The first week back in Westminster after the short Conference Recess and the House of Commons was busy finalising pieces of legislation before the King’s Speech at the beginning of November.
On Tuesday, MPs were considering House of Lords amendments to the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill. This Bill sets the foundations for devolution, empowering local communities and their leaders to have far more control over how their local areas level-up. One key area of the Bill concerns reform to local planning. Of course, we want beautiful communities - a key government objective - but we don’t want overdevelopment. Through this Bill the government has made housing target numbers advisory for local authorities – ensuring planning authorities do not simply green light housing developments in areas that are already over-developed for the sake of meeting the target.
This week the government have also added an additional element of local scrutiny to local planning reform, ensuring consultations are carried out in relation to National Development Management Policies. These one-size fits all policies could take precedence over local plans where local plans conflict with them. There needs to be a focus on the differing needs and solutions of different places. The solution for a rural community and the solution for an urban community are very different. The government’s recognition of this and agreement to implement greater consultation on our local planning system when deciding on these policies is welcome.
The flip-side of the planning system issues we currently have, is housing supply. I met with the Minister responsible for housing and homelessness this week to discuss temporary accommodation for emergency homeless households. Temporary accommodation is meant to help people at immediate risk of homelessness and is worryingly also in chronically short supply. Some families cannot be accommodated in the local area at all and are being placed in hotels and bed and breakfasts in Plymouth, Torquay and similar distances away. That has a major impact on getting to their jobs and on keeping children in their schools, particularly if the family don’t have access to a car.
Private rented accommodation is the main route out of emergency accommodation for homeless households, and the continued squeeze on the private rented sector is only going to exacerbate the current situation our local authority in Teignbridge finds themselves in. I made the case to the Minister that the government needs to focus its intention on not just the long-term house building programme in the right places, but also the short-term situation and how landlord friendly policies could free up short-term housing supply and bring down rents.
On Wednesday, the Energy Bill returned to the Commons. I have received assurances from Ministers that my previous concerns with the bill - ridiculous fines and criminal sanctions for non-compliance with EPC upgrades – will not be imposed on any household.
I was delighted to hear that High Speed Rail 2 plans have been revised. The costs of the project - both environmental and economic – are already very significant, with the financial cost in particular having grown far beyond initial estimates. The Prime Minister made a difficult decision, but cancelling the second leg has released £36 billion that we can start using to level up all part of the country.
I was glad to see the Prime Minister commit more funding to fixing the pothole problems around the country, and with a large chunk of money being allocated to the South West to fix our roads. There was also a commitment from the government that the remaining parts of the South West Rail Resilience Programme will be completed – it is now a matter of when and not if! I’ll be keeping an eye on the Autumn Statement in November for any further announcements!
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