Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:45 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:45 pm, 3rd March 2020

I certainly will do that, Sir Charles, and it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

It is also a great pleasure to follow my old friend Alex Cunningham, and to congratulate my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien on securing this important debate, and I also thank him for the entirely unsolicited testimonial that he gave me at the start of his remarks. I also thank and congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members for their presence today. The number of colleagues from across the House who have attended the debate is testament to Member’s interest in and concern about this important topic. I thank them all for being here.

I will now address some of the important points raised by hon. Members. I am conscious that I do not have a huge amount of time, so if I am not able to address them all, I certainly contract to meet with or write directly to those I miss, to ensure that we cover all the points that have been raised today effectively.

One of the key issues, raised by a number of colleagues, is unfair practices in the leasehold market. Let me say that those practices have no place in a modern housing market, and neither do excessive ground rents, which exploit consumers, who get nothing in return. That is why we are reforming the system so that it is fairer to leaseholders.

In December 2019, we announced that we would move forward with legislation on leasehold reform, reaffirming our commitment to making the system fairer and more transparent. The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Luke Hall, will have more to say about that as the Minister responsible for that legislation; I shall certainly relay to him the concerns that Members from all parties have raised in the debate today.

I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that we want to minimise the effect of inappropriate access routes for construction vehicles by encouraging temporary access routes that should ideally be delivered through voluntary arrangements. We have all faced the issue in our constituencies; I have faced it specifically with respect to wagons building the High Speed 2 railway line. I hope that I can give my hon. Friend some reassurance that we have legislated for local authorities and other acquiring bodies to compulsorily purchase land temporarily under the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017, and we are engaging with the sector on how best to implement those powers.

It is important that breaches of planning conditions are tackled by local planning enforcement teams, given that conditions are often imposed by councils to make a development acceptable to local people. That is why we have provided nearly £2 million of funding this year to help to strengthen enforcement teams in 37 local authorities, and we have also updated the National Association of Planning Enforcement’s practical handbook to help.

We will also outline further measures to help to improve local authority enforcement in the forthcoming planning White Paper, so I hope that Members will forbear and bear with me as that White Paper is released. I hope that that satisfies colleagues about some of the concerns that my hon. Friend raised.