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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.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Conservative 10:15 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, obviously, I am slightly disappointed by my noble friend’s reply. I am gratified he recognises the problem and thinks that local authorities might be useful, but he thinks that it is too risky to allow them to do anything. That is the disappointing part of his reply. I want to take the spirit of my noble friend’s answer, rather than the letter. I like to think that further thought will be given to this problem, because it will remain and I will not cease to put the case for local authorities to be able to take the initiative.

I had intended to speak to my other amendment in its place but, as my noble friend has already spoken to it, it will perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I respond now, and then we can move on. My reason for criticising Clause 186 is that, as my noble friend acknowledged, it is potentially a major new burden on local authorities. He did not address that; he said that money would be provided. I question whether it is necessary for money to be provided. One of the achievements of the Government after 2010 was to sweep away the nonsense of a process called asset management strategies and asset management plans, where every local authority was required regularly to submit to the Government what they were doing with their land. This is simply officials in Whitehall reviving that process under another name. It was one of Gordon Brown’s most disliked operations, and local authorities were very glad to see it go.

It is absurd to expect the Cabinet Office to monitor all the bodies in Schedule 22 to check whether authorities are reducing the size of their estate. Ministers in the Cabinet Office are going to check, every time that a local authority changes building, that it is in the top quartile of energy performance. This will be an interference with local authorities’ ability to use their land efficiently. We must explain. Let us say that we wanted to take leasehold space in a building to use our estate more profitably, but it was less energy-efficient. My officers have to file a report with the Cabinet Office explaining why we have taken three rooms in a block of flats to put some officers there briefly.

I will not press the amendment, because I read in the commencement clause that it does not come into force on the day on which the Bill comes into force. For that reason, I will withdraw the amendment, but I urge my noble friend to think about the bureaucracy being recreated here. Section 7 is in any case defective because a building can be part of an authority’s estate where two authorities are working together. An authority may well have a building in a partner authority’s area and may have an interest. Say if Richmond were partnered with Wandsworth and using a building in Wandsworth, according to the amendment as drafted by the Government, that building would not be classed as part of Richmond’s estate. That is absurd, and officials need to look again at the drafting of this legislation.

I am disappointed by seeing this bureaucracy returning, albeit under the guise of climate change, but I hope that before this comes into force my noble friend will give more consideration to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 128YE withdrawn.

Clause 185: Power to direct bodies to dispose of land