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[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Affordable Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 9th September 2015.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp Conservative, Croydon South 9:30 am, 9th September 2015

No. Proper consultation is clearly very important. Quite often, however, it the process with officers that is slow. It is not the planning committee; the officers who prepare the reports and do all the work prior to the application can take a very long time, often because they are under-resourced, because of the understandable pressures on local government finances. I am sure that larger developers in particular would be happy to pay significantly higher fees to speed up the process. Some planning departments and councils are very good, but some are not, and when they are not performing and are letting local residents down by being slow in dealing with applications, we should consider outsourcing planning functions to a third party that can do the job more effectively. That could be paid for by planning fees.

Fourthly, we must make sure that the brownfield register being compiled for the LDOs is given real focus. I suspect that the GLA will play a role in supporting that process, and it may need some financial assistance. It is essential to get the list of brownfield land and develop those 8,000 acres as quickly as possible. I hope that the Department, the Mayor of London and the boroughs will put a huge focus on identifying that land and giving it outline planning consent over the next five years.

My fifth point is a more general one, about talking to developers. I should draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I have a previous and a current professional involvement in the area. Parts of the planning process put up barriers—things like bat studies and crested newt studies. They are less of an issue, I imagine, in Camden and Hackney, but in other parts of the country they can delay developments by months or years. Bats and crested newts are important, but building houses is important as well, and sometimes the balance struck between those considerations is not quite right.

My sixth point relates to the London Land Commission. Its current mandate is simply to identify surplus public sector land. I would go further and give the commission, supported by the Mayor of London and the Department, the power to take on surplus public sector land—whoever it happens to be owned by—and to bring that land directly forward for development. Some 50%, say, of the proceeds would go, with no restrictions, to the previous landowner—the NHS, Network Rail or TfL—and the other 50% would be ploughed back into housing. There would therefore be an incentive for such organisations to co-operate with the process, whereas if the money just disappears somewhere else, they may not be very co-operative. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to granting the commission the powers I have described.

The seventh point is to make the adoption of a local plan by local authorities—both inside and outside London—mandatory. At the moment, a number of authorities do not have local plans, which makes it difficult to bring forward housing. If authorities do not bring forward a local plan by a particular point—for example, by 2017—the planning inspector or DCLG should simply develop one on their behalf. Authorities have had plenty of notice, but a number have not developed a plan.

My final point is that community infrastructure payments should be used for infrastructure that is relevant to the local community. When local authorities take community infrastructure levy money, it can disappear into a black hole, and there is a temptation to replace capital spending elsewhere, which causes resentment among local residents. In the case of the project close to my house, there is a £7 million CIL payment, but the money could disappear to the other end of Croydon, which would mean that any pressures on schools, hospitals and local roads were not necessarily alleviated. I think the local public will be more accepting of large-scale development if they can see that it is directly linked to infrastructure improvements in their locality, and that will ease the passage of development.

I have tried to make eight constructive suggestions to help to alleviate the house building issues that London faces. I hope Members on both sides will agree with my diagnosis of the problem and with some of the solutions I have mentioned. I hope colleagues will come forward with other ideas in the next hour and 10 minutes and that the Minister will be able to respond to them.

Our city faces problems on housing. Progress has been made, but there is more to do. I therefore hope that we can work together, as London MPs, with the Mayor of London, the boroughs and the Department to alleviate the pressures our city faces.