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Mr. Davey: Absolutely notthe reverse is the case. One would have thought that chartered surveyors would have been in favour because the proposal would give them more work. The fact that those who would be the main professional beneficiaries are against it ought to make Ministers think twice. Other professional bodies are against it, including the National Association of Estate Agents and the Council of Mortgage Lenders. They are all concerned that the proposal will mean a huge degree of market intervention, which will make the market seize up and lead to higher house prices and moving costs. It is a regulation too far.
Mr. Challen: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the second most important and valuable investment that most people make usually comes with an MOT certificate? Why should not a similar logical approach apply to the largest investment that they make?
Mr. Davey: The building society or lender will always take out a survey, because they do not want to lend money on a substandard property, so there is always a test. A financial institution will not lend thousandsin some cases, hundreds of thousandsof pounds secured on a property that might be about to fall down. It wants to be sure of its security. Anyone who has had dealings with banks and building societies knows that they want more security than any other institution. They ensure that their lending is secure. There is already protection.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I am concerned by the hon. Gentleman's suggestions; in fact, he has convinced me that the Minister is right. He suggests that building societies, rightly, will not lend money unless the purchaser has paid a huge fee to find out whether the property is overpriced. How many people have to pay such fees? If the position were reversed, the seller would have to pay the money, and buyers would not lose money willy-nilly.
Mr. Davey: The problem is that the legislation will result in a huge number of surveysfar more than are carried out now. Many people who have surveys will not go on to sell their house, and some buyers will not trust
Mr. Davey: My reading of the report is that the Select Committee was rather more damning of the proposal. The hon. Gentleman may be a member of the Committee, but I have read the report. That Labour-dominated Committee does not think that a compulsory scheme should be introduced.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with a voluntary scheme, or with the Government setting out what an information pack should contain. Those sellers who want to have a pack because they think it will speed up their sale can get one.
The muddled thinking in housing legislation is also detectable in the sustainable communities plan, which often reveals that the Government are not joined up. We are told that the plan is about bringing different Departments together, but in reality nothing like that is happening. To draw an example from transport, I said to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that Crossrail is a huge part of the Thames gateway development jigsaw, but it is not clear whether the Government will support it. We face the prospect of the Treasury leading the whole project, driven by concern about numbers, not about quality of build or sustainable communities. Treasury Ministers seem to want all the houses to be built tomorrow without having to worry about building the underpinning infrastructure.
Let me give an example from Milton Keynes. Ministers at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister asked Milton Keynes council and local partners to provide 70,000 new homes in the Milton Keynes area in the next few years. When they talked to the council and the partners, they promised that funding would follow the scheme to build local support for that huge increase in population.
Mr. Davey: The Minister says 7.3 per cent., but all that money is earmarked for education. There is nothing for social services, nothing for all the other services that Milton Keynes council has to provide for its population, and the population data that have been used for the settlements are two years out of date. That means that Milton Keynes has lost £5 million just on the population data issue. The fact that it has hit the ceiling means that it has lost £5.44 million as well. The Minister may say that it is a great settlement for Milton Keynes, but I can assure him that the council tax payers of Milton Keynes will not look too happy. The Minister is forcing council tax payers to pay for the Minister's huge expansion.
I ask the Minister to say, if he will pay attention, whether he is prepared to meet the leaders of Milton Keynes council to work out how they can proceed. Are the Government prepared to consider extra support to ensure that sustainable communities can operate successfully in Milton Keynes?
I move on to the proposed fire and rescue services Bill. Lest Ministers think that we are against the whole of their programme, I can confirm that we are largely in favour of the measure. It builds on the White Paper as it does on the Bain report. Members on both sides of the House will welcome many of its proposals. The new risk assessment procedures, community fire safety work and the non-fire emergency work that will become the statutory responsibility of fire authorities for the first time are exceedingly welcome. However, we have concerns where things in the Bain report have not filtered through from the White Paper to proposals that will be set out in the Bill. I have sprinklers in mind especially. It is clearly important to have sprinklers, misting systems and other new technology in new build to facilitate fire prevention. However, we are waiting to see whether the Government are committed to such regulation. I hope that they will be.
We want the details of the new charges that fire authorities will be able to impose on businesses. Will it be restricted to false alarms, repeat offenders or negligent businesses, or will there be charging left, right and centre? There could be some worrying perverse incentives. We want to ensure that businesses are prepared to install fire alarms and smoke alarms and are not deterred by the charging regime. I am sure that our concerns can be dealt with, and I salute the Government on their bold approach to modernisation of the fire service.
There are one or two other issues that do not feature in the main part of the Queen's Speech. There is concern about the way in which the Government are approaching local government finance. There is a need for drastic reform. The Government have set up a balance of funding review but there is a lack of urgency. Local services must be properly financed so that local authorities and local communities can take power over their services. I do not see that the Government are prepared to tackle that properly.
The Queen's Speech contains nothing about the environment. We thought that the Government had realised that the environment was a key issue for the country, for the population and for the planet. It was bizarre not to find one measure on the environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) sends his apologies for his absence because he is in Hartlepool looking at ghost ships. He wished me to put it on record that the Liberal Democrats will challenge the Government on their failure to give a strong lead on the environment. We will challenge the Government time and time again on the Bills that will be put before the House by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. They do not have the vision and they do not have their priorities right.
The Queen's Speech is challenging and historic. It is challenging because it proves that the Government are certainly not afraid of tackling the big issues, including top-up fees, asylum and many other issues, which we will not duck, but meet head-on. We are certainly not affected by special interests or vested interests. The Queen's Speech is historic because this is the first time that a Labour Government have presented their seventh legislative programme and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the longest serving Labour Prime Minister in the history of the Labour party. This is therefore an historic moment for Labour Members. I have no doubt about the importance of most of the measures in the legislative programme, and I shall strongly support them.
Turning to the matter at hand, housing, local government, transport and planning certainly affect our communities. I want to concentrate on the parts of the Queen's Speech that relate to Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, much of which deals with technical matters, such as changes to the patterns of development plans. It also adds a regional dimension to the planning process by introducing changes to regulations affecting the handling of public inquiries and reforms to the system of planning obligations. However, I want to focus on the provisions on greater community involvement that should be at the heart of the Bill. I shall make some small suggestions about the way in which that aim can be achieved.
We all know what housing market failure meansempty houses and communities where antisocial behaviour problems follow the physical desolation to which abandoned housing leads. The Government have taken the bold step of saying that they will resolutely face up to housing market failure and the problems that are hindering their drive to achieve decent homes for all. In the north-east, significant amounts of money have been put into programmes run by the new North East Housing Board that are designed to mark the rebirth of communities and offer freedom for people to choose new forms of decent and affordable homes. New master plans for estates suffering from the planning and architectural mistakes of the '50s and '60s are being drawn up and implemented, and there are new master plans for communities made up of the terraced housing built in the century before lastthe cheap and nasty two-up, two-downs thrown up by 19th-century mine owners and manufacturers to house the new urban population. For historical and social reasons, much of the north-east is made up of such housing. Despite the new building of the past 20 years, such stock still accounts for much of Teesside's housing.
A large rate of demolition is being envisaged. A report commissioned for the Government office for the north-east and conducted by the centre for urban and regional studies at Birmingham university identified the scale of the issue. It found that more than 200,000 dwellings in the north-east could be at risk of clearance due to dilapidation, low demand and decay, including 59,400 in my area. Such dwellings are concentrated together in areas of Teesside and spread across the whole of the Tees valley and its five council areas.
Those problems are not made by the people living in those communities, but are caused by changes in population distribution and new patterns of social and occupational mobility. Such patterns affect some communities positively, but they affect many negatively, and the people living in such communities face real problems in their day-to-day lives. They are proud of their communities, but concerned about what they see around them. If we are truly to build new communities on the foundations of the old, we must take those people with us.
When we are planning for the new Teesside, we need to plan for communities that are the result of the conscious choice of the people in them. That lies at the heart of the duty of community involvement set out in the Bill. The mistakes of the past were rooted in the fact that planning was seen as a top-down bureaucratic exercise. Although that exercise was often carried out in the spirit of a desire for change for the better, it was seen as the exclusive preserve of the planners and architects, and the civil servants in Whitehall and the local town hall. People naturally reacted against that elitism. At that time, ordinary people were trying to tell the planners and politicians that living in the sky in a tower block was not always sensible or sustainable. The splitting of old communities and their fragmentation into new estates that were often situated many miles away on greenfield sites, with few, if any, services, was not an exercise that would keep neighbourhood
We must guard against the bypassing or minimising of the new obligations that we are introducing. We need a concept of involvement and participation that goes further than merely allowing people to let a planning committee know their views about a project that has, for the best part, been predetermined. We need to guard against the syndrome of community revolt that blazes up after someone has read a statutory notice tied to a lamp post or posted on a walla revolt fuelled by a feeling that they are the last to know about something important to their lives. We need a form of community involvement that will allow communities to shape their own lives.
We need to look at the basics of the planning process and see how best we can integrate community feelings and demands into a master plan from day one. There are ways of doing that. I commend some areas of good practice that we can build on, such as the work of planners and architects who have developed community involvement strategies around what are called "planning for real" exercises, carried out with community forums and groups. In such exercises, proposals are thrashed out and debated in an open forum and people know that they are communicating with agencies of power on an equal footing.
The new and developing technology of virtual reality is being applied to the planning process. Such technology can allow interaction between developers, planners and communities. It allows the virtual image of a possible new development to be projected in order to show its potential impact on the surrounding community. The image can be revised on-screen to accommodate ideas and suggestions that come directly from the host community.
I commend the extension of the planning aid service across the UK, especially in areas such as mine that will be subject to vast change. At present, planning aid is managed by the Royal Town Planning Institute on a voluntary basis, whereby planners acting in a voluntary capacity can give advice on third-party rights and on the merits and demerits of planning applications to communities and individuals who are concerned about the impact of such proposals. Crucially, that advice is given by a planner who is employed by an authority other than that which covers the local authority area that is the subject of the applicationan approach that guarantees genuinely disinterested and proper information and advice. The planning aid service and its ethos was endorsed in the planning Green Paper, which stated: