Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 25th April 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 10:15 pm, 25th April 2016

Amendment 129A, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has added his name, would remove Clause 186 from the Bill. This clause mirrors Section 86 of the Climate Change Act 2008, which requires the Minister for the Cabinet Office to publish an annual State of the Estate report setting out progress in improving the efficiency of the civil estate.

Local authorities are already subject to a number of efficiency and sustainability requirements, such as producing energy efficiency certificates for their buildings. The new duty draws on these and requires authorities to publish reports to enable local people to hold them to account for the use of their assets. I reassure noble Lords that any additional costs to local authorities will be met by central government. DCLG is currently undertaking a new burdens assessment of Clauses 183 to 187 to determine which of the provisions create new burdens, and their extent.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 129ZA, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Beecham, which would remove Clause 185 from the Bill. The power to order disposals was brought into effect through the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. The power underpins the community right to reclaim land, which enables people to hold public authorities to account for their use of land. Under this right, communities can drive improvements in their local area by asking the Secretary of State to direct that underused or unused land owned by public bodies is brought back into beneficial use.

Since 1 April 2011, when the National Planning Casework Unit was tasked with considering requests under the right, we have received 106 requests. Only one of these resulted in the power being exercised, over a piece of land of 0.26 hectares in Tiddington, near Stratford-upon-Avon—no doubt a blessed plot. A great deal of effort has been expended by those making requests, and by the casework unit in considering them, for very little gain. This is why the Government wish to strengthen the existing legislation—to enable people to challenge their local authorities to release land, even where it is used, if it could be put to better use. Far from being centralising, Clause 185 gives more power to local communities.

The 1980 Act already provides important safeguards which will continue to apply to the new provisions. Public bodies must be notified of the Secretary of State’s proposal to exercise the power and are given 42 days in which to make representations. If a representation is made, the Secretary of State may not give a direction unless he is satisfied that the disposal can be made without serious detriment to the performance of the body’s functions.

All this shows that we are determined to ensure that public land is used as efficiently as possible, and that where it can be made surplus and put to better use, especially in building more homes, this happens as quickly as possible. These clauses are essential to that agenda, and I hope that noble Lords will be fully reassured by the explanations I have given.