My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Sikka on his maiden speech. He brings a wealth of experience from accountancy and academia and is an advocate of tax justice. I am very much of the opinion that we and all organisations should pay our fair share of tax. Considerable light has been shone on organisations that seem not to pay their fair share, which of course is picked up by all the rest of us. I look forward to hearing more from my noble friend.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on his maiden speech. He has served as a councillor, a Member of the other place representing Milton Keynes—I know it fairly well—a Whip and a Minister at the Ministry of Defence. He also brings a wealth of experience, as we have heard, which will be invaluable to this House. If he ever wants to rebel, he will find a warm welcome on these Benches. I very much agreed with the point he made about cross-party working. In my time in this House over the past 10 years, the best things we have agreed have been when Members from all sides have come together and understood, agreed and sorted problems out. I look forward to getting to know both noble Lords and wish them well in their time in this House.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for bringing forward his Motion to Regret. From this debate we can see that issues and concerns have been raised because of the action the Government are taking which are widely felt in this House and outside. Having served as a councillor on two local authorities, I am disappointed by the Government’s approach. Good planning, good community development and consultation empower communities and enable them to have ownership of the development of the built environment around them. There is a role for permitted development, but these statutory instruments, using the negative procedure, go too far, as the noble Lord, Lord German, made clear in his Motion to Regret.
If the Government are going to do this, issues of this magnitude should have been enacted through a much wider debate and, ideally, primary legislation. The proposals disempower communities and local authorities and deprive local councils and locally elected councillors of the ability to consider the facts and make decisions based on evidence, local knowledge and an understanding of their local community.
I was very grateful to the LGA for its briefing. I was shocked to read that 13,500 affordable homes have been lost in the past four years through permitted development rights allowing offices to be converted into homes without the need for a full planning application. It was also interesting to read the Government’s commissioned research from the Minister’s department, which highlighted that conversions through permitted development can fail to meet adequate design standards, avoid contributing to areas and create worse living environments. Surely the Government and the Minister do not want to make the situation worse and create the slums of tomorrow. With that in mind, can he set out for the House how these fears will not be realised?
Of what benefit is it to our communities that permitted development rights have lost affordable homes being built? These proposals have only made the situation worse. Communities are denied the ability to ensure that high standards are met and that supporting infrastructure is in place. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised similar concerns in its report published last month. Will the Minister address the committee’s concerns about how local authorities will shape the character of their high streets under these new rules, particularly regarding the ability to control the spread of fast-food restaurants in their area?
My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, highlighted that we have planning permission for 1 million homes, but they have not been built. That is not a failure of planning; it is a failure to get the homes built. Housing developers, as we have heard, will build homes in line with their business model. I understand that, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but we need the Government to address the policy issues around getting homes built and not focus on planning.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, that building on brownfield sites is preferable to building on greenfield sites. I also agree with his comments on the need for good design and good quality. My concern here is that these proposed regulations risk doing the exact opposite of what he and I want to see. I also agree with the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, about further extensions of permitted development rights. I would be interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, set out how we will ensure that these fears will not happen.
I also agree very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who drew the attention of the House to the link between housing and health. Damp, poorly built, poorly ventilated and poorly insulated properties will only make matters worse for people and families—often poor people—further reducing their life chances and those of their children.
We have seen all those flats built in the 1960s and 1970s being torn down as a failure of government public policy or huge sums being spent to retrofit them because of inadequate building design. The test of this policy will be whether that tragedy is repeated. The victims who pay the price are the families who have to live in those homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly raised concerns that smaller developments in residential areas that would have needed planning permission will now go through permitted development. This will prove controversial in many communities and will not be popular where out-of-character developments start springing up in stable communities.
These are matters that the House will return to many times. Whatever the good intentions behind these proposals, they will not deliver high-quality, well-designed homes or the high streets that sustain local communities or provide the infrastructure to support communities and help them thrive. Proper government policy and intention need to be here to get this right. Sadly, the Government have got it wrong in this case.