Pavement licences

Part of Business and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:04 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 8:04 pm, 29th June 2020

The Government are asking Parliament to expedite the parliamentary progress of this Bill. In everyday circumstances, it would not be fast-tracked, but would be subject to a lower gear of progress. We are not in ordinary times or everyday circumstances, and the Opposition recognise, and have indeed constructively argued, that many of the measures outlined in the Bill need to be in place before the summer recess in order to be effective.

If legislation is not passed in time, hospitality businesses and their customers will not be able to benefit from the flexibility and covid safety arrangement measures relating to outdoor seating and alcohol service over the coming months. Likewise, road hauliers and others are dependent on heavy duty vehicle and passenger-carrying vehicle testing and licencing, and construction projects may be paused or delayed without planning permissions being extended. Furthermore, the measures will facilitate bounce back loans by disapplying unfair relationship provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Our position on the Bill is one of constructive engagement. We want to provide support for hard-pressed businesses while giving additional freedoms and flexibility to respond to covid-19 spatial requirements. Although the additional freedoms will be welcomed by many, I ask the Minister for reassurance that checks and balances are in place in order to maintain social order. We want to ensure access for those with visual impairment or limited mobility, and the right to peace and quiet in residential areas must be maintained. My hon. Friend Meg Hillier will come on to that later.

It is also important that these measures are temporary and time-sensitive, with constructive engagement at the heart of any proposals to extend the operating hours of a construction site. Good planning is an enabler, rather than a constraint. Consultation helps to deliver good community, business and place outcomes.

Amendments 2 and 3 are common-sense amendments that aim to extend to more businesses the provisions in the Bill and ensure a streamlined procedure for businesses serving food and drink to access pavement licences. We welcome the provisions that will allow cafés, restaurants and pubs to reopen quickly and serve more customers, while maintaining a safe environment. The amendments would simply extend those measures to include spaces where temporary pavements have been created or extended for social distancing measures, so that businesses will be able to take advantage of that. I note the calls for caution. This needs to be done sensibly, and the impact on staff, local residents, local authorities and disabled pedestrians must be kept in mind.

New clause 2 addresses a vital omission in the Bill. The food and accommodation sector has had the largest decline in economic output of all sectors with available data in this crisis. An extraordinary drop of 92% between February and April led to almost 6% of workers being furloughed. Despite the help the Bill offers to businesses, it does not offer “business as normal.” It is vital that we understand the impact the measures in this Bill will have on these industries, especially considering the support the Government are currently providing through the furlough scheme. We need not undo the good work done by the scheme so far. The new clause would require the Government to publish a report every six months on the impact of the Bill in the context of the coronavirus job retention scheme. Such a report is vital to the understanding of the ongoing impact on hospitality, tourism, leisure and the travel sector. Only by knowing the scale of the problem after the measures in the Bill are implemented will the Government be able to match it with the proper level of tailored support that this sector will clearly need.

New clause 3 addresses the lack of regular data provided for applications for coronavirus support schemes. The Government do not currently release data on the number of businesses that fail to access loan schemes. Current data relates only to the total number of applications and the number of loans granted. Again, we must know how well the schemes are working in order to help businesses through this crisis, so I hope the Government will consider this new clause.

New clause 4 relates to part 2 of the Bill, which in turn relates to my brief, and the Minister’s brief, of planning and construction. I broadly welcome, as does the Royal Town Planning Institute, the planning measures in the Bill that will ensure that building work can safely restart, especially in light of the “build, build, build” message that will be detailed tomorrow in the Prime Minister’s much trailed speech. However, considering the impacts of longer working hours and extended planning permissions on neighbourhoods is important. Under the new clause, the Secretary of State would return to the House if he wished to extend the measures relating to construction working hours or extensions to current planning permissions beyond 1 April 2021. That is not to say that we would necessarily oppose any extensions, but it is vital that these provisions are not extended without explanation, and the new clause addresses that.

Finally, new clause 5 would require the Secretary of State to publish a report detailing the extra costs of processing these measures for local authorities. It is not clear at the moment what the measures contained in the Bill will cost local authorities in practice. Throughout this crisis they have been working around the clock to protect their communities from the covid-19 outbreak and its immediate impact. The Bill highlights that local authorities will also be crucial in the recovery phase. Their work has, as my colleagues my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband and my hon. Friend Steve Reed have said, come at a huge financial cost. Austerity measures over the past 10 years have had a devastating impact on local authority budgets, and despite the rhetoric of “whatever it takes,” the Government have not provided local authorities with anywhere near the level of funding they need in the wake of the immediate crisis. The provisions in this Bill will certainly result in yet more work and higher costs for local authorities, including for local planning departments, which have already had to cut spending by half in the last decade. Given that, it is essential that we understand fully what the impact of these changes will be on local authority finances and that local authorities are fully consulted. As my hon. Friend Meg Hillier has made clear, the measures in the Bill will also not have a uniform impact across the country, and that needs to be taken into account.

We have enjoyed constructive communication on this Bill with the Government, and these amendments are tabled in a similarly constructive way. I look forward to the Government providing us with the detail and assurances on the broad range of issues I have outlined.