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New Clause 14 — Expenditure of Greater London Authority on housing or regeneration

Part of Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 26th January 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 6:15 pm, 26th January 2015

My right hon. Friend is an astute parliamentarian and he takes every opportunity to raise the dualling the A1 in his constituency. The Government have already made significant investments on that road, and I am sure that the next Government will look to see what more can be done to speed up travel through his beautiful constituency.

However, we have serious reservations about the model proposed by the Labour party today. As I have said, the Armitt review was clearly a genuine effort, from a well-respected source, to find a solution to the long-term infrastructure challenges that our country faces. None the less, its recommendations appear to establish a rigid, process-driven and bureaucratic body. There is a danger that this type of bureaucracy would stifle the innovative process needed to resolve the challenges facing UK infrastructure.

Establishing such a commission would also present significant complexities. For example, the commission’s assessment would be debated in the House and if the majority disagree with one aspect of the assessment and vote against it, the whole process, as we understand it, would have to start all over again. This kind of to-and-fro is clearly not what is intended by the proposals, and the uncertainty that would follow could be detrimental to the environment for infrastructure investment. There are other areas of the proposed commission about which we have real misgivings—not least the new powers that would enable the Government to give directions and guidance to independent economic regulators. This could severely threaten the trust investors have in the stability of the UK’s regulatory regime.

In conclusion on new clause 3, the Government have already begun to tackle some of the barriers to delivery, and this has led to £460 billion-worth of public and private investment planned over the course of the next Parliament and beyond. While the Government welcome public discussion and ideas for infrastructure strategy, changing the way we oversee and set UK infrastructure strategy must not be something we rush into without due care and thought. The concept of a national infrastructure commission proposed by the Opposition remains an unproven and untested idea.

Let me deal now with new clause 16, about protection for pubs, which I know has aroused a good deal of interest around the House. The Government are certainly aware of this strength of feeling, and as a constituency MP, I deeply understand people’s concerns that pubs that are valued by the community could be lost to them because of the regulatory environment in the planning system and elsewhere, which has not supported the community in the past. Several years ago, I campaigned in my constituency to save a pub called the Ashley Court hotel in St Andrew’s in Bristol, and there was nothing we could do about it as planning law stood at that time—back in 2008. We could not stop the pub’s owner from selling it to a housing developer, which demolished the pub, one of the best viewing platforms in the whole of the city of Bristol.

Now, however, there is protection in the national planning policy framework and in the Localism Act 2011, enabling people to list an asset as one of community value. The most popular use of this asset of community value legislation is for public houses, and we propose to go even further today.