Business and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:40 pm, 29th June 2020

I am really glad that the hon. Lady has made that point. I have had lots of conversations with both the local council and the local police. It is clear that for suburban boroughs such as mine in London, where the Met police have, quite rightly, violence reduction as their priority when it comes to targeting their resources, the resources are simply not there to pay for the neighbourhood policing that we need to be able to keep on top of this kind of menace to our local residents. It is a really important point. I take this opportunity to press once more for further funding for neighbourhood officers in the outer boroughs in London, because that is a really urgent priority.

From my conversations locally, it appears that, by and large, our licensed premises are behaving responsibly in their provision of off sales and that a lot of the problem is coming from supermarkets promoting the purchase of alcohol in large quantities. There is a debate to be had about whether this is ever a good idea, but during a pandemic when people are being instructed not to gather in large groups, it is completely irresponsible. Supermarkets were quick to introduce limits on a number of toilet rolls or bags of pasta that customers could buy at the beginning of the lockdown, and they ought to do the same for alcohol now. If they do not act reasonably in this regard, councils ought to be able to take action, in the face of threats of large gatherings and antisocial behaviour, to require shops to restrict their alcohol sales. These increased powers to councils, while welcome, will come at a cost, as the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch pointed out, and there should be greater financial assistance to councils to enable them to administer, review and enforce the new licensing regime.

We cautiously welcome the extension to hours that can be worked on a construction site, but support the discretion granted to local councils to restrict those hours in residential areas. Building work is one of the chief sources of nuisance in residential areas, and that nuisance is compounded when people are spending many more hours at home. We also welcome the extension of planning consents already granted. It will save local authorities a great deal of time and money not to have to review planning consents already granted that may have expired during the lockdown. However, in acknowledging that construction has been delayed for many developments, the Government also need to consider that local authority housing targets will also have been put at risk, and they should look again at any proposed sanctions against local authorities in this regard.

In summary, we support this Bill principally because it recognises the important role of local authorities in supporting our local businesses and safeguarding our local communities. This Government place too much faith in technological solutions, whether for their doomed contact-tracing app or as a way to make the Irish border magically disappear, so it is reassuring to see that they still recognise the value of local leadership and decision making in meeting the health and economic challenges of this pandemic.