Localism Bill — Report (6th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 12th October 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 7:15 pm, 12th October 2011

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. As one would expect, it ended up with a wider discussion on housing. We have had that on earlier parts of the Bill, which does not mean that we do not have to listen again to the important points that were made. Before I start on the amendments, two areas of thought were triggered in my mind. A concern was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that with localism and local neighbourhood planning, no one would accept having housing in their area and that they keep trying to shovel it off to somewhere else. That will not be possible because the neighbourhood plans will have to conform to the local development plans, which will have a clear indication of, first, the number of properties and housing they expect to be built and, secondly, the general area. The neighbourhood plans will be able perhaps to say, "Well, we would rather not have it there but we could have it there". There will be no possibility that they will not deliver what the local development framework requires. That should be helpful.

The Government are committed to 150,000 new homes before the next election, which will be a great deal more than we have seen over the past few years. My honourable friend Grant Shapps at the other end is actively pursuing policies to ensure that housing is developed. The new house bonus is meant to contribute to and encourage both the building of new housing and the improvement of properties. It covers affordable rents and encourages other capital expenditure. The pressure to produce more housing will be there from the Government.

We are asked to talk here about the possibility of a mandatory housing assessment, which we have already discussed a couple of times. I have tried to persuade the House, so far without success, that it is unnecessary to put this in the Bill formally. As my noble friend Lord Greaves has just helpfully pointed out and as I was going to say, the draft national planning policy framework has very clear policies on how much housing must be built and what the local authority's responsibility will be. That has been combined with the guidance on strategic housing market assessments, which already sets out a framework for local authorities to take account of need and demand for both market and affordable housing, and to keep this under review over the plan period.

Local authorities already need to prepare an annual monitoring report covering housing delivery, which they must publish locally and which sets the context for reviews of plan policies. Preparing evidence is part and parcel of the plan-making process that has its own robust requirements for publication and consultation. Making local authorities publish assessments prior to undertaking local plan preparation would add yet another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. I fully agree that local authorities should understand and plan properly for housing and affordable housing requirements. However, since existing requirements perform the functions intended by these amendments, I cannot support them. They are already being carried out.

An important point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and much supported by my noble friend Lord Boswell, on Gypsies and Travellers. I am sure noble Lords are aware that local authorities have a statutory responsibility for assessing Travellers' needs. Every local authority, when undertaking a review of housing needs for its district, is required to consider the needs of Travellers under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1985. Local authorities are also required to prepare a strategy to demonstrate how they will meet the accommodation requirements of Travellers. All the requirements are there; it is up to the local authorities to make sure that they fulfil them and carry out their obligations under the various aspects of legislation.

With the explanation that these amendments are not needed, and that there are good, robust policies to ensure that there is housing assessment as well as to make sure that affordable housing and other housing will be built, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.