I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House of Commons rose on
Abolishing regional planning
Planning and house building works best when it is locally led and people have more control in shaping and deciding on development in the places they live. The last Administration’s top-down approach of imposing regional strategies, based on artificial government regions, coincided with the lowest peacetime levels of house building since the 1920s.
The coalition Government announced their decision to revoke the final three regional strategies for the west midlands, north-west and south-west through a written statement on
We are determined to help put communities back into the driving seat of local development and local plans agreed by communities and councils are now at the heart of determining where homes should go. Already, 500 communities across the country are backing neighbourhood plans for their area, showing that people welcome development when they are given the opportunity to be involved and shape it in the best way for the local area.
Tackling unauthorised development
We are determined to ensure fair play in the planning system and to tackle intentional unauthorised development. On
Individuals who have gone to the effort of buying land are quite capable of applying for planning permission, and it is only right that planning permission should be secured before development is undertaken. It is not fair that some people try and sidestep the planning system, which is why we have already given local councils stronger powers to deal with retrospective or vexatious applications. But we are going further and, subject to parliamentary ratification, are giving councils greater freedom to take swift and effective enforcement action against unauthorised caravans backed up with the potential for heavy fines.
Helping aspiring self-builders
This is in addition to the £30 million custom build fund, over half of which has already been earmarked to support 15 different projects across England. My Department has also confirmed that locality will work with the National Self Build Association, the UK Cohousing Network, the National Community Land Trust Network, Self-help Housing and the Confederation of Co-operative Housing to encourage more local projects.
Safeguarding community assets
Localism is about giving power back to communities, as they know best what their local needs are. Communities, and voluntary and charity groups are now taking action to use the new rights we have created through the new community right to bid in the Localism Act to help save local shops, pubs, libraries, and parks, influence how planning decisions are made and how local public services run. I was delighted to see that the residents of Nunhead had successfully used the community right to bid to save their local pub the Ivy House from closure.
We want to see more communities using the community rights to save their treasured assets and I would like to draw hon. Members’ attention to my Department’s support for the Campaign for Real Ale’s community pubs month which launched on
Boosting coastal communities
Following huge success last year, on
In 2012, 26 projects in England from Scarborough to Swanage, and from Torbay to Tyneside, received funding to develop their areas, helping to create and safeguard 5,000 jobs, 1,400 training places, 400 volunteering opportunities and support 250 new business start-ups. The money was also used for a variety of projects including rejuvenating heritage areas and leisure facilities as well as helping businesses embrace digital technology and promote innovation. The projects also attracted additional funding from public and private co-sponsors of over £16 million.
Clamping down on criminal landlords and housing fraud
We want to ensure fair play in taxpayer-funded social housing and to crack down on rogue landlords who cash in on renting out homes to illegal immigrants. On
So-called “beds in sheds” are often rented to immigrants, including some with no right to be in the UK, at extortionate rates. Over the past year locally-led efforts, backed with Government cash, have led to councils working more closely with the police and Home Office immigration law enforcement to flush out these rogue landlords, and to get a better sense of the scale of the problem.
Helping the disabled live independent lives
Tackling the digital divide
People who live in council and housing association homes currently make up over a quarter of people who do not use the internet. On
Providing a safety net for the homelessness
This country has one of the strongest safety nets against homelessness in the world, backed with £470 million Government funding. It is vital this continues to protect the most vulnerable in society. On
The peer-led scheme will provide a host of free training and support to enable councils to reach gold standard status, a benchmark of their achievements and work to support people and guard against homelessness. The first 10 councils to receive gold standard status will then offer advice and a critical eye to other councils looking to achieve the same.
Supporting fiscal decentralisation
At the beginning of April, the new system of local government finance began. The local funding settlement used to be the end game, but this year it is just the starting point. Councils can earn more of their keep through rate retention by bringing businesses and jobs in to their area. This could deliver an estimated extra £10 billion to the wider economy by 2020. The new homes bonus and the localisation of council tax benefit also provide strong incentives for councils to promote local economic growth and to support local firms and local jobs.
Freezing council tax
This Government are determined to back people who work hard by supporting residents through much needed cost of living assistance. Official statistics published on
From this April, council tax payers can also now request to pay their 2013 bills over 12 months rather than 10, helping people balance their monthly budgets, and meaning taxpayers’ money says in their bank accounts for longer.
The Greater London Authority reduced its council tax precept across London by some 1.2% in 2013-14, entitling it to a council tax freeze grant. The authority’s precept has fallen from £310 a year on band D bills in 2008-09 to £303 in 2013-14. This is a significant cut in real terms.
In its calculation of unadjusted relevant basic amount of council tax, there was a technical administrative error by the Greater London Authority. The circumstances are unique to the Greater London Authority and arise from the City of London having its own police force and not contributing to the cost of the Metropolitan police force. For a relatively small number of residents in the City of London, the increase in the unadjusted amount was not offset by a substantial reduction in the costs of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The position in respect of council taxpayments across Greater London remains as set out in council budgets, precepts and the bills dispatched to residents.
A technical direction has been issued today under section 52ZR of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to resolve this issue this year. This does not affect the overall level of council tax set by the Greater London Authority, nor does it affect the validity of council tax bills or the collection of council tax by billing authorities in London. In issuing this direction, we also intend to amend the Greater London Authority Act to ensure that any such future recalculations would comply with the 1992 Act. Nevertheless the Greater London Authority’s unadjusted council tax position for 2013-14 will be taken into account when proposing council tax excessiveness principles for 2014-15.
Abolishing taxpayer-funded pensions for councillors
In the written statement of
Stopping propaganda on the rates
In March 2011, reflecting a coalition agreement pledge, we introduced an updated local government publicity code, to tackle the growing practice of “town hall pravdas” and similar dubious propaganda at public expense.
It has become clear that some councils are disregarding this code, intentionally seeking to undermine local newspapers and publishing political propaganda at taxpayers’ expense. On
Saving taxpayers’ money from shared services
The current costs of running Eland House are £20 million per annum and the move will save my Department £8 million a year. We believe in making sure taxpayers get value for money. By sharing services and streamlining our property portfolio this move will allow us to continue the best practice that we have recommended to local government.
Flying the flag
As part of my ongoing programme of championing flag flying, during recess my Department flew the NATO flag to mark the anniversary of the North Atlantic treaty. Last year, we amended national planning rules to make it easier to fly flags, including local and military flags. Previously, the NATO flag could not be easily flown without paying for a planning permit from the local council.
Following the sad announcement of the death of Baroness Thatcher, it was particularly apt that both the United Kingdom’s Union flag and the NATO flag flew side by side at half mast. NATO has kept the peace in western Europe since World War II and protected us from oppressive totalitarianism. As championed by
Margaret Thatcher, transatlantic co-operation and NATO’s nuclear shield continue to defend the liberties and freedoms that we take for granted today.
Copies of the associated documents and press releases have been placed in the Library of the House.