Clause 27 - Property etc transfers to the HCA and the GLA

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 6th January 2015.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 3:30 pm, 6th January 2015

I beg to move amendment 53, in clause 27, page 26, line 32, at end insert—

‘( ) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament regulations streamlining compulsory purchase order powers for HCAs and councils.

( ) The powers of HCAs will be strengthened to enhance the delivery of housing provision.

( ) The Secretary of State should bring forward proposals to give councils the power to incentivise the building on land provided for development, including by the HCA, and allocated within a local plan, where it is not brought forward within five years. This should be applied only where land is voluntarily put into a plan and can be demonstrated to be deliverable and should be accompanied by a mechanism for appeal.”

This is quite a complex amendment with a number of different aspects, which I will deal with separately. There is a degree of consensus across the Committee on clause 27 that much better use of public land, particularly brownfield sites, could be made, in order to bring forward new housing and other development. That is essentially what clause 27 seeks to do, by making it easier for surplus land in public sector agencies to be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency directly without going through the sponsoring Department.

So it is perhaps not surprising that the Campaign to Protect Rural England comments that making it easier for the Homes and Communities Agency to develop housing in brownfield sites is to be welcomed. We think so too. However, we believe that the Government could have gone much further in developing the role of the HCA.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

As I was saying before the vote, we believe that the Government could have gone much further in developing the role of the HCA to enable it to carry out a more effective role in land assembly and development overall. That is what the various dimensions of amendment 53 seek to achieve.

The first part of the amendment seeks to enable the Secretary of State to lay regulations streamlining compulsory purchase powers for the HCA and for councils. I am pretty sure that I have heard Ministers say that current compulsory purchase order powers  need to be reviewed. As I am sure the Committee will be aware, the Mayor of London has come out very strongly in support of our position, saying that we need a review. It is a little odd that provision was not made in the Bill for compulsory purchase orders to be addressed.

The main purpose of CPO powers is to encourage development and to give local authorities the ability to ensure that when they allocate land for development, and its inclusion in a plan is supported by an inspector, it is actually built out. They are also intended to strengthen the hand of local authorities in negotiations, rather than just routinely relying on compulsory acquisition. Compulsory purchase orders are an important part of the toolkit available to councils to unlock land for new homes and to play a more proactive role in land assembly. In practice, these powers should rarely need to be used but they can operate as an effective incentive to landowners to engage early, negotiate and enter into development partnerships more readily.

There is a history of compulsory purchase in England, notably in powers granted to new town corporations and urban development corporations. A number of regeneration-focused local authorities already successfully use CPOs to unlock large development projects and land market blockages. However, CPO powers are not used as widely as they once were in this country or as they currently are in continental Europe. As evidence to the Lyons commission highlighted, there are a number of reasons for that. The process is controversial, long, potentially risky and very drawn out. The council may lack the skills or the budget to pursue a CPO and there may be cultural barriers to its use. The local authority or other public body needs to identify very clearly and in some detail what it wants to do with the site; thus a local authority cannot expect to secure a CPO if the site is allocated in a plan but not being brought forward, unless it has first developed detailed plans.

That supports the widely acknowledged view that legislation is no longer fit for purpose, confirmed by the compulsory purchase policy review advisory group in 2000. It concluded that the problem was partly that the legislation was derived from the Land Clauses Consolidation Act 1845, or earlier. Even where the provisions of the 1845 Act have been subject to later amendment or re-enactment, the Victorian concepts and antiquated phraseology have often been carried forward, leading to difficulties in interpretation or even comprehension. In 2003, the Law Commission stated:

“There can be few areas of the law which are in more obvious need of radical treatment, under each of the heads mentioned in the statute, than the law of compulsory purchase.”

CPO legislation should be updated to enable greater use of CPOs as a tool to drive effective regeneration strategies and work in partnership with developers to take forward development of sites through streamlining and clarifying existing legal guidance and legislation on CPOs as far as possible to reduce uncertainty and confusion, as well as amending the legislation with a clear aim of streamlining the process and reducing opportunities for landowners to stall progress. Land valuation should be considered by the tribunal up front in cases where a CPO is contested, not at the end of the process, creating greater certainty for both the local authority and the landowner and making it easier to  find a development partner. As I said, this currently happens at the end of the process and often several years after the CPO starts, creating unnecessary uncertainty and risk for local authorities and their development partners. That uncertainty may also reduce incentives for some parties to reach agreement outside the CPO process.

Under the current system, compensation for compulsory purchase is based on the land’s existing use value, including any planning permissions granted on the land, with some small adjustments for cost and disruption. It must also reflect hope value when land which is not yet the subject of planning approval might reasonably expect to obtain planning permission. Evidence suggests that a reform of the compensation rules for CPOs for large-scale land assembly is necessary, with a view to ensuring that the landowner is offered a generous benefit from the sale of the land and that, as far as possible, the costs of infrastructure required to support the development are captured by the uplift in value created by granting planning permission.

We know that CPOs would probably seldom be used in practice if they were reviewed and revised along the lines that I have outlined, since all parties would wish to avoid the process where possible. Landowners facing the possibility of a CPO would be incentivised to engage in a partnership with the developer. Will the Minister explain why there are no measures to help the HCA or councils to use the CPO system more effectively? I would have thought that there would be something about CPOs in a Bill that seeks to help us get the infrastructure we need.

The second part of amendment 53 seeks to question the Government on additional powers that can be given to the HCA to transform its role in housing delivery. The sector as a whole recognises the importance of the HCA’s current contribution to national house building efforts. Examples include the HCA’s work with the Defence Estates to appoint Grainger as the developer of 4,500 homes on surplus military land at the Aldershot urban extension site, as well as the Barking Riverside regeneration scheme, which has serviced plots for the development of 10,800 homes and began as a joint venture between the HCA and Bellway Homes.

However, evidence points to the need for a sharper focus and a return to some of the more energetic engagement in development that marked the closing years of English Partnerships and the early days of the Homes and Communities Agency. It is the current received wisdom that the agency has lost some of the expertise and focus on delivery, caused by a combination of several factors—a move towards the administration of housing funding programmes rather than the direct pursuit of large-scale development opportunities; the addition of the regulation of social housing providers as a core function, which brought with it a very different focus and skill set; the loss of skills and capabilities that previously enabled the agency to engage strongly in the negotiation of developments and partnerships; a lack of independence from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which frequently second-guessed decisions; and recent changes in Government policy, which have limited the HCA’s ability to recycle receipts,  returning them instead to the Exchequer. That has severely impaired the HCA’s ability to lead and contribute to investment partnerships.

The National Housing Federation suggests that juggling multiple responsibilities in this way means that,

“these programmes are not co-ordinated effectively. They are governed by multiple rules, regulations and criteria, which do not correspond. This is limiting the impact of these programmes in terms of delivering new housing supply.”

The Home Builders Federation, which represents house builders, says with regard to HCA public land that,

“disposals often are too prescriptive and very costly and complex for builders.”

The HCA role should be that of supporting the deals negotiated between central Government and local places, bringing skills and expertise, private funding, land and guarantees to the negotiation table.

There appears to be a case, therefore, for moving the regulatory functions away from the HCA to increase the focus on delivery. However, we accept that we need to be careful that further organisational change and disruption does not risk delay and uncertainty to the system, and so additional powers for the HCA would need to be rolled out in a way that is not destructive.

In that context it is important that the delivery role for the HCA is established as a clear corporate priority. It should have a clear degree of day-to-day independence from DCLG, operating within an agreed framework. That would enable a re-tasked HCA to focus on the following key functions. First, it would be responsible for new, re-energised efforts to dispose of surplus central Government-owned land and buildings through effective development partnerships with local authorities, housing associations, developers and landowners. This approach does not rest on the requirement for large-scale transfers of land from one part of Government to another or to local bodies, since such transfers would take a long time and would distract from the task of releasing the land. However, in its role as single disposal agency for Government land, the HCA would be responsible for a rolling five-year delivery plan for housing on Government-owned land.

Secondly, the HCA will be a major implementation and investment partner for local authorities and new homes corporations if they eventually come into being. Thirdly, the HCA will continue to have a vital role in supporting local authorities dealing with large- scale applications throughout the country, through the continuation and possible expansion of the ATLAS service. The role should include co-ordination of efforts to expand the training and professional development of staff within local and central Government, in close co-operation with the Planning Advisory Service and professional associations across the sector. Fourthly, the HCA’s investment arm should be expanded to function as a housing investment vehicle, aggregating investment.

With limited public finance available, it is crucial that what is available is invested in the most efficient way and that we are able to draw on greater levels of private finance, mobilising it to where it has the best effect and lowering its cost wherever possible. There is also evidence that if changes, as outlined here, are made then considerable private finance could be brought into the system for investment in housing. Housing associations could use their strong credit ratings to access long-term funding  from the capital markets. There continues to be strong institutional appetite for housing association bonds from the current investor base, but many bond issues are described as being oversubscribed. It is important that more is done to increase the opportunities for alternative bond structures; perhaps extending the role of the HCA is a way that that could be achieved.

Learning from current experience, evidence suggests that one of the functions of a re-tasked HCA should be to act as a vehicle to aggregate opportunities for investment to provide the scale needed to attract private investment and spread risk for investors. The aim of the expanded role would be to channel long-term private investment, supported by Government guarantees, into house building, alongside traditional public investment. Its role would include focusing on securing better total returns and joining up development and infrastructure investment. The new division of the HCA could offer housing providers a mix of debt, loan and equity finance at a lower cost than they could access individually on the open market. That would increase the finance available to the sector, increase certainty and, by lowering financial costs, improve scheme viability.

To be effective and to minimise Government exposure, the new division would need to undertake project due diligence and monitor investment decisions. Crucially, the HCA would combine the role as an aggregator of private finance with a revitalised role as an energised national delivery agency and major implementation partner of development corporations, and in the development of a new generation of garden cities and garden suburbs. Perhaps the Minister will explain why the additional powers cannot be given to the HCA and put on the face of the Bill.

The third part of the amendment seeks to enable the Secretary of State to

“bring forward proposals to give councils the power to incentivise the building on land provided for development,” including land that is provided by the HCA and that has been allocated in a local plan, but has not been built out after a five-year period.

The Opposition are aware that safeguards would need to be in place for such an approach and, indeed, appeal mechanisms if there was to be some sort of system that could possibly incentivise or penalise the non-building out of land. Nevertheless, it is an important area to look at. It is interesting that in all the discussions about improving infrastructure and bringing sites forward for developments, including new housing sites, the Government have given little attention to how we get more land into the system. The Bill presents a huge lost opportunity to tackle the shortage of development land or the issue of sites being built out too slowly.

Analysis of residential development data collected by Glenigan examined units in the pre-planning pipeline—those yet to obtain detailed planning permission—and units that have obtained planning permission and are progressing towards development. It indicated that 6,700 sites contain more than 10 homes with planning permissions that have not yet been completed. Those sites have the capacity for 588,000 homes. Around 50,000 of those homes are on sites that are classified as on hold—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

As I was saying, around 50,000 of these homes are on sites that are classified as on hold or cancelled, with 246,000 progressing towards construction and 271,000 on sites that have already started construction. A further 21,000 are on sites that are for sale, have been recently sold or have no information available. It is highlighted that although many of the sites with unimplemented planning permission are under construction and will be part of long-term developments, the speed at which these sites are built is usually dictated by market demand for finished houses. Because of the risks of land scarcity, house price volatility and the high up-front capital costs of development, house builders’ business models are predicated on a high profit margin and double-digit returns on capital, frequently cited at 20% per annum.

Most volume house builders work to targets for both sales volumes and return on capital; private new build starts therefore follow the same pattern as overall rate of house sales. There is significant risk to delivery here, as has been evident in the number of stalled sites seen during and since the 2008 recession. Developers may have paid or agreed options to pay for land based on prior expectations of house prices. Although house prices in some markets are above their 2007 peak levels, many are not, so developers will be unable to meet their required gross development value to make the site viable. Assuming that there are no, or limited, ongoing costs to the land, the developer will wait for more favourable market conditions before developing. A more energetic role for the HCA in assembling land and acting as lead developer would provide a means by which local government, and through local government, communities, can bring forward new sites and have stronger influence on time scales for the delivery of existing schemes by establishing alternatives to pure market-based sites. That assumes, of course, a partnership operating between the HCA and local government.

It will become even more important in the future to ensure that swift progress is made on land allocated for homes, given the growing amount of housing need. We think more incentives are needed to speed up delivery and we would like to see that in the Bill, hence the amendment. Possible incentives include the lifetime of a planning permission being shortened to two years and higher fees for renewal. Secondly, greater substantive progress should be required to demonstrate that works have started on site than is currently the case. It is suggested that sometimes only minimal works are undertaken in order to preserve the life of a planning permission.

Thirdly, where a site is allocated in a plan or has planning permission but development has not begun within the expected time frame—the Lyons review proposed five years unless otherwise agreed—the local authority should have the option of charging the owner of the land council tax or some other form of taxation for the proposed number of dwellings on the site. That would be done only in very specific circumstances, but the aim is to have a major disincentive in the system so that land that has planning permission is built out. Clearly, it is important that landowners are not unfairly penalised. There are some developments—particularly large complex  sites—which will take more than five years to be implemented, and that would need to be factored in to any system of incentives or disincentives that is produced. Charges should be applied only if they are reasonable in the context of the individual site, and only where the site has been volunteered by the landowner, for example.

The main purpose of the proposed powers is to encourage development and give local authorities the ability to ensure that when they allocate land for development—and its inclusion in a plan is supported by an inspector—it is actually built out. They are also intended to strengthen the hand of local authorities in negotiations rather than routinely to rely on compulsory acquisition. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about amendment 53.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Before we proceed with the debate, let me say that a significant number of amendments have been tabled and selected for debate, plus at least one new clause, and I have a feeling that by the time we have got through this lot, once again we will probably have done the clause to death. That being so, Members may wish to take advantage of the fact that they will have the opportunity to speak now rather than in a stand part debate.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The hon. Lady has made a wide-ranging speech and expanded on her three-part amendment, which I notice has open parentheses against each part. I will refer to them as (a), (b) and (c), just to be helpful, as that is what my notes say. I just noticed that those letters are not actually there, and I hope that Members do not get lost when I refer to them.

The public sector land programme is about bringing disused land currently owned by central Government and their arm’s length bodies back into better economic use. The Homes and Communities Agency has a key role to play in the next programme and from April will take on the role of the Government’s land regeneration and disposal agent. Surplus land can and does already transfer to the Homes and Communities Agency but the process is more bureaucratic than is necessary. The clause is about increasing the rate of delivery by accelerating internal Government procedures. The amendment would not support that aim and would in many cases, we believe, frustrate the process.

The hon. Lady spoke about streamlining the compulsory purchase order powers that are available to the HCA. CPO powers are often an essential tool for enabling acquiring authorities, whether the HCA, local authorities or other public bodies, to compulsorily acquire land to carry out a function that Parliament has decided is in the public interest. However, a CPO is a substantive intervention so those powers must be applied fairly and they should be used only when absolutely necessary and when there is compelling reason in the public interest. The HCA in the whole of its life has used CPO powers on only one occasion, in Liverpool, compared with about 100 a year that the Department approves for local authorities, usually for highways or other land acquisition processes.

The hon. Lady calls on us look at CPOs and says we should have done that in the context of this Bill. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary said that we would publish a consultation on proposals  for CPO reform in the Budget, which is the next—probably the last—set-piece parliamentary occasion of this Parliament. If the hon. Lady and her colleagues are patient until Budget day in March, that is when the Government will publish a full consultation on reforms to the CPO process. I have a lot of sympathy with her views, based on my own experience over many years as a councillor and Member of Parliament for Bristol city centre. Over the years, many owners have sat on derelict buildings or sites that are a blight on the entire community, and it is incredibly frustrating how long it sometimes takes to get a CPO off the ground, particularly when the landowner often changes to frustrate the CPO process—the process has to start all over again—or comes forward with an application, which has to be considered. I certainly recognise, and the Government recognise, that there is a need to look at these powers. I was not aware of the 1845 Act, but she quite rightly raises an important point. The Government are aware of the issue. We are looking at it and announced our intention to come forward with a consultation in the Budget, so on that basis, the first part of the amendment is not necessary.

The second part of the amendment, which the hon. Lady spoke about at great length and in depth, calls for a strengthening of the powers available to the HCA. The HCA is tasked with supporting private and public sector bodies to deliver housing and regeneration priorities throughout England by providing land but also funding and expertise. To that end, the agency already has significant powers, as set out in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, to deliver new housing, both affordable and at market prices, in support of local communities. As a Minister, I have visited many HCA projects around the country. The agency operates its powers in close co-operation with local authorities and communities. Experience shows that this approach often works well to deliver the homes that communities need.

Our approach under the current powers is actually seeing some success. Some 700,000 more homes have been built in England since 2009. Housing starts are now at their highest since the crash that began in 2007. The latest figures show almost double the number of starts that occurred in 2009, up 17% on last year. Council house building—something that often comes up in DCLG oral questions—is now at a 23-year high and more council houses have been built since 2010 than were in the preceding 13 years, when the hon. Lady’s party was in office. Almost 217,000 affordable homes, including those social council homes, will have been delivered since April 2010.

The hon. Member for City of Durham referred, in dealing with this part of her amendment, to the Bill being a missed opportunity to use the HCA to drive more house building starts around the country. The statistics I have just given show that, in fact, a lot of progress has been made since 2010, but we have said that we want the HCA to do more. I did umpteen fringe meetings on housing at my party’s conference in Glasgow last October, one jointly with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, where he announced that he was asking the Treasury to come forward with more proposals whereby the Government would do essentially what the hon. Lady is saying, and act more as a commissioner to build houses directly, to kick-start certain sites. We are going to carry out a pilot of this approach north-west of  Cambridge, to facilitate the delivery of 10,000 new homes in a new settlement at Northstowe. There, the HCA will trial a new delivery model, including the master planning of the site and directly commissioning the building of the new homes. We think that this will speed up development compared with what otherwise might have taken place; it will certainly create certainty that something is going to happen.

We also want small builders to re-enter the market in that area. The HCA will contract directly with builders to build the homes and will sell them, rather than doing what it normally does, which is assembling the land and selling it on to a traditional house builder to build on their own time scale and make their own surplus on the sale of those houses. This significant pilot for 10,000 new homes at Northstowe shows that the Government are determined to be as creative as we can be in following up every single avenue possible to get more houses built.

I could also refer, without going too wide, Sir Roger, to the garden settlements that the Deputy Prime Minister is also very keen on. The Department has set up a new development corporation to build a new garden settlement at Ebbsfleet and we published a prospectus for other communities to come forward with proposals for new garden settlements. I am sure that there will be a very important role for local authorities and the HCA there too. Hopefully, that gives some reassurance on the second part of the hon. Lady’s amendment.

The final part of the amendment calls for giving councils the power to incentivise building on land where planning permissions have been granted. I have some sympathy with what the hon. Lady says: it is often asked why house builders sit on permissions rather than building them out—the so-called practice of land banking. It is an issue, but one which has been declining. Under this Government, the proportion of unstarted homes with planning permission that are either on hold or have been shelved has fallen significantly from 38% of those sites in December 2011 to 15% in December 2014.

We have a number of other reforms in place that we have already announced or that have been announced elsewhere, which are outside the scope of the Bill, but are relevant to the wider points that the hon. Lady made in order to speed up house building on the ground. They include removing the ability for developers to extend the time limit for starting development, new powers to allow deemed discharge—we have just discussed clause 26—and helping to unlock stalled sites by allowing developers to seek renegotiation of section 106 agreements that were originally in place, but have proven to be unviable and are preventing house building from starting. There are now numerous examples of those around the country. We have also outlined in planning and guidance that local planning authorities might wish to consider whether to shorten the duration of a planning permission where necessary in order to encourage the commencement of development.

Having heard me refer to all three different parts of the hon. Lady’s amendment, I hope she feels significant progress has already been made in this Parliament. There is an initiative on CPOs coming forward in the Budget and there are various initiatives already under way in order to give the HCA an enhanced role. Hopefully, therefore, there is a meeting of minds and she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his comments. Overall, they were constructive. With regard to part one of the amendment, we were obviously aware that the Government had said that they might look at CPOs and the need to review them. We will look forward to the Budget with new enthusiasm knowing that there is going to be some more information about how to reform CPOs.

I also note that on the second part of my amendment there is the pilot in Northstowe. In fact, we thought the Government must have read the Lyons commission report very carefully and adopted some of the policies that we were, or that Sir Michael was, proposing in that report and are, in a sense, trialling what we are seeking to do in the amendment, which is give the HCA more power so that it can operate as a development arm of Government. Given that the Government are pursuing a pilot, it would be a bit churlish of me to push the amendment further.

I want to say one thing to the Minister regarding part three of the amendment and incentivising land owners to build on land that has planning permission and prevent land banking. I can see that the Government are looking at particular ways of stopping that happening and it is probably not so great an issue outside a recession as it is in one. Nevertheless, I urge the Minister to think again about renegotiating away 106 agreements, particularly where they are to deliver affordable housing, as part of making sites come forward. The long-term consequences of that for the country and the amount of affordable housing that is available could be disastrous.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree with the hon. Lady. That is certainly not something that I would like to see on a wide basis. Of course, all of these negotiations are up to the local authority and the developer to agree. In many cases, certainly in my own constituency, it has been much better to see some houses being built and some apprentices employed, rather than a completely frozen site. She is absolutely right that it is more appropriate in the context of a downturn in construction where nothing is happening rather than where we are now with construction having significantly recovered from the 2007 to 2009 crash.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

With those comments from the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I beg to move amendment 54, in clause 27, page 26, line 34, after “HCA”, insert “or councils”

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 55, in clause 27, page 26, line 36, after “HCA”, insert “or councils”

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

In great contrast to amendment 53, amendments 54 and 55 are straightforward. They are aimed at extending the streamlined land transfer  provisions in clause 27 to local authorities, where that is deemed appropriate. That is important because, as the LGA notes in its evidence to the Committee,

“Councils share central government’s focus on using publicly owned land to support housing development.”

That relationship could be strengthened through amendments 54 and 55, which would enable publicly owned assets to be transferred to a local authority where the authority agrees the transfer and where it is appropriate to do so.

Interestingly, it appears that the LGA has had discussions with central Government about transferring land and property assets held by Departments and agencies, and a number of councils have already made progress on pooling land assets. The amendments would speed up that process and make it more widespread, enabling a strong local approach to be taken to developments.

When the matter was debated in the other place, Lord McKenzie made it clear that councils have a land release programme between 2015 and 2018 for assets amounting to £13.3 billion. In addition, the LGA has stated that it has been asked by the Cabinet Office to help to transfer to local councils 3,000 separate land and property assets held by Departments and agencies. That is not insignificant, and accepting these small amendments would surely help to secure the development currently in the pipeline.

Replying in the Lords, Baroness Kramer was surprisingly helpful:

“I am keen that we explore the best options for delivery, taking into account local circumstances. So while our clause does not mention local authorities…there may…be benefits to exploring whether they should be included in the clause, which may smooth the process of transferring sites from central government’s arm’s-length bodies to local authorities, where this is the best option locally and supports the delivery of local and national priorities.”

She made it clear, of course, that she was not accepting the Opposition’s amendment. However, she said she would consider

“whether something of this nature might be needed and, if so, the mechanism and legislation that should be used to provide for it.”

She added:

“I will take it away and consider further whether we should extend our clause to include local authorities or whether an alternative route would be more effective.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 July 2014; Vol. 755, c. GC218-19.]

I would be most grateful if the Minister could update us on where the Government are in their deliberations on including local authorities under clause 27. If that is not the most appropriate vehicle for including local authorities, will he say what is?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Homes and Communities Agency will have an important role in leading this new programme from next year. However, transfer to the HCA may not always be the best, or only, delivery option; as the hon. Lady said, local authorities could also have a vital contribution to make. In some cases, that may mean transferring sites to them. I am keen that we explore the best options for delivery, taking into account local circumstances.

However, the amendments as drafted would not achieve that effect, because they presuppose the existence of a broader power to transfer land from central Government to local authorities. Currently, however, such a power does not exist, and the amendments would require considerably more work to achieve the effect the hon. Lady seeks.

Although I ask the hon. Lady once again to withdraw the amendment, I am prepared to say on the record that the Government support the principle of a power to transfer Government land, whether held directly by the Government or by agencies—the subject of the clause. We continue to look at how that might work, and my noble Friend Baroness Kramer was being helpful to her colleague in the other place when she said that this was something we were open-minded about pursuing. We are not quite ready yet with firm proposals, but that is being actively looked at.

Therefore, with the reassurance that the Government have sympathy with the idea that the hon. Lady has suggested and are looking at what is needed to amend existing legislation to bring that power into effect—to transfer Government land directly to local authorities, rather than selling it on the open market, which is, of course, possible at the moment—I invite her to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I have listened carefully to the Minister. I am pleased that we have been able to put on record our desire to have some mechanism to enable land, where appropriate, to be transferred directly to local authorities. If I heard the Minister correctly, I think the Government are also seeking an appropriate mechanism to enable that to happen in some circumstances. With that reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I beg to move amendment 56, in clause 27, page 26, line 37, at end insert

“provided that any designated property, rights or liabilities to be transferred pursuant to a scheme—

(a) have been classified as surplus;

(b) do not compromise land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment;

(c) do not extinguish any public right of way;

(d) are subject to transparent reporting of all aspects of the transaction to the Land Registry; and

(e) shall be subject to a test of viability that is underpinned by guidance and an open book approach.”

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 57, in clause 27, page 27, line 9, at end insert—

““Common”, “open space” and “fuel and field allotment” have the same meaning as in section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981”.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

These two amendments seek to ensure that land to be transferred to the HCA meets certain conditions and is underpinned by safeguards that will ensure support for this activity. I want to probe the Minister again on some issues discussed in the other place.

In their “Accelerating the release of public sector land” report of 2011, the Government estimated that 40% of land suitable for development sits with central Government and local government land banks. Therefore, as a considerable amount of land is at stake, it is important that the Minister confirms that, other than the transfer of land to the HCA, there will be no change to the type of assets otherwise to be involved and no change to the decision-making or appraisal process.

The noble Lord McKenzie rightly asked for a reminder of what the process is; therefore, with paragraph (a) in the amendment we would need to know how surplus land is defined. The Minister in the other place said that no definition was available and it was up to each Department to decide when land was surplus, but that is not satisfactory. It is rather opaque. Will the Minister tell us what factors are taken into consideration when deciding whether a piece of land is surplus? For clarity, paragraph (a) asks that it is very clear on the face of the Bill how land is being classified as surplus.

Paragraph (b) in the amendment says that land transfer should

“not compromise land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment”.

The problem with not having a definition of what is surplus is that we do not know whether surplus land could cover land that is part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, hence our putting that into the amendment. We also do not know whether it would extinguish, or have the power to extinguish, any public rights of way that are in existence. Without some idea of what would be excluded, it is really rather difficult to assess adequately the provisions of the clause and what it could mean for local communities, and we would need considerable reassurance from the Minister on that.

Paragraph (d) that the Government promote best practice with regard to improving the transparency of land transactions by reporting all aspects of the transaction of the land to the Land Registry. The lack of publicly available information about land transactions, ownership and options held on land makes it difficult to understand the extent to which land is controlled by those who intend to bring it forward for development or not.

The Land Registry records the ownership of land and property and has registered 82% of land in England and Wales with more than 23.5 million titles. However, as evidence highlights, there is limited public access to that information and no requirement to register land options. Greater transparency about ownership options and transactions would deliver a number of important benefits that would result in better operation of the land market. It would assist in effective plan making by enabling local authorities to properly assess land availability and the record of landowners, agents and developers in bringing forward sites. It would greatly assist local authorities and other developers in land assembly and provide information on achievable prices to landowners, and would improve understanding of the viability of schemes to assist in negotiations of planning obligations. That would increase the chance of planning gain being financed by a landowner, rather than by the developer.

The amendment seeks improvements to the operation of the land market, for example by requiring the Land Registry to open up land ownership information to the public, in a manner similar to that of the property price paid dataset, and make it a legal requirement to register land option agreements, prices and transactions. That would provide clarity about the extent to which land trading and speculation was taking place. The Government would then be able to undertake a comprehensive review to establish whether there was evidence of anti-competitive behaviour or destructive speculation and, if necessary, take action to address it.

Increased transparency of land ownership options and transactions should apply to all landowners, not just private sector ones. It should include the HCA, which is why I tabled this amendment to clause 27. The public sector is not exempt from criticism of land banking, often holding out for the maximum value that it can get for its land. That is compounded by the lack of a single comprehensive or transparent register of surplus public land.

We discussed the importance of a development pipeline of public land; indeed, the Minister touched on that a bit earlier. The public have an interest in the land held by Government agencies, in which it has a particular stake. It is therefore important that the public know exactly what is happening to that land. Information about the land should fall under the transparency rules of Her Majesty’s Treasury, which should ensure that it plays its part in releasing land for development. It would be incredibly useful if the Government spearheaded best practice in land transaction and transparency, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on that issue.

Paragraph (e) in amendment 56 asks the Government to be at the forefront of best practice in providing information about the viability of sites. Amendments to clause 27 could be used to set powerful examples in practice of how the viability of sites could be listed. Plans could include developing a methodology for assessing viability that could be understood easily by the public.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, there are concerns about the way that the viability of local plans, community infrastructure levy charging schedules and options are tested. Evidence to the Lyons review suggested that that is compounded by the fact that there is no agreed methodology for viability assessment and the fact that that system is not in place allows different parties to pick the methodology most to their advantage. Guidance produced by the Local Housing Delivery Group, endorsed by the Home Builders Federation and the Local Government Association, encouraged plan-level viability testing to be based on evaluating the existing use value or alternative use of sites, plus a premium at a level that will make it worth the landowner’s while to sell.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ guidance, intended for application to individual sites’ viability but sometimes applied to the plan level, is based on a different methodology, where the starting point is the expected market value of the new development. Viability testing is essential, and sufficient sites should be tested to inform the assessment of the viability of a plan. However, evidence to the Lyons commission also suggested that the current arrangements create a great deal of uncertainty and complexity, which works in favour of the partner with the most skilled consultants acting for it. That is compounded by the diversity of guidance.

A single methodology and guidance will reduce the scope for differing interpretations of how much is available to support the required infrastructure and social gain. We therefore recommend that there should be definitive and agreed guidance applied by all parties in the same way, based on the principles that the landowner should receive a reasonable return and have clarity about what they could expect to receive for their land; and that viability should clearly identify the uplift in value arising  from the grant of planning permission, to enable that to be properly considered as part of the planning process, alongside the costs of necessary supporting infrastructure and affordable housing.

A number of recent reports suggest that calculating the appropriate benchmark land value for viability assessment based on the existing use value plus a premium is most conducive to achieving that aim and ensuring that development is sustainable in terms of the national planning policy framework and local plan requirements. Further work with representatives across the sector will be required to ensure that the methodology is evidence-based and takes into account the different market conditions, in terms of current costs and values that would be put into the viability appraisal. It would be essential for site-specific negotiations to be based on an open-book approach to inform the relevant appraisal inputs.

Will the Minister therefore commit to accepting the amendment and transforming how we measure and understand the viability of site development? I should point out that the purpose of amendment 57 is to clarify what is meant by

“open space or fuel or field garden allotment” in amendment 56.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 5:15 pm, 6th January 2015

The hon. Lady has tabled amendments to add further controls to the land transfer process. The amendment would constrain the HCA’s activity and diminish its ability to act as the Government’s surplus land regeneration and disposal agent, so we will resist it, and I shall work through each of the five paragraphs that it would add to new section 53A(1) as set out in clause 27.

The new paragraph (a) would restrict transfers to land that is “classified as surplus”. The hon. Lady asked for a definition of “surplus”, and I am advised that the previous Government came up with one in 2005, which is quite simple and defines it as land that the landowning Department no longer requires. Such property could comprise either a whole property or part of a property. The definition was published in 2005 and is still available on the website. I do not have the exact URL, but if it helps the hon. Lady I will make sure it is forwarded to her so that she can see the 2005 definition.

The reason we do not accept the new paragraph (a) from her amendment, with its restriction of land transfers to land that is purely surplus, is that there may be parcels of land currently held by Government agencies, which are approaching the end of their operational use, but which have not tipped over the threshold to become surplus within the current definition. It is important to retain the option for land to be transferred to the HCA while it still has an operational use and is not yet absolutely surplus. That would enable the HCA to start remediation works and marketing in parallel with the winding down of operational activity. Then we will get to the point when the land is indeed surplus, as defined in 2005.

Paragraph (b) of the hon. Lady’s amendment would restrict the transfer of land that is defined as “a common, open space” or different types of allotments. We understand and appreciate the importance of protecting commons, open space, fuel allotments and field garden allotments  from developments. Common land is central to our national heritage and we value it for grazing and agricultural use, recreation, nature conservation and its historical and archaeological significance. Numerous planning procedures, however, are already in place to protect such open spaces. The HCA is well aware of that need. To exclude any site with an element of open space or any of the other categories defined in paragraph (b) of the amendment would constrain the ability of the HCA to develop another part of the land.

Some of the definitions are quite old. I must admit that “fuel allotments” was a new phrase to me, even though I am the Minister whose desk every allotment proposal by a local authority has to cross. I have read quite a lot about allotments in the past 18 months, but I have not come across a fuel allotment before. For the benefit of the Committee, fuel allotments date back to a time when a proportion of land was set aside so that the poorer people of a village might cut turf or wood for their domestic fires. The rules that we use for those pieces of land are now affected by successive Enclosure Acts, which takes me all the way back to my O-level history—that is how old I am, I did O-levels.

The hon. Lady might reasonably agree that some of the definitions that she is seeking to include in the Bill would not necessarily be helpful in providing meaningful protection for land that is important to people. Where there is land that is still important to people, such as an allotment for growing food, flowers or anything else that someone wishes to use the land for, and where there is a public right of way, existing protections are in place that the HCA or anyone else who wishes to acquire such land would have to take into account.

As a consequence of resisting paragraph (b) of amendment 56, we also have to resist amendment 57, which, for the purposes of the earlier amendment, defines

“a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment”,

all of which amendment 56 would exclude from transfer to the HCA.

The clause is all about accelerating internal Government processes to transfer Government land, so that it can be disposed of more quickly and effectively for appropriate development. It does not override any existing planning policy or community rights—I am also the Minister responsible for the new community rights under the Localism Act 2011—so it is quite possible for any community to list an asset of community value, and I urge all hon. Members to encourage their constituents to consider doing so. Lots of safeguards are already in place to which the HCA and others have to pay due regard.

Paragraph (c) refers to public rights of way, but that is another area of land law where considerable protections are in place. I am sure that many of us have come across this at some point in our political careers—someone wishing to alter or block a public right of way—and so know that there is a process that has to be gone through in order for that to take place. Sufficient protections already exist so that that paragraph of the hon. Lady’s amendment is unnecessary.

Paragraph (d) concerns the details of transfers and how they are reported to the Land Registry. We agree that transfers should be subject to transparent reporting to the Land Registry. However, transfers of assets are  already subject to compulsory registration under the Land Registration Act 2002. As it is already a legal requirement, it is unnecessary for us to create further primary legislation.

Finally, paragraph (e) refers to an open-book approach. We feel that it would be unhelpful to restrict transfers to the Homes and Communities Agency to sites that meet standard viability criteria. The regeneration and development work that the HCA can deliver is an opportunity to bring vital long-term social and economic benefits to sites. It is essential that we maintain the flexibility to transfer any site to the HCA when doing so would support our wider growth and policy objectives. That may occasionally mean transferring sites when the level of investment required is greater than the market value—for example, when transferring the site enables the HCA to unlock a residential development that supports the local community. I hope that the hon. Lady heard me say that sufficient legal and community protections are already in place for particular parts of land that are important to our constituents, and I hope she will agree to withdraw her amendments.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am not totally convinced by the Minister’s response. I heard what he said, in particular about land classified as surplus. I am sure that the definition that was produced in 2005 was an excellent definition for that time, but we are 10 years on, we have this Bill in front of us and the issue needs revisiting. Perhaps the Minister will think about revisiting the definition at some point, if only to ensure that it takes on board some of the later points in the amendment. For example, we need clarity about whether the definition includes open space, common space and so on.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

If I may just deal with the point about surplus. The definition that I read out, about which hon. Lady is rightly sceptical, is not comprehensive. None the less, we can all agree that when something is surplus it is no longer required. It is beyond continuing use to whichever Government agency it is. The reason why I am resisting paragraph (a) is that we may want the HCA to start work on pieces of land that we know will become surplus but are not yet surplus under the existing definition—whether the dictionary definition or the guidance. If the hon. Lady’s definition were on the face of the Bill, such work would not be able to start.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for that helpful clarification. This is a probing amendment to test the Government on the transparency of land. My additional point on land transactions was about options—we know that land that is sold must be registered—and about making that information available to the public. I am not sure that the Minister dealt with that point. We will mull over that issue, as we will mull over how the test of viability can be clarified. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I beg to move amendment 58, in clause 27, page 26, line 41, at end insert—

‘(2A) Regulations under subsection (2) must specify a New Town Development Corporation, subject to the objectives set out in section [Place making objectives for New Town Development Corporation].”

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 13—Place making objectives for new town development corporations—

“Place making objectives for new town development corporations

In Part 1 of the 1981 New Towns Act delete section 4 (1) and insert—

‘(1) The objects of a development corporation established for the purpose of a new town shall be to secure the physical laying out of infrastructure and the long-term sustainable development of the new town.

(1A) Under this Act sustainable development means managing the use, development and protection of land and natural resources in a way which enables people and communities to provide for their legitimate social, economic and cultural wellbeing, while sustaining the potential for future generations to meet their own needs.

(1B) In achieving sustainable development, development corporations should—

(a) positively identify suitable land for development in line with the economic, social and environmental objectives so as to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and health of people and the community;

(b) contribute to the sustainable economic development of the town;

(c) contribute to the vibrant cultural and artistic development of the town;

(d) protect and enhance the natural and historic environment;

(e) contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate change in line with the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008;

(f) positively promote high quality and inclusive design for the maximum number of people including disabled people;

(g) ensure that decision-making is open, transparent, participative and accountable; and

(h) ensure that assets are managed for long-term interest of the community.

(1C) In this Part “infrastructure” includes—

(a) water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services;

(b) roads, railways or other transport facilities;

(c) retail or other business facilities;

(d) health, educational, employment or training facilities;

(e) social, religious, recreational or cultural facilities;

(f) green infrastructure and ecosystems;

(g) cremation or burial facilities; and

(h) community facilities not falling within paragraphs (a) to (f); and

“land” includes housing or other buildings (and see also the definition in Schedule 10 to the Interpretation Act 1978), and references to housing include (where the context permits) any yard, garden, outhouses and appurtenances belonging to, or usually enjoyed with, the building or part of building concerned.””

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 5:30 pm, 6th January 2015

Our purpose in tabling the amendment and new clause 13 is to enable the Committee to consider new town development corporations as a way of speeding up the development of housing and the appropriate supporting infrastructure.

The Government have talked much of late about supporting new garden cities. As we know, however, they have pretty much been reannouncing existing schemes.  New clause 13 would transform the Bill by inserting provisions that would enable us to modernise new towns legislation to deliver the settlements we need.

I am grateful to the Town and Country Planning Association for helping me to develop the provisions and for so tirelessly championing the case of garden cities, especially when it was not necessarily fashionable to do so. Its works on this issue has highlighted how the Bill could frame a positive debate about how to deliver new settlements.

The Government have endorsed the development corporation model by proposing to designate an urban development corporation at Ebbsfleet. They have signalled in a letter to peers that they believe that UDCs, rather than new town development corporations, are the way to deliver a new generation of garden cities. But the TCPA strongly disagrees with that approach, which risks confusing the real differences in the nature of the challenge of regenerating existing places and that of building new communities. We agree with the TCPA on that point.

New town development corporations were designed in 1946 specifically for the creation of new towns. That is reflected in their core statutory purpose. The designation process includes a public inquiry, in recognition of the need to involve people in such major planning decisions. UDCs were designed in 1980 specifically to deal with relatively localised urban regeneration initiatives, which is reflected in both their purpose and their designation, which does not require a public inquiry. The issue is simply being clear about using the right tool for the job. The TCPA believes that both forms of corporation have valuable roles to play, but keeping them clearly defined is vital, particularly in building public confidence. We agree on that point as well.

We have the opportunity to use the Bill to amend the purpose of new town development corporations to ensure that they are fit for purpose for creating a new generation of garden cities. Currently, new town development corporations have no place-making objectives in law. Their remit has no obligation on community participation or human health and well-being and no reference to sustainable development or climate change. Making those a statutory purpose rather than a Government policy would provide confidence that place-making is a central objective in housing policy. It would also allow any new Government after 2015 to be properly prepared to deliver a comprehensive housing growth strategy.

The TCPA supports new clause 13, which would amend the objectives of the new town development corporations. The new clause would build upon the detailed research the TCPA has carried out on the measures necessary to make new town legislation fit for purpose. The New Towns Act 1981 is still in force. It provides for the setting up of powerful development corporations to drive delivery. Those corporations were the engines that drove the rapid deployment of the new towns programme and had the following core powers. They could compulsorily purchase land if it could not be bought by voluntary agreement; prepare a master plan; apply to the Minister for the equivalent of outline planning permission for comprehensive tracts of the new town; control development; deliver utilities; procure housing subsidised by Government grant and by other  means; act as a housing association in the management of housing; and carry out any other activity necessary for the development of the town.

Although there was strong delivery, the outcomes in new towns did not always reflect the highest design and quality standards. For example, many estates were built using poor quality materials or techniques that have not stood the test of time and so today require renewal. In addition, there is now a need to modernise the objectives of new town development corporations to ensure that they have the visionary purpose to effect change, while creating new opportunities for partnership and participation and planning for a low-carbon future. Partly because of the nature of the new towns legislation, very little of the high social ambition which drove the originators of the New Towns Act 1946 was reflected in the legal objectives of development corporations. They are quite brief and mechanistic, referring only to the laying out and development of the new town. There is a risk that development corporations might see themselves as engineering departments rather than organisations engaged in the wider social enterprise of place-making.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a wide recognition that planning has few, if any, outcome duties. That, in turn, has led to much criticism that planning has become a process without a purpose. New legal provisions have been introduced to focus the system on sustainable development, climate change and good design but they do not apply to development corporations because they are not local planning authorities. New clause 13 is designed to extend and modernise the list of objective and duties of new town development corporations. To modernise the objectives, the new clause draws on the outcome duties invoked in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008, as well as the legislation that created the new Homes and Communities Agency, which has statutory objectives that include people’s well-being, good design and sustainable development.

New clause 13 would also introduce new and important obligations for the social and cultural as well as physical and economic development of a new town. Crucially, it would introduce obligations for community participation, which are so vital in building public confidence. The new clause includes a new definition of sustainable development, based on the successful wording of New Zealand’s Resource Management Act 1991. If inserted into part 4 of the Infrastructure Bill, the new clause would help us significantly to update this legislation in a satisfactory way. What we want to see and what is contained in new clause 13 is place-making objectives for new town development corporations, so that the corporation can be established for the purpose of a new town. It can secure the physical layout of the infrastructure but also the long-term sustainable development of the new town.

Because of the time pressures facing us, I will not read out every measure contained in new clause 13. I hope that it is sufficient for the Committee’s deliberations to say that we want the legislation to be updated so that it can achieve sustainable development. We want it to have provisions that enable it to look at sustainable economic development as well as cultural and artistic development, while enhancing the natural and historic environment and looking at the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. We want it positively to  promote high-quality and inclusive design for the maximum number of people, including for disabled people. We also want it to ensure that decision making is open, transparent, participative and accountable and that assets are managed in the long-term interest of the community.

We think that the legislation should include all aspects of infrastructure, including: water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services; roads, railways or other transport facilities; retail or other business facilities; health, educational, employment or training facilities; social, religious, recreational or cultural facilities; green infrastructure and ecosystems; cremation or burial facilities and community facilities not falling within the categories outlined.

There should be specific references to the quality of any housing delivered. If we were to amend the new towns legislation, it would enable some meaning to be given to the Government’s commitment to delivering a new generation of garden cities. At the moment, proposals are coming forward for new garden cities. They are being called garden cities, but they are not underpinned by any of the principles that would lead anyone outside the Government to recognise them as garden cities. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

New clause 13 laid by the hon. Member for City of Durham seeks to set out two main objectives for a development corporation established for the purpose of creating a new town; first, the physical laying out of infrastructure and secondly, the long-term sustainable development of the new town. The core of my argument against the need for this new clause is that it is simply unhelpful to prescribe in detail in legislation what a new town development corporation should do. I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that creating well designed sustainable communities should be at the heart of all new development, but I do not think that describing the objectives of a new town development corporation in detail in legislation would help achieve those objectives in a way that allowed for sufficient flexibility on a local basis. There is much to be said for the simplicity in the current statutory objective for a new town development corporation to secure the laying out and development of a new town. As my noble Friend Lady Stowell said in the House of Lords, this brevity has been proven to be helpful in the past. The detailed objectives of development corporations can be established in response to what is needed and wanted locally.

The amendment proposes that sustainable development should be included in the objectives of new town development corporations. The hon. Lady came up with quite an exhaustive list of what should be in the objectives, including crematoriums at one point. I emphasise that the Government strongly support the principle of sustainable development. It is central to the national planning policy framework. That document provides a clear view of what sustainable development should mean in practice. Creating an additional statutory definition of sustainable development could serve to reduce that clarity.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

Before I ask my question, I should make clear my role as a trustee of the Town and Country Planning Association. It is a non-pecuniary interest but I think Members should be aware of that.

As the Minister says he is committed to sustainable development, what proportion of affordable housing would he see as an appropriate element in any garden city developed under the prospectus that the Government are offering?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am not going to give the right hon. Gentleman an exact percentage proportion because that would have to vary depending on local circumstances. There are a number of proposals for garden cities or garden settlements—call them what you will—coming forward as a result of the Government’s invitation for new proposals. I would expect them not only to be garden settlements in an ecological sense in order to deliver sustainability but also to be balanced, in order to have a sustainable community. Whether that settlement is starting completely from scratch in an area that currently has no housing at all is different from building a garden settlement on the edge of an existing urban area where there may already be a given proportion of affordable housing. It is not that I am dodging the direct question asked by the right hon. Gentleman. I am just saying that it will clearly vary according to local circumstances. An assessment will be made when the planning authority is considering the range of houses to be built and it will no doubt look at the housing stock in the district and come to a view as to whether it wants more affordable housing to be built.

As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman on several occasions when he has asked oral questions in the Chamber, this Government have a record of which I am quite proud of reinvigorating the building of affordable homes and building them at the fastest rate since the time of Mrs Thatcher. The next affordable homes prospectus, which is out there at the moment, was to cover 2015 to 2018, but in the autumn statement we said it would be extended to 2020, with additional Government resources being put on the table. That is the most ambitious affordable homes programme of any Government since I was in primary school.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 5:45 pm, 6th January 2015

I shall not take the Minister up on that issue, as I have on other occasions, other than to say to him that history will show that this Government’s record of housing development over the past four years is the lowest of any Government since the 1920s, and that the affordable housing programme has been derisory, with virtually no new social housing being built at all. I simply want to put him that we need social rented housing at genuinely affordable rents, rather than properties at percentages of market rents, many of which are unaffordable other than with housing benefit.

Coming to the specific point I wanted to put to the Minister, does he agree that 0% affordable housing in a garden city would not be a sustainable proportion?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I agree that 0% would not be what I would want to see. If a garden settlement is constructed, say, 10 miles from the nearest existing urban settlement, a new community is being created completely from scratch in a greenfield environment. I would want—as I  am sure the developers of a garden settlement and the local authority would want—that new community to be socially balanced. However, to come back to my initial answer to the right hon. Gentleman, it would entirely depend on local circumstances. Some of the proposals that are coming forward for garden settlements are adjacent to well established towns, such as Bicester. I am not an expert on the current disposition of housing stock in that part of Oxfordshire. It is up to the local authority to come to its own view as to what it thinks is an acceptable proportion of new affordable homes being built in the area.

Again, I completely refute what the right hon. Gentleman says about this Government’s record. In the period from 2011 to the end of this Parliament, we will have delivered an affordable homes programme of 170,000 new units. We have announced 165,000 new units for the first three years of the next Parliament, and further provision was outlined in the autumn statement.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Well, quite a big jar of jam has already been built over the past few years. I have been around the country visiting some of the sites in the course of construction. I have had the classic photo opportunity that I am sure every Housing Minister wants. I shall refer to an exact example, in Cornwall. I visited a settlement on a former mining site, where incidentally the HCA was instrumental in bringing forward the land acquisition, at Pool—the Cornish Pool, not the Dorset Poole—where I met the tenants of the affordable homes that had been built under the Government’s affordable homes programme. I opened a street of new council houses in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell). I simply do not recognise the picture that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich describes of nothing having happened.

I do recognise, as someone who grew up on a council estate, that this is the first Government who have required local authorities to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of council houses back into the affordable homes programme, in order to put new affordable homes back into the community. I remember from the 1997 general election campaign that the right hon. Gentleman’s party criticised the right-to-buy programme that Mrs Thatcher instituted, under which stock was not replaced. That was an entirely reasonable point, but Labour did not do anything about it when it was in office.

I certainly acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman has something that he should be proud of in the decent homes standard. The previous Government did a very important job in bringing the residual stock of council houses up to a decent standard, and the current Government have continued to support that. However, to pretend that there was some golden era between 1997 and 2010, with a lot of new affordable homes being built by the Government rather than as a result of section 106 agreements, is simply to have a rose-tinted view of those 13 years. I remember the Prime Minister at the time, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), saying in the run-up to the 2010 general election, I think in a “Newsnight” interview, that house building was not something that the Government should do but something that the market delivered. I  am proud of what the Government have done on affordable homes, and I am proud of my party’s role in ensuring that the Government have an affordable homes programme.

I return to the amendment and new clause tabled by the hon. Member for City of Durham.

Roberta Blackman-Woods rose—

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am glad that the Minister mentioned the decent homes standard, because I was going to intervene and say that we cannot take out of the equation the number of council houses that were either kept in use or brought back into use through the decent homes standard.

Will the Minister accept that Labour’s housing policy was not just about reliance on the market? We also put a lot of money into housing associations, and the output of housing associations during the 1997 to 2010 period was much higher than it is at the moment. Also, affordability is not 80% of market rents. Will he accept that for a lot of people across the country, that is not affordable?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The percentage definition of “affordable” obviously varies in different parts of the country. In some places, a percentage of the market rent will be considerably lower than a social rent in other parts. There is a huge difference between rental levels in Bristol, in London and in Durham, so that is not something we can make general points about.

The last point I will make before returning to the amendment and new clause is that the stock of social and affordable homes fell every year from 1980, or whenever it was that right to buy was introduced, and fell below 4 million homes in, I think, 2004. The latest housing statistics that we have show that the stock of social and affordable homes has now gone back above 4 million for the first time in 30 years. I am quite proud of that, and I do not think that either the hon. Member for City of Durham or her colleagues can refute that statistic.

I come back to new town development corporations and sustainable development. They are central to the NPPF, which provides a clear view of what sustainable development means in practice. As I was saying before we went off on a wider debate, creating an additional statutory definition would reduce that clarity. I note the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for new town development corporations, but none have been created since 1970. We have gone through the Wilson, Callaghan and Blair Governments, and the premiership of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, with nobody thinking it was necessary to create new town development corporations to get sustainable urban development off the ground.

I am clear that whether there are new town development corporations or urban development corporations, which are the vehicle that the Government have chosen to use to establish the new garden settlement at Ebbsfleet, they should, whatever their corporate model, have a strong focus on securing sustainable development in a way that reflects local circumstances and needs.

Amendment 58, tabled by the hon. Member for City of Durham, would mean that any regulations made by the Secretary of State to enable property rights or liabilities of a public body or bodies to be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency must include new development corporations. The new power provided by clause 27 already enables the Secretary of State to specify extant new town development corporations in the secondary legislation that will flow from the clause. However, naming such a body would be necessary only when the land owned by it was required to be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency or the Greater London authority. It is not currently clear whether a new town development corporation will be required to transfer land to the HCA or the GLA, and as such there seems little benefit to mandating in primary legislation that they should be named in secondary legislation for that purpose.

I cannot see a good case for singling out new town development corporations in the way that the hon. Lady has set out. The purpose of them is fundamentally clear—to secure development—so it is not clear why, for example, we would expect them to transfer to the Homes and Communities Agency land that is central to delivery. With those precise remarks—perhaps not the wider remarks, on which we differed—I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

First, I wish to point out to the Minister that my enthusiasm for new town development corporations is for the model that I proposed in my amendment; I was not suggesting for a moment that current legislation is good enough to deliver the new generation of garden cities and urban extensions that we all want to see. I am extremely disappointed that the Minister did not take the opportunity provided by the amendment and new clause to be visionary and enthusiastic about updating legislation. They would enable us to ensure that from day one of the next Parliament, we can deliver garden cities that are built on garden city principles, that have a good percentage of affordable housing, that meet all the needs of the community, that are genuinely place-making and that ensure that money goes back to the local community for long-term investment.

I am going to leave the Minister to ponder on my disappointment and his lost opportunity. Perhaps he will think again. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

We now come to the debate on clause 28 stand part. No amendments have been selected for debate—

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con) rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Well, I will dampen it a little. No amendments have been selected for debate because the amendment to clause 28 that was tabled is starred. I must therefore point out to the two Members who tabled amendment 62  that the stand part debate is not an excuse to speak to that amendment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity will get around that.