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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 7:15 pm on 26th January 2015.

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Photo of Charlotte Leslie Charlotte Leslie Conservative, Bristol North West 7:15 pm, 26th January 2015

I rise to support new clause 16 and I will be brief. The Government have done a lot on pubs, but I wish to address the points made by the Minister and explain why new clause 16 is, on all fronts, a better and neater solution that the very welcome concession the Government have made.

Let us bust some myths. First, new clause 16 simply puts pubs on the same footing as laundrettes, theatres and—would you believe it—casinos and nightclubs, which currently enjoy more protection under the planning law than pubs do. Most people in this House would think that was very strange and needs rectifying. So there is an easy precedent for this clause and nothing draconian about it.

Secondly, we are being presented with the straw man of boarded up pubs lining our high streets as a result of the new clause. A local pub of mine, The Foresters, was known to be a drug den, it was turned into a Tesco and nobody shed any tears. Had new clause 16 been in place then, that would have simply gone through the planning process, as most things would do. Local authorities have every incentive to approve planning for a derelict site, and so we can discard that straw man out of hand.

Let us look at what the Government have already done. An article 4 direction is well intended, but in practice it is burdensome. People cannot apply for an article 4 direction for their pub unless it has already been threatened, and many communities will want to apply for an article 4 direction before it is threatened. Each article 4 direction is expensive, costing between £2,000 and £3,000 for local authorities, which are already stretched. If communities wanted to protect every pub in the country, the cost would be about £50 million to £100 million. However, a much more fundamental question lies at the heart of this issue: what is localism? In a welcome move towards localism, this Government decided that it is about local planners making decisions, as is the case elsewhere in localism. However, the Government’s concession seems to present it as a patchy, bureaucratic position, which also favours those with sharp elbows. I am deeply concerned that it will be inequitable in practice.

I am particularly puzzled as to why the Government’s default position is against, not for, community pubs. Most of us would consider that the default position should be for the community pub and in favour of the community, not in favour of developers, who can move far faster than communities, particularly our most vulnerable ones. Indeed, if the Government had implemented new clause 16 long ago, we would have avoided the confusion involving, and potential overlap between, assets of community value and article 4 directions. I very much welcome the Government’s move, but we have a short time left in this Parliament. Indeed, we are on last orders for our parliamentary time—[Interruption.] Thank you very much, I am here all night. There is doubt as to whether we would actually be able to make this proposal in time. I thank the Government for their welcome move, but new clause 16 does it better, it does it here, and this evening we have an opportunity to do it now.