Change of use of drinking establishments

Part of Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 3:15 pm, 28th March 2017

I will certainly look at that issue and come back to the hon. Gentleman, as he raises a fair point.

My right hon. Friend John Redwood, perhaps predictably for those who know him well, made the very important point that, ultimately, the way in which we protect pubs in the country is through customers—through people using and supporting those local facilities. I was very grateful to him for his support on the issue of office to residential conversion. He is quite right to say that we need to ensure that our planning system is sufficiently flexible to ensure that local economies can adapt quickly to the changes that we are seeing in our society and in economic activity.

My hon. Friend Richard Graham issued a warning about the potential downsides to this policy. He asked me whether we have considered them, and we certainly have. One reason why the Government initially resisted this change was the view that, clearly, where institutions have a permitted development right, it is reflected in the value of those institutions and that will affect decisions that lenders make. It will also reflect the values that people have on their books. There seems to be a clear will in both Houses of Parliament that, given the value of pubs as community institutions, we do not want people to be able to convert pubs for other uses or to demolish them without going through the planning process. We take this decision knowing that there is always another side to these issues, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, but the Government have looked at the matter and come to the view that there is a clear will in Parliament to take a different approach to the issue.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton made a good point about the low quality over the years of some conversions or replacement buildings after demolitions. I can think of examples in my constituency. We lost the Blacksmith’s Arms, which has been replaced by an unsightly building in a key district centre. Conversely, the Swan and Sugarloaf, which was a very recognisable building right on the edge of my constituency in south Croydon, has been converted to a Tesco Express. There was actually a renovation of the building’s architecture, significantly improving its appearance. Those examples can work either way, but the hon. Gentleman raised a valid point.

The hon. Gentleman talked more generally about the need for a vision for pubs. That vision has to come primarily from the industry, although the Government can clearly play a supporting role. He invited me to come forward, but I think that is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. I know that he has engaged extensively with the all-party parliamentary group and with others in the House who have a passion for those issues. There is clearly a real wish on both sides of the House to see these vital community assets thrive and succeed in the modern economy. The Government have shown willing to look at these issues and see what we can do to support them.

The two sides of the House differ on the issue of office to residential conversion. I have been very clear since the Prime Minister gave me this job that there is a desperate need for more housing. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to support policies that drive a step change in housing supply. There is clear evidence, for anyone who wants to look at the statistics that are published in November each year on net additions, that this policy is adding something like 13,000 extra units of housing. I accept that it is a blunt tool, and that not all of those homes are of the quality we would want. I would not necessarily agree with the hon. Gentleman’s view that they are universally of poor quality. There are some very good schemes in my constituency that have come about through permitted development conversions. None the less, in the situation we face—which was 30 or 40 years in the making, with Governments not ensuring that we built sufficient homes—the main focus has to be on getting supply up.

With the changes that we have announced in the other place and that I have run through today, we have sought to say that where local authorities are delivering the required level of housing and can prove that they can do so without this permitted development right, the Secretary of State will look kindly on authority-wide article 4 directions and will not seek to block them. For those who do not like this policy, there is a very clear message: if they have other policies through which they can deliver the housing that their local area needs, the Government are quite willing to be flexible. What we will not do is rescind this policy nationally when so many parts of the country are failing to build the homes we need.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the noble Lord Kennedy and the role he has played in bringing forward this amendment. I also pay tribute to him. In the past couple of months of doing this job, the response from the Labour Front Bench in the other House, and from Labour local authority leaders around the country, to the strategy set out in the Government’s housing White Paper has been noticeably encouraging. I am grateful for the constructive way in which the other place looked at the measures in the Bill.

Lords amendment 22 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 22.

Clause 12