build community for all, creating, as a planning purpose, opportunities for active travel and natural space, enhancing wellbeing and economic output, and levelling up. Building in natural green and blue spaces is therefore vital to the planning and levelling-up agendas.

We have talked for years—decades—but talking does not make anything happen. We need action, infrastructure, obligations and a further levelling-up mission. Let us legislate and support the new clause.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance today, Mr Hollobone. On this last day of the Committee, I want to put on record my thanks to the Clerk here and those who are not present for their work and support throughout the Committee. I also thank colleagues on both sides. Although I have been disappointed that the Government have not accepted amendments from the Opposition or from their own Back Benchers, I have nevertheless appreciated the courtesy with which that has been done. I have enjoyed this time on the Committee with all Members present—I genuinely mean that.

I have a few words to say on the new clause. Health inequalities are hugely significant for levelling up, and I want to pick just two issues that affect rural communities—not just mine, but others too. I will start with GPs. In my constituency alone there has been a 17% drop in the number of GPs in the past five and a half years—that is more than one in six GPs gone—and the average GP there serves 403 more patients than they did in 2016. Any Government criticism or implied criticism of GPs not seeing people quickly enough needs to be seen in that context. Let us support our GPs with the resources they need, rather than lambasting them.

It is worth pointing out that that period coincides with the time since the Government got rid of the minimum practice income guarantee, and I am going to argue that those things are connected. The minimum practice income guarantee was money that supported small, often rural, surgeries to ensure they were sustainable. Its removal has led to the closure of a number of surgeries, including the current threat to the Ambleside and Hawkshead surgeries in my constituency. A new small surgeries strategic rural fund could support those surgeries, make sure we do not lose more and bring some back.

The second issue is about cancer. In the north of Cumbria, 59% of people with a cancer diagnosis are not seen within two months of their diagnosis—they are not being treated for the first time for more than 62 days after diagnosis. In the south of Cumbria, the figure is 41%. Either way, that is outrageous. People are dying unnecessarily.

There are a whole range of reasons for that. One is the lack of easy access to radiotherapy. According to the Government’s national radiotherapy advisory group, any patient who has to travel more than 45 minutes one way for radiotherapy treatment is in receipt of “bad practice”. That information was published a few years ago now, but it still absolutely stands, clinically and in every other way. There is not a single person living in my constituency who can get to treatment within 45 minutes—not one. Mobile or satellite units at places such as Kendal and Penrith are absolutely essential. If we are going to tackle levelling up and health inequalities between rural areas and others, we need to ensure that small rural surgeries are properly funded and that there are satellite radiotherapy units.

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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I am sure the residents of York will heed the Minister’s advice in May and ensure that they have a council that engages with them and listens to their needs. While we wait for that event, I think it is clear that, across the planning system, communities may have a voice but they do not have the power to influence decisions. We need to ensure greater democratisation of our planning system, which should be about people and communities, and their homes, futures and jobs. At the moment, the planning system is insufficient in helping people to level up, which is what the Bill is all about.

The Minister has heard my arguments, and I am sure that we will debate this further, but I trust that, in the interim between this stage and Report, he will give further consideration to how that balance can be tipped more towards communities, ensuring that they have a proper say, so that that the Bill does not become another developers’ charter under which developers hold all the cards and all the power. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 51

Disposal of land held by public bodies

“(1) The Local Government Act 1972 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).

(2) In section 123 (disposal of land by principal councils), after subsection (2) insert—

‘(2ZA) But the Secretary of State must give consent if the disposal is in accordance with section [Disposal of land held by public bodies] of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2022.’

(3) In section 127(3) (disposal of land held by parishes and communities), after ‘(2A)’ insert ‘, (2ZA)’.

(4) The National Health Service Act 2006 is amended in accordance with subsection (5).

(5) After section 211 (acquisition, use and maintenance of property) insert—

211A Disposal of land held by NHS bodies

Any power granted by this Act to an NHS body to dispose of land is exercisable in accordance with section [Disposal of land held by public bodies] of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2022 as if the NHS body were a local authority.’

(6) Subject to subsection (8), a disposal of land is in accordance with this section if it is in accordance with the Local Government Act 1972 General Disposal Consent (England) 2003 published in Department for Communities and Local Government Circular 06/03, as amended by subsection (7).

(7) Those amendments to the Local Government Act 1972 General Disposal Consent (England) 2003 are—

(a) after paragraph 1 insert—

‘(1A) This consent also applies to any NHS body in England as if it were a local authority in accordance with section 211A of the National Health Service Act 2006;’;

(b) in paragraph 2(b), for ‘£2,000,000 (two million pounds)’ substitute ‘£3,000,000 (three million pounds) or 40% of the unrestricted market value, whichever is greater’;

(c) for paragraph 3(1)(vii) substitute—

‘(viii) a Police and Crime Commissioner established under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011;’;

(d) for paragraph 3(1)(ix) substitute—

‘(ix) the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime;’;

(e) for paragraph 3(1)(x) substitute—

‘(x) the London Fire Commissioner;’;

(f) after paragraph 3(1)(xii) insert—

‘(xiii) a combined authority;

(xiv) a mayoral combined authority;

(xv) the Greater London Authority;

(xvi) any successor body established by or under an Act of Parliament to any body listed in this sub-paragraph.’.”

(8) The Secretary of State may, to reflect inflation, further amend the cash value that the difference between the unrestricted value of the land to be disposed of and the consideration for the disposal must not exceed.—(Tim Farron.)

This new clause would bring an amended and updated version of the Local Government Act 1972 General Disposal Consent (England) 2003 into primary legislation, extends its application to NHS bodies and clarifies that the Consent applies to Police and Crime Commissioners, MOPAC and the London Fire Commissioner.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 51 addresses an outdated element and we hope that the Government will take it on board. Land and property sold by local authorities, the NHS, the fire brigade and police forces should, where possible, be prioritised for public services and social and affordable housing, which benefit the local communities that those buildings previously served. As things stand, however, the law is ambiguous and outdated when it comes to the sale of publicly owned assets below what is known as “best value”, which is defined as the market value—the highest price achievable on the open market.

This situation has been illuminated by the case of Teddington police station, a publicly owned asset in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), where local residents have thrown their support behind a bid to turn what is now a disused building into affordable housing and new premises for a GP’s surgery, so that the building can keep serving the local community.

The Mayor of London has consistently argued that he has a statutory duty to achieve best value and is minded to favour the highest bidder. That is likely to be a property developer with deep pockets looking to turn the former Teddington police station into luxury flats. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is currently seeking legal advice, for which we are grateful, on whether they can legally sell the site for less than its maximum market value where it achieves social value, following a campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham.

Doubt has arisen, because the original law allowing the sale of public sector assets below market value is obsolete. It includes public authorities that have long since ceased to exist, but not their successors—their current equivalents. It allows a difference of price of £2 million, a sum that has not increased with inflation over the past two decades, or almost two decades. It is long overdue an update and an upgrade.

So, the new clause would be that much-needed update, ensuring that local authorities and other public bodies can once again place the good of local communities at the heart of the process when selling off assets. The new clause seeks to do four things. First, it would include new local authorities created since 2003, such as police and crime commissioners and indeed the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and it makes it clear that any future iterations of those authorities would also be covered.

Secondly, the new clause would expand the list of public authorities to include the NHS, combined authorities and the Greater London Authority. Thirdly, it would increase the maximum difference in value that a public authority can accept for a bid that benefits the local community, raising it from £2 million to £3 million, to account for inflation since 2003. Finally, it would introduce a percentage value difference in addition to the cash value, to level up across the board and take variations of land prices across England and Wales into account.

This seems a wise and timely new clause, which we hope the Government will accept, and I commend it to the Committee.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I, too, want to support the new clause and briefly draw attention to the way that we need to ensure that public land is used for public good. Whether it has been NHS Property Services, which has been selling off land to private developers, or Network Rail, which has been using its land to maximise capital receipts, or the Ministry of Defence selling off much of its estate, which we know has not gone well for the Government, we need to ensure that this type of land is used to build the homes that people need now and in the future. I can cite many examples of places in York where it feels that the city is, bit by bit, being sold off—not for the public benefit, but for the benefit of developers. That is why I will support this new clause today.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I thank the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale and for York Central for expressing their views on this new clause.

The legislative framework governing the disposal of surplus land is, as the hon. Gentleman outlined, a long-standing one and it is designed to protect taxpayers’ money. The starting point is that land should generally be disposed of at the best price that is reasonably obtainable. However, as he also indicated, there are on occasions the opportunity to dispose of land for less than its maximum value where that creates wider public benefits, such as facilitating community projects. Therefore, it is possible, with the Secretary of State’s consent, for local authorities to dispose of land at less than best consideration in some circumstances.

As the hon. Gentleman also indicated, a general consent is in place for disposals where there would be a loss of value of up to £2 million, and in those cases it is at the discretion of local authorities, and above this threshold—as he also indicated, because he is seeking to change it—disposals require a specific application to the Secretary of State for consent. The legislative framework is designed for local authorities and other locally accountable bodies. It already includes the fire commissioner, and other bodies are accountable in different ways to different regimes.

So, while I completely appreciate the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman expressed, and I have read the correspondence from the hon. Member for Twickenham—although I cannot comment on individual cases, I know that she is making a very clear case regarding a particular instance within her Twickenham constituency—I ask him whether he would be prepared to withdraw the new clause. I know that it seeks to offer solutions.

As a new Minister, I would be interested to understand in more detail from the hon. Member for Twickenham the specific problems that she sees, and while I cannot give her any guarantees, if she wants to write to me with that detail I will happily read it and go through it in more detail. However, at this time I ask him whether he would consider withdrawing the new clause.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Twenty Fifth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Mark. I add my support for these measures, because it is incredibly important that power be given back to people in communities. On many occasions, I have seen developers across York move into a space and determine the future of a community without engaging it, even if only in a consultative way. Occasionally, the community may be lucky enough to meet the partners cursorily, yet those developers will derive serious profit from the land. Also, what they place on the land will have huge implications for local housing prices and economic opportunities for the community, but the community is completely disregarded.

That feeds into a wider agenda around people identifying with their place. Across society, we are wrestling with that issue, and with people having a franchise in place. People are feeling more and more disconnected from their locality. It is crucial that we find a way, across communities, to rebalance people’s right to steer through a mechanism. In debate on my earlier amendments, I talked about deliberative democracy. The community should absolutely be involved in processes before they get to a certain point. It is far better to prevent an incident than to try to recover once it has happened. It is important to find a way to give people franchise over their community, particularly when we contrast the harm that could be done with the profit that developing companies and landowners will reap. This huge extraction economy, as I have been calling it, is playing off the localism that people want in their vicinity, and causing a lot of stress and tension, because while it benefit others, it causes the community harm. A community right of appeal will start to tilt the balance back towards local people, which is absolutely essential.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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This important new clause gets to the heart of a historical imbalance, injustice and inequity in the planning system. Developers, who tend to have significantly more resources than those who question or oppose a development, have the right to appeal against the local authority or national park that turned down their planning permission, and they have the resources to see that through; but what happens if a community that has opposed a development loses? It may have opposed not development, but the nature of the development proposed. In my constituency, we are very often happy with the number of houses proposed, but outraged that none of the houses is affordable to local people.

The ability to challenge a developer and a decision seems to be at the heart of democracy. To really level up, we must not just level up geographically, but level out the imbalance of power between developers, many of which have substantial resources, and local communities, who, generally speaking, do not.

The new clause is a sensible move in the direction of winning people’s consent to the planning system, so that communities do not feel that things are being done to them. If levelling up is to mean anything, and if devolution is to mean anything, the Government should surely want to embrace proposals such as this.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Eighteenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I beg to move amendment 137, in clause 107, page 125, line 35, at end insert—

“(1A) But regulations under this section may not provide for relief from a planning condition relating to the development of a type or volume of affordable housing in a development.”

This amendment would exclude planning conditions relating to the delivery of agreed on-site affordable housing in developments from the power to provide relief from the enforcement of planning conditions.

Where affordable and social housing is identified in plans, the obligation to provide that tenure in the planning process must never be overridden. We have a national crisis with regard to the availability of affordable homes for our constituents. I certainly see that in York, where it is skewing the economy and having a severe impact on the way my community works. We have been overrun by so many second homes and holiday lets that it is even impinging on our ability to deliver statutory services in my community.

Far too often, developers start to build out their plans, starting with the high-value housing, only then to return with the plea that the site is no longer viable to provide social or affordable housing. That housing is therefore not built, and the funding is banked but never spent, because the argument is played out time and again on future sites. High-end, high-value housing is therefore taking precedence over the development of affordable housing. We simply cannot allow that to happen at any point in the development process. My brief amendment would recognise that in statute to ensure that there can never be an excuse for not delivering vital affordable housing on the basis of viability.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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This is an important amendment, which by my reading would ensure that communities do not get stitched up as a result of viability assessments. I can think of examples in all three planning jurisdictions in my constituency where a developer has been given planning permission and part of the deal has been the delivery of a portion of affordable housing—often social rented housing. I am thinking in particular of the site at Jack Hill in Allithwaite, near Grange-over-Sands. To put it bluntly, the developer goes on site, turns over the turf, discovers some rocks and says, “Ooh, that’s more than we expected. It’s going to be expensive. We can’t afford to deliver your 20 affordable houses after all.”

The only reason the community, perhaps grudgingly, consented through its representatives to planning permission being given in the first place was the assumption that, of those 50 or 60 houses, perhaps 20 would provide homes for local families and local workers. I remember South Lakeland District Council going to the Secretary of State’s predecessor but two to raise this matter with them, saying, “Come on, this cannot be legitimate. It can’t be right.” The developer agrees, at planning committee, to build these affordable houses and then turns up, discovers something that is not a surprise if someone knows even the rudimentaries of the geology of the lakes and south Cumbria, and decides they are not able to build those houses. I am afraid that the Secretary of State said to our council, “No, we will not stand with you. The developer can do what they want.” As a result, we have got no affordable housing out of that particular project, and many others besides.

We have a massive housing crisis in Cumbria, and a workforce crisis as a consequence. It is heartbreaking and economically debilitating. We have the powers, if they can be enforced, to do something about it. The amendment put before us by the hon. Member for York Central would give us at least some opportunity to force those who have been given planning permission to keep their promises, so that affordable homes are at least in part delivered to the communities that need them.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Nineteeth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I am grateful to be called to speak to this set of amendments and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for tabling them.

It is really important that we think about the consequences and what could happen. I reject the setting of infrastructure against affordable housing. If people are building any form of development, they will have to put infrastructure on that site, whether the infrastructure is a GP surgery, a school or some of the more micro infrastructure that is necessary for a community to function. As a result, the infrastructure will trump affordability in order to reach viability, so we will not see the affordable housing being built; in fact, if anything we will see a regression if the two are set against each other. For people to get the true value of developments with high-value accommodation, there will be a demand for infrastructure on the site. The developer will naturally focus on that and that will be how the situation turns.

It is also important to look at what will happen with this patchwork approach throughout the country, because if different areas set different levels of infrastructure levy, that will create a new market for where developers go and develop. Of course, they will be looking to their profit advantage over what the local communities need. The new system will be another pull: it will direct them to where they can get the deal that best suits them for developing the infrastructure that they want. It is going to skew an already bad situation into an even worse situation in respect of the need for affordable housing, let alone social housing. I cannot see how it is going to bring any advantage to a social developer, let alone a commercial developer, in trying to ensure that we get the mix of housing that we require in our communities. With affordable housing and social housing in particular being developed at such low levels compared with high-value housing—which, let us face it, is going over to being essentially an asset rather than lived-in accommodation—the differential is clearly going to cause a lot of challenge, and even greater challenge, for communities.

As we have debated, supporting infrastructure might not even be infrastructure: it could be services or something else. The provisions create risk in the legislation, so my hon. Friend’s amendments are about ameliorating that risk and ensuring that there is some level of protection to ensure that affordable housing is built.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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The No. 1 housing-related concern that I hear from my constituents is the absence of affordable places that they can find to live in, whether they be private rented, private bought or, in particular, social rented.

Perhaps some way down the list, but still high up it, is people’s real concern and anger when they see developments come to pass without infrastructure. We can talk about all sorts of different things. The hon. Member for York Central talked about doctors’ surgeries and school places, and there are sewers, drains, roads and all the other important infrastructure that underpins a successful development and means it does not put extra strain on existing infrastructure and therefore cause problems for and resentment on the part of neighbours and other developments, which in turns fuels opposition to future development.

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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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When it comes to these issues, one of the things that makes people look heavenward and tut is the phrase “affordable housing”. Many people see it as a reference to homes that are anything but affordable. In my community, the average household income is less than £30,000 a year, and the average house price is more than a quarter of a million pounds. Given that a wise bank manager is not meant to give a mortgage for anything more than three and a half times someone’s income, the average house is two and a half times the upper limit of what ought to be offered to the average earner of average household earnings in my constituency. We see the problem.

Often, we see developments where homes are built for £180,000, £200,000 or £220,000, and are defined as affordable. They are not. We need a new term—a new name that demonstrates that something is genuinely affordable within the region for people on average and below average earnings, so that we can have a community that meets the needs of everybody, and not, as my area is increasingly becoming, somewhere that is only available for a new entrant if they have an awful lot of money and where, increasingly, those who are in private rented accommodation are not secure. They have been expelled in their thousands in the last year and a half alone, through section 21 evictions; the Government were meant to deal with that, and have failed to do so.

This series of amendments pushes the Government on an area of concern that we need to discuss far more: the lack of a proper, meaningful housing strategy. In reality, everything the Government propose to try to create genuinely affordable housing is via the infrastructure levy, and there is very little out there apart from that. We are far from convinced that the infrastructure levy will create any more genuinely affordable homes than those that exist already, and it may even create fewer, for the reasons we have set out.

We can juxtapose that with the complete failure to do anything proactive. Why are local authority council housing departments not allowed to borrow against the value of their stock? Why are we unable to do the things that would allow the Government to be, in many ways, the developer of last resort? Why are we not doing what we need to do to directly develop and build the homes that we patently need to be genuinely affordable? Here we are, talking about things that might make a difference at the edges, and even then allowing talk of affordable housing that is not affordable.

While nomenclature matters, the fact that we are debating this issue during consideration of these amendments is a reminder of how paltry the Government’s ambition is when it comes to genuinely meeting housing needs in this country. There is an opportunity to do something big—something Macmillanesque—and make a serious attempt to create homes for a new generation, instead of tinkering around the edge of the market with devices that may or may not work, and, if they do, will make little difference.

It is depressing having this debate on the margins, when the Government should be genuinely levelling up by investing and by allowing local authorities and housing associations to have the income and the powers to build the homes we genuinely need. Do not give developers the excuse to build homes that they say are affordable, but that are not really affordable.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, want to speak in favour of the four amendments before us. I will not go to Macmillan, but back to Nye Bevan. When he saw how broken the housing system was and how urgent the need was, he brought about a transformation in housing development for a generation, when the homes fit for heroes were built. It was good-quality social housing and housing that people could afford to live in.

In my community in York, we are looking at an affordability ratio of around 8.3, and it is getting harder by the day. Since we started debating the Bill in Committee, I have seen the development of another 133 short-term holiday lets—Airbnbs—in my community, and I am sure the rate of growth over the summer means that number has grown. We know that the nature of housing is complex and has changed, but we need to look at how we develop truly, genuinely affordable homes, which my constituents have to move out of the area to find.

A low-wage economy, such as in the hospitality sector, means that people cannot, and do not, come to work in the area. As a result, we have seen hospitality venues limit their opening times and become unable to benefit from the incoming community, which wants to see a wider offer, and from the tourism industry. That is having a cyclical, negative impact on the economy as well as the community. Those issues should be at the forefront when looking at housing reforms, and this Bill simply does not cut it.

From the moment in the main Chamber when we heard the Minister enhance the value of affordable homes, including those outside London, we all took a sharp breath, particularly those of us from areas that have a low-wage economy. The system is broken and the Bill simply does not tackle the challenges before us. These amendments are vital because they define what we mean by “affordability”, strengthen the Bill and ensure that we bring in the protections that are necessary.

A Minister in a new Government could completely change the definition of “affordability”, meaning we could be lumbered with a definition that does not apply to our situation. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) has said that the affordability ratio in her constituency is 16. How can housing be affordable with that sort of affordability ratio? It is baffling.

We need to have some sort of relationship to the reality of particular economies, and that is not reflected at all in the legislation. There will be very few places where we have the ratio of three and a half times a person’s salary, which I remember from when I bought my first home. Those kinds of ratios were much more affordable and genuine. That means that many people cannot get on the housing ladder, and are dependent on the private rented sector, which at the moment is flipping over to short-term holiday lets. There is a squeeze in the market on both sides. It simply is not working, and I cannot see that coming into play without this level of protection.

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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Amendment 58 is really interesting, and probes the Government on an issue that I am also concerned about. The hon. Member for Buckingham set out the case well and I also very much hear the challenges and counterpoints from the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich.

We can all point to developments in our communities where we have seen new housing created without adequate infrastructure being provided. Often, we are talking about utilities such as sewage and draining, and the additional pressure put on those services that they cannot meet. There is clearly huge merit in what is being suggested, because it locks the developer in. I referred earlier to the Church Bank Gardens development in Burton-in-Kendal, where the homes are built and the infrastructure is still not there. The footpaths are not put right. Much of the infrastructure has not been done at all. The road has not been put right. There is often a lack of trust—a sense that the developer will seek to get the benefit of a development without providing the services that were surely part and parcel of the conditions of developing it. The hon. Member for Buckingham is right to press the point, and I hope the Government will take it seriously.

It is important to bear in mind what we are talking about when we think about infrastructure. Several people, me included, have cited GP surgeries, for example, as part of the infrastructure that we would want to have underpinned. I want to be very careful that we do not allow integrated care boards, as they are now, and the Government as a whole to skimp on the provision of GP surgeries, particularly in existing communities, and assume that somehow developers will pick up the tab for them. As we struggle to keep our surgeries in Ambleside and Hawkshead, the issue is not developers not paying the infrastructure levy. The issue is shocking Government cuts in the funding of GP surgeries and complete inflexibility from the new integrated care boards, so let us be careful, when we talk about supporting infrastructure, which we must, and about getting it in place before new developments, that we do not lift or shift responsibility away from our NHS managers and from the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to make a brief point. It is more about the scope of what we have discussed—the infrastructure levy being able to contribute to affordable housing and social housing within a development. One of my fears is that everything is left to the end; it is left to the end to calculate everything, and we end up with what has happened at St Peters Quarter, in York, with the high-value housing—beautiful, spacious housing—in one area and then the section 106 housing in the corner, where there is no proper infrastructure to support it because there is no money left. We therefore get real segregated communities.

I go back to the report that John Hills wrote in 2007. I was at a meeting with him, discussing the report, and he was talking about the importance of place making and mixed communities. We could be in danger of ending up with more divided communities if everything is paid at the end. Therefore scheduling payment is really important. Developers know that that money will have to be paid, and we should ensure that it can be paid in a timely way so that we do not end up with the scenario that we have articulated so much with either the section 106 provision coming never or the infrastructure levy money not delivering on the expectation at the start of the planning process. That could of course occur, but, even worse, we could end up with really divided and segregated communities when we know that the strength and resilience of communities comes where we see that housing jumbled up.

A good example would be Derwenthorpe, in York, where it is not possible to tell what is a social house, what is a privately owned home or where there is equity sharing or anything else, because the houses are all the same and people live in a very mixed and diverse community. That has built strong resilience in the community.

We need to think about more than just housing; we need to think of place making, which I know is Homes England’s real objective. Of course, by holding everything back to the very last minute, we are in danger of not having that. Properly scheduling payment of the infrastructure levy will ensure that we get the proper places that people want to live in and that we build resilience across all communities, as opposed to dividing communities and then developing areas that will create social challenges in the future.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Nineteenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tuesday 6th September 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to be called to speak to this set of amendments and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich for tabling them.

It is really important that we think about the consequences and what could happen. I reject the setting of infrastructure against affordable housing. If people are building any form of development, they will have to put infrastructure on that site, whether the infrastructure is a GP surgery, a school or some of the more micro infrastructure that is necessary for a community to function. As a result, the infrastructure will trump affordability in order to reach viability, so we will not see the affordable housing being built; in fact, if anything we will see a regression if the two are set against each other. For people to get the true value of developments with high-value accommodation, there will be a demand for infrastructure on the site. The developer will naturally focus on that and that will be how the situation turns.

It is also important to look at what will happen with this patchwork approach throughout the country, because if different areas set different levels of infrastructure levy, that will create a new market for where developers go and develop. Of course, they will be looking to their profit advantage over what the local communities need. The new system will be another pull: it will direct them to where they can get the deal that best suits them for developing the infrastructure that they want. It is going to skew an already bad situation into an even worse situation in respect of the need for affordable housing, let alone social housing. I cannot see how it is going to bring any advantage to a social developer, let alone a commercial developer, in trying to ensure that we get the mix of housing that we require in our communities. With affordable housing and social housing in particular being developed at such low levels compared with high-value housing—which, let us face it, is going over to being essentially an asset rather than lived-in accommodation—the differential is clearly going to cause a lot of challenge, and even greater challenge, for communities.

As we have debated, supporting infrastructure might not even be infrastructure: it could be services or something else. The provisions create risk in the legislation, so my hon. Friend’s amendments are about ameliorating that risk and ensuring that there is some level of protection to ensure that affordable housing is built.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

The No. 1 housing-related concern that I hear from my constituents is the absence of affordable places that they can find to live in, whether they be private rented, private bought or, in particular, social rented.

Perhaps some way down the list, but still high up it, is people’s real concern and anger when they see developments come to pass without infrastructure. We can talk about all sorts of different things. The hon. Member for York Central talked about doctors’ surgeries and school places, and there are sewers, drains, roads and all the other important infrastructure that underpins a successful development and means it does not put extra strain on existing infrastructure and therefore cause problems for and resentment on the part of neighbours and other developments, which in turns fuels opposition to future development.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

When it comes to these issues, one of the things that makes people look heavenward and tut is the phrase “affordable housing”. Many people see it as a reference to homes that are anything but affordable. In my community, the average household income is less than £30,000 a year, and the average house price is more than a quarter of a million pounds. Given that a wise bank manager is not meant to give a mortgage for anything more than three and a half times someone’s income, the average house is two and a half times the upper limit of what ought to be offered to the average earner of average household earnings in my constituency. We see the problem.

Often, we see developments where homes are built for £180,000, £200,000 or £220,000, and are defined as affordable. They are not. We need a new term—a new name that demonstrates that something is genuinely affordable within the region for people on average and below average earnings, so that we can have a community that meets the needs of everybody, and not, as my area is increasingly becoming, somewhere that is only available for a new entrant if they have an awful lot of money and where, increasingly, those who are in private rented accommodation are not secure. They have been expelled in their thousands in the last year and a half alone, through section 21 evictions; the Government were meant to deal with that, and have failed to do so.

This series of amendments pushes the Government on an area of concern that we need to discuss far more: the lack of a proper, meaningful housing strategy. In reality, everything the Government propose to try to create genuinely affordable housing is via the infrastructure levy, and there is very little out there apart from that. We are far from convinced that the infrastructure levy will create any more genuinely affordable homes than those that exist already, and it may even create fewer, for the reasons we have set out.

We can juxtapose that with the complete failure to do anything proactive. Why are local authority council housing departments not allowed to borrow against the value of their stock? Why are we unable to do the things that would allow the Government to be, in many ways, the developer of last resort? Why are we not doing what we need to do to directly develop and build the homes that we patently need to be genuinely affordable? Here we are, talking about things that might make a difference at the edges, and even then allowing talk of affordable housing that is not affordable.

While nomenclature matters, the fact that we are debating this issue during consideration of these amendments is a reminder of how paltry the Government’s ambition is when it comes to genuinely meeting housing needs in this country. There is an opportunity to do something big—something Macmillanesque—and make a serious attempt to create homes for a new generation, instead of tinkering around the edge of the market with devices that may or may not work, and, if they do, will make little difference.

It is depressing having this debate on the margins, when the Government should be genuinely levelling up by investing and by allowing local authorities and housing associations to have the income and the powers to build the homes we genuinely need. Do not give developers the excuse to build homes that they say are affordable, but that are not really affordable.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, want to speak in favour of the four amendments before us. I will not go to Macmillan, but back to Nye Bevan. When he saw how broken the housing system was and how urgent the need was, he brought about a transformation in housing development for a generation, when the homes fit for heroes were built. It was good-quality social housing and housing that people could afford to live in.

In my community in York, we are looking at an affordability ratio of around 8.3, and it is getting harder by the day. Since we started debating the Bill in Committee, I have seen the development of another 133 short-term holiday lets—Airbnbs—in my community, and I am sure the rate of growth over the summer means that number has grown. We know that the nature of housing is complex and has changed, but we need to look at how we develop truly, genuinely affordable homes, which my constituents have to move out of the area to find.

A low-wage economy, such as in the hospitality sector, means that people cannot, and do not, come to work in the area. As a result, we have seen hospitality venues limit their opening times and become unable to benefit from the incoming community, which wants to see a wider offer, and from the tourism industry. That is having a cyclical, negative impact on the economy as well as the community. Those issues should be at the forefront when looking at housing reforms, and this Bill simply does not cut it.

From the moment in the main Chamber when we heard the Minister enhance the value of affordable homes, including those outside London, we all took a sharp breath, particularly those of us from areas that have a low-wage economy. The system is broken and the Bill simply does not tackle the challenges before us. These amendments are vital because they define what we mean by “affordability”, strengthen the Bill and ensure that we bring in the protections that are necessary.

A Minister in a new Government could completely change the definition of “affordability”, meaning we could be lumbered with a definition that does not apply to our situation. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) has said that the affordability ratio in her constituency is 16. How can housing be affordable with that sort of affordability ratio? It is baffling.

We need to have some sort of relationship to the reality of particular economies, and that is not reflected at all in the legislation. There will be very few places where we have the ratio of three and a half times a person’s salary, which I remember from when I bought my first home. Those kinds of ratios were much more affordable and genuine. That means that many people cannot get on the housing ladder, and are dependent on the private rented sector, which at the moment is flipping over to short-term holiday lets. There is a squeeze in the market on both sides. It simply is not working, and I cannot see that coming into play without this level of protection.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

Amendment 58 is really interesting, and probes the Government on an issue that I am also concerned about. The hon. Member for Buckingham set out the case well and I also very much hear the challenges and counterpoints from the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich.

We can all point to developments in our communities where we have seen new housing created without adequate infrastructure being provided. Often, we are talking about utilities such as sewage and draining, and the additional pressure put on those services that they cannot meet. There is clearly huge merit in what is being suggested, because it locks the developer in. I referred earlier to the Church Bank Gardens development in Burton-in-Kendal, where the homes are built and the infrastructure is still not there. The footpaths are not put right. Much of the infrastructure has not been done at all. The road has not been put right. There is often a lack of trust—a sense that the developer will seek to get the benefit of a development without providing the services that were surely part and parcel of the conditions of developing it. The hon. Member for Buckingham is right to press the point, and I hope the Government will take it seriously.

It is important to bear in mind what we are talking about when we think about infrastructure. Several people, me included, have cited GP surgeries, for example, as part of the infrastructure that we would want to have underpinned. I want to be very careful that we do not allow integrated care boards, as they are now, and the Government as a whole to skimp on the provision of GP surgeries, particularly in existing communities, and assume that somehow developers will pick up the tab for them. As we struggle to keep our surgeries in Ambleside and Hawkshead, the issue is not developers not paying the infrastructure levy. The issue is shocking Government cuts in the funding of GP surgeries and complete inflexibility from the new integrated care boards, so let us be careful, when we talk about supporting infrastructure, which we must, and about getting it in place before new developments, that we do not lift or shift responsibility away from our NHS managers and from the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to make a brief point. It is more about the scope of what we have discussed—the infrastructure levy being able to contribute to affordable housing and social housing within a development. One of my fears is that everything is left to the end; it is left to the end to calculate everything, and we end up with what has happened at St Peters Quarter, in York, with the high-value housing—beautiful, spacious housing—in one area and then the section 106 housing in the corner, where there is no proper infrastructure to support it because there is no money left. We therefore get real segregated communities.

I go back to the report that John Hills wrote in 2007. I was at a meeting with him, discussing the report, and he was talking about the importance of place making and mixed communities. We could be in danger of ending up with more divided communities if everything is paid at the end. Therefore scheduling payment is really important. Developers know that that money will have to be paid, and we should ensure that it can be paid in a timely way so that we do not end up with the scenario that we have articulated so much with either the section 106 provision coming never or the infrastructure levy money not delivering on the expectation at the start of the planning process. That could of course occur, but, even worse, we could end up with really divided and segregated communities when we know that the strength and resilience of communities comes where we see that housing jumbled up.

A good example would be Derwenthorpe, in York, where it is not possible to tell what is a social house, what is a privately owned home or where there is equity sharing or anything else, because the houses are all the same and people live in a very mixed and diverse community. That has built strong resilience in the community.

We need to think about more than just housing; we need to think of place making, which I know is Homes England’s real objective. Of course, by holding everything back to the very last minute, we are in danger of not having that. Properly scheduling payment of the infrastructure levy will ensure that we get the proper places that people want to live in and that we build resilience across all communities, as opposed to dividing communities and then developing areas that will create social challenges in the future.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

Just to be clear, the wording of the amendment means that it would enable national parks to do these things, and they can choose not to if they wish. If we are about respecting local communities, then what we do is about giving people power, not telling them what they must or must not do. For the Government to not support what I am proposing is effectively removing that choice from them.

I hear what people say about the impact on neighbouring communities. It is worth bearing in mind that national parks are—rightly or wrongly—made up of people from a whole range of different backgrounds. The people who are placed on national parks include those appointed by a Secretary of State, people from parish councils within the national park, and the principal authorities that make up that national park, which also cover areas that are not in the national park. At the moment, most of the area that Cumbria County Council covers is not a national park. It includes larger towns and, indeed, one city within Cumbria, which are not in the national park. Likewise, the district councils also have representatives, and not one of those district councils is majority national park in terms of population, so there is that understanding of the impact beyond the boundaries of a national park.

I understand what the Minister says about the importance of the revenue raised by market housing, but the evidence we see with our own eyes in communities like mine is that when communities can bank on new developments being affordable, we suddenly see a huge reduction in build costs, because landowners will give up land for significantly less than they would have done otherwise. Build costs reduce, and the whole community tries to find ways to achieve things. It is very similar to what has happened in my area with rural broadband—communities can deliver broadband much more cheaply than BT because, as it turns out, landowners are quite happy to allow a bunch of people to dig trenches as part of a community effort. People will do that for nothing, whereas they would not do that for a commercial enterprise. So that does not undermine the case at all.

The evidence I have brought before the Committee—the Rural Services Network stating and showing evidence that, on the Government’s own metrics, rural England is more in need of levelling up than any of the geographical regions of England, even the poorest of them—tells us that we have to do something to tackle the need. This amendment is one way in which that could be done. I understand, however, and was interested in, some of the things that the Minister said, so I will not press it to a vote at the moment. I would love to see further action from the Government to address the issue in the coming weeks. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 131, in clause 88, page 94, line 27, at end insert—

“(ab) policies (however expressed) that can require that some or all housing development sites within the neighbourhood plan area are used exclusively for the delivery of affordable housing, as determined in the neighbourhood plan;”.

This amendment would specifically provide for neighbourhood development plans to specify that housing development must deliver affordable housing.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. First, I want to thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale for setting out the implications of his amendment for natural and rural heritage; we can see how that can rapidly disappear into a developer’s dream and a local community’s nightmare. A highland clearance in the modern era is something that we have to take stock of. The protections clearly are not there, in the same way that protections are not there currently under the NPPF, because we are seeing significant sites of social history also having a diminution of their significance through the developments being brought forward. Although the Minister is right to say that there is legislation that can address the issues, there is clearly a mismatch in what happens in practice. As a result, I still have significant concerns.

The Minister talked about the fact that sites of social significance are not currently recognised in the legislative framework, and I will certainly take that back to archaeologists because they would want to see significant change—perhaps even a Bill in its own right—to address that. Because of the way that many developers are currently behaving, I fear we will lose much of our significant past, so we need to find mechanisms to protect us. On the basis of exploring further legislation, I am happy to withdraw my amendment now, but we will return to it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed response to the amendments.

The landscape review does give potential for there to be additional protections for areas of outstanding beauty such as the north Pennines and Arnside and Silverdale in Cumbria and across north Lancashire. It is worth bearing in mind that landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly and not often as a result of a direct planning proposal. It is not that developers come in and decide to build several hundred properties in Longsleddale; it is that Longsleddale changes because farmers cease to be farmers and the area ceases to be farmed.

We therefore see—moving away from Lonsdale to other parts of the lakes and dales—the dry stone walls crumbling, with the loss of that vital part of our heritage going. We see the barns crumbling. The historic heritage species disappear, and access to the fells and dales disappears as well. The subtle but perceptible feel and aesthetics of those places—not just those that we have grown up with, but that have been the feature of a lived experience over hundreds and hundreds of years—begins to change.

Landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly, and partly in response to Government action or inaction, whether accidental or deliberate. We have a food strategy, or an approach to farm funding, that is almost deliberately written to reduce the amount of food that we produce in this country. As a result, it will be a less-farmed environment, and it will look different. Given that the tourism economy of the Lake district, Yorkshire dales and Cumbria is worth £3.5 billion a year, that will have a huge impact monetarily and economically, as well as aesthetically.

I am happy not to press my amendment to a vote. We will keep a close eye on what the Government intend in terms of safeguards for our landscape heritage and culture, and we will wait to see whether greater protections are provided as the Bill progresses.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

This short placeholder clause has all the hallmarks of a post-it note stuck on the A board by the boss on an away day that nobody had the courage to say was silly. The boss has gone now, so we could just take it off the whiteboard. The Government are trying to think about democracy and involving people in a hyper-local way in planning. Let us be generous and say that that is commendable. I will not vote against the clause either, but to have a placeholder clause, with a total absence of detail, seems very peculiar. The Conservative-led Local Government Association talks of its fears about the risk of

“stifling the production and implementation of local plans.”

That will need to be answered very clearly in any further work on the clause.

There needs to be some clarity on the specific requirements that will need to be met in order for a street to vote in favour of or against a proposal. If we are to go ahead with this, surely it is right to do some learning via a pilot process before we roll it out everywhere. Not only do I understand but I am ahead of the Government when it comes to desiring to involve local people in a genuine democratic way. Other members of the Committee are as well. We have given the Government, through the Committee, opportunities to do just that. The hon. Member for York Central tabled amendments on a deliberative planning process, and this morning I sought to give the Government the opportunity to give communities power over their own housing stock, to ensure that they preserved an appropriate amount for permanent dwellings. Those were rejected, but we will have a referendum on Terry and June’s new garage.

As the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich indicated, we are all seriously in favour of local democracy, but I am concerned that the proposal will potentially be very divisive, and that we have not thought it through. We reject genuine local control and go for this instead. It feels like a triumph of the trivial over the useful. There are other questions that we could ask. How do we define a street? Does the 6-mile-long Kentmere valley count as a street? If we were serious about this, we would not have a post-it note on the whiteboard. Either fill it in or take it off, but I am sceptical.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will add my scepticism to the comments that have already been made. I have so many questions about the clause. When a clause throws up the number of questions that this one does, the Government should withdraw it. I understand that they want to involve communities, but there are many ways of doing that far more comprehensively. I do not know whether the Minister’s constituency is like mine, but people are saying that they want involvement and consultation; they are certainly not hammering at my door in order to have a referendum, vote or whatever we want to call it over a particular commodity. They want good planning put in place.

We have been discussing the opportunity for people to have a real voice in things, as in the situation that we have, with whole swathes of my city bought up by people trying to turn it over to Airbnbs. If they buy a number of properties on a street and have a monopoly on that street, could they push through developments? That would mean they are exploiting the opportunity being set out by the Minister in the legislation. Indeed, people in the surrounding area would have no say whatever. That is open to abuse without tighter controls in the legislation.

This measure is a way of democracy-washing the Bill: we are taking away significant powers through the national proposal from the Minister, under which the Secretary of State could impose planning decisions on communities, but then saying, “By the way, you can have a vote on an extension on your street.” That democracy-washing approach does not wash with those on the Labour Benches. We want something more enduring that involves more debate, listening and engagement to get an outcome that is right for communities. The Minister must answer these questions.

This feels very much like the Minister is saying, “Children, you can vote on something on your street, while we grown-ups get on with the big development plans.” It is those plans that will affect whole swathes of the community, perhaps through national development management strategies taking over the big decisions, while people can only vote on an extension—or not—on their street.

We need to think about the context in which we want communities involved in planning—which we absolutely do—and decisions made. But this democracy-washing simply does not wash with me or my Labour colleagues.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I listened carefully to the Minister’s response. First, I want to thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale for setting out the implications of his amendment for natural and rural heritage; we can see how that can rapidly disappear into a developer’s dream and a local community’s nightmare. A highland clearance in the modern era is something that we have to take stock of. The protections clearly are not there, in the same way that protections are not there currently under the NPPF, because we are seeing significant sites of social history also having a diminution of their significance through the developments being brought forward. Although the Minister is right to say that there is legislation that can address the issues, there is clearly a mismatch in what happens in practice. As a result, I still have significant concerns.

The Minister talked about the fact that sites of social significance are not currently recognised in the legislative framework, and I will certainly take that back to archaeologists because they would want to see significant change—perhaps even a Bill in its own right—to address that. Because of the way that many developers are currently behaving, I fear we will lose much of our significant past, so we need to find mechanisms to protect us. On the basis of exploring further legislation, I am happy to withdraw my amendment now, but we will return to it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed response to the amendments.

The landscape review does give potential for there to be additional protections for areas of outstanding beauty such as the north Pennines and Arnside and Silverdale in Cumbria and across north Lancashire. It is worth bearing in mind that landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly and not often as a result of a direct planning proposal. It is not that developers come in and decide to build several hundred properties in Longsleddale; it is that Longsleddale changes because farmers cease to be farmers and the area ceases to be farmed.

We therefore see—moving away from Lonsdale to other parts of the lakes and dales—the dry stone walls crumbling, with the loss of that vital part of our heritage going. We see the barns crumbling. The historic heritage species disappear, and access to the fells and dales disappears as well. The subtle but perceptible feel and aesthetics of those places—not just those that we have grown up with, but that have been the feature of a lived experience over hundreds and hundreds of years—begins to change.

Landscape heritage is lost quickly and subtly, and partly in response to Government action or inaction, whether accidental or deliberate. We have a food strategy, or an approach to farm funding, that is almost deliberately written to reduce the amount of food that we produce in this country. As a result, it will be a less-farmed environment, and it will look different. Given that the tourism economy of the Lake district, Yorkshire dales and Cumbria is worth £3.5 billion a year, that will have a huge impact monetarily and economically, as well as aesthetically.

I am happy not to press my amendment to a vote. We will keep a close eye on what the Government intend in terms of safeguards for our landscape heritage and culture, and we will wait to see whether greater protections are provided as the Bill progresses.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

--- Later in debate ---
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

This short placeholder clause has all the hallmarks of a post-it note stuck on the A board by the boss on an away day that nobody had the courage to say was silly. The boss has gone now, so we could just take it off the whiteboard. The Government are trying to think about democracy and involving people in a hyper-local way in planning. Let us be generous and say that that is commendable. I will not vote against the clause either, but to have a placeholder clause, with a total absence of detail, seems very peculiar. The Conservative-led Local Government Association talks of its fears about the risk of

“stifling the production and implementation of local plans.”

That will need to be answered very clearly in any further work on the clause.

There needs to be some clarity on the specific requirements that will need to be met in order for a street to vote in favour of or against a proposal. If we are to go ahead with this, surely it is right to do some learning via a pilot process before we roll it out everywhere. Not only do I understand but I am ahead of the Government when it comes to desiring to involve local people in a genuine democratic way. Other members of the Committee are as well. We have given the Government, through the Committee, opportunities to do just that. The hon. Member for York Central tabled amendments on a deliberative planning process, and this morning I sought to give the Government the opportunity to give communities power over their own housing stock, to ensure that they preserved an appropriate amount for permanent dwellings. Those were rejected, but we will have a referendum on Terry and June’s new garage.

As the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich indicated, we are all seriously in favour of local democracy, but I am concerned that the proposal will potentially be very divisive, and that we have not thought it through. We reject genuine local control and go for this instead. It feels like a triumph of the trivial over the useful. There are other questions that we could ask. How do we define a street? Does the 6-mile-long Kentmere valley count as a street? If we were serious about this, we would not have a post-it note on the whiteboard. Either fill it in or take it off, but I am sceptical.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will add my scepticism to the comments that have already been made. I have so many questions about the clause. When a clause throws up the number of questions that this one does, the Government should withdraw it. I understand that they want to involve communities, but there are many ways of doing that far more comprehensively. I do not know whether the Minister’s constituency is like mine, but people are saying that they want involvement and consultation; they are certainly not hammering at my door in order to have a referendum, vote or whatever we want to call it over a particular commodity. They want good planning put in place.

We have been discussing the opportunity for people to have a real voice in things, as in the situation that we have, with whole swathes of my city bought up by people trying to turn it over to Airbnbs. If they buy a number of properties on a street and have a monopoly on that street, could they push through developments? That would mean they are exploiting the opportunity being set out by the Minister in the legislation. Indeed, people in the surrounding area would have no say whatever. That is open to abuse without tighter controls in the legislation.

This measure is a way of democracy-washing the Bill: we are taking away significant powers through the national proposal from the Minister, under which the Secretary of State could impose planning decisions on communities, but then saying, “By the way, you can have a vote on an extension on your street.” That democracy-washing approach does not wash with those on the Labour Benches. We want something more enduring that involves more debate, listening and engagement to get an outcome that is right for communities. The Minister must answer these questions.

This feels very much like the Minister is saying, “Children, you can vote on something on your street, while we grown-ups get on with the big development plans.” It is those plans that will affect whole swathes of the community, perhaps through national development management strategies taking over the big decisions, while people can only vote on an extension—or not—on their street.

We need to think about the context in which we want communities involved in planning—which we absolutely do—and decisions made. But this democracy-washing simply does not wash with me or my Labour colleagues.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his amendment and the speech he has just made. This is the pivotal part of the whole Bill. It is about ensuring that there is a full and proper process—one that should eliminate risk and maximise the representation of local interest.

We had a really helpful discussion on Tuesday that explored why the amendment was needed in the first place, and I am sure the Minister soon recognised the democratic deficit the Bill would create. The Government have left a hole in the Bill, because it defines the process for establishing a national development management strategy but not the extent to which the strategy could apply, and it also fails to take forward the considerations of our communities. This provision does not belong in primary legislation, and the Minister should reflect today and over the summer on what his Government are trying to do.

The Minister said that he will be developing more detail over the summer, but we are considering the Bill line by line today. As my hon. Friend outlined, his amendment has done the work on how to govern the process for the Minister. First, on designation, there must be an in-depth consultation and any issue must come before Parliament. If an issue is of such magnitude that it requires Government to say that they need to override a local plan, surely there has to be a proper process. After all, planning does not just suddenly occur. I was scratching my head about what would constitute a national emergency that required planning permission. The only thing I could think of—the Minister may correct me—would be a war, but then we would have separate legislation to address that. On Tuesday, the Minister himself struggled to articulate where the thresholds would be and exactly what would constitute such a situation.

I have been thinking further about how our planning process is devised and the importance of co-production within our planning process. Why would this national development management strategy override a process of local planning? There could be no reason. If we think about unpopular things that the Government want to force through, such as mining hydrocarbons, fracking and so on, they should not be happening, because our planet cannot sustain their use. The same applies to building road infrastructure, but then again there are processes and national policy statements that can be made for those things.

High Speed 2 or an airport are perhaps the only other examples. We cannot sustain more air travel because of the climate crisis, and HS2 had a national policy statement —again, it has had its own legislation and processes. I really cannot imagine what is in the Government’s mind that is of such magnitude that it should require the overriding of a local plan and the hopes and aspirations of our local communities. Certainly in my community, local people have not had their aspirations heard in the planning process, because we have not had a local plan. There has been imposition by developers, using the powers they have, and it has just run into conflict, gridlock and pain. I cannot see why a Government would want to excite that in a community.

I am sure the Minister will give serious consideration to this matter, if not today, then through the summer. Opposition Members have made it clear that these clauses are an unnecessary development, but I am sure the Minister will hear that point even louder from Government Members.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance today, Mr Hollobone. This proposal from the Government feels rather tin-eared, and the amendment—or something like it, at the very least—seems appropriate. It is good that the official Opposition have put forward a route that the Government could choose to go down.

It seems odd that there is not a worked-out process for properly scrutinising and consulting on national policy statements that could have huge ramifications for every part of this country. This is a very diverse country: we have four nations, and communities that are rural, urban and suburban. National planning policy could have many different ramifications on different communities.

I think of my own community, with 67 parish councils and the need for them to be involved and to understand the issues. Further north in Cumbria, we have the very live issue of Britain’s first new coalmine in 30 years potentially being given permission later this summer—we will wait and see about that. It will be hugely significant for the community it could impact directly, but it will also have a national impact. For us not to have a level of scrutiny and consultation for national plans—something that a local authority would be slaughtered for not doing with its own local plans—seems to be very wrong and, as I say, somewhat tin-eared.

It goes back to a theme that I have tried to develop throughout debates on this Bill, which is about trying to understand the motivation. It could be that the Government are just being tin-eared and have not thought this through properly. That is entirely possible—Governments do that. The question is, who is this for? Is this devolution? Is this empowering local communities? That is what the Government claim it is. Or is it just for the convenience of central Government? If there are national plans and a national planning framework allowing Government to take forward their central agenda without proper consultation of local communities—be they rural or urban or in any part of this country—that will meet with huge opposition, including in the constituencies of Opposition Members.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Fifteenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 127, in schedule 7, page 241, line 14, at end insert—

“(1A) To have effect a supplementary plan must be agreed within 5 years of the commencement of preparation of the local plan to which it relates.”.

This amendment requires supplementary plans under inserted section 15CC to be agreed within 5 years of the commencement of the local plan process.

I will try not to dominate the afternoon’s proceedings, but I have tabled a number of amendments. This amendment is similar to a previous one. It seeks to ensure that supplementary plans are agreed within five years, so that we have the up-to-date data that is necessary for shaping local plans. The theory is obvious: something as important as a local plan needs to be built on rock-solid, up-to-date evidence and data. I am staggered that the planning process does not necessarily embrace that theory.

For example, on Tuesday, I referred to transport planning in York, and detailed how data from 13 years ago was determining how our local plan should be developed for the future. I have raised that point with the inspectors in York again this week. We cannot depend on something so out of date. Data must be up to date, whether it is mineral and waste plans, reports from the Environment Agency, local transport plans or any number of other reports.

We have just had a census, which has set out the demographic changes in our constituencies. We need to draw on up-to-date data to understand the rhythm of what is happening in planning and in our communities, and to ensure that they are in sync. The first stage of that is supplementary plans, on which local plans are built. They need to be secure and timely.

The amendment would ensure that, within existing constraints, supplementary plans remain relevant and up to date. In York, they simply are not, and I am sure that is the case in many other places, too. When local plans are put together, the opportunity should be taken to bring in wider considerations. For instance, right now, we need another hospital in York, but there is no facility to even think about how we can sequence that into the planning system. These things do not happen immediately; we need to plan in a timely way for the future. We must not lock out opportunities as we create green belts and everything else, important though they are. We must think our way through this. We should think about the structure of supplementary plans, ensure the data is up to date, and ensure their relevance. That should feed into the local planning process, and strengthen local plans and the planning process. My amendment 127 seeks to achieve that.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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This is one of many really helpful amendments being put forward today. I hope the Minister will seriously consider it.

In communities such as mine, there is a housing catastrophe—“crisis” is not an adequate word for it. There is a huge change in the demographic, as well as in the nature and the usage of the housing stock; I am sure that the situation is similar in your constituency, Mrs Murray. The nature of rural and holiday-destination communities has put us in a desperate state, so there is a need for urgent action.

One of the reasons why I am delighted to be a member of this Bill Committee is that it gives us the opportunity to talk about policies that could lead to urgent change. We do not have the time to be deliberative, and to take forever over all this; the crisis is happening now. The horses are leaving the stables at a canter. We need to shut the stable door at the very least, and then put some more horses in, if hon. Members do not mind me flogging a dead horse of a metaphor.

We need to think about this very seriously because so much has changed in the last few years. The timeliness of local plans is critical. We would make poor decisions if we used demographics on housing tenure and demand from 10 years ago; actually, we would probably make poor decisions if we made them on the basis of the way things were three years ago.

The recent census results show that in my community, there has been a 30% rise in the proportion of people who are retired—brilliant! But there is a drop in the number of people in the working-age population. It is therefore unsurprising that we face an absolute care crisis. We cannot find staff to provide support for people in their older age, or at other points in their life when they need care or support. Likewise, there would be 60,000 people working in the hospitality and tourism industry, which is utterly fundamental and the biggest employer in Cumbria, if we could fill the vacancies.

There has been a clear and very quick change in the nature of our demographic, with whole clearances of the working-age population. Long-term rentals are collapsing, and at least 50% of those properties are moving into the short-term Airbnb sector. We need to ensure that plans for development in our communities are based on live, current data. That is essential, so I hope the Minister will take this amendment seriously.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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This is an important issue. As the Government move to make local government less local and larger, with fewer representatives, they seem to be motivated by two things. The first is convenience—neat-and-tidiness. The second is a belief that it is popular to say to the public, “Look, we have fewer politicians,” but it is not popular to say to the public, “Your councillors and elected representatives will be fewer in number and they will represent so many more of you that you will never see them—and, by the way, the chances are they will be from a far less diverse range of backgrounds.”

Who deputy Mayors are, what backgrounds they come from and how diverse the range of people in those positions are is important and, as we have said in previous discussions, it is important that we analyse and research in a deep and broad way the impact of changes in local government on diversity, not just those in this Bill, but those that have taken place over the past decade or so. Anecdotally, it is obvious that if we move from a situation where each councillor represents 3,000 or 4,000 people to a situation where they represent 10,000 or 15,000, or where Mayors or deputy Mayors represent hundreds of thousands of people, we massively narrow down the kind of people who have the time, the freedom and the space in their lives to carry out those roles.

Fundamentally, to put it bluntly, we will end up with blokes—mostly early-retirement blokes.. That is definitely the evidence of my eyes. It will squeeze out people with family or caring responsibilities, people who have to work for a living and so on. That is what is happening. The Government should be aware of it and should be seeking evidence to see the extent to which that is happening for these roles and more broadly in local government, because local government represents everybody. When they know the scale of the problem, they can take action to alleviate it.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to build on the points that have been made. One of the things we need to remember about deputy Mayors is that, unlike previous roles we have discussed, they are appointed, rather than elected. As we know, with appointments, there is always the risk of unconscious bias creeping in. Having transparency and accountability is therefore really important when looking at issues of diversity.

If we are creating a new tier of governance across the country, we do not want to repeat the old mistakes we have seen in this place or in local government, where the figures are quite shocking. We do not want it to be the end of this century before we see equality between men and women in local government. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that across our political systems and systems of governance, we are seeing and driving equality around all protected characteristics. I fear that if we are not putting these basic and rudimentary measures in legislation at this point, we risk at this stage of transformation slipping back into bad old ways. I would not want to see that. We are a country that embraces diversity and we should do that within our governance structures as well.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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This is a very helpful amendment, and one that I hope the Minister will take seriously. As has been said, huge strides have been made over the past few years in reducing the numbers of horrific incidents. That has happened for a lot of reasons, including the fire and rescue services focusing on fire prevention work and on seeking proactively to educate homes and businesses on the need to avoiding risks, as well as all sorts of other structural factors that have already been mentioned.

In my part of the world, we are dependent on people who are not full-time firefighters. That is not just retained firefighters—I will come back to them in a moment—to whom we owe a particular debt of gratitude. The work of mountain rescue and bay rescue services, integrated with the fire and rescue service, provides a unique perspective and a reminder that we try to use all sorts of innovative ways—voluntary ways, often—to meet the need to protect the community, despite a lack of resource.

Among the reasons why the amendment is important is the fact that we need to understand that if we are considering a fire service that is predominantly retained—particularly in rural communities, in places such as Sedbergh, Staveley and many other communities that I represent elsewhere in Cumbria—it will only have a retained pump. That is all it has. With a declining workforce, the change in housing tenure over the past few years, which has become radically different in the past two, and a shrinkage of the working-age population, we are running the risk of having no one available to take on those roles. In those circumstances, it makes sense for the fire and rescue service, and Government working with services around the country, to look at ways of augmenting communities where it is simply not possible to find the people to staff a retained pump and, therefore, to keep the community safe.

I am proud to be a Cumbrian MP. I also represent Westmorland and old Lancashire. I am, however, Yorkshire’s secret MP, because I represent Sedbergh, the dales, Garsdale and Cowgill—we border North Yorkshire. There are huge distances between places out there, from the lakes to the dales. Yes, the incidence of fires that we now encounter is low, compared with a couple of decades ago. Lots of people should take credit for that, including Governments of different colours and, in particular, the fire service.

However, the distances that need to be covered to get from the fire station to the fire are vast. If a retained firefighter is on their farm and drops what they are doing to cover that distance to get to the pump, only to find that there are only two other people who have got there at the same time, they then have to make a call about whether it is safe to attend the fire. There are only three of them who managed to get away from work, and there are only five people on the list in the first place. They have to think: “What do we do? Do we scramble Kendal and get a full-time pump? That is another 10 miles away.”

The amendment would allow the flexibility to create and provide funding to ensure the provision of a full-time pump for communities that, under normal circumstances, might not qualify under the funding formula, so that we are not putting rural communities, in particular, at risk.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case in support of the amendment. We are entering a period of increased drought; with climate change, that situation is likely to get worse. We are seeing more and more fires across our moors. That in itself is surely reason not to see cuts on such scale, which will devastate the service and put firefighters at risk.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. We are the wettest bit of England. We need to be, because of the lakes—we have to keep them topped up. Nevertheless, Members will remember that in the past few months there were flash fires at Cartmel Fell, which raged for a full weekend and took many pumps to get under control. I am massively grateful to those who got those fires under control.

With that changing weather, we can go from very damp weather to very dry weather for long periods. In areas with lots of forestry and agriculture, there is the potential for flash fires, which can cause death and damage to wildlife, livestock, homes, businesses and families—human beings. We therefore need to be all the more aware of the fact that we cannot allow the technicalities of funding formulas to get in the way of keeping our people safe.

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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be brief, because we have discussed these matters a number of times. The Committee has come to recognise that there will be asymmetry and that the powers will evolve at different times and in different authorities. That is the nature of devolution, and it is positive because it means local areas are in control of their own destiny. Capping those powers will have an impact on the economic ability and drivers of an area and will result in socioeconomic loss. Restraining local authorities in reaching their potential could mean that we do not see the growth and opportunity that a CCA could bring.

The amendments would enable more parity but also ensure that CCAs do not have different powers or descriptions. We want more symmetry in the ability to attain powers, and we will no doubt keep labouring the point at later stages of the Bill, because it is fundamental to devolution and who controls the process. The amendments very much go into the detail of that.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I add my support to Labour’s approach. I am not fixated on symmetry in terms of what devolution looks like across England, but like the hon. Member for York Central I am obsessed with symmetry of opportunity. The amendments would help to raise the bar and raise the expectations of all authorities so that they can see what powers they can aspire to.

If we do not have something like the amendments, and some communities, because they have a Mayor or for other reasons, are offered greater devolution—it is often more delegation than devolution—more powers and more responsibilities, that is not levelling up. It is quite the opposite: it is building privilege into some parts of the country over other parts of the country, and institutionalising privilege. Broadly speaking, it will be institutionalising privilege for urban and metropolitan areas that have city deals, Mayors and the highest levels of devolution and delegation of responsibility. Not allowing all parts of the country to opt in to having the greatest level of devolved powers, should they so choose, is a recipe for creating the need for a different kind of levelling up some time not very far in the future.

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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am talking about the impact that is having on my city of York. Many of those properties are in band B—they are smaller properties that people purchase because available properties are few and far between. Even if it was band D, we are only talking about £1,852.45 council tax. It will vary across the country, and that is why giving more powers to local authorities to make those choices is important. The financial deterrent in York will not be there with 100% council tax. As a result, those properties will continue to be purchased and the measures will have little impact. That is why it is important that the Minister has an understanding of the breadth of challenges faced in different communities.

I am looking forward to the Housing Minister coming to York for a roundtable to look at the Airbnb situation. We have specific issues and it is about the pace with which they are occurring, in a holiday destination. That is why the pilot should not just be in rural areas but in cities that are holiday destinations, because it is having a massive impact. There needs to be a bit more reality in the Government’s analysis.

The other point that I wanted to take up with the Minister in an intervention was the benefit to tourism. I would like to see the evidence of that, and to know the basis on which he made that statement. In York we now have an unregulated tourism market, versus a regulated tourism market of the traditional B&Bs and guesthouses that are losing trade at such a rate that they are going out of business. That is having a negative and incredibly destructive impact on our tourism industry. These measures will not provide sufficient deterrence against the impact on our city.

I appreciate that the Minister’s analysis may be in particular areas of the country, but it will not touch our city. That is why I urge him to carry out more research and to understand the different impacts on different communities in the country. We need to ensure that my local authority has the ability to put the right deterrent in place at the right level in order to deter this extraction economy that is, bit by bit, destroying the context and fabric of our city, our industries and people and families. For that reason, I urge the Minister to reconsider.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I appreciate that the Minister is referring to planning, which I mentioned as another means of controlling, limiting and even reducing the number of second home owners and holiday lets, to create a higher proportion of permanently occupied dwellings in communities such as mine. We will deal with that later in the Bill. He said that there are a variety of mechanisms —yes there are, so let us use them, and he is one of them.

It could be argued that planning is a slightly blunt instrument, but there is nothing more blunt than an unregulated and failing market that is killing my communities. The Minister speaks as if that is something that we have only just discovered. It is not; it has been going on for decades, and has become catastrophic in the last couple of years. As geographers and geologists would tell us, erosion takes places over a long time, but one day, when there is some really bad weather, a whole piece of cliff falls into the sea.

That is what has happened to the housing market in communities such as mine in the last couple of years. The situation is already terrible: 83% of homes in Elterwater are second homes. I can name lots of other places with similarly high levels of homes that are empty all year round. People have the right to own and visit their second homes, but their right compromises the right of a much greater number of people to own even a first home. Sometimes, rights and liberties clash, and that is when we have to decide whose side we are on. Are we on the side of people who have plenty of rights already, or the side of those who have nothing? I am on the side of people who have nothing and who want to have a home and make their communities vibrant.

As the hon. Member for York Central mentioned, the tourism economy and its leaders are not in favour of the situation, and they want action. They will say, “Yes, holiday lets are a key part of our tourism economy, but if you get to the stage when there are so many of them that there is no community left for people to visit, and the workforce cannot afford a home anywhere near to where they work, so that the economy just suffers and ceases to function, that is problematic.”

I appreciate the Minister’s sympathy, but it is not enough. The Government say that they are looking at and investigating this, and that the Housing Minister has his roundtables. That is all very welcome, but we know what the problem is and what some of the solutions are. The frustrating thing is that the Bill is a golden opportunity to do something about the problem, rather than kicking it into the long grass and stroking our chins while our communities die.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is great pleasure, Mrs Murray, to serve under your guidance. I will say a brief few words, broadly in support of what the hon. Gentleman said about consultation.

Devolution is not devolution if it is done on the terms of central Government, by definition; nor is it really devolution if it involves hoovering up the functions of lower-tier councils. It is not devolution if it is done for the convenience of people in Whitehall and does not involve listening to the people in the communities directly affected. Setting up combined council authorities may indeed be an important building block in delivering what the Government see as levelling up, and I can see the merits in it, but although consultation needs to happen—it is right that it is written into the Bill—it also needs to be meaningful.

Twelve months ago, the Government had not settled on any kind of reorganisation for Cumbria—I speak from not bitter, but rich, personal experience—and we are now two months into a new authority, which was elected at the beginning of May and on which, I am pleased to say, the Liberal Democrats have a majority. Westmorland and Furness Council was but a twinkle in the Secretary of State’s eye only a year ago, however. There was a consultation, but less than 1% of the population of Cumbria responded to it. Generally, most people were of the view that the proposals were meddling top-down reorganisation for national, rather than local, purposes.

Remember that Cumbria itself was established in the early 1970s, when the historic counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire over the sands, and the West Riding of Yorkshire were put together. That county kind of worked, but someone who went to Sedbergh would have to talk about cricket in a very different way from if they went to Grange. The reality of local identity is hugely significant. A consultation in which a few engaged people fill in a form on the internet is not consultation. It is a consultation in name, but the majority of people are not actually listened to.

If consultation is to be formally included in the Bill, that is fine, but I want it to be deeply embedded so that communities actually get a say about the boundaries that may be formed by any new combined council authorities. I am fortunate that every single blade of grass in my constituency is parished, but not every part of the Westmorland and Furness Council area is parished. It is important that voices in each part of the new authorities are able to express the views of those communities.

Consultation is vital, but it should be more than just a word. Arguably, as a society, we have never been more consulted but less listened to. Let us make sure not just that consultation is included in the Bill, but that it is ingrained in the practice of developing the new authorities, so that communities’ cultural identities are reflected and the wishes of the people on the ground go towards building those authorities, which should be built not for the convenience of Whitehall, but for the empowerment of communities in Cumbria and across the rest of the country.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, will speak in favour of the amendments. Consultation is so fundamental to the Bill because it is important that the power of our communities and the public be on a level with that of Government. The public bring the expertise and know the nuances of their communities so well that they can advise Government on what is best for them. That expertise can be overlooked in a top-down approach. It is essential that there is proper consultation—not just information—because being able to participate will give people agency in the democratic structures that will be developed.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

I think this is where we get to find out who devolution is for. Is it for the benefit of Whitehall or communities? I have no desire to see—in fact, I have a revulsion to the idea—contrived symmetry from the centre. I am very happy for there to be asymmetrical devolution, so long as that is the choice of the people within those communities. This is where we get the opportunity to see whether this grassroots taking back control from the centre or the centre, in a rather patronising way, throwing a few crumbs to the local community.

People living in Cornwall, Northumberland, Devon and Cumbria have the same rights and the same expectations about the quality of services as people in Manchester, the west midlands and London—no more, but definitely no less. It would therefore seem very wrong if services and powers that are devolved to London and Greater Manchester are not devolved to Cumbria, or at least are not offered to it so that the community can choose whether to take them.

This is about not just the powers that should be devolved, but the preconditions that the Government choose to impose. Obviously, we are talking about Mayors, or Mayors by any other name. I have absolutely no problem with communities that want a Mayor having one as part of their devolution deal, but I have an enormous problem with the Government saying, “You can have these powers, but only if you have the form of local government that we tell you to have.” That is not devolution. It is certainly not what people in my part of the far north-west of England want, and I suspect it is not what people want in other parts of the country. This is an opportunity for the Government to declare that devolution is for the people and not for their own convenience.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wholly concur with the previous two speeches on amendment 26. We have to think about the people in our communities, and if we ask any of them who currently does what in governance terms— whether it is Parliament or local councils—they will often struggle to identify exactly where those powers rest. When we introduce another tier of government, people need clarity about it. Particularly if they are living on the borders of the new CCAs, they will be looking one way and saying, “Well, they have powers that we haven’t got here.” We have to be careful that we do not introduce confusion into our governance and accountability systems.

I therefore think that the point about having a more à la carte approach is right, as devolution grows and we get used to new functions of government, so that we can see what can be achieved. If the Government dictate limitations on the ability of authorities to exercise their powers in one area, and a neighbouring authority has those extensive powers, undertaking partnerships between two CCAs could be quite challenging, and it could also limit the opportunities.

We have to look further ahead. We are in this process of development and evolution, which is fantastic, but we do not want to end up with patchwork Britain. We do not want Parliament to be left legislating over a small number of authorities because not every devolved area and CCA has those powers. We could end up with two or three CCAs without the powers that all the others have, and the national Parliament will then have to legislate over certain functions. That seems ludicrous in itself. We would not see fairness in patchwork Britain. We will talk again about the postcode lottery that we see emerging. The areas of greatest deprivation are probably those that would see the fewest powers. We have to think more strategically about how we apply that. That is why the amendment does justice to the issue. It enables the CCAs to take on these additional powers, but it does not mandate that.

It was clear from the presentations from the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, that the M10 Mayors are working incredibly closely together. They are inspiring one another to address the challenges of where they can take devolved powers, and that presents opportunities to the people they represent. That will of course be an evolving picture as more people come into the M10. I guess we are heading towards the M20, or wherever it may end—not the M25, as Members are suggesting, because it would simply go round in circles.

We need to make sure we are not seeing a denial in the differentiation of the powers that emerge. Ultimately, this is about the impact that they have on locality and local areas. It is really important that we think about where it could travel to. It clearly has implications for this place—its future and what it does—but we also want local decision making. I think there is a consensus across the House that we want decisions to be made closer to people, and if we devolve certain opportunities to some areas, the intersection of those powers can create more than the sum of their parts, which is something that really stood out from the evidence we heard. There could be a real benefit in devolving those powers, because we do not want a metro Mayor or a CCA coming back to Parliament every few years, saying, “I need more powers. We need more primary legislation looking at this issue.” We want a deal that is underpinned by the flexibility to drive change, and we will see that change come about through shared practice.

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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

I will be brief. As the hon. Gentleman has said, these issues have been discussed previously. It is worth bearing in mind that some of the infrastructure—highways infrastructure in particular—might seem to be of local consideration only, but they are of national strategic importance. I am bound to pick on my own area.

Things that are under the aegis of Highways England, which are national roads, so to speak, and supported directly by the Department for Transport, are one matter. Some of the strategic road network, the layer down from that, which is looked after by local authorities, is clearly of national strategic significance. The A591 in my constituency links the motorway from junction 36 right up to Keswick and back to the north lakes. It is not part of the national strategic network belonging to the English highways agency.

That is absolutely fine, but we need to recognise that if a local authority or a collection of local authorities is going to have responsibility for such an important road—the main arterial route through the middle of the Lake district, which is the biggest visitor destination in the country after London—it needs to be adequately resourced. It may need to be resourced across more than one CCA, depending on what boundaries are considered. This is important because I want to make sure the Government are held to account for the resource that they do—or do not—provide CCAs, so that communities such as mine are not basically providing and maintaining a road for 20 million visitors on whose behalf the Government contribute nothing.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is an important amendment. Having served as a shadow Transport Minister, I know the importance of getting a system in place to ensure connectivity and reliability, as well as modal shift. These amendments would hold the Secretary of State to account through the requirement to set out the reasons for any inequality in the transport functions conferred on CCAs. Ultimately, the public have a right to understand the Secretary of State’s thinking on such matters, particularly as it could well have an impact on them.

As we will debate further as the Bill progresses, the national development management policies will be making particular demands around transport infrastructure in our country. I am sure that will be a major area of contentious debate, but if we are looking at some authorities having the means to address their local transport system and other local authorities not having equal means, that will create even more discontent and inequality.

Ultimately, our transport system is a national system because our connectivity across the country has to connect—that might seem an obvious point. My fear is that this inequality could mean a more stop-start approach to transport planning, as opposed to the smoothing that we know the road and bus industries—and indeed the transport sector as a whole—are calling for. Accountability for any differentiation of powers is important, and that is what these amendments call for. It is also important to understand the Secretary of State’s thinking about how they are putting the transport system together across our country.

I appreciate the Minister’s role, but what happens in what I described earlier as the capillary routes, as opposed to arterial routes, is of equal importance, because people will not maximise the opportunity of those routes if they cannot reach them. There has to be joined-up thinking that stretches beyond the remit of the Minister, but which is crucial to the Bill.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Thursday 30th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I think this is where we get to find out who devolution is for. Is it for the benefit of Whitehall or communities? I have no desire to see—in fact, I have a revulsion to the idea—contrived symmetry from the centre. I am very happy for there to be asymmetrical devolution, so long as that is the choice of the people within those communities. This is where we get the opportunity to see whether this grassroots taking back control from the centre or the centre, in a rather patronising way, throwing a few crumbs to the local community.

People living in Cornwall, Northumberland, Devon and Cumbria have the same rights and the same expectations about the quality of services as people in Manchester, the west midlands and London—no more, but definitely no less. It would therefore seem very wrong if services and powers that are devolved to London and Greater Manchester are not devolved to Cumbria, or at least are not offered to it so that the community can choose whether to take them.

This is about not just the powers that should be devolved, but the preconditions that the Government choose to impose. Obviously, we are talking about Mayors, or Mayors by any other name. I have absolutely no problem with communities that want a Mayor having one as part of their devolution deal, but I have an enormous problem with the Government saying, “You can have these powers, but only if you have the form of local government that we tell you to have.” That is not devolution. It is certainly not what people in my part of the far north-west of England want, and I suspect it is not what people want in other parts of the country. This is an opportunity for the Government to declare that devolution is for the people and not for their own convenience.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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I wholly concur with the previous two speeches on amendment 26. We have to think about the people in our communities, and if we ask any of them who currently does what in governance terms— whether it is Parliament or local councils—they will often struggle to identify exactly where those powers rest. When we introduce another tier of government, people need clarity about it. Particularly if they are living on the borders of the new CCAs, they will be looking one way and saying, “Well, they have powers that we haven’t got here.” We have to be careful that we do not introduce confusion into our governance and accountability systems.

I therefore think that the point about having a more à la carte approach is right, as devolution grows and we get used to new functions of government, so that we can see what can be achieved. If the Government dictate limitations on the ability of authorities to exercise their powers in one area, and a neighbouring authority has those extensive powers, undertaking partnerships between two CCAs could be quite challenging, and it could also limit the opportunities.

We have to look further ahead. We are in this process of development and evolution, which is fantastic, but we do not want to end up with patchwork Britain. We do not want Parliament to be left legislating over a small number of authorities because not every devolved area and CCA has those powers. We could end up with two or three CCAs without the powers that all the others have, and the national Parliament will then have to legislate over certain functions. That seems ludicrous in itself. We would not see fairness in patchwork Britain. We will talk again about the postcode lottery that we see emerging. The areas of greatest deprivation are probably those that would see the fewest powers. We have to think more strategically about how we apply that. That is why the amendment does justice to the issue. It enables the CCAs to take on these additional powers, but it does not mandate that.

It was clear from the presentations from the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, and the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, that the M10 Mayors are working incredibly closely together. They are inspiring one another to address the challenges of where they can take devolved powers, and that presents opportunities to the people they represent. That will of course be an evolving picture as more people come into the M10. I guess we are heading towards the M20, or wherever it may end—not the M25, as Members are suggesting, because it would simply go round in circles.

We need to make sure we are not seeing a denial in the differentiation of the powers that emerge. Ultimately, this is about the impact that they have on locality and local areas. It is really important that we think about where it could travel to. It clearly has implications for this place—its future and what it does—but we also want local decision making. I think there is a consensus across the House that we want decisions to be made closer to people, and if we devolve certain opportunities to some areas, the intersection of those powers can create more than the sum of their parts, which is something that really stood out from the evidence we heard. There could be a real benefit in devolving those powers, because we do not want a metro Mayor or a CCA coming back to Parliament every few years, saying, “I need more powers. We need more primary legislation looking at this issue.” We want a deal that is underpinned by the flexibility to drive change, and we will see that change come about through shared practice.

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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I will be brief. As the hon. Gentleman has said, these issues have been discussed previously. It is worth bearing in mind that some of the infrastructure—highways infrastructure in particular—might seem to be of local consideration only, but they are of national strategic importance. I am bound to pick on my own area.

Things that are under the aegis of Highways England, which are national roads, so to speak, and supported directly by the Department for Transport, are one matter. Some of the strategic road network, the layer down from that, which is looked after by local authorities, is clearly of national strategic significance. The A591 in my constituency links the motorway from junction 36 right up to Keswick and back to the north lakes. It is not part of the national strategic network belonging to the English highways agency.

That is absolutely fine, but we need to recognise that if a local authority or a collection of local authorities is going to have responsibility for such an important road—the main arterial route through the middle of the Lake district, which is the biggest visitor destination in the country after London—it needs to be adequately resourced. It may need to be resourced across more than one CCA, depending on what boundaries are considered. This is important because I want to make sure the Government are held to account for the resource that they do—or do not—provide CCAs, so that communities such as mine are not basically providing and maintaining a road for 20 million visitors on whose behalf the Government contribute nothing.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is an important amendment. Having served as a shadow Transport Minister, I know the importance of getting a system in place to ensure connectivity and reliability, as well as modal shift. These amendments would hold the Secretary of State to account through the requirement to set out the reasons for any inequality in the transport functions conferred on CCAs. Ultimately, the public have a right to understand the Secretary of State’s thinking on such matters, particularly as it could well have an impact on them.

As we will debate further as the Bill progresses, the national development management policies will be making particular demands around transport infrastructure in our country. I am sure that will be a major area of contentious debate, but if we are looking at some authorities having the means to address their local transport system and other local authorities not having equal means, that will create even more discontent and inequality.

Ultimately, our transport system is a national system because our connectivity across the country has to connect—that might seem an obvious point. My fear is that this inequality could mean a more stop-start approach to transport planning, as opposed to the smoothing that we know the road and bus industries—and indeed the transport sector as a whole—are calling for. Accountability for any differentiation of powers is important, and that is what these amendments call for. It is also important to understand the Secretary of State’s thinking about how they are putting the transport system together across our country.

I appreciate the Minister’s role, but what happens in what I described earlier as the capillary routes, as opposed to arterial routes, is of equal importance, because people will not maximise the opportunity of those routes if they cannot reach them. There has to be joined-up thinking that stretches beyond the remit of the Minister, but which is crucial to the Bill.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (Fifth sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Thank you, Mr Paisley. I want to stress the importance of the legislation before us. In particular, I want to speak to amendments 3 and 5, and to new clause 1.

Clause 1 deals with the levelling-up missions, the foundation to the Bill and to building a stronger and more equal society. Representing a constituency in the north, I cannot stress enough the importance of this agenda in addressing the regional disparities that we see, and the inequality that my constituents experience. Across the House, we recognise the intergenerational lack of investment and the cost that has caused, biting particularly hard through the past decade of austerity, covid and now the cost of living crisis.

Clause 1(2) deals with levelling-up missions: what, when and how. However, the “who” is omitted. In taking evidence last week, the Committee heard leading experts repeatedly highlight the need for independent evaluation. In the very last evidence session, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North said, Mr Tanner drew attention to the importance of independence in the scrutiny of the levelling-up missions. That was a consistent theme throughout the week, with good reason.

First, no Government should mark their own homework. The Government clearly want to succeed, and therefore the matrices through which the comprehensive auditing process is undertaken could skew, or even conceal, the extent to which progress has been made. I am sure that if Government Ministers were sitting where we are, they would make the exact same argument about wanting rigour and independence through the scrutiny process of the levelling-up agenda. If the agenda is of such importance, the Government should welcome independent scrutiny of it.

Secondly, objective, independent scrutiny for such complex examination would provide Government with better insight into the progress made, and set out the path forward to address emerging inequalities or struggling areas that need concentrated focus to address those inequalities. It would give the Government the opportunity to step aside and then to invest in those areas. With the Government being so close to wanting levelling-up to succeed, there is risk of skewing the objectives.

Thirdly, I will make the comparison, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North did, to the Treasury establishing the Office for Budget Responsibility. That organisation has enabled independent scrutiny of Treasury assessments and has enabled Parliament and the public to hold the Government to account and to scrutinise the workings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and wider Government respectively. In addition, the Climate Change Committee now has such authority that the nation looks to it: we know that academia particularly focuses on it, the Government certainly focus on and adhere to its calls, but so does industry. Having that rigour across industry enables us to see the seismic change that is necessary to meet our climate objectives. Seeing such scrutiny at work demonstrates the importance of independence. We can look at the power of COP26: had the Climate Change Committee not undertaken its vital work, we might not have seen the outcome that we did.

It is crucial that we see independent scrutiny not just of climate issues but across other national agendas. It does not matter who the Government of the day are; we want to bring about this change in order to apply that scrutiny to them. In order to tackle the inequality and injustices that we see across our communities, we must ensure that we set the right foundations for long-term measurement, and that the methodology is robust and independent, can attract cross-party support and is useful for all—not only in this place, which is often where the focus is, but across the country.

When we are dealing with such issues as those relating to criminal justice, housing and health, there are of course huge communities looking for robust measurement in order to understand how to advance those agendas. As we see more devolution in areas such as health, with the new integrated care systems, there needs to be a collective understanding of the mission that we are going on, not only through setting out the levelling-up missions but in scrutinising and measuring them as they advance. This is not just of use to the Government, or to the Opposition in scrutinising the Government; it is useful to all those parts of our society that move our levelling-up agenda forward.

In the light of the complexities of measuring levelling-up missions, it is of course necessary for measurement not just to be placed on the Government. There needs to be inclusion of, for instance, ICSs, local government, mayoralties and so on, so that there can be robust determination of how they feed into the levelling-up missions and how their work is scrutinised, given their arm’s length role in delivering many of these functions and the missions and aspirations of Government. As my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have set out in amendment 4, with proposed new subsection (4A), the Government must also publish an action plan to enable objective scrutiny of the missions’ impact. This is about not just looking backwards but projecting forwards, which helps to set the rhythm of Government but also of our nation.

The regeneration community—the professionals who will implement many elements of the Bill—talk about those golden threads where analysis is required not just in the silos of individual missions or Departments, but across them, to determine how they will intersect and work together so that, together, they are more than the sum of their parts. I am talking about drawing in multiple Departments to address inequality. We know that many of these issues are intersectional, so we need a body that can hold everything together and highlight the opportunities, because the Government are often too close to them to identify them.

It might be worth noting that the Hackitt report in relation to Grenfell takes that approach. It looks at intersectionality, which is so important for a robust response. Clearly, with such complexity as levelling up presents, having a space for independent scrutiny is all the more important. The independence will then, of course, build confidence across the country. This will not just be seen as a headline, a tweet or the next moment to talk about levelling up; it will gain public recognition and will bring focus across Government and beyond. Independence will take away suggestion of unconscious bias in Government decisions, and will give delivery partners greater confidence in the process and in Government. It will restore trust, which the Government are seeking and we all want to see. It will thus reduce conflict and increase motivation.

We have independent scrutiny across most functions in society. We have heard about the OBR and the Climate Change Committee, but I draw the Minister’s attention to Ofsted, Ofcom, Ofgem and the Care Quality Commission—independence is absolutely at the heart of all they deliver, so why not have it for something as fundamental as levelling-up missions? This is now recognised as the mechanism by which performance can be judged nationally, regionally and locally. A mature Government therefore have to understand the rigour of independence.

I move on to proposed new subsection (2)(c). We have had the what, the when, the how and the who, and we now need to talk about how much. It is vital that the Government quantify the resources available for investment in the nation’s regions, sub-regions and local areas. The entrenched disparities we see across the country are not due to a lack of aspiration or ability but are in large part down to a failure to invest in more than a generation. The Resolution Foundation has spoken in the past 24 hours about the importance of the scale of investment. When resources are concentrated, their impact is multiplied and we see decades of inequality being addressed.

As we know, London and the south-east suck in the lion’s share of resources. We have seen the evolution of the booming south at the cost of the north; that is what this agenda is all about. In the evidence sessions, Professor Leyser and the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, highlighted how to build a cluster economy to invest and create wider opportunities. Although the mission of levelling up is to address regional disparities, reviewing the impact it has on local inequity is so important, which is why independent scrutiny is vital.

If all that is achieved in the most affluent areas, then clearly, in order to extend opportunities for wealth, health and education, levelling up will need to be translated across the board. I truly recommend that we focus on opportunities to level up under the purview of an independent body, as opposed to the internal scrutiny systems of Government.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I will not say very much, except to express my support for the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North.

It seems to me that it is entirely appropriate to push much of what is in the Bill through legislation—that would be normal for any Government—but for certain aspects, particularly those in part 1, it is quite unusual for a Government to choose this means to achieve their aim. If they want to level up, invest in regions and improve the quality of life in rural and urban communities in the north, the south-west and other areas where we feel that there has been a disparity of opportunity, they could simply do it. It does not take a Bill for us to invest and choose to act differently. The Government could just do something very novel: govern. They could invest and choose priorities to get behind.

Given that the Government have chosen this route, it seems odd that they should want to have their cake and eat it. They want to go down the legislative route but then not do anything commensurate with it—in other words, they do not want to allow themselves to be scrutinised and held to account. It seems entirely appropriate to me that there should be an independent body that is able to judge the success—or otherwise—of the levelling-up missions. It would see whether, for example, we are tackling the huge disparity, in every region of this country, between different age groups’ and income groups’ access to affordable housing, to allow them access to all other parts of society—that is what a decent, affordable, secure home does.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Q Thank you. I represent a rural community in Cumbria. The problems there are specific. As a member of the advisory board, do you think there is room for different rules to apply in different parts of the United Kingdom, so that certain local authorities might have different powers from others to, for example, control the number of holiday lets and second homes, so that there is a decent number of affordable and available properties for a permanent population?

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: Again, the specifics of that question are well outside my area of my expertise. From an R&D point of view, I hope I have been stressing all along that the key to success is specificity—it is understanding local regions and therefore understanding what the bottlenecks are to their growth and targeting investment very specifically in the context of those bottlenecks. That obviously requires really deep local knowledge and local empowerment.

I am absolutely in favour of careful consideration of local needs in the investments that are made. That is very much how UKRI is going about thinking about our R&D investments. I would hope that that approach is considered more widely, because I do not see how one can tackle these problems unless it is through putting in place specific, targeted, well thought-through locally aligned interventions.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q Professor Leyser, given that economic cluster development grows exponentially, what risks do you foresee of the legislation choking off development space for the growth of economic clusters, particularly inward investment on key strategic sites? Housing developers getting a quick return and receipt, for example, could choke off the opportunity to grow a cluster outwards.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser: As I have said, this careful alignment of multiple interventions is crucial precisely because if one rushes in with a particular input, its knock-on consequences are not always foreseen, and we need to be able to respond to them and adjust accordingly. It is critical to think hard upstream about the aligned series of investments being made, and to monitor and feed back, so that where the evidence begins to grow and the chosen interventions have some of those knock-on and unforeseen consequences, they are identified and rectified before things get dug in too deeply. Exactly as you say, growing those clusters is very much about creating the right ecosystem and the right sets of interactions between the different parts. That drives positive feedback and sucks in additional investment in the virtuous cycle that we are all seeking to build. That is critical.

The answers are very specific and depend on the particular element of the overall system that you are looking at. From our point of view, we are really keen to ensure that our investments build synergy between local specialisations and growth, and national capability and capacity. It is important that our investments outside the greater south-east do not in any way undermine the extraordinary powerhouse that the greater south-east is for our R&D activity, and that, rather, those two things are synergistic with one another and that the skills and specialist areas developed in particular parts of the UK work in synergy with activity in other parts of the UK. That local-national map is critical to ensure that we do not drive the negative consequences of interventions, which, as you have highlighted, are a risk.

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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Q A quick follow-up: which powers relating to housing stock would you like in the Bill so that you can ensure sufficient affordable and available homes for people in every part of your region?

Tracy Brabin: What may help more is the strategic planning, which I understand has not been agreed because the planning was going to be changed from Government, so we do not have clarity on our strategic planning powers. It would be incredibly helpful if we got some conclusion on that.

Ben Still: I might add that the common theme in many of our answers is that what is needed is not necessarily additional powers, but the freedom to work with local authorities to deliver the right solutions in the right areas. That is what we will be looking for in the Bill as it progresses, namely the ability to take local decisions within a guiding framework.

Tracy Brabin: May I add a supplementary point? The city region sustainable transport scheme—the big transport fund of nearly £900 million—has felt as if it is really heading in the right direction. It is really progressive that it is multi-year. It is money that we can really deliver; it is long term, and it is about local freedoms. However, in implementing it, we are getting check and challenge from Government about, for example, whether we can have silver bins in a particular project or a grass roof on a train station.

It is really important when the Committee is looking through the Bill to identify how Government can enable Mayors to make those decisions and trust them to deliver, because if we focus on outcomes rather than processes, then I think we can deliver for Government and be challenged as to whether we have delivered against the 12 missions once those schemes have been approved.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Tracy, it is nice to see you again. This Bill is about levelling up, yet the different mayoralties have different powers and cover different geographical spaces, and therefore have different economic inequality between them. How do you think that real levelling up can come across all regions and indeed all nations through this legislation?

Tracy Brabin: Thank you, Rachel. I would say that poverty is everywhere. It is not one region over another; it is everywhere. And poverty is expensive. Our mission in West Yorkshire—I know that other Mayors share this mission—is to close that disadvantage gap, to close the wage gap between the highest earners and the lowest, and to close the health inequalities that blight some of our communities. Some of our communities were extremely badly hit by covid, particularly in West Yorkshire, because of various circumstances, and it will take us a long time to recover.

However, Rachel, in direct response to your point, I would say that transport really preoccupies most of the Mayors—how can we make sure that we can get our talented people to opportunity? We have seen the HS2 Bill being laid before Parliament, and how frustrating it is for the people of West Yorkshire to see so much investment going into one side of the country, when we know that levelling up and tackling poverty are both absolutely about making sure that people can get to good jobs, and to colleges and to skills training, and so on.

As the M10, we work together to try to improve transport. Collectively, for example, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and I work on buses, which is the transport system that the majority of people in West Yorkshire use. We are reducing bus fares, capping single trips to £2 and making it £4.50 for a daily pass. We are doing what we can to make sure there is more money in people’s pockets and that transport works. However, it is more than a structural problem, Rachel, in that transport has to work, and Government must invest. I know that it is one of the mission statements, and I know that Government want to do it, and we can help them to do it.

Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities

Debate between Tim Farron and Rachael Maskell
Thursday 6th January 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his helpful contribution, and for his ongoing concern and interest in this issue, which is very laudable indeed. In one sense, this issue is not complex at all. If a person is forced out of their community, it is not slightly complex; it is just bloomin’ tragic. Yes, there is a planning Bill, and I look forward to that. I might feel all sorts of dread about that Bill, but it is an opportunity to do something. However, every single day is an opportunity to do something. The opportunity was two years ago, a year ago, last week and the week before, and the Government do nothing.

The simple reality is that it is not that complex to do things that will shift the dial and save the dales and other rural communities that are being undermined in the way they are. That is what so frustrating to us: there are people from all parties in this Chamber today, and there are other people who would be here on a normal Thursday if it were not this time of year and if there were any votes today. The reality is that we know there is a problem, and we see no action from the Government. Every day that goes by is another day wasted. It is not complex—it is just tragic.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling the debate and I congratulate him on his speech. Urban areas that are holiday destinations—such as York, which has more than 8 million visitors a year—are also plagued by the issue, which is about not only Airbnbs and holiday lets but second homes, not least because people have now discovered new ways of working. Is that not another factor to add to the equation when we look at not only who has the ownership, but what is being developed?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes a great point and I am grateful for her intervention. It is not just a rural issue, although it may predominantly be rural. York is clearly a good example of somewhere that suffers in a different way. I will come to the issue of holiday lets and some of the answers in a moment. It will rob communities of their very life if we do not intervene. I am not someone who is anti-market—I am anti-broken market, and this is a broken market. This is our opportunity to do something about it.

Excessive second home ownership is a colossal problem in our communities. The purpose of this debate is to shake the Government out of their demonstrable and inexcusable inaction and to take the action required to save our communities.

The crisis has become a catastrophe, and it is not just about second homes. Holiday lets are an important part of our tourism economy. In the Lake district, we argue and believe that we are the most visited part of Britain outside London. Our tourism economy is worth more than £3 billion a year and employs 60,000 people—comfortably Cumbria’s biggest employer. It is a vibrant industry and, by its very nature, a joyful one; I am proud to be a voice for Cumbria tourism in this place. Those 60,000 people working in hospitality and tourism need to live somewhere. Some 80% of the entire working-age population of the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism. We need to increase the number of working-age people who can afford to live and raise a family in our communities, yet the absolute opposite is happening at a rate of knots.

During the pandemic, in South Lakeland alone—just one district that makes up part of the Lake district—there was a 32% rise in one year in the number of holiday lets. I assure the Minister that those were not new builds; they were not magicked out of thin air. Those new holiday lets emerged in 2021 following the lifting of the covid eviction ban. That is not to blame the ban; it was a good idea, and it had to come to an end at some point. My point is that that rise was over a tiny period of time: less than 12 months, in reality. The fact is that this time last year those new holiday lets were someone’s home.

In Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale, Kendal, Windermere, Staveley, Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere, Grange and throughout Cumbria, I have met people who have been evicted from their homes under a section 21 eviction order—which, incidentally, this Government promised to ban in their last manifesto.

Among the hundreds evicted, I think of the couple with two small children in Ambleside, who struggled to pay £800 a month for their flat above a shop in town; they were evicted last spring only to find the home they had lived in for years on Airbnb for £1,200 a week. I think of the mum near Grange, whose teenage son had lived in their rented home his whole life; they were evicted only to see their property on Airbnb a few days later for over £1,000 a week. I think of the tradesman from Sedbergh, who had served the community for 15 years; a few days after he was evicted, his former home was also on Airbnb for £1,000 a week. There are hundreds more individuals and families in the same situation right across rural Cumbria.