Business and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:48 pm, 29th June 2020

The hon. Gentleman mentions breweries. He knows that the Bill largely covers England and England and Wales. It does not cover other areas of our devolved community. However, I can tell him that by ensuring that breweries’ customers open up and can sell alcohol to their customers, we are helping breweries around the country and in Northern Ireland, whether they are big or small.

As hon. Members have heard, activity is picking up in the construction industry, another sector that is an engine of our economy and that is keen to get Britain building again. I pay particular tribute to construction workers up and down our country who worked through the pandemic and the businesses that got their sites back up and running in these difficult circumstances. I am pleased to support their efforts through the safe working charter, which my Department developed with the Home Builders Federation.

However, we know that there is more to do. Home starts and completions are well down on last year, with planning permissions for at least 60,000 homes hanging in the balance. That is why we are speeding up the planning system through the temporary measures in the Bill as part of a wider reform to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century. That means greater flexibility for builders to seek extensions to site working hours to facilitate social distancing, which will support the sector’s safe economic recovery. We want work on construction sites to resume swiftly and safely, but I recognise the potential effect of the change on residents when we are all spending more time at home. Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, raised that point.

I encourage builders to work constructively with local communities and councils to minimise disruption. I want to be clear that councils will retain local discretion over the decision-making process. They also have legal duties regarding statutory nuisance, which continue. They know their areas best and that is why they will continue to have discretion in their local decision-making processes. They are well placed to judge the effect on local businesses and residents, and where there will be an unacceptable impact, they retain the discretion to refuse extended hours.

We are also enabling the extension of planning permissions that have expired since the lockdown began or are about to expire, saving literally hundreds of projects. This is at the request of local authorities and the construction sector. I recognise that there is a risk of schemes being delayed further if existing permissions are extended too long, which is why this will be only a temporary measure. Our extension date of 1 April 2021 strikes the right balance between giving certainty to the sector and ensuring that there are no further undue delays to new developments.

Another significant measure, which will help us double the pace of appeals while maintaining fair decision making, is the proposal to enable the Planning Inspectorate to advance appeals using more than one type of procedure. When we tested this hybrid approach last year, we more than halved the appeal time. This change, backed by all parties in the planning system, will be introduced on a permanent basis. In making these changes, it is important that we bring communities with us, and I am satisfied that, by agreeing through the Bill to temporarily remove the requirement for copies of the London plan to be made available for inspection at premises and on request, and instead enabling inspection free of charge by electronic means, the interests of transparency and accountability will be served.