One Public Estate Programme — [Ian Paisley in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 9:30 am, 14th May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered One Public Estate.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to bring forward this debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Paisley.

I have secured this debate because I believe it is important to review programmes and policies and, as far as I can see, there has been very little scrutiny of the One Public Estate programme since its launch some six years ago in 2013. It was launched by the coalition Government, largely in response to their priority of reducing the deficit. Although I acknowledge that ambition, my great fear is that we are witnessing a wholesale asset stripping of the public estate with very little public or central Government scrutiny.

However, I appreciate that the programme’s aim was just as much to seek to join up central Government, local government and other partners to make better use of public assets and their land. The idea was that by public partners sharing space, running costs could be reduced and surplus assets sold to generate money or released for other purposes to create new jobs or homes. In fact, the programme had three core aims: to create efficiencies, generating capital receipts and reducing costs; to create local economic growth, creating new jobs and homes; and to deliver more integrated, customer-focused services, providing citizens with better access to Government.

My interest in securing the debate was motivated by my own time as a councillor on Warwickshire County Council, and by a local project involving new offices for Warwick District Council, my local authority, which I believe could have made use of the One Public Estate programme. It is also motivated by my wider interest, which many will know of, in housing issues and particularly social housing. I will outline the aims of the programme when it was first launched, provide my own assessment of its success and perhaps unpick some of its failures, particularly in relation to housing.

Launching the policy in 2014, Francis Maude, who was a Minister in the Cabinet Office in the years 2010 to 2015, outlined the impetus for the programme thus:

“In the absence of a comprehensive, coordinated strategy, central departments and their arms-length bodies all did their own thing.”

He continued:

“They did it without talking to each other and without thinking about their local partners.

Because no one was looking at the bigger picture, departments would take on expensive new leases when government freeholds remained under-used—or where local authority accommodation was available just down the road.”

I will come back to that point and illustrate it with a local example. Later in my speech I will also return to what Mr Maude was saying in 2014, as I think his words were particularly significant. They are certainly eerily apposite to the case of Warwick District Council, my local authority, and its proposed self-described new headquarters building in the centre of Leamington.

There was merit in Mr Maude’s approach, and I applaud his thinking at the time. For example, the notion of providing services in one place as opposed to several could better serve the public by providing easier access to local government and other public services. The obvious example would be a jobcentre sharing space with a council’s welfare and housing team.

In its initial trialling in 2013, the programme focused on 12 councils. It has since expanded rapidly so that just over 300 councils now participate, representing 95% of all English local authorities. The One Public Estate programme also works with 13 Government Departments and hundreds of health and blue light organisations. It works by providing a combination of central Government grant funding directly to partnerships, which have to bid for it, and expertise that local authorities and other public bodies do not always possess.

The purpose of the funding is to cover up-front costs associated with getting a project under way and to unlock those potential assets, for example through remediation works on land that could be used for housing. One Public Estate has also formed a partnership with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to jointly administer the Government’s land release programme, which is designed to release land for 160,000 homes on Government land and a further 160,000 on local government land by 2020. That was formulated back in 2017.

There have been some successes through the programme. In my assessment, the aims of One Public Estate are, in the main, laudable. As someone who spent part of my career bringing change to an organisation, I wholeheartedly support the programme’s aim to rationalise the use of public assets to reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and to provide Government services in a more joined-up and accessible way. In fact, shortly after the programme’s national launch, I proposed a “one Warwickshire estate” programme as a county councillor. I could see that the county and district councils in my community could make much better use of the land and buildings they owned to serve each other’s needs.

Across the country, there have clearly been some successes, albeit limited ones. The most impressive is that to date the programme has created 5,700 jobs, and the latest phase is expected to create a further 14,000 new jobs. That is a tangible benefit for people up and down the country. To date, it is estimated that running costs associated with partner projects have been reduced by £24 million, and the new phase is expected to save taxpayers £37 million in running costs. However, I point out that, while any saving to the taxpayer is positive, £24 million over five years is relatively small beer compared with the overall cost of Government.

There are individual cases that will bring big benefits to their local communities. Looking through the various materials available on the programme, I see the development of public sector hubs, if done in the right way, as a positive step forward. The West Suffolk partnership is currently developing such a hub, which will have space for a school, leisure facilities including a swimming pool and health centre, children’s centre, public library, jobcentre and citizen’s advice bureau, as well as space for Suffolk police, West Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council. That will surely benefit how the local community interacts with the public sector, and the project is expected to reduce running costs by £4 million to boot.

Another example is in Cornwall, where the police, fire and ambulance services have co-located in a new joint headquarters in Hayle, saving £500,000 a year on running costs and releasing two sites for redevelopment. The new facility has enabled the emergency services to reach many more people within the target response time. Since the success of that first tri-light co-location, Cornwall partners have progressed to a number of further blue light property co-locations and piloted emergency services collaboration, with tri-service offices being rolled out across the county.

I mentioned that Warwick District Council, in my area, has been seeking to build itself a new office. I do not believe that is necessary, because there is ample vacant or void space in the county council offices, just two miles up the road. I will come back to that a little bit later.

There have also been failures of the programme. Perhaps the greatest failing of all has been the wholesale disposal of public land, ignoring the greatest crisis of all—the need to deliver much-needed public housing. That is my greatest concern because, to paraphrase, “They don’t make land any more,” and, together with its people, public land is a community’s greatest asset.

We are in the midst of a serious housing crisis: 277,000 people are homeless and 1,157,000 households are currently on the housing waiting list. There is a clear and urgent need to house people who are at the sharp end of this crisis, but we also hear from older constituents who are renting privately and unable to afford their rent—a problem that will only increase. It is estimated that by 2040 up to one third of 60-year-olds will be renting privately. We also know that many younger people are trapped in the private rented sector.

One of the major barriers to providing housing is land. Sky-high land prices are preventing local authorities from gaining access to land to build on, and those prices are incentivising cash-strapped councils to sell off the land they own rather than build on it.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He talks about social housing, and there are five major cartels in this country that the Government should tackle. They get involved in what I call land banking, for want of a better term: they get outline planning permission, and then they sit on the land until it becomes more valuable. Then, of course, house prices in the private sector go through the roof. Does he agree that that is one of the big problems that should be tackled?

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point: this is an oligopoly, with just a few players controlling our land. I increasingly see local authorities coming to arrangements with the big players and developers, and that prevents land from being used wisely to deliver the sort of housing that we need.

With such a colossal social crisis before us, we should use all suitable public land to build high-quality social rented council housing, without exception—not 50% here or 40% there, but 100% of such land. I fear—with good reason, it seems—that the One Public Estate programme was designed more to incentivise the public sector to sell its precious land as part of a national asset-stripping programme than to use the opportunity so afforded to design in a more efficient delivery of public services or facilitate the building of social rented housing, which would be of most social benefit to most communities.

A relatively small number of homes have been delivered by the OPE so far: just 303, which is a failure in itself. Overall, the land released will enable the building of a further 2,550 homes, with an estimated 10,000 more homes over the next five years. It worries me that I cannot find the data on how many of those homes will be social rented, or even affordable—I suspect most are not—or how much of the land has been released to local authorities to build council housing; I suspect most has not. It would be helpful if the Minister provided the data today.

I do know, however, that the Government’s estate strategy revealed that around £2 billion has already been generated from selling more than 1,000 buildings in the last four years, with £164 million in capital receipts from land and property sales raised as part of the OPE. How much of that land could have been suitable for delivering the social rented council housing we desperately need? In truth, any such need, or means of facility to meet that need, has been fundamentally undermined by the prevailing attitude that public sector assets and land are best released to the private sector. I think it is fair to say that that was the view of what is now seen as a surprisingly neoliberal coalition Government. In the speech that I referred to earlier, Francis Maude went on to say that

“we want to release property back onto the market”,

and that the Government

“identified assets which could be released between now and 2020, generating £5 billion for the taxpayer.”

To be fair, it appears that this Government’s priorities have changed from those of the coalition Government. The Prime Minister has claimed that austerity is over, although the public are yet to see any evidence of that. She has also claimed that she wishes to solve the housing crisis, naming it the Government’s No. 1 domestic priority. Indeed, the borrowing cap has been reformed so that councils can begin building council housing at scale again, but a cap should never have been imposed in the first instance. I therefore urge the Minister to look again at how the One Public Estate programme operates, in terms of releasing public land, and to shift its priorities so that public land that is suitable for the development of social rented council housing is prioritised for that purpose, instead of being flogged off to the highest bidder.

The defence estate optimisation programme provides a very good example of the potential of OPE, but also its failings. The Ministry of Defence currently accounts for 2% of the UK’s land mass. The Government recognise that many of those sites could be better used, particularly for housing, and the Ministry of Defence therefore plans to release around 90 of its most expensive sites before 2040, potentially releasing land for 55,000 homes. That relies on linking up the Ministry with the relevant local authorities and providing them with the up-front cost and expertise needed to make the most of the release of those sites. The OPE is well placed to fulfil that role; indeed, it is already involved in discussions relating to 12 of the sites.

However, if we dig slightly deeper, we see that the opportunity for mass social rented housing programmes on that land is being totally missed. For example, St George’s barracks in Rutland is due to close in 2021, and the master plan that has been developed provides for 2,200 homes as part of a new garden village. The OPE programme was awarded £175,000 in December 2017 for project management, consultation, surveys and master planning of the barracks site—so far, so good. However, when we delve into the master plan, we see that only 30% of the homes will be affordable. Worse still, of those, 50% will be affordable rent, which we all know is not that affordable; 35% will be starter homes or other affordable home ownership products; and 15% will be rent to buy. It appears that none will be social-rented housing—a prime example of a fantastic opportunity missed for OPE and genuinely affordable housing.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I spoke to the Minister this morning before the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman believe it is important that there is a purpose behind the sale of any land, such as saving money when Departments come together? Equally important, as he outlined, is the need to ensure that, whatever land becomes available, there is a social housing requirement to give those who do not have the same assets the opportunity to buy or rent houses. In Northern Ireland, we had a suggestion—not a rule—that developers should set aside 10% of land for social housing. Does he feel that the Government should look at something more objective for the mainland, with land set aside in law for social housing? Does he think that might be a way of retaining land for social housing? People cannot get housing if we do not give them the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Order. If Members wish to make speeches, will they please make an application to do so? The Chair of the debate will happily accommodate them.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—I think it was an intervention—and he makes a valid point. There is a huge need to legislate for this, as I have identified, with 1.2 million people in homelessness. We have a massive social crisis because of the land banking that is going on across the country, as my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham said. We saw that in yesteryear with commercial land, when the big supermarkets just took up options, and now we see it with housing developers and home builders, who have a huge number of options across the country, in Northern Ireland and here on the mainland. They control the prices, the roll-out and the build of housing in this country, and they allow to be built what is viable for them, in view of the profitability that they want to achieve.

In Amsterdam, all housing projects have to deliver 80% social housing. Whether it is 10% or 40%, or whatever Jim Shannon said, we have to choose, politically, the right figure. I want the figure to be 100%, which is the way the Dutch authorities are looking to go in Amsterdam. That is what we need, because we have such a crisis. The Shelter report from January on the need for social housing identified that we need to build 3 million social rented properties in the next 20 years—155,000 every year for the next 20 years. That is why we should use all this land to realise its greatest value, which has to be in its social value, not simply in the financial receipt.

To summarise, let me be clear: I support the overall aims of the One Public Estate programme. It has been important in trying to achieve a change in the mindset of those in the various public sector authorities and our Ministries to try to deliver better outcomes. Its simple approach of seeking to establish a partnership model across the sector was, and remains, right. The simple idea of mapping the public estate and understanding, through audit, what is out there and what we have that local authorities and others can use; the establishment of a strong governance mechanism, with representation across the public sector, which is vital in driving delivery; and the engagement of public sector partners as early as possible, to ensure that a project meets the needs of local communities, are all creditable and right. When delivered effectively, it can produce savings to the taxpayer and, most importantly, improve local services, but I am absolutely not convinced that that is happening as widely or as openly as was originally hoped.

I can only draw on my own experience in Warwickshire and with my local authority, Warwick District Council, where there has been no real appetite to exhaust the options of sharing assets. We still have in Warwickshire a police headquarters and a fire headquarters, and both are on prime land. There is considerable opportunity for a master plan to improve the delivery of services while enabling the best use of assets for the public purse. The Suffolk example that I gave earlier is a positive example of what can be achieved.

I think, however, that there are examples across the country of asset stripping, and of the wholesale industrial sell-off of land. My fear is that there is not, through the Public Accounts Committee or through this place generally, proper scrutiny of what is going on, even though billions of pounds of public assets are in play. I would urge the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to be more closely involved.

In my own investigations, I realised that one particular company was involved with my local council, Warwick District Council. Called PSP—Public Sector Plc—it is, I discovered, involved with 22 different authorities across the UK. I understand that it has not followed a procurement process, yet it is advising and involved in the disposal of these assets. Surely CIPFA and others should be looking at that. I believe that the Government Property Agency should be looking at it, and so should the Public Accounts Committee.

We should focus on the ambition, which is the utilisation of the assets for the maximum possible benefit in our communities, and on how we realise true social value. In practice, that means a shift in the programme from delivering as much money as possible—the highest receipt—through the sale of assets, to releasing land for local authorities to deliver the best services, the best joined-up practice and high-quality social rented council housing so that we can finally get to grips with our housing crisis.

I look forward to hearing the contributions of other hon. Members and that of the Minister, but I urge us all to think about our most pressing need, which is to deliver low-rent social housing. Only public land can deliver that.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 9:52 am, 14th May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Matt Western on such a superb and powerful opening to the debate. In particular, he made the case for social housing and the importance of 100% social housing and affordable housing on the sites released by Government. If he will excuse me, I am going to take a slightly different journey and talk about the opportunities for release of public land in relation to creating jobs, which is an essential part of creating the fairer society that we want to see.

This speech will be an unashamed plug for Plymouth. As many people who have heard me speak in this place will know, I am very proud to be a Janner, very proud to be from Plymouth, and the experience that Plymouth has had, the journey that it has been on, can tell us a lot about One Public Estate and how it fits with other Government programmes and, in particular, the Government hubs programme, which I think has a good opportunity to create jobs in my part of the world.

I was intending to spend a bit of time talking about how fabulous the far south-west is, until I saw the new Minister in his place. I believe that, as the hon. Member for Torbay, he may have an inkling of just how fantastic a part of the world the far south-west and, in particular, south Devon is. I know that he knows Plymouth very well.

I want the Government to start realising at a faster pace their ambition to move jobs out of central London and into the regions, in particular those regions that have missed out on many of the large Government relocations in the past. The far south-west, and Devon and Cornwall in particular, is one of those areas with an appetite for greater investment. There is a willing and skilled workforce who can support our public sector objectives, and there is an opportunity, using the lower land costs, to realise benefits for the taxpayer in terms of not only output, but economic activity and cost to the taxpayer.

We know that, on average, good-quality, affordable business premises in Plymouth and the far south-west are about a third cheaper than similar properties in many parts of the south-east. Considerable savings can be made when we look at costs in central London in particular. I think that the principles behind the One Public Estate strategy support moving more jobs into the regions. Programmes that channel funding and support through councils to deliver ambitious property-based projects tend to work best when there is opportunity, land and a real willingness and drive to do that. The opportunity to work more with local councils should be a thread running through this debate, because from the initial small cohort of councils when the One Public Estate strategy was first formed, we now have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, nearly all English local authorities involved, and entrepreneurial, innovative local councils are driving forward very interesting and beneficial property development.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is now going down a route that is particularly advantageous for other parts of the United Kingdom, in terms of not just developing social housing but the economic benefits that can be derived by Government looking at disposing of surplus land—land that will not be required over the next 10 or 20 years—but that that requires intensive consultation with local communities to arrive at the conclusion that he and I seem to draw?

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The important points are what Government land is disposed of, how it is disposed of and where the benefits of that disposal flow. We have seen in Plymouth, a city with a very large military pedigree and current military role, that many of our former armed forces bases have been sold off, but the benefits of the sale have been taken to the Exchequer in London and not delivered to the communities that previously gained employment and investment and a sense of identity from those military bases. I think that there is an opportunity to use much of the surplus land, which is owned by a cohort of public authorities—ranging from the Ministry of Defence and all the weird and wonderful MOD agencies, through to Plymouth City Council and different parts of the Government estate—and to bring services together. If the Government are to realise their ambition of moving from 800 to 200 Government offices by 2023, the idea of creating a Government hub in the far south-west, in Plymouth, where we have already shown, through the Land Registry and previously the Child Support Agency, that civil service and public service jobs can thrive, is a good opportunity.

We lost out on the Marine Management Organisation towards the end of 2010, and many of us in the far south-west still talk about how we lost out on the wealth tax agency in 1979. We were scuppered by the election of a Tory Government who perhaps were not too keen on creating a wealth tax agency—who would have known?—but there is now a real opportunity, and if you will forgive me, Mr Paisley, I will talk for a few moments about Plymouth’s One Public Estate journey.

The unlocking of South Yard in Devonport has been an incredible success. That surplus land owned by the Ministry of Defence was not being used for Royal Navy purposes. It has been repurposed as Oceansgate and, through the One Public Estate programme, is creating new marine jobs. Plymouth has a huge opportunity in marine science and marine engineering, and Oceansgate is helping to unlock that. It is taking far too long to overcome the logistical barriers between the detail of what the MOD might want and what businesses might want, but that challenge can be overcome.

OPE 3, 4 and 5—the funding streams—have helped us to develop our integrated health and wellbeing hubs. There is huge potential here. We have spoken about some of the big, aggregated services, but GP surgeries, mental health support, sexual health testing and social care can all come together at a much smaller, micro level. Indeed, I would encourage the Minister to have a word with his new colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Seema Kennedy, about the super-hub project. Plymouth has applied for funding from the Department of Health and Social Care for that project, which would bring sexual health testing, an eight-to-12-chair dental surgery—enabling dental students from Plymouth’s superb dental school to learn and help to treat people in some of the poorest communities in the city, right next to the city centre—directly employed GP surgeries, mental health support and health and wellbeing services all into one building, at Colin Campbell Court, which the Minister may know well. There is a huge opportunity there. Part of the One Public Estate strategy has to be to mobilise and motivate other Departments to make decisions that might be slightly off their usual funding streams if there is an opportunity from doing so.

The other aspect that I would like to mention relates to the better defence estate. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington spoke passionately about some of its successes and some of its failures, and we have had a similar journey in Plymouth. There is the success of relocating the Royal Marines from Royal Marines Turnchapel. Releasing that land and creating what is now a world-class centre for autonomous marine engineering has been a huge success. The new base at Royal Marines Tamar, at the very north of Devonport, has been an incredible success for the Royal Marines. It gives quick and easy access to the Tamar and, through that, to Plymouth Sound and to the training facilities at HMS Raleigh and a superb new state-of-the-art facility for our Royal Marines there.

However, there have also been failures from One Public Estate, and that has largely also been about the Royal Marines, in relation to the closure of Stonehouse barracks. There has been an attempt to rationalise that defence estate by closing the spiritual home of the Royal Marines—the only purpose-built barracks for the Royal Marines that are still in use. Those barracks are not fit for purpose. There is no hot running water in many of the accommodation blocks; the showers and the heating do not work. We should not accept that for our Royal Marines when they are at home. Many of them would accept that when on deployment, but not at home.

Now that we have seen the Government U-turn on their commitment to build a superbase in Plymouth, which would have brought the Royal Marines to our city, I would be grateful if the Minister encouraged his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to look at how the programme for relocating the 3 Commando Brigade from Stonehouse barracks to a new purpose-built facility can be accelerated. The new date of 2028 means that our Royal Marines will be waiting a long time to have hot water in their accommodation. I think we would all agree that that is unacceptable.

There is an opportunity to create a new Government hub in Plymouth, bringing together civil service and public service jobs from the centre of London to create a new, superb facility in Plymouth. As the Minister will know, Plymouth is a centre that can create jobs not only within Plymouth and the PL postcode boundary, but for the wider Plymouth travel-to-work area—or perhaps the greater Torbay area, depending on one’s perspective—to help us create wider economic benefits for our region. There are many failings of the One Public Estate strategy.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

In Northern Ireland a very different approach has been taken. The Government policy is to turn former Army barracks into intergenerational places, where the community and the economy can come together, where businesses can build and where councils can be involved. That is all happening on Army bases. In other words, the benefactors are the communities of all sides. That was an opportunity we have used in Northern Ireland. Perhaps they could do something similar where the hon. Gentleman lives?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Order. I feel that the hon. Gentleman has a speech waiting to get out of him today. I am tempted to put him on the notice paper, whether he wants to or not.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

I take what the hon. Gentleman has said. In Plymouth, although we are better known for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, we do have an Army base at the Royal Citadel. One of my frequent concerns about the defence disposal programme is that the MOD maps have a red line drawn around the site, and that is the land chosen to be disposed of. We need to take a much more holistic approach and ask about the needs of the wider community beyond that red line and what benefits can be accrued for it, especially when it comes to disposing of Ministry of Defence bases, with which the local community’s identity and employment opportunities are often so intricately involved. I encourage the Minister to speak to his MOD colleagues about that.

Although One Public Estate has had many failures, it has also had some successes. I encourage the Minister to keep tweaking those elements that are not quite right and also to unblock the decision-making process that is delaying the relocation of civil service and public service jobs from central London to the regions. My sense is that there are decisions waiting to be made and announced that could have a profound and positive economic effect on the regions, especially in the far south-west. I encourage the Minister in his new job to give the cage a bit of a rattle, to see if we can accelerate some of those decisions, because there are jobs to be created, value to be restored and money to be saved for the taxpayer. I also encourage the Minister to look at that wider opportunity of creating more affordable homes and decent jobs.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:03 am, 14th May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Western for opening the debate in the way that he did, looking at not only his local perspective, but the national perspective of One Public Estate. It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Luke Pollard. I concur with him about the opportunities the regions provide in departmental change and bringing those vital jobs into the region. I look at York and its connectivity: with the upgrade of the east coast main line, it will be just over an hour and a half out of London—and what a fantastic place to live, rather than in the heart of this city, in order to facilitate many of those vital public functions.

Today, I want to reflect on some of the disposals of public land that we have seen in York and highlight a particular problem, which I trust the Minister will look at. First, to give a tour de force on what has been happening, we have seen the disposal of many public land opportunities in York, and, unfortunately, it being placed in the wrong hands as a result of that. For example, Strensall barracks and Imphal barracks have been earmarked for closure under the better defence estate strategy, by 2024 and 2031 respectively, but the Government need to remind themselves that the Army has resided in York for over 1,000 years and that those sites provide vital jobs not only for the armed forces, but for civilians—the people of our city. Over 600 civilian jobs will be lost as a result of those closures. Just up the road, RAF Linton-on-Ouse is also earmarked for closure.

Such land is then put into the local plan, but it will not come forward within the time framework. Therefore, there is real concern about how this is being used to lever in the local plan, as opposed to looking at the real challenges of the local housing environment in particular. The council has earmarked most of this land for housing, but not the vital social housing that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned and that we desperately need in York, which has had one of the lowest levels of social housing build in the country. Instead, the land is being earmarked for the developers, who clearly just want to make a profit and to take advantage of those opportunities.

In addition, we have seen the closure of the post office in our city, which again is a detrimental step, and I do not believe that that is going too well for the Post Office, as we forewarned. The York Central site is the biggest development site across the whole of Europe. It is a brownfield site that has lain dormant for 30 years. We are eager to see it developed, but, regrettably, the council handed over power and control to Network Rail, which clearly is disposing of as much land as possible. We just need to remind ourselves of the sell-off recently, which was identified as a financial loss by the Public Accounts Committee. Over 2,100 luxury flats are being proposed for the site, but that is not what our city needs, because the housing crisis in York is around family housing and social housing, which are hardly getting a look in at the site.

I ask the Minister to look at this issue—I will be meeting with his colleague to discuss it—because the site’s economic opportunity is being lost, sixfold or sevenfold. In York, we have a low-wage and quite insecure economy, so to throw away that opportunity in the heart of our city, right next to the railway station, is a serious detriment. Therefore, we have asked for the decision to be called in and are waiting for a response from the Department. Clearly, we want to see the maximum economic opportunity being brought to our city, as well as housing need being addressed. On the transportation front, too, using current data in the analysis would have helped to show how we need to change what has been proposed.

I want to focus on Bootham Park Hospital in York, which opened in 1777 and closed in 2015—the doors were shut only three days after the inspection. That caused much harm in our city. It was a mental health hospital, but I concur that the site itself may not be suitable for modern-day provision of mental health services. However, I would like the Minister to respond on what happened to that site.

The local authority was working with the local trust, the clinical commissioning group, the sustainability and transformation partnership and other public services, which came on board to formulate what opportunity that site could provide for our city. Analysis was undertaken, particularly looking at the opportunity around healthcare, but also wider services. For instance, the police and crime commissioner identified that this would be an ideal location to place a women’s unit in our city.

I have to say that the progress of One Public Estate in realising the site’s potential was slow, but the local authority was even slower in identifying, with NHS Property Services, that it wanted to utilise the site for the benefit of the city centre. Much of the site cannot be developed, because under its trust status it has to remain as parkland, but land at the back of the site can be developed. Needless to say, the beautiful building is listed, but in need of much repair.

The site for the clinical commissioning group costs £100,000 a year just to maintain and keep open. Those charges are to the detriment of the strapped-for-cash clinical commissioning group, which is one of the worst-funded in the country, so it is eager to move the process forward. However, the NHS Property Services timescales for the disposal of the site did not meet the One Public Estate process, so my plea to the Minister is to ensure that there is synergy in the timescales that are being executed in how sites are developed and the opportunity that realises for the city.

From my meetings with the former Health Minister, Stephen Barclay, it seems that NHS Property Services determined that it wanted to dispose of that site at the earliest opportunity. However, it would not wait for One Public Estate’s fully worked-up proposals. Therefore, it disposed of the site to a private developer, which is going to build—guess what?—more luxury apartments in the heart of our city. The developer is also looking to build a hotel and high-value older people’s accommodation, as opposed to addressing urgent need.

The site is uniquely placed next to our acute hospital, which is on a cramped campus without room for expansion. The hospital is bursting at the seams and has been challenged by winter crises. The only opportunity for that hospital to expand is the Bootham Park Hospital site. Indeed, it had ambitions to do so to provide better access to the site and to provide other vital services, such as physiotherapy. Furthermore, it proposed to extend hospital parking facilities and other services on to the site.

Vitally, the site was an opportunity to provide housing for key workers, which has been identified as a real need. We have more than 500 vacancies for NHS staff in the city, and that crisis is worsening. York’s expensive property prices are one reason for that, so the opportunity to provide key worker housing on a site in close proximity to the acute hospital was necessary, but the loss of another opportunity means that the acute hospital’s agency bill will be higher. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, the financing with respect to the disposal of such sites does not come back to the city; it goes to Departments, so there is no benefit to York. We will not see that money again, even though we have a real crisis around health services.

I have looked at the evidence base behind the One Public Estate bid. The York Teaching Hospital, the Humber, Coast and Vale sustainability and transformation partnership, Vale of York CCG, York Medical Group and the city council were looking at the opportunity to utilise the site for public benefit, but that has been denied and overridden, and it has been sold to a private developer. That will certainly not enhance our city, because it will put more stresses on the public services in our city, not reduce them.

The opportunity that has been passed up was for the development of 147 homes, which York needed; 52 key worker houses; a physio suite, which I mentioned; medical training; a research centre; a 70-bed care home; 60 assisted living and supported living apartments; a children’s nursery, which our hospital does not have and which would have been vital; public parking for use at the acute hospital; and a new public park for York in the heart of our city, where there is one of the highest levels of premature mortality in the city and where people should have the opportunity of some open green space.

Going back 100 years in York’s history to the time of Joseph Rowntree and others, there was real recognition of how to build a humane city and move it forward, but those opportunities are being passed up due to the greed of private developers that want to maximise their profits and cram the most expensive properties into the heart of the city. As I have explained, the people of York do not have the resources to purchase those properties, so they are being pushed further and further away from the city. Therefore, the social engineering that is taking place is to the detriment of local people across the city.

The city is becoming hollowed out, as private apartments are being built. Some people perhaps depend on utilising our public services at weekends, but we cannot afford the people to work in those public services. Therefore, the whole city is being put out of kilter and skewed with respect to needs. With the connectivity that I mentioned, it is clear that people now see York as being in the commuting zone of London and cities across the country, which puts more stress on our city.

My request to the Minister is that he look at the situation with regard to Bootham Park Hospital, where one Department is not talking to another and the local need is not being addressed. A massive public consultation exercise is happening about the Bootham Park Hospital site and on the York Central site, although we have not got to that point in the process with Imphal barracks. The Government say that they respond to and recognise the value of the voice of the community, so why is that voice being completely ignored through the disposal of such sites? I believe it needs to come forward.

In York, we have launched a “Public Land for Public Good” campaign. We need to ensure that there is a public good test in all planning decisions, so there is an enhancement of the way that land, which we know is incredibly precious, is utilised, as opposed to giving profit to developers. Frankly, the people of our city are angry about that, because they are losing out on the opportunity for vital jobs and services, and even a home. I ask the Minister to respond to those points, and I trust that he will take them back to his Department and that we will see real change.

Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 10:16 am, 14th May 2019

It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend Matt Western for securing the debate and making an excellent case, which stems from his vast experience in local government in his area and as a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for their excellent contributions, which demonstrated the vast reach of the public estate strategy and its local effects.

On the face of it, the One Public Estate programme appears to be a positive, sensible strategy to reduce waste and get the most out of our public assets, as I expect the Minister will say. Its stated goal of unlocking land to increase house building is commendable, as estimates have put the number of new homes needed in England at between 240,000 and 340,000 per year, but worryingly, on recent estimates, the Government’s target of 300,000 homes annually is already under threat and could take 15 years to achieve. Let us not forget that over the last two years fewer new social rented homes have been built than at any time since the second world war.

To face that challenge, central Government must take a sustainable and transformational approach to resourcing local authorities to provide the homes we desperately need, but the Conservatives have comprehensively failed to do that. The strategy, which is effectively austerity by the back door, sells public land and property for quick cash under the illusion of helping to solve the housing crisis. It is not only disingenuous, but kicks the funding can down the road, rather than confronting the serious realities head on.

I say that the policy is disingenuous because the Government’s figures show that One Public Estate has released land for the development of just over 3,000 new homes, and the public land for housing programme has released land with capacity for fewer than 40,000 homes. That is some way short of the programme’s ambition to release surplus public sector land for at least 160,000 homes by 2020, just one year away.

The idea that this strategy and programmes such as One Public Estate are even scratching the surface of the housing crisis is total fantasy, yet the bigger question remains unanswered: why are public land and property being handed over to private developers in the first place and why are they being sold at a discounted price? Shockingly, analysis by the National Audit Office shows that of the 1,500 or so sites released by Government between April 2015 and March 2018, 12% were released for £1 or less. Let me get to the central point: such is the scale of the challenge, and the consistent failure of the market to tackle it, that we must look at empowering local authorities and housing associations to use public land to build the affordable housing this country desperately needs. Not only is that the best strategy for tackling the housing crisis, but it provides a way for the public to share in any rise in land value, as the Institute for Public Policy Research and others have pointed out. The Opposition oppose the strategy of flogging off public assets for developers to provide insufficient housing.

The Government must be called out for missing their own targets. I ask the Minister, how many of these homes built on public land are affordable? When it comes to central Government land sales, remarkably, the Cabinet Office does not analyse data at the programme level to assess the use to which the land is subsequently put, but let me help the Minister out. Thanks to research by the New Economics Foundation we know that only 20% of new homes built on public land will be affordable. That is simply not good enough.

We know that one of the main reasons that this figure is so low is the fact that developers are able to exploit section 106 loopholes and ride roughshod over desperate councils, leaving the public ripped off. We must also ask why local authorities are signing up to programmes such as One Public Estate, because they know such programmes will reduce the land and property they use for essential services, which are assets that might not be needed today, but may well be needed tomorrow. Indeed, much of the land and property sold under One Public Estate and other programmes is needed, despite the rhetoric around reducing waste. As the National Audit Office report said, many sites identified for disposal are still being used by public bodies to provide services.

How have we got here? Ultimately, because for almost a decade our hard-working local authorities have been forced to implement the Tory austerity agenda. Under the Conservatives, local authorities have faced a reduction to core funding from the Government of nearly £16 billion since 2010. That means councils will have lost 60p of every £1 that the last Labour Government provided to spend on local services. With a £3.1 billion shortfall in funding, many councils are funding essential services or redundancies by the quick sale of their property portfolio for good. The scale of this is staggering.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that £2.8 billion-worth of local authority-owned assets were sold between 2014 and 2018. In 2016, the Government said that they expected local authorities to sell assets with a value of £11.7 billion by the end of this Parliament. That same year, the Government passed legislation to allow local authorities to invest the proceeds of assets sold by April 2019 in transforming frontline services. Just how low will this Government stoop? They have decided that the right way to fund social care, youth series, libraries, bin collections and road repairs is not by reversing their tax cuts for millionaires or clamping down on tax avoiders, but by forcing local authorities to sell their assets—assets owned by the public—while further inflating private developers’ profit margins.

If we needed yet another reason to show that this is a Government for the few and not for the many, here we are. For the public, this is a ticking time bomb until the day local authorities have sold assets they will one day need. The housing crisis remains and local authorities have run out of family silver to sell to raise funds. The Tories know exactly what they are doing: forcing councils to implement austerity, leaving them no choice but to sell public assets such as libraries, youth centres and playing fields—assets our most disadvantaged people rely on—to fund vital services.

One Public Estate is part of a strategy that has been rumbling on for many years in different forms. Local government now owns just 40% of the land it owned a few decades ago and the NHS has seen its estate reduce by 70%. As our population grows, as demand is loaded on to local authorities and as our housing crisis deepens, what will this Government say when they have run out of public assets to sell, and their great housing remedy has produced only a few thousand extra affordable homes? I suspect they will not say much at all.

One thing is blindingly clear: this scheme and others like it do little for families who are desperate to exercise their right to an affordable home or for those who rely on public services. They do very little for our councils, which deserve fair funding, not schemes to encourage asset stripping. Our message to the Government is clear: stop messing about, confront these big issues head on, own up and admit that this strategy is really austerity masquerading as partnership and a house building strategy.

The public deserve far better. They deserve a Government on their side, standing up for the public good, building homes, funding and improving their public services, and unashamedly putting the many in this country first. We will make those honest, bold and fair decisions to fund our councils and build the homes we need. We have that plan; it is fully costed, fully transparent and exactly what the next Labour Government will deliver.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 10:26 am, 14th May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. At the start of my response to a debate, I usually say that I will allow a couple of minutes at the end for the Member who secured it to speak, but I suspect I will be able to allow slightly more than that on this occasion.

This debate has been marked more by quality than by quantity of speakers. The speech made by the shadow Minister, Jo Platt, started so well. She made a point of saying that the scheme was a positive one, and that we share the goal of seeing the public sector work together. Few of us would think it was a good idea to spend money on bricks and mortar, rather than on delivering public services. Her speech went a bit awry after that, however.

Local councils have been doing a lot of these projects for some time, and we do not compel local councils to take part in them, as I will come on to say in a minute. The scheme that Matt Western has been particularly exercised about, which is being undertaken by his local district council, is not part of the One Public Estate programme. There is no compulsion to take part.

Some of the closing comments sit strangely with my memories of the period between 2008 and 2010, when I was the deputy leader of Coventry City Council and dealing with the Labour Government, which seemed equally keen on the idea that public land could be released. To be fair, the previous Labour council had released land to fund certain regeneration projects; we also saw that during preparations made by the then Department for Communities and Local Government, which sought to take about 20% out of local government funding following 2010. Most of us were not surprised when the spending review that was due in 2009 was kicked back to after the general election; we can all conclude the reasons for that.

I move on to the other contributions to the debate, and I have to start with the speech made by Luke Pollard. As always, he made a passionate pitch for my home town and birthplace of Plymouth. He is right to say that moving Government jobs out of London does not just have an economic impact; it is about a change of perception. A civil service that is almost entirely based in London and the south-east creates a perception about issues and about the rest of the country; it may not give the idea of one civil service for one United Kingdom.

Over many years, various organisations have operated successfully outside London and the south-east, including the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea. We can see the opportunity that Government hubs bring. For example, while some operations are already located in Cardiff, the Wales Office is looking at how it can be part of a hub opposite Cardiff station, to show that the Government are at the heart of Cardiff, not on an estate outside the city centre. That says a lot about our ambition as well; I expect it is an ambition that will be shared by Governments, whatever their colour, over the next 10 or 20 years. To be clear, such a Government will govern the whole Union, and not just run the whole nation from London.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to cite the appetite of a skilled workforce in south Devon; it stretches into not just the PL postcodes but even into the TQ postcodes. He is right that, bluntly, the region offers the Government opportunities to get more money into delivery of service than into paying the exorbitant costs of property in central London.

In addition—this is a point that is sometimes forgotten—when Government buildings are released in London, within a short period of time there are usually more jobs and higher-than-average salaries being paid on that same footprint. Therefore, the process does not do London’s economy down; in many ways, it provides the opportunity that London’s private economy needs to grow, in the same way as public money benefits the regions. That is one thing that sometimes gets lost in the debate. Although there is the idea that jobs are going out of London, the space that is released normally provides an opportunity to create jobs in London.

Regarding the release of Ministry of Defence land, the hon. Gentleman cited Turnchapel—I am certainly looking forward to visiting it at some point, to see the automation there—and other places, such as Royal William Yard. My gran was a Stonehouse kid. Thirty years ago, Stonehouse was a shadow of what it had once been; it was a very sad place. Royal William Yard was coming to the end of its time as a victualing yard that was no longer needed by the Royal Navy. The release of Royal William Yard for redevelopment has not just led to its regeneration, but, as he will know, spurred a regeneration of the area around it. Gone are the days when semi-derelict industrial buildings made up the city’s red light district. Now the area is a real beacon of hope, aspiration and investment.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern about what will happen with Stonehouse barracks and, of course, the iconic Citadel. I think he will agree that although those facilities are historic and iconic, we would not want to run a modern war-fighting operation from them. As he mentioned, what our troops will accept in times of combat or conflict is very different from what we should expect them to put up with in times of peace. We are working to deliver a solution that works not only for the military but, as is the case with Royal William Yard, for the community that surrounds a base. Clearly, that is something that my colleagues in the MOD will only be too interested to continue talking to him about.

Rachael Maskell, as always, made a passionate case for her city. She made the point that, with modern connections, York is now 90 minutes from London, so the argument that moving jobs out of London makes them remote is no longer valid.

Ultimately, it is for local councils to make local planning decisions. I am aware that the hon. Lady is not the biggest fan of her local council; having listened to a number of her speeches over the last couple of years, I think it is fair to say that. She can use that point to challenge her local council both here and locally, and ultimately it is for local voters to make their decisions based on what they think of their local council.

I heard what the hon. Lady said about the hospital site that she referred to. I am happy to look at the site further to see how we can ensure that Government Departments work together. The goal of One Public Estate is to treat the public estate as one public estate, and not for different Departments to reach conflicting outcomes. The site that she mentions is probably one for us to look at, perhaps after this debate and perhaps with my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden —he is the Minister for implementation—who has direct responsibility for this policy area. If there are challenges, we can consider them. As the hon. Lady said, in this instance the sale has already been made and that is probably the end of that, but we can perhaps consider this issue for the future. We are keen that Government Departments view themselves as part of a whole, not just as individual operations.

I come now to the main part of my speech. I thank the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington for securing this debate on One Public Estate and giving hon. Members the opportunity to reflect on this vital programme. I particularly liked the fact that he gave the example of Devon and Cornwall, where we have the joint response hub. That project is about not just bringing different services together, but considering how they can work together with co-responders, and particularly looking at areas where the police and the fire service struggle. For example, the fire service struggles to recruit retained firefighters, which might have been easier 40 or 50 years ago but is now harder because of changes in employment patterns and in how people live their lives. That project considers how such services can work together and deliver a better outcome for all three emergency services, including ambulances, by uniting and working together.

As the hon. Gentleman touched on, that project combining police and the fire service saves £500,000 a year on running costs and it has released two sites for redevelopment. However, it has also enabled the emergency services to reach more people within their target response times. The process is not just about delivering a financial output; it is also about delivering better public services.

As has been made clear, One Public Estate has successfully forged new partnerships across the public sector, showing that collaboration is the key to achieving success. The strapline for the latest Government estate strategy is

“a public estate for public benefit”.

This programme demonstrates how property can be a catalyst for achieving a wide range of benefits, including housing, jobs and more integrated public services.

As I mentioned a moment ago, I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s campaign against Warwick District Council’s plans to build new offices alongside a new multi-storey car park and apartments, and to redevelop its current Riverside House site for private housing. I also recall him raising the issue in a previous Westminster Hall debate, in January 2018; on that occasion, if I recall correctly, I sat in the Parliamentary Private Secretary’s spot. In that debate, he said that One Public Estate was

“a genuine and sincere ambition to get authorities around the table to review all public assets and decide how they can best be used for the future delivery of services.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2018;
Vol. 634, c. 109WH.]

The hon. Gentleman is right that One Public Estate has brought hundreds of public sector partners to the table. He is also right that partners review all public assets to identify opportunities to deliver additional new homes, jobs and efficiency savings, and that communities across the country are enjoying the benefits of this programme, which uses partnerships to yield greater results.

Currently, One Public Estate is supporting five projects in the Connecting Warwickshire One Public Estate Partnership. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Riverside House was not put forward as part of the partnership’s proposals to One Public Estate. As I have touched on, One Public Estate is not a compulsory scheme for local councils. It is also important to note that the programme has never sought to override local or national statutory duties, governance or requirements. The programme is designed to have the flexibility to support proposals from partnerships within a broad set of programme objectives. One Public Estate’s ability to tailor solutions that work for all partners involved is central to its success.

One Public Estate is about helping partnerships to thrive, but it is also a partnership itself, between the Office of Government Property in the Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, it began in 2013 as a pilot in 12 areas, testing a fairly novel idea for Government—working collectively on property. We set out to discover whether laying the groundwork for collaboration, and providing seed funding and practical advice for public sector partners, would unlock significant additional benefits for both local communities and the taxpayer. That has clearly been the case—each year the programme has grown, as organisations have seen what can be achieved, formed new partnerships and put forward ambitious proposals.

Central to the One Public Estate approach is its focus on partnership. As has been referred to, it is a partnership between central and local government, whereby the Office of Government Property and the LGA act together as neutral brokers among partners. Regional programme managers in the team also provide support and challenge. Those joining the programme must also form their own cross-public sector partnership, bringing together central and local government, alongside other national and local partners, including the NHS, the police, the fire service, local enterprise partnerships and others. Thirdly, projects must be delivered in partnership by multiple public sector partners.

The formula is already reaping rewards. Today, as the hon. Gentleman highlighted, One Public Estate collaborates with over 95% of English local authorities, 13 major Government Departments, and hundreds of wider public sector partners, working in 78 official partnerships. Together, these partnerships are delivering over 600 projects across England, ranging from co-locating services, so that they are under one roof, to releasing surplus land for housing and town centre regeneration.

These organisations have come together to achieve more than they could alone, and to make better use of the public estate for public benefit. So far, the programme has generated £163 million in capital receipts, saved taxpayers £24 million in running costs, created 5,745 new jobs and released land for 3,336 new homes.

However, that is just the beginning, especially when it comes to housing, which is the Government’s top domestic priority. The problem of insufficient housing in this country is not a recent one; it goes back decades and involves numerous contributing factors. We could debate the origins of the housing shortage for hours, with each one of us arguing about our own party’s record, but today I will speak about a few of the ways in which this Government have acted to address this crucial issue through One Public Estate.

With housing, One Public Estate helps to create a pipeline of land, de-risking projects and making them investment-ready. The projects may then secure finance from Government housing initiatives, such as the accelerated construction programme or the housing infrastructure fund, or from other sources.

One Public Estate also plays its part in promoting modern methods of construction to local authorities and across Government, and furthering knowledge of this emerging market. It has organised factory site visits, facilitated meetings between One Public Estate partners and offsite providers, partnered with the University of Liverpool to examine the barriers, and co-sponsored the offsite village at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s 2018 conference, to further public sector knowledge of this emerging market. The programme has also allocated funding to partnerships to take forward vital research on modern methods of construction in delivering housing targets.

In 2017, the programme partnered with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to deliver the £45 million local authority land release fund. This capital funding, coupled with One Public Estate’s regionally-based team providing practical support, is supporting councils to unlock land for an additional 7,000 homes.

I have seen the impact of this programme at first hand. In Torbay, three projects successfully gained nearly £4 million of funding from the land release fund and, between them, Victoria Square, Preston Down Road and Collaton St Mary will see hundreds of houses built, with some available for social rent. I want to be clear that the percentage of affordable housing on each site is a matter for the local council, with its plans and its planning consents. As with any other site, it will have to make its own local determination about what the challenges are, for example if a site is contaminated. This is about supporting local councils in delivering their ambitions, not the Government directing, top down.

Interestingly, One Public Estate is also supporting the development of plans for a new health hub in Paignton, providing a modern, purpose-built facility better able to meet the needs of the local community and releasing surplus land for enhanced public and community use. It is remarkably similar to the project cited by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and, hopefully, in the spirit of things, there can be learning between the two. The project in Paignton is looking to release a hub that is currently based in the much-loved Victorian hospital there. I have spoken in support of the building several times, but it was constructed just after the era of Queen Victoria and is not the place for 21st-century medicine to be well provided.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

In a health hub, we bring together different strands that come from very different funding streams—not only from the Department of Health and Social Care, but from social care providers and from across the Government estate—and it might be worth looking at whether there is a better formula or model that can encourage that great collaboration. At the moment, it works in some places, where partners are working together already, but not in others, where there is a greater distance. I think there is a model of best practice that could be encouraged, and I ask the Minister to look at that.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive and instructive intervention. Because we have an integrated care organisation in Torbay, one of the advantages is that there is no difference between the local authority’s budget and the NHS budget for social care, but I agree that there is a need to look at how we can bring partners together. A particular issue is where there are not just NHS and local authority services but GPs who are independent businesses—the great compromise from 1948—who then have to decide whether to move their service, potentially from a building of which they have the freehold and in which they feel very confident. Even if the GPs accept that the building is not the place in which to be delivering the best examples of 21st-century medicine—for example, if it is a converted house that does not have a lift to the first floor, restricting the ability of an increasingly elderly population to access all the services provided—it is about the certainty that can be provided when they take the leap and come into a building of which they are a tenant or a leaseholder, rather than a freeholder.

Again, it is about being clear about the partnership approach and ensuring that the building is not seen as belonging to the council, in Torbay’s case, or to the NHS, in Plymouth’s, but is seen as one that all partners have a shared interest in, with the main goal being a better service for the public and for those who access the services, and providing a sustainable future.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned that One Public Estate has invested £665,000 to support the Connecting Warwickshire Partnership in his area to deliver five projects across health, regeneration and housing agendas: the co-location of services in Warwick town centre, the regeneration of Nuneaton town centre, a review of service provision from the site of the George Eliot Hospital, the transformation of Rugby town centre, and the development of a strategic housing pipeline to deliver affordable homes in north Warwickshire, utilising offsite modular construction. The Connecting Warwickshire Partnership expects the five projects to generate £35 million of capital receipts, cut running costs by £2 million, release land for about 1,000 homes and create 500 jobs.

Another example is in Brent, where One Public Estate is bringing together Brent Council, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, the University of Westminster and social housing provider Network Homes to redevelop the Northwick Park area, creating jobs and delivering affordable homes, including, crucially, given the comments made about key workers in this debate, for NHS staff. One Public Estate revived an earlier proposal to develop the hospital site in isolation, and provided support and challenge that could result in 1,600 homes, which is about double the number planned by the partners operating alone.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington touched on the project in Rutland, where One Public Estate has awarded £175,000 and facilitated a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Defence and Rutland County Council to develop 300 hectares of surplus land at St George’s barracks into a new garden village, including delivering up to 3,000 homes by 2032. It is right that we work in partnership with the local council.

Perhaps where I differ from the hon. Gentleman is that although I support the move to remove some of the caps—over the past few years we have started to see a slow revival in the building of council homes, compared with the period between 1997 and 2010—I do not necessarily think that it is for the Government to dictate that that construction should be the sort of mass-build estates we saw in the past. That is a choice for local councils, but certainly from my own experience in local government it is better when we have mixed communities rather than going back to the days when we built an estate on the edge of town as our pure provision of social housing.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

Is not the problem that local authorities may have their plans—it is absolutely right that they lead—but there is a collision course with the national determination of Departments? That is the piece that needs to be fixed.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My response to the hon. Lady’s point is that I am certainly happy to look at the instance in her constituency of what I think was described as NHS Property Services operating to one timetable and One Public Estate operating to another. As I say though, One Public Estate is about co-operation rather than necessarily about the Government looking to direct that a council must be part of it, as we touched on with the Warwick District Council project—that is not part of One Public Estate. Speaking as someone who believes quite a lot in local government, I would be loth for this to go down the path of direction from the centre.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

The other determinant, of course, is finances. Although Government Departments are trying to reap as much resource from the land as they possibly can, and that is why it is being handed over to developers, local authorities are really cash-strapped in how they can develop that land. Will the Minister also look at that collision course, when he goes back to the Department?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

We have given a range of flexibility to local authorities to look at how they can develop, but ultimately they can act as a bank. My own local council is helping to bring forward a significant development, admittedly on private land but with clear guarantees and protections around the taxpayer interest in lending the money and actually making a profit. There are opportunities for local authorities to take forward developments; it is for each of them in each instance to decide whether they wish to use those opportunities. Regarding the idea that the programme is motivated purely by the need to make savings, I touch first on the fact that a plan was being formulated under the last Labour Government to make significant cuts to local government funding post-2010 and, secondly, on how the programme is helping to bolster local government finances by delivering the ability to work together with a view to saving money. Therefore, I do not necessarily recognise that the two are in conflict; in fact, the picture is quite the opposite.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I have given way twice to the hon. Lady, so I will do so again very briefly, but I will make this the last time.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

The point I was making is that Government Departments are taking that resource into their national funds—into their own budgets—as opposed to delivering benefit to local communities. There are, therefore, different interests at play when it comes to the resourcing of developments.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The Government are spending significant amounts via, for example, the housing infrastructure fund, to which eligible sites can bid, and the land release fund. I have touched on how the latter is releasing local authority land where authorities do not have the potential resource, or where it would be uneconomical for them to develop it on their own. In the Paignton example, the fund is paying to put a sewer into a site that would have been too expensive to bring forward, or where social housing would have been taken out to fund the infrastructure.

The idea that money disappears off into a central hole is not accurate, but we hope that One Public Estate encourages the parties to work together for the wider financial benefit of the public sector. In many instances, that will mean delivering a co-operative plan in the long-term interest of the Government Department concerned. Again, I or the Minister with responsibility for implementation, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, will happily meet to discuss the target timeline of NHS Property Services versus the timeline of the One Public Estate bid, and see whether we can make some progress on that issue in future developments.

The programme’s original aim was to deliver 45 co-locations for the NHS, the police and the fire service by 2020. Today, the Government estate strategy hopes to quadruple that goal, setting bold new ambitions to facilitate 200 co-locations by 2020 and 250 by 2022. We can therefore see that One Public Estate is already delivering. Partnerships with projects under way expect to generate £615 million in capital receipts and £158 million in running cost savings, create 44,000 jobs, and release land for 25,000 homes by 2020. That is a tremendous amount of success in a relatively short time. In February, my colleague the Minister with responsibility for implementation announced the outcome of the programme’s seventh application round, a total of £15 million in funding. That is expected to support a further 10,000 new homes and 14,000 jobs over the next five years.

Since it began in 2013, One Public Estate has awarded £60 million to support projects and partnerships. The programme does not fully fund schemes; however, it facilitates laying the groundwork for future projects through feasibility studies, options appraisals and master planning. It can also help projects deliver at a faster pace by funding dedicated programme management. At the same time, and as we have touched on, we recognise our investment can bring about significant savings for some authorities, so we have introduced an element of repayable grants. In phase 7, which was the most recent, about £3.5 million of the £15 million funding available was awarded as repayable grants. Those will be repaid within a three-year period and, crucially, reinvested to enhance the future impact of the One Public Estate programme.

I again commend the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington on having secured a debate on the One Public Estate programme. As we have discussed, that programme has developed rapidly and is already having a significant impact on collaboration across the public sector. I particularly thank the Local Government Association for their excellent partnership with my Department in leading the programme, and pay tribute to the 95% of local authorities and many other partners that have chosen to take part in the programme. I am sure that Members will join me in wishing the partnerships well as they collaborate to deliver new homes, jobs, and improvements to public services in communities.

For many of us, the greatest reward in many communities will be seeing people achieve the desire that the Government regard as a key ambition for so many: owning their own home—having a place that they call home and that is theirs for as long as they wish it to be. That will remain a firm aspiration of this Government. Of course, we will support the development of social housing and deliver as much as we can, but none of us should ignore the fact that many people still hold the core aspiration of owning their own home. Too many people feel that aspiration slipping away from them, and we want to see it brought back to them, so they can enjoy it in the same way as their parents did.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 10:53 am, 14th May 2019

I thank the Minister; I was getting a little nervous that he was not going to give me enough time to respond. At one stage, I thought I might have a few minutes more, but it is no matter. I thank Members for their contributions, which have been of supreme quality. This has been a healthy and valuable debate, and I give my sincere thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell), as well as the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Jo Platt. I also thank the Minister for his comments.

It is quite clear that huge regional opportunities are being presented here; that is perhaps not an oversight, but something that there has not been enough focus on. That is one of the great learnings from this debate. This is also about the pace of what is being delivered across the various projects and the priority being given to the local economy, entrepreneurial development and opportunity, as well as the key priority of housing, whether social or other. As everyone will have heard this morning, my sincere priority, which is shared by Opposition Members, is greater social housing.

How have we got here? As has been discussed, there has been a 60% cut in local authority budgets, which have put those authorities under huge pressure. My thoughts are with all those who have had to endure those cuts and work to the best of their ability to deliver the services that our communities depend on.

What we have seen, not just through One Public Estate but more generally, is a huge sell-off of our public assets, the greatest since the 1980s. As someone who used to work in a finance department, my great fear is about the lack of scrutiny in the process provided for by the Government. There seems to be no central co-ordination, and I believe that this country is being asset-stripped on a previously unseen scale. The public are vaguely aware of what is going on; yes, billions of pounds are being released, but I am not sure that the Public Accounts Committee has got involved in this issue. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee should also look at this topic to scrutinise what is happening, including the involvement of private sector developers and house builders, and who is actually benefiting from those huge sell-offs.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Central talked about the test of public good, which is a terrific idea; it is something that should be learned from this debate. Likewise, we need to learn what is best practice for the delivery of health hubs around the country, as there seems to be a mixed approach in what goes on. The Minister is right about the one public estate, or lack of one, in the work being done in my local area. As I said earlier, “one Warwickshire estate” was accepted unanimously in Warwickshire, but somehow it has not been delivered with my local authority. There has been a lack of consultation with the public, and—going back to the test of public good—when we see more than 9,000 people in our local area signing a petition to say they are against a project, we have to ask, “In whose interest is that project?”

We have land, and it is needed; the question is how the use of that land and those assets is prioritised. The fact that the land is being sold to private developers in a very opaque way, lacking transparency, is of the greatest concern to local people and communities. As I said throughout my speech and as others repeated in their contributions, there is a need for social housing, and the Government are missing their own target. Only 6,500 social rented properties were built last year in this country, which is a travesty given the huge housing crisis that we face. As was reported this morning, this country has the second greatest inequality in the world; only the United States of America is more unequal. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central said in her speech, that inequality is evident in her constituency. There is no need for any more luxury apartments on the scale being proposed; we are denying ourselves social justice in our communities, and impacting on the economies of those areas.

We have heard that the Cabinet Office does not even monitor the delivery of these projects, or of the housing. We hear about hospitals existing on cramped sites. The Minister will be familiar with University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire and just how cramped and unfit for purpose its site is. We should be thinking much more in the round, as we should when it comes to the provision of libraries in our communities.

Thinking back to 2010 and the years before, the Labour Government had a series of regional development agencies across the country that provided great joined-up thinking about the delivery of infrastructure, healthcare, hospitals or whatever, and saw the big picture. My fear is that One Public Estate is much more on the micro level. Likewise, the previous Labour Government had regional spatial strategies for the delivery of housing, linked to those services and the infrastructure. Those strategies were done away with, which I think was a huge error of the incoming coalition Government in 2010. This is all about the bigger picture, but what are the priorities? I have repeatedly stressed the need for more social housing.

Finally, I once more thank everyone for their contributions; it has been a terrific debate about something incredibly important. Billions of pounds of assets have been disposed of. I thank the LGA and the House of Commons Library for their help and their contributions, and I thank you, Mr Paisley, for chairing.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).