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Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 9:25 pm on 8th December 2014.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 9:25 pm, 8th December 2014

My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is why I spoke of the importance of devolving powers to local authorities.

On the deemed discharge of planning conditions, conditions are there for a reason, which is often to make a development acceptable to local residents. Deemed discharge, if not done properly, risks losing the support of local communities and slowing up developments. According to the Government’s consultation, the main problems for local authorities are

“delays caused by third parties and resource constraints”.

The Bill does nothing to address those issues. Deemed consent needs to be appropriate to the issues concerning a specific development. We will study the impact of the changes closely in Committee.

Speeding up the transfer of land to the HCA is clearly to be welcomed, but I look forward to receiving further information from Ministers in Committee about how much additional land the changes are expected to bring into the system. It would also be helpful to know how many stalled sites the measures are expected to bring forward. Does the Minister envisage that the proposals will lead to the availability of more land for garden cities?

Given the recent announcements by the Government, the Bill is surprisingly quiet on measures that will deliver new garden cities in line with garden city principles, rather than just housing schemes. New housing is, of course, to be welcomed, but new housing developments do not become garden cities just because the Government label them as such. Again, it appears that the Bill represents a huge lost opportunity for the Government to update the new towns legislation and deliver the homes that our country so desperately needs.

If I am flummoxed as to why there are no measures to support new garden cities in the Bill, I am equally at a loss in trying to understand why the changes to the Land Registry are necessary. The Government have given no real rationale for that measure. That has led many Opposition Members and others to worry that the purpose is simply to fatten up the Land Registry for privatisation. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us on that specific issue when he sums up.

We have concerns about watering down the standards for zero-carbon homes, and that was mentioned by a number of hon. Members. A bit of advice I would give to the Minister is to listen to his right hon. Friend Sir Andrew Stunell, who seems to have a pretty good grasp of what the Bill should contain.

On fracking, my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Warrington North (Helen Jones), the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, my hon. Friend Mike Thornton and for Angus (Mr Weir), my hon. Friend Ian Lucas, Rebecca Harris, my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), Mark Menzies and others said they were very concerned that there were not sufficient regulations on fracking to allay public concern, and that they will be tabling amendments, as will the Opposition, in Committee. Clearly, the Government need to address this issue further.

In conclusion, I share the sentiment of many in Parliament and beyond that the Bill could have done much more to enable economic growth and deliver the infrastructure our country so desperately needs to modernise and develop. In government, Labour delivered on infrastructure: £93.7 billion on the road network and £32 billion on the decent homes standard; and we invested heavily in renewable energy. By contrast with this Government, Labour will put measures in place to promote growth, ensure that it is defined by quality and inclusion, and encourage development that will enhance the built and natural environment of the nation. I would like hon. Members to support the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.