New Clause 18 - Greater London Authority: housing and regeneration

Infrastructure Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 15th January 2015.

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‘(1) The Greater London Authority Act 1999 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).

(2) In section 31 (Limits of the general power), at the end insert—

‘(10) Nothing in subsection (1)(a) above shall be taken to prevent the Authority from providing financial assistance to any body or person for the purposes of housing or regeneration.”’.—(Nadhim Zahawi.)

To broaden the Greater London Authority’s powers to enable them to fund housing and regeneration programmes which include some degree of financial support for the development of London’s transport infrastructure.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

May I add my voice to that of my colleagues in saying what a pleasure it has been to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger? You have kept us committed to doing the right thing, focused on the Bill, and wide awake as well.

I have tabled the new clause to draw attention to an anomaly in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that could limit the ability of the Greater London authority to fund infrastructure improvements as part of regeneration projects in this great city. Such infrastructure investment is vital and greatly welcome to both the residents of our nation’s capital and visitors to it, such as my own constituents.

The new clause relates to section 31(1) of the 1999 Act, which appears to prohibit the GLA’s expenditure on a project if that project could be undertaken by Transport for London. As members of the Committee will be aware, a number of important infrastructure projects in London at the moment are supported by the Government, including the new housing zones policy and the massive regeneration of Barking riverside. Many of those projects include transport infrastructure that could be considered to be covered by section 31(1). I also understand that the section could prevent the Homes and Communities Agency from undertaking work under a delegation from the GLA.

To ensure that vital infrastructure spending in the capital is on a rock-solid legal footing, I strongly believe that it is important that any misunderstandings arising from section 31(1) of the 1999 Act be removed as soon as possible. I would therefore appreciate a commitment from the Government to deal with the anomaly.

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. It is nice to hear him speak in the Committee; his time spent sitting silently but supportively listening to everyone else has now been rewarded. He has raised an important point, of which the Government are aware—indeed, it was drawn to our attention—and I thank him for giving the issue an airing for the whole Committee.

The GLA recently informed the Government that in its opinion, it was ambiguous whether the GLA would have the legal powers to fund the transport elements of housing or regeneration schemes. As my hon. Friend said,  that is because of a general prohibition in the original Act that set up the GLA in 1999 preventing the it from incurring expenditure in doing anything that its functional bodies can do—in this instance, Transport for London. From a commercial perspective, it is a case in which the subsidiary appears to have more power than the parent, which seems odd, but that is how the legislation was constructed back in 1999.

Transport for London has wide-ranging powers, defined as being

“for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within Greater London.”

If the GLA’s interpretation of the legislation is correct, it could have a significant impact on its ability to provide financial assistance for some of its projects to build new homes in London. That is clearly not what Parliament intended when passing the Localism Act 2011, which devolved responsibility for housing and regeneration in London to the Mayor and the GLA.

Although I thank my hon. Friend for tabling the new clause, we do not think that, as currently drafted, it achieves the clarity that the GLA is rightly seeking at the moment on the extent of its powers to incur expenditure on transport. I can inform him and advise the Committee that the Government are investigating the issue urgently and seeking the most appropriate legislative solution to ensure that the Mayor, and specifically the GLA, have the clarity needed to build the new homes and create the new jobs that London and Londoners desperately need. With that reassurance that we are aware of the problem, it is being considered urgently and a solution is hopefully forthcoming shortly, I encourage my hon. Friend to withdraw his clause.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. From his comments, he is clearly taking the matter seriously and has considered it in some detail. I hope that he will be able to come back with a legislative solution. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.