All 1 Alok Sharma contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 17th Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend is an excellent champion of infrastructure and housing in her constituency and, of course, throughout the country. She has made an important point, and I should be pleased to meet her and, possibly, her local representatives to talk about it in more detail.

Last month, in response to the concerns of Members of both Houses, the Government made changes to the national planning policy framework in relation to onshore wind, which were designed to make it easier and quicker for local planning authorities to consider and, where appropriate, approve onshore wind projects when there is local support. We need to allow time for those changes to take effect, so we will keep the policy under review, and will report in due course on the number of new onshore wind projects progressing from planning application through to consent. We also intend to update planning practice guidance to support the changes further, and to publish our response to the local partnerships consultation for onshore wind in England. The response will set out how, beyond the planning system, the Government intend to improve the types of community benefits that are on offer for communities who choose to host onshore wind projects, including local energy bill discounts.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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Conservative colleagues and I, along with the Minister’s Department, worked together to end the de facto banning of onshore wind, and I am grateful for that. However, as the Minister has acknowledged, we need to see whether this policy is working, and a key determinant of that will be whether onshore wind really has meaningful community benefits. The consultation closed three and a half months ago; will the Minister tell us when we will see its conclusions? I am not suggesting that she should pre-empt those now, but could she also specify some of the likely monetary benefits that might flow to communities, so that we could have an indication that the Government are moving in the right direction?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said, and for all the vital work that he did in his previous role in taking forward the country’s reaction to climate change. This is a key plank of our policy. Our commitment to renewables is beyond question, and we have done more to drive forward that agenda with the help of my right hon. Friend and others. I have been discussing some of the questions he has raised today with my colleagues in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, because I think people want to see what this means in practice for their communities. We have some exciting work planned, and I can assure him that, as I have said in response to earlier interventions, we will provide the response to the NPPF—which covers this and other matters—as soon as we can.

The Government remain committed to repealing the antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824 as soon as replacement legislation can be introduced, and once that has happened there will be no need to publish a report. Lords amendment 240 would require a Minister to publish, within 90 days of Royal Assent, an assessment of the impact of the enforcement sections of the Vagrancy Act on levelling up and regeneration. Given our commitment to the repeal and replacement of the Act, and because identifying and gathering the information would take significant time, we propose that a year should be provided rather than 90 days.

To ensure that the leaseholder protections on remediation work as originally intended in the Building Safety Act 2022, we have tabled an amendment to remedy a gap in the Act so that a qualifying lease retains its protection if extended, varied, or replaced by an entirely new lease. We do not, however, agree that Lords amendment 242, which would secure parity between non-qualifying and qualifying leaseholders, and exclude shares in a property of 50% or less from being counted as “owned” for the purposes of calculating whether a lease qualifies for the protections, should be accepted. There are a number of defects in the amendment; in particular, it would remove the protections once remediation work was complete, which a number of stakeholders have described to us as a potentially worrying change.

The Government made amendments to the Bill—clauses 239 and 240—which will allow us to transfer the building safety regulator out of the Health and Safety Executive in the future. That will ensure that we are ready, and have the flexibility in place, to respond to the Grenfell Tower inquiry report when it is published. When the regulator is moved, the essential committees established under sections 9 to 11 of the Building Safety Act will need to be transferred. We are therefore unable to accept an amendment that prevents us from removing the references to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in relation to the committees. I should, however, make it clear that the Government have no intention of amending the make-up or role of those committees.

The Government take the condition of school and hospital buildings very seriously, which is why we already have extensive, well-established and transparent data collection arrangements for schools and hospitals. In addition to annual funding and central rebuilding programmes, we provide targeted support for schools and hospitals with specific problems such as reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. The creation of a new register, collecting new data and following up relatively minor issues easily managed locally, will take limited resources and focus away from the most serious issues which require additional support to keep our schools and hospitals safe, undermining overall safety. That would carry unavoidable significant financial implications for both the NHS and the school system. The Government have listened to the arguments about local authorities opening their own childcare provision. While we did not feel that there was a legislative gap, we are willing to concede that point in full, and an amendment will be added to the Bill.

You will be delighted to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am nearing the end of my remarks, but I have no doubt that you will hear from the Opposition Front Bench a torrent of complaints and criticisms of the Government’s entire policy. Before we hear from them, however, let me make a few things clear. Despite having listened to numerous speeches from Opposition Front Benchers, I have no idea what their plans are for this vital policy area—apart from the rare instances in which they have simply repeated, and passed off as their own ideas, what the Government are already doing. They claim that they would magically make all these things happen without any additional public spending. Oh, I am sorry; perhaps I have missed their saying where they will spend the VAT charge on private schools, for possibly the ninth or 10th time. We can all see that for the fantasy it is.