Monday 22nd April 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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1. What steps he is taking to reform the private rented sector.

Jacob Young Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Jacob Young)
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The Renters (Reform) Bill will have its Report stage on Wednesday 24 April. The Bill abolishes section 21 evictions, moves the sector to a system of periodic tenancies and introduces a private rented sector property portal and ombudsman, improving the system for responsible tenants and good-faith landlords.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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Ministers first promised to end no-fault evictions five years ago. Since then, 85,000 households have been threatened with no-fault evictions, including a constant stream of residents in Putney. Does the Minister not agree that that was ample time to implement the necessary improvements and that the delay has caused immense suffering to people in the private rented sector?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to abolish section 21 evictions as soon as possible. When it comes to the Bill, we published the White Paper in 2022, we published the Bill in 2023 and we are bringing forward the Report stage on Wednesday.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Anum Qaisar (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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In 2019, the UK Government announced plans to outlaw no-fault eviction notices. However, just last week, the housing charity Shelter revealed that almost 1 million renters in England have been served no-fault eviction notices since that announcement. While the Government seem to be unable to get the rental reform agenda past their Conservative Back Benchers, the Scottish Parliament banned no-fault evictions back in 2017. Does the Minister agree that that is yet another example of the Scottish Parliament delivering for the people while Westminster dysfunction only lets them down?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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As I said to the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), we are abolishing section 21 evictions. The Bill will return to the House on Wednesday.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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2. What recent estimate he has made of the additional cost to the public purse of councils delivering public services in coastal areas.

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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Cornwall is one of the most beautiful areas of the country, second only to Dorset. [Interruption.] Thank you. It has the longest county coastline in England and, as such, its council faces unique challenges in delivering services. The Government are committed to reforming the local government funding landscape in the next Parliament to deliver simpler, fairer and longer settlements. As part of that process, the Government have previously publicly announced that they are exploring options for specific formulae for flooding and coastal erosion. We will engage councils about those options as reform progresses.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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The Government have already accepted the additional cost of delivering services in rural areas through the rural services delivery grant, but they have not yet accepted those additional costs for coastal areas. Would the Minister consider establishing a coastal services delivery grant to ensure that coastal regions such as Cornwall, which as he said has the longest—and most beautiful—coastline in the country, get the funding that they need?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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Second most beautiful, I remind my hon. Friend. He makes an important point, representing as he does his constituents and the wider county of Cornwall, and an interesting suggestion. Strong points sit behind his argument. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss that further, but he makes good points and gives me food for thought.

Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
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The cost of delivering services in Somerset is rising, with care costs rising by 47% between 2022 and 2023, yet urban councils receive about 38% more Government funding spending power per head than rural councils. What steps is the Department taking to address that inequality and help rural councils to deliver vital public services?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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As the hon. Lady will know, the rural services delivery grant tries to reflect that as well, but if only the Lib Dem leadership of her council had got on—as Dorset did—and delivered the benefits of going unitary, rather than fiddling while Rome burns, her situation might be a little better.

James Morris Portrait James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
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3. What assessment he has made of the impact of Metro Mayors on their local economies.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
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10. What assessment he has made of the impact of Metro Mayors on their local economies.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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19. What steps he is taking to increase engagement between his Department and elected Mayors.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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Our Mayors play a powerful role in driving economic growth, improving public services and giving local areas a powerful voice on the national stage. I met all the Mayors as a group before Christmas, as well as Mayor Brabin, as chair of UK Mayors this year, and a number of Mayors on an individual basis. I look forward to meeting and working closely with all the Mayors, collectively and individually, after the May elections, including the three new Mayors who will be elected for the East Midlands, the North-East Combined Authority, and York and North Yorkshire.

James Morris Portrait James Morris
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Since he was first elected in 2017, Andy Street has delivered £10 billion of new investment to the west midlands region, more housing—particularly on brownfield land—and much-needed investment in transport infrastructure across the region. Does the Secretary of State agree that, when voters go to the polls next week, they should support Andy Street to continue that track record of delivery for the west midlands?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I agree with my hon. Friend. Andy Street has been outstanding at delivering jobs and more homes in the west midlands than in any other region, according to housing targets. He has done so despite the failure of Birmingham City Council, which was driven into bankruptcy by Labour.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney
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Can my right hon. Friend further update colleagues and my constituents on the progress of the Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal, following the deals approved at upper tier council level earlier this year?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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We have been consulting and we have listened, and we will have to wait until after 2 May to say more. I am looking forward to working with my hon. Friend to make Lincolnshire great again.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis
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Given that after 2 May there will be 12 metro Mayors directly representing 27 million people in England, does the Secretary of State think that there should be a dedicated formal structure that will enable the metro Mayors to work more effectively with Whitehall Government, rather than the somewhat ad hoc structures that are currently in place?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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That is a fair point. The ad hoc structures that the hon. Gentleman described work well. All the existing Mayors work well together, and all party politics aside, it has been instructive to see the kind words that Andy Burnham has directed towards Andy Street and vice versa. Now that the mayoral model, which has worked overall with one or two slight bumps in the road, has reached a level of maturity, his point is very fair.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty) (Lab)
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Voters in the upcoming North Yorkshire mayoral election are facing significant economic hardship and deserve to know that their money is being spent responsibly. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that one candidate in the North Yorkshire mayoral race has made over £300 million of unfunded spending commitments for the county? Could central Government perhaps provide an assessment of the economic impact of such spending commitments?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It is striking that the Conservative candidate in North Yorkshire is the only one who has a plan for growth, and a long-term plan for York and North Yorkshire’s economy. When it comes to value for money for our Mayors, I should point out that the Conservative Mayors for Tees Valley and for the West Midlands, Ben Houchen and Andy Street, levy not a penny in extra mayoral taxation, unlike the Labour Mayor in London, whose spendthrift ways will see him thrown out on 2 May.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
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Despite that love-in, as the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street has over-promised and under-delivered. Almost 70% of devolved housing funds have not been used, and he has done nothing to tackle rogue landlords. The mayoral model can work, and Sadiq Khan’s affordable housebuilding in London is evidence of that. When did the Secretary of State last meet Andy Street, and did he raise those failures with him?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I talk to Andy Street constantly because he is a model of what a strong Mayor should be. The right hon. Lady talks about housing. There are housing targets set at a regional level—which Mayor missed them by most? Sadiq Khan in London. Which Mayor has exceeded those targets? Andy Street in the west midlands. Sadiq Khan has failed on housing, failed on crime and failed on transport, and he will be kicked out on 2 May.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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Roll on a general election. Sadiq Khan has been building a better London for everyone. If the right hon. Gentleman wants more evidence of Mayors working, he should look up north: Tracy Brabin, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham have been bringing transport services back under public control, giving better value for money. In the Tees Valley, we see the opposite. The review into Lord Houchen’s mishandling of Teesworks found

“the principles of spending public money are not being consistently observed.”

So why will the Secretary of State not give the National Audit Office the chance to investigate?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am sure the right hon. Lady is very, very keen that all sorts of matters are investigated properly by independent figures who can be trusted, but in the Tees Valley Ben Houchen has done more than any other Metro Mayor to bring jobs and investment into his region. The thousands of jobs created in Teesworks stand in stark contrast to Labour’s failure, from London to Liverpool, to bring in the jobs required. Andy Street, I should reinforce, is the single most successful Mayor in the country. That is why both Andy and Ben will be re-elected on 2 May, alongside Conservative Mayors in York and North Yorkshire, the East Midlands and, of course, London.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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4. What steps he is taking to help prevent (a) leaseholders and (b) tenants paying for the remediation of fire defects.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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No qualifying leaseholder in a building above 11 metres in England will be liable for cladding remediation costs. Where we are able to do so and where they still exist, we are making those who cause these issues pay to resolve them.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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In my constituency, residents are asking for transparency in their service charges. They are fearful that they are being charged for surveys for fire remediation work, which is the responsibility of the developer and not the people who live in the flats and who are not the cause of those problems. What will the Government do for people in Master Gunner Place or Grove Place in my constituency, where people are asking questions but not getting answers on why they are paying these excessive charges? In one case, there was a 107% increase in the service charge. The Government are making all the right noises, but I do not see much result at the sharp end for my constituents.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is absolutely vital there is transparency in how, when and why leaseholders are being charged. That is why we have done one thing and been doing another thing in the past few weeks alone. Last week, on the new building safety approach for high-rise buildings, we were very clear in a joint letter about highlighting the importance of temperate remuneration and cost. Secondly, we need to continue to bring forward the reforms in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which will see a transformation in transparency on service charges. The Government brought that Bill forward and it will come through as soon as the other place has concluded its observations.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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The Minister has done good work in protecting leaseholders and renters from remediation costs above 11 metres. As a leaseholder myself, I am a bit baffled as to why people are not protected when fire remediation measures are necessary below 11 metres. I would be grateful if he could explain the Government’s reasoning.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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When the Building Safety Act 2022, which put in place the differentiation, was going through, we were very clear and asked colleagues, on the Floor of the House, for any examples of where there were potential issues below 11 metres. If my right hon. Friend or any other Member has an issue, I would be very keen to hear from them. The reality is that, over the past two years nearly, we have received only 160 potential issues. Of those, we can count on one hand where there has been a problem. We are working with each of those three buildings to make the progress we need to make.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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The Select Committee welcomed the more than £2 billion provided through the building safety fund to private leaseholders with regard to remediation due to fire safety works. On the other hand, social housing providers received only £200 million, which is about 10% of the amount going to private leaseholders. How can it possibly be fair that in a block of flats a private leaseholder gets their remediation costs paid, but in the same flat next door a social housing tenant has to pay for the total cost out of their rent? That simply is not fair. Ministers have accepted the unfairness in the past. When will they do something about it?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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As my constituency neighbour recognises, there is, rightly, a substantial amount of taxpayer subsidy for remediation. We are trying to ensure that that taxpayer subsidy is then clawed back from those responsible for the problems in the first place. Where there are challenges and issues with registered providers, we are very happy to talk to them. We have done that and we have made changes where necessary.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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Following a fire last summer, timber and unplasticized polyvinyl chloride cladding on 586 homes in the borough of Barnet was identified as needing remediation. A number of those homes are in my constituency. Homeowners are facing bills of £23,000. Will the Government help them with those bills?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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This important issue is very much on our radar, and one that we are working through. I had meetings about it only a few days ago, and I continue to do so. Perhaps I could update my right hon. Friend separately outside the Chamber with further information about our proposed approach.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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Soaring service charges are placing an intolerable financial strain on leaseholders and those with shared ownership across the country. Among the main drivers of the eye-watering demands with which many have been served over recent months are staggering rises in buildings insurance premiums and the passing on of significant costs relating to the functioning of the new building safety regime. Given that many leaseholders are being pushed to the very limits of what they can afford, do the Government now accept that the service charge transparency provisions in the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill—and pleading with freeholders to take a temperate approach—are not enough, and that Ministers should explore with urgency what further measures could be included to protect leaseholders better from unreasonable charges and give them more control over their buildings?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The hon. Gentleman is aware that our substantial reform package sets out clearly and transparently the changes that are being introduced and what people are expected to pay. It could not be clearer than it is in the legislation, which is one of my reasons for wanting it to proceed as quickly as possible. When there are issues, we are keen to look at them and, where we can, take action, but the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is designed to improve transparency and reduce problems, and I am sure that it will do that once it has completed its passage here and in the other place.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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5. Whether he has made an estimate of the number of planning authorities that do not have an up-to-date local plan.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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At the end of March 2024, 110 local planning authorities—a third of the total—had adopted a local plan in the past five years, while 291 had plans that were more than five years old. Of those, more than half are making progress towards updating their plans. The Government have made it clear that authorities should continue to update their plans because that is the best way to deliver development that is in the interests of local communities.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
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My Liberal Democrat-run local council is one of those without an up-to-date local plan. In fact, it has now delayed its plan until 2026, which means that places such as Burbage have housing without full protection. That puts pressure on our GP services, our school places and even our roads. What more can the Government do to persuade Liberal Democrat-run Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council to ensure that its plan is established and updated so that my residents have the required protections?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend has raised this matter in the Chamber before, and it is a great example of why it is so important that Bosworth has this Conservative Member of Parliament to highlight the challenges and failures of the Liberal Democrat council. Ultimately, the Government will not hesitate to take action against councils that are not fulfilling their obligations. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done so over the past few months, and we will continue to do so, because we expect councils to do their job and put their plans in place. When Liberal Democrat councils fail to do that, we will call them out.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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York has one of the worst housing crises in the country, yet we have not had a local plan to restrain developers for 68 years. Why has it taken this Tory Government more than 14 years to deliver a local plan for York?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am relatively clear that the Labour party has been in charge of York for a substantial proportion of the last 14 years. If the hon. Lady wants an answer to her question about why there is no local plan, she should look to her own party.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
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To help local authorities finalise their local plans, my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues have made significant changes to the planning rules. As a result, Wiltshire has cut its house building by 9,000, North Somerset has reduced its house building plans by 29%, and Three Rivers and others are doing likewise, to ensure that local plans better reflect their communities. Does my hon. Friend expect all local authorities to consider whether the new rules apply in their communities?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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It is vital for local councils to follow what is in the national planning policy framework. We know that where local plans are in place councils build more houses, but, most important, they build more houses in the right places, so that communities can be confident that they are being built where they are needed.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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The problem with the Government’s developer-led approach to planning is that it means that we see houses built for demand, but not for local need. In a community such as the Lake District, developers will sell anything they can build, but will it meet the need of local communities? Often it will not. Will the Minister ensure that local authorities and national parks putting together local plans are allowed to designate land specifically and exclusively for genuinely affordable housing so that they can say no to the houses we do not need and yes to the ones we do?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, the planning system has a substantial amount of flexibility—it is one of the frustrations—to ensure that local councils do the right thing. Where they do the right thing, they should be celebrated; where they do not, we should criticise them and hope that they are thrown out. If the hon. Gentleman is arguing against developer-led planning—capitalism, as it is otherwise known—that is a very interesting place for liberalism in this country to go.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
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6. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of the community ownership fund on local communities.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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12. What assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of the community ownership fund on local communities.

Jacob Young Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Jacob Young)
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Community ownership can boost local connections and pride of place, and bolster resilience. So far, we have awarded about £103 million to 333 projects across the UK. We are working with an external evaluation partner on an evaluation of the fund. We are already seeing some great examples of COF projects making a real difference to their communities, such as Grow the Glens in Northern Ireland and East Boldre community stores in the south-east of England.

James Davies Portrait Dr Davies
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There have already been three worthy beneficiaries of the community ownership fund in my constituency: the village shop in Llandyrnog; the Salusbury Arms in Tremeirchion, which the Minister has visited; and Rhyl football club, which hopes to secure the future of its ground, Belle Vue. His Department has been very helpful throughout, but what further advice and guidance can be provided for applicants in future rounds?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I enjoyed visiting the Salusbury Arms with my hon. Friend and raising a glass to the community there. Ahead of round 4, we launched a brand-new expression of interest process, which provides interested applicants with an outcome within minutes. To support applicants at the fourth stage, we have also updated the prospectus and other guidance on gov.uk. We want to help as many communities as possible to benefit from the fund, spreading the benefits of levelling up nationwide.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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Does the Minister agree that the recent grant of £452,700 to the Owain Glyndŵr hotel in Corwen, in Clwyd South, is a wonderful example of the hugely beneficial impact of the community ownership fund on local communities? The grant will enable this much-loved hotel to play a central role in the town again, and to benefit from the reopening of Corwen station and the other projects in Corwen arising from my Clwyd South levelling-up fund.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that exciting project, which seeks to secure the future of the Owain Glyndŵr hotel and develop it into a community social hub showcasing the life and history of the area. I agree that the project is a great example of what the community ownership fund seeks to do across our United Kingdom. The fund not only safeguards priceless and much-loved local assets, but supports ambition and builds opportunity in local areas. I will be visiting north Wales in the very near future and will test my diary to see whether it is possible to swing by and say, “Da iawn.”

John Cryer Portrait John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
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The Minister mentioned pubs that have been rescued and secured for the community, but where historic local pubs, which were at one time hubs of the community, have been wrecked by absentee owners and therefore require capital investment, does he envisage the funding being used in that regard as well?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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The fund is open to community groups, charities, and town and parish councils. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that the pub to which he refers would be eligible, but I am more than happy to meet him following this session to get further details.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Mr Speaker, I know you know that there could not possibly be a better project to receive funding from the Government than the Rhondda tunnel, which would connect Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi—I am very happy to dangle all the Ministers down the hole and into the tunnel, if they ever want to come and see it. I know the Secretary of State knows all about it, because I had two meetings with him about it several years ago. I have met lots of Ministers who have privately been very supportive and told me to apply for this, that or the other fund, but not a single penny has yet transpired. An official has recently told Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council that it should make a specific exemption for an application for money. Is that still a possibility, to ensure that the Rhondda tunnel comes to pass?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I do not think that the community ownership fund is the appropriate fund. As I have just said to the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), the community ownership fund is open to charities, to community groups and to town and parish councils, but with regard to the hon. Gentleman’s tunnel project, I would be more than happy to meet him and identify what funding opportunities are available.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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7. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the towns fund on local communities.

Jacob Young Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Jacob Young)
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As part of their town investment plan, places were required to consult extensively with local communities and to evidence how this feedback shaped their plan. The impact of the towns fund on local communities is also a crucial part of the towns fund impact evaluation, to be published in early 2026.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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One success of the towns fund is the breadth of projects, which in King’s Lynn include Shakespeare’s St George’s guildhall, a new community library and adult skills centre and a school of nursing studies. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the very welcome extra £20 million through the long-term plan for towns that Lynn has just been awarded can be used to complement those schemes as well as to secure other investment into the area?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to levelling up in King’s Lynn and across Norfolk. Our long-term plan for towns puts power back into the hands of local people. Each town must set up a new town board, comprised of local community representatives and the Members of Parliament for the respective area, who are responsible for developing the long-term plan for their area, underpinned by evidence of extensive community engagement. This plan can include the regeneration projects that my hon. Friend has mentioned, if that is considered a local priority. I look forward to working with him and to seeing the plans when they are finally brought forward.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his answers. He will recall that I asked some time ago about the Ards and North Down Council’s Whitespots project—a historical project for tourism that relates to the second world war and also to the history of mining in the area. The Minister said that when the Northern Ireland Assembly was up and running, he would be keen to ensure that the project could take place. Can he confirm that the moneys necessary for the project are there, and will he ensure that he, as Minister, does everything he can to make it happen?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, but I can say that the £30 million that was set aside for Northern Ireland in round 3 of the levelling-up fund has been given to the Northern Ireland Executive as part of the Executive reformation fund. I was in Northern Ireland over the recess, where we were celebrating more than £435 million of levelling-up funding going to Northern Ireland since 2019.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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It is now approaching five years since the towns fund was launched, promising £3.6 billion of investment to level up the country. Most of it remains unspent, and the cross-party Public Accounts Committee has said that the Department for Levelling Up could not

“give any compelling examples of what had been delivered so far”.

That is a damning assessment of this five years of the fund, never mind after 14 years in power—so, Minister, why are this Government such a failure?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I think that is quite poor, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman’s constituency has itself benefited from £11.1 million of UK shared prosperity funding and £13.4 million from the levelling up fund. Next to him I see the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), whose constituency has benefited from £24.4 million from the towns fund. Oldham is also the recipient of £10.8 million from the future high streets fund. We are levelling up right across the country, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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8. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of Government funding allocated to local authorities.

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, we make continuous assessment with regard to the adequacy of funding. In this financial year we have made £64.7 billion available to local government in England, an above-inflation increase for local authorities as their real-terms increase in core spending power is now up to £4.5 billion or 7.5% in cash terms. That includes the additional measures for local authorities, worth £600 million, that we announced on 25 January, having listened to the views of local government, to her views when she engaged in the consultation and to the views of hon. and right hon. Friends across Shropshire.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
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I thank the Minister for his answer, but we have seen Shropshire Council make £50 million of cuts this year, and we are told that there will be £60 million of cuts next year to avoid a section 144 notice. Local residents are particularly concerned about the potential closure of recycling centres and a likely increase in fly-tipping across our beautiful countryside. Does the Minister agree that rural councils are in danger of delivering nothing more than statutory services if things continue? Will he consider adjusting the way that funding is allocated so that rural councils are given an amount that reflects the cost of delivering services in their area?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The hon. Lady is right to point to the need to review the formula, which is a commitment for the next Parliament. She will probably be aware—I hope she is—of the £8.9 million extra that Shropshire Council received this year through the rural services delivery grant in order to deliver those sorts of services. Do I think rural councils have to reduce to statutory services alone? No. All my engagement with the sector points to a vibrancy and a commitment to innovation, shaping places and improving the lives of people up and down the country, including in Shropshire.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Dame Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con)
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Trevor from the Drighlington memory café—Trevor has been ably supported by our fantastic Morley town mayor—Nicola from the Morley grief group, Dan from WF3 Kindness and Christine from the veterans luncheon club are just some of the amazing volunteers and community groups in my area who give up their time to help local people. Will the Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the unsung heroes in our communities across the country?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should never lose an opportunity to trumpet our thanks to people like Trevor, Christine and all our volunteers up and down the country who make such a difference to people’s lives. They work alongside councils and other bodies to make life better and happier, and to make places more pleasant to live. I thank them unreservedly.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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Funding cuts are adding to the clear pressures on local government around the country. One such example is developers who come armed with substantial funds and resources to contest their planning applications. Locally, Warwick District Council had an application just last week that the planning committee was essentially advised to allow because of a fear of not having the financial resources to contest it. I have written to the Secretary of State about this issue. Should we be extremely concerned about it nationally?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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Each planning authority has a quasi-judicial role to adjudge planning applications against national and local plans, and I have every confidence that planning committees up and down the country do that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to a 7.5% cash-terms increase for local government in this financial year as a cut, that is a very eccentric definition even for a Labour Member.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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Ministers are aware that Maldon District Council was allocated £5 million of levelling-up funding. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), the council and I have been informed that the funding must be spent on cultural projects, despite our having a local plan that will see the closure of St Peter’s Hospital. We want the money to be spent on levelling up health and wellbeing, which is one of the five principles of levelling up. Will Ministers urgently review all our representations so that we can work at pace to sort out this terrible issue and level up our health situation?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and I know St Peter’s Hospital pretty well from a previous life. The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), has signalled to me that he is aware of the issue, has sympathy with my right hon. Friend and will be happy to meet her in pretty quick time to discuss further details.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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Working people are paying the price of the cost of living crisis, but is it not the truth that the Liz Truss mini-Budget did not occur in a vacuum? There is a pattern of the Tories shifting the tax burden on to hard-pressed households. Council tax bills have rocketed by almost £500 since the Tories came to power, on top of which Conservative councils charge residents almost £280 more than their Labour counterparts. As voters go to the polls on 2 May, does the Minister hope that they will somehow forget the council tax bombshell facing them? Or does he expect that more candidates will follow the lead of the west midlands campaign and ditch the toxic Tory brand completely?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The hon. Gentleman wins first prize in the brass neck of the afternoon competition; I remind him gently and politely about the situation in Birmingham. It is well known by residents up and down the land that Conservative-led councils are more efficient, deliver greater improvement at pace and are far more focused on delivering for their residents. Colleagues and I will take that proud record to the voters during this local election campaign, and I have every confidence we will triumph in it.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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9. What the criteria are for allocation of round 4 of the community ownership fund.

Jacob Young Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Jacob Young)
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Our decision-making criteria for the community ownership fund can be found in the published explanatory note on gov.uk. Round 4 window 1 has now closed and will be assessed according to those criteria. Round 4 window 2 will open in the coming weeks.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Drummond
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I was delighted to hear that so many projects have received a large amount of money to take over community centres, heritage buildings, pubs and sporting facilities. The list also includes green spaces, so will the Minister confirm that if a community group wanted to buy part of a chalk stream that is for sale for the benefit of that community, that would be within the scope of the community ownership fund?

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter. We have funded similar land purchases, but this will be dependent on the factors locally.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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11. What progress he has made on ending rough sleeping.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince (Colchester) (Con)
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13. What steps his Department is taking to end rough sleeping.

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping. We published our cross-government strategy “Ending rough sleeping for good” in September 2022, and we are investing an unprecedented £2.4 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over three years. Rough sleeping levels were 18% lower in 2023 than they were at the peak in 2017 and they were 9% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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This Government and Department have presided over a litany of failures. The Conservative party has pledged to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. I have to disagree with the hon. Lady, because rough sleeping numbers are yet again on the up. Instead of fulfilling their manifesto commitment, the Government have prioritised criminalising the homeless, rather than ending homelessness. Even many Conservative Back Benchers cannot support that, so when will this Department’s leadership grow a backbone and tell their colleagues in the Home Office to shelve the pernicious plans that exist within the Criminal Justice Bill?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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This Government are absolutely committed to ending rough sleeping, which is why we are investing £2.4 billion. Importantly, £1.2 billion is going into prevention, so that we prevent homelessness before it happens. I want to address the point about the Criminal Justice Bill. The Government are clear that no one should be criminalised for having nowhere to live. The Bill gives powers to the police and local authorities only where behaviour causes damage, distress, harassment or disruption. Guidance will be issued that makes it clear that outreach and support should be prioritised.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I welcome the fact that the Government are investing £2.4 billion on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. Notwithstanding what the Minister just said, does she agree that we need to help people off the streets, not risk criminalising them, as is regrettably proposed in part of the Criminal Justice Bill?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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I thank my hon. Friend for his words welcoming Government expenditure on tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. The Government are very focused on helping the most vulnerable in our society, who are often rough sleepers. That is a cross-government effort. For instance, I work closely with the Department for Education on care leavers and I work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on those who have addictions. I reassure my hon. Friend that no one will be criminalised simply for sleeping rough.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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As well as trying to criminalise rough sleepers, put them in jail and give them a hefty fine, it is crystal clear that the Government will not meet their target to end rough sleeping by the end of 2024. Rough sleeping is all too plain to see—as we walk into this place or go to any city or town, we see the tragic consequences of Government policies. Is it not now time for Ministers to do the right thing: end section 21 no-fault evictions for good—no ifs, no buts; no excuses and narratives about the courts—and build the homes for social rent at the scale the country needs? If they do not do that, we will.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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We are abolishing section 21 and building affordable homes. Where are affordable homes not being built? In London.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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14. What steps he is taking to help improve the efficiency of the planning system.

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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We are taking significant steps to speed up the planning system. In large infrastructure projects, that is through the nationally significant infrastructure projects action plan and the “Getting Great Britain building again” policy paper. In relation to the TCPA, we are offering greater clarity through the republication of the national planning policy framework, greater consistency through instructing local councils to ensure that they discharge their responsibilities, and greater capacity through additional support for local councils.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Can I convey the extreme irritation of two parishes in my constituency that have had five locations for a mobile phone mast turned down? Given that mobile connectivity is now an essential requirement, is it not time that local authorities advised on which technically feasible locations they would be prepared to grant planning permission? Local people could then say where they were happiest for such projects to go, and we would end this stupid cat-and-mouse game that wastes time and means people do not get the connectivity they need.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend is right that connectivity is vital in all our communities. It is incumbent upon local councils, including his council in Bedfordshire, to ensure that they are providing the greatest clarity possible for that connectivity and that it is put in place.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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15. What steps his Department is taking to help promote interfaith dialogue.

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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This Government are extremely supportive of efforts to bring together people of different faiths and beliefs. The faith Minister meets regularly with faith leaders to encourage these efforts, and the Department has funded a range of partners, including Near Neighbours and Strengthening Faith Institutions, to organise local level interfaith dialogue.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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I thank the Minister for her answer, but two months ago the Secretary of State announced that he would pull funding from the Inter Faith Network, which is the largest interfaith charity on these islands. It will close next week, after 40 years. It is an astonishing decision by the UK Government to close Britain’s main forum for Jewish-Muslim dialogue now. The Secretary of State could still reverse that very poor decision, but that would have to happen this week. What are the chances of that?

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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Let me explain what occurred. The closure of the Inter Faith Network is a matter for the Inter Faith Network, as an independent charity; it is not a matter for Government. We have always made it very clear to all charities that receive Government funding that they need to have sustainable sources of other funding. In my response to the urgent question about a month ago, I made clear the reasons for the closure. To repeat, the decision to withdraw the funding was taken because of the appointment of a member of the Muslim Council of Britain as a trustee. Governments of various different hues have decided that they will not deal with the Muslim Council of Britain.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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SHiFT is an inspirational charity run by a visionary social entrepreneur, Sophie Humphreys. It works in order to ensure that young people at risk of engaging with the criminal justice system are diverted to better outcomes. On Thursday, two new SHiFT interventions will open in Middlesbrough and in Redcar and Cleveland, with the support of £3.9 million from my Department. That is proof that when it comes to intervening early to give young people a better life, it is a Conservative Government and a Conservative Mayor in Tees Valley who are delivering for the most vulnerable.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The levelling-up funding awarded to my constituency three years ago for the upgrade of the B714 has still not been delivered. However, when I have raised concerns that the funding is insufficient for the upgrade, given inflationary pressures, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up told me to raise the matter with the Department for Transport, which in turn referred me back to the Secretary of State. Can I have an explanation from the Secretary of State as to how approved projects can proceed as envisaged, even if funding is delivered, when inflation is not factored into the funding?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. I can offer her, and also the Member of the Scottish Parliament for North Ayrshire and North Ayrshire Council, a meeting with me, so that we can deliver this project, because I know that she is absolutely committed to ensuring that the levelling-up fund—UK Government money—is spent effectively in her constituency. That is proof that we work better together.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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T4. Ynys Môn is looking forward to hosting the fourth Islands Forum on 7 and 8 May. It is an opportunity to showcase our heritage, culture and language. It is also an opportunity for Ministers to see at first hand how the £17 million from the UK levelling-up fund is transforming Holyhead. Will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to visit St Cybi’s church, the Ucheldre centre and the Newry beach shelters to see how the UK Government are creating jobs and a brighter future for Holyhead? And will he sign up to my Aldi to Amlwch campaign?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Diolch. I am looking forward more than I can say to visiting Ynys Môn. This is a fantastic example of a brilliant Conservative MP securing funding for Wales, for the Welsh language, for Welsh jobs and for Welsh investment. May I say that Anglesey has never flourished in the way it is now flourishing with her as its MP?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Anum Qaisar (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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We know that the Tories continually prioritise their banker mates over the rest of the country. An example of that was in the spring Budget when the Chancellor announced levelling-up funding for Canary Wharf—an area that is home to some of the world’s biggest banks—which will receive more that £16,000 per head in funding commitments compared with Scotland. With the Leader of the Opposition and his Labour party backing Tory tax and spending plans and U-turning on capping bankers’ bonuses, does the Secretary of State agree that the Labour party offers no real alternative for the people of Scotland?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I just remind everyone that we are on topical questions.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I think SNP press releases have suffered recently as a result of the travails that the chief executive of that party has been suffering, but as SNP press releases go, that has to be one of the weakest I have ever heard in this House. The Scottish Government are closing VisitScotland centres, they cannot deliver ferries, Scotland is plunging down the educational league tables, and, when it comes to delivering services in Scotland, theatres, community centres and councils are coming to us for cash. The Scottish Government are a disaster, and all the hon. Lady can do is repeat the failed talking points—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Secretary of State, that is completely outrageous, after I had just said that we are on topicals. Please do not take advantage of your own Members. It is not fair to them and it is not fair to the rest of the Chamber.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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T5. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to attract long-term landlords back to small coastal towns?

Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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My hon. Friend has been a long-standing campaigner for balance within coastal communities. I know that both she and colleagues from the south-west and elsewhere are very keen to see some of the reforms that the Government are introducing on short-term lets and the changes to the planning system.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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T2. In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the Government made this commitment:“We will continue with our reforms to leasehold including implementing our ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents to a peppercorn, and providing necessary mechanisms of redress for tenants.”That still has not happened, so either they did not believe it then, they had not thought it through, or the Minister has been nobbled by the Prime Minister. Which one is it?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Our Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is making great progress in the House of Lords. It is being debated today and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman supporting it when it comes back here and gets on to the statute book.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Mr Richard Bacon—not here.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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T3. Given the proximity to the local and general elections, can Ministers give an assurance that the joint election security preparedness unit has all the resources it needs to do the job?

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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This is a tremendously serious issue. My Department and other Government Departments, led by the Security Minister in the Home Office, are spending a huge amount of time, effort and resource in ensuring the safety of candidates; the safety, security and robustness of the process; and that all those who wish to take part in our democratic functions, in whichever fora they happen to manifest themselves, can do so safely and securely. That is a very firm commitment. The hon. Member will know that we are dealing with that as a serious matter.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
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T9. In constituencies such as Aldridge-Brownhills, our green belt is precious; and once it has gone, it has gone forever. But in the west midlands, thanks to the leadership and vision of Mayor Andy Street and his “brownfield first” approach, we have seen 16,000 new homes built, and thousands of new jobs on brownfield land. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that clearly demonstrates that we can build the new homes we need and protect the green belt, and that it is Andy Street who is setting the pace and leading the way in the west midlands?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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That is spot on. It is Andy Street and Conservative councils in Walsall, Dudley and Solihull that are delivering houses and protecting the green belt. That is better for economic growth, better for the environment, and better than bankrupt Labour Birmingham.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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T6. Over 1,000 families in Luton South are stuck in temporary accommodation, with wait times ranging from three to nine months for a one-bed property to eight to nine years for a three-bed. Across the country there has been a staggering 119% increase in temporary accommodation numbers since 2019. Does the Minister agree that that is just a direct cost of 14 years of Conservative failure on housing?

Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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The Government are very focused on temporary accommodation. That is why we are investing £2.4 billion, of which £1.2 billion is specifically for the homelessness prevention grant. In the last Budget, we increased the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile. That is worth £1.2 billion. We have also increased the local authority housing fund.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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Please can my right hon. Friend set out what the Government are doing to ensure that more young people can live in their own home as early as possible in their adult lives, and specifically whether greater consideration can be given to mechanisms that result in only one affordable payment being made a month, rather than one mortgage payment and one rental payment?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need to look to reform both the mortgage market and our planning system. We will bring forward further steps on both in the coming weeks.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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T7. In communities such as Kendal, Appleby, Allithwaite and Milnthorpe, developers have used viability assessments to renege on building desperately needed and genuinely affordable homes, so will the Government give planning authorities the power to declare null and void any planning permission where the developer cannot or will not deliver the affordable homes that they had promised?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I know how important it is to deliver affordable homes in the Lake district, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We will take a close look at the examples he cites, to ensure that we are not killing the geese that lay the golden eggs.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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Tourism is vital to Bournemouth’s economy, and half our visitors come by car. A few choose to park on double yellow lines for the day, as the parking penalty is only £35, unlike here in London where it is £65, increasing to £130 if not paid promptly. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be immensely helpful, and would ensure that emergency vehicle access is not blocked, were Bournemouth allowed to operate the same penalties as we have in London?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend is right: antisocial parking is a blight outside London, and we need to review extending the powers that are currently exercised in London to other parts of the country.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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T10. Time and again, leasehold owners come to me with unfair bills for service charges. They are inflated, and they are even for undelivered services. When I get involved, they are often dropped by a third instantly. What will the Government do to ensure that developers are not trying to rip off homeowners, and instead get bills right the first time?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Fair point. Frank Dobson said that he was going to reform the leasehold system in 1995. We are doing it now. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), is piloting, will bring relief to leaseholders.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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A raft of Labour councillors in Kirklees have resigned from their party, with one of them describing their leadership as a “toxic swamp,” so it will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend that the local Conservative campaign to split Kirklees and get better leadership and accountability is really gathering momentum. Does he agree that leadership needs to be locally driven, and that the best way to achieve that is to vote for more Conservative councillors on 2 May—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. This is not fair. Just tell me which questions you don’t want, and it will make my job easier.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need change in Kirklees. The best way in which people can demonstrate their desire for change and the reconfiguration of Kirklees is by voting Conservative on 2 May.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Today is Earth Day. The Government introduced the zero carbon homes standard and the code for sustainable homes and then scrapped them. The future homes standard now has centralised support, but local authorities such as Leeds want to go above planning policy to reach higher standards. Why will the Secretary of State not allow Leeds to build even better zero carbon homes?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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We have a good relationship with Leeds City Council, and indeed with its leader and chief executive, so let me investigate.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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Ben Houchen has done a remarkable job of saving our airport, overseeing the redevelopment of Teesworks, and securing new jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given Ben’s record of delivering and the promise of more, voters should back him on 2 May?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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That is an easy one.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It is an easy one! You are right, Mr Speaker: everyone should back Ben Houchen—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Let me help: it is an easy one for you to answer. Now let us move on.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), for his reply to my letter of 21 March. He said that a short paper on the topic of the Union was prepared by officials and presented to the UK Government in July 2020. However, a media report at the time suggested that an employee of Hanbury Strategy had provided data and helped to prepare that paper for the Cabinet. Was public money used for the insights that Hanbury Strategy prepared for that paper, and when will the public get to see them?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Once again, I have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Scottish National party Members talking about the misappropriation of cash. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Scottish Government’s budget has led to the closure of 25 tourist information centres and a variety of other ventures that are trying to get investment into Scotland, whereas the UK Government are providing investment in Scotland—proving once again that we are better together.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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My constituents are increasingly concerned about the number of planning applications being approved—particularly in rural areas—when the infrastructure and public services quite evidently cannot cope with the demand. What plans do Ministers have to ensure that local residents have more say in future?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The new national planning policy framework, as enacted by this Front-Bench team, will ensure that local voices determine the shape of local communities.

Stephen Kinnock Portrait Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
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My constituents who live on the Abbottsmoor estate in Port Talbot are locked into paying unjustified and extortionate ground rent fees and charges for poor maintenance. Will the Secretary of State commit to strengthening the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill by ensuring that all leaseholders have the right to vary their lease, setting ground rents to a peppercorn, ensuring that premiums are as cheap as possible, regulating managing agents, and abolishing forfeiture?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I always listen with respect to arguments made by a Kinnock, and in this case, I think the hon. Gentleman is broadly—broadly—in the right territory.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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What steps are being taken to ensure that planning authorities and, more importantly, the Planning Inspectorate are utilising the powers in the new NPPF to protect land use in food production?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The NPPF could not be clearer about that. The new chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate is very aware of how important it is to ensure that there is public confidence in the NPPF.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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My constituency has some of the highest levels of health inequalities in the country, which have been further increased by the cost of living crisis and the continual cuts to our council budgets. If the Government are serious about levelling up, why was Bradford East’s bid to reduce health inequalities knocked back?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The Labour leadership in Bradford Council must look to its performance. I think there is a distinction to be drawn between the Labour leaderships in Leeds and in Bradford—Bradford could learn a lot from what Leeds has done. This is not a party political point; it is a point about failure specifically in Bradford.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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My constituents have significant concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour in the town centre. Public space protection orders can play an important role, but the local Labour council refuses to use the powers it has. We have groups of men drinking alcohol in the middle of the town centre, and the council does nothing. Does the Secretary of State agree that, yet again, Ipswich Labour should step up?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It is sad, but not surprising, that Labour in Ipswich has failed again. That is why it is so important that people vote Conservative at the police and crime commissioner elections on 2 May. There are few more effective scourges of crime than the Conservative police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, and my hon. Friend, who does such a brilliant job in Ipswich.