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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 6:45 pm on 26th January 2015.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 6:45 pm, 26th January 2015

As the Minister acknowledged, there are a lot of amendments on different topics in this group, and I will do my best to respond to the Government amendments and speak to the Opposition ones in as coherent and related a way as I can. However, I point out that we have just over half an hour left, and lots of Members want to speak. That again demonstrates that the Government have rushed the Bill and not left enough time for the House to scrutinise it properly.

Government new clause 14 is a technical amendment and provided that the Greater London authority is on board with it, we see no reason not to welcome it.

We welcome new clause 16, in the name of Greg Mulholland. His proposals are in line with our localist policy to return decision making about permitted development and change of use class to local authorities and the local communities they represent. We are very much against permitted development being able to ride roughshod over the needs and wishes of local communities, so we welcome the amendment and concur that having to make a pub an asset of community value, or make an article 4 direction, is bureaucratic and burdensome on local communities and not at all necessary. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause provides communities with a straightforward way of saying what is happening to their local pub and whether or not they wish a change to be made.

On Government amendments 45 and 84, the Minister will know that in Committee we called for greater clarity on how the species control agreements would work in practice. For example, when would one be considered complete, and requirements no longer be needed? We therefore support amendment 45 and the Government’s clarifying this point. They have also clarified that landowners who cannot dispose of land due to legal restrictions will still be subject to these agreements and orders. However, important questions remain about the cost and implementation of species control orders that the Government need to answer in statutory guidance.

On Government amendment 46, we are pleased that they have excluded from the species control orders the European beaver, a native species that has established populations in the UK. However, the classification of the beaver under part IB of schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—“Animals no longer normally present”—is bizarre and lists them alongside the wild boar. It seems strange that, despite European beavers being recognised as a native species to the UK and a natural component of British river systems, they will need a licence from Natural England to continue to exist in the wild. The Minister knows that we proposed in Committee an amendment—supported by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth—stating that the Government’s definition of invasive non-native species should correspond to the EU habitats directive adopted in 1992. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister why they have not gone down that route.

I was very disappointed with the Minister’s response to new clause 3, which seeks to shake up the way we progress national infrastructure matters. It would establish an independent national infrastructure commission in order to offer strategic planning to meet our national infrastructure requirements, and provide a greater degree of devolved power to ensure that large-scale projects also relate, where possible, to local priorities. I was surprised that in Committee, Government Members—and indeed the Minister himself—were so dismissive of the recent CBI survey showing that, despite some advances in national infrastructure policy, the UK is still some way off delivering the transformational upgrades the country needs. There is a widely acknowledged view that we are lagging behind other countries on national infrastructure delivery.

New clause 3 seeks to bring an evidence-based assessment of our infrastructure needs before the House for approval. The process would be supported by sector infrastructure plans, and there would be a time scale for implementation. That would get us out of the parliamentary cycle, and away from the stop-start approach to national infrastructure. All we have heard from the Minister is more complicity and a lack of engagement about the need for a timely upgrade to our national infrastructure.