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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Housing and Regeneration Bill

Housing and Regeneration Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, †Mr. Roger Gale
Blackman, Liz (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Burt, Alistair (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) (LD)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
Raynsford, Mr. Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Syms, Mr. Robert (Poole) (Con)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Young, Sir George (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 15 January 2008


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Housing and Regeneration Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

H&R 10 Places for People Group
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

Acquisition of Land
10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I beg to move amendment No. 17, in schedule 2, on page 127, line 37, leave out from ‘agreement’ to end of line 38.
It is good to see you back in the Chair this morning Mr. Gale. Schedule 2 contains technical, but important, provisions that primarily apply the standards of compulsory purchase legislation, which apply in most cases of compulsory acquisitions.
The Chairman: Order. The Minister has just indicated that he wants to refer to Schedule 2; he will obviously do so in the context of the Government amendment. I am perfectly happy to have a stand part debate running concurrently with the debate on the Government amendment if hon. Members would like to do so. [Hon. Members: “Yes.”] In that case, we will treat this as a stand part debate as well.
Mr. Wright: Thank you for that guidance and clarification, Mr. Gale, and I apologise for any confusion caused to the Committee. I want to stress that these provisions are not new, as they are modelled on the provisions for the Urban Regeneration Agency. The legislation sets out what the agency must do before it compulsorily acquires land or new rights over land. The legislation applied by schedule 2 also provides the gateway to the compensation code, which specifies the manner in which the price paid for land is to be agreed and governed. That is an amalgamation of statutes and about 150 years of case law.
Schedule 2 ensures that the Homes and Communities Agency is subject to the same statutory procedure as most other bodies that have the power to compulsorily acquire land. The procedure includes appropriate safeguards, such as the opportunity to make representations, and allows public inquiries to be held. It also ensures that the usual additional safeguards that apply to commons, open spaces and allotments apply.
Schedule 2 allows private rights of way and the laying down of equipment to be extinguished on completion of a compulsory acquisition. That practical provision ensures that the agency will be able to use the land it acquires, free from any interference from private rights over that land. Again, it is not a new provision, but is modelled on an equivalent provision for the Urban Regeneration Agency.
Government amendment No. 17 is a simple, technical amendment that ensures the correct application of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965. It allows the Act to apply to all acquisitions by agreement, so far is applicable, as is the position for the Urban Regeneration Agency. That is important because the Act is the gateway to the compensation code that I mentioned earlier, and therefore ensures that appropriate compensation will be paid.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Our interest in the amendment is technical, and we seek clarification, particularly of the wide powers that we are discussing. We note from the memorandum that the schedule and the powers are modelled on similar provisions for the Urban Regeneration Agency. We are entitled to ask precisely what that means, as the question comes up rather often. We want to know what is being changed and why. If the amendment is a straight lift from another provision, we should know. If, however, it is modelled on such a provision, something may be hidden behind that. The Homes and Communities Agency’s combined powers not only to acquire but to develop land could lead to a conflict of interest not present in the powers of the Urban Regeneration Agency.
That is a common theme in this set of provisions—the combination of the HCA’s powers make it incredibly powerful. We therefore require genuine clarification of the extent of those powers and, when we come on to other clauses, we will seek guidance as to how they will be used. The Minister may not have the answer at his fingertips, but how often have the powers been used? Are they used on a regular basis, have they been used many times, or are they available in theory but not necessarily used in practice?
There are three brief areas that I wish to explore. First, why and to what extent do the powers differ from those previously granted? Secondly, does the Minister acknowledge that the combination of powers available to the Homes and Communities Agency makes the use of those powers a cause of concern? Clarification of the way in which they will be used would be helpful. Thirdly, how often have those powers been used in the past, and how often does he expect them to be used in future?
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I would like to make a general point. The subject of compulsory purchase is a complex one, but we live in a country of owner-occupiers who tend to relate everything that happens in their area to the price of their house. We are sometimes parsimonious in compensating people affected by development, and we would meet less opposition to worthy schemes if we were a little more generous at the beginning in compensating people whose properties are subject to a compulsory purchase order. That could unlock certain projects and speed up their development. I am not an expert on the subject of compulsory purchase, but will the agency be constrained in what it can offer when it purchases a site? That probably relates more to another measure—the Planning Bill—that is being considered in Committee today. Is there a formula for such purchases? Is it fixed or can it made more generous to speed up a housing development and obtain the benefits?
Mr. Wright: We have had a short and sweet debate on an interesting and important clause that deals with the subject of how we fulfil the agency’s regeneration objectives. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire made a number of points and I hope to be able to answer all of them effectively. He asked to what extent the HCA’s powers are different from those of the Urban Regeneration Agency. They are more or less—I know that that is not a satisfactory phrase—modelled on the Urban Regeneration Agency’s objectives. The subject that I think that he is trying to tease out—and I am happy to have this debate—is the brownfield restriction. I believe that the hon. Gentleman and his party have tabled amendments to a later clause on the issue. The brownfield restriction applies to the URA’s objectives, but it is not proposed that it should apply to the HCA’s powers, because limiting its compulsory purchase powers purely to brownfield land would reduce its ability to deliver regeneration and housing where they are needed, regardless of where that is in England.
The Government’s policy is that brownfield land should be developed before greenfield land. That has been our policy for a number of years, and it has served us extremely well—something like 74 per cent. of all development is on brownfield land, and we would like that figure to increase. The point that the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire made about the agency’s compulsory purchase powers was made by the hon. Member for Poole, too. Importantly, we are not talking about a vacuum and the agency’s compulsory purchase powers can be exercised only within the usual statutory framework for compulsory purchase. The Secretary of State has to authorise any compulsory purchase orders made by the agency. We discussed in previous sittings the agency’s wide-ranging powers to achieve its objectives of securing the most appropriate housing, regeneration and development in England, and it will operate within that framework. The power that we are debating today can be referred back to the Secretary of State—again, that is extremely important.
The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire asked how the provision was modelled on previous provisions. As I said, it is not a straight lift. We are trying to modernise legislation—it is a question of the language used for drafting measures—and the provision was developed with modern drafting procedures. The objects of the agency are wider than those of the Urban Regeneration Agency, so the application of the powers will be slightly different. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman . He asked how many times the powers had been be used. I do not have the precise numbers to hand, but I can write to him and other Committee members.
Again—and I am looking at my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich—in the Greenwich peninsula, EP has made a CPO under the terms of a legal agreement with development partners. There are therefore examples of ways in which the new Homes and Communities Agency could use CPO powers to exploit land that would not be developed by the private sector.
Alistair Burt: The Minister may need to write to the Committee to clarify this, but in the specific examples he mentioned in relation to Liverpool, how will the HCA’s powers dovetail with the pathfinder programme and the various powers given to it? Problems have arisen in Liverpool with the time scale for the acquisition of property, and some areas—specifically Anfield—that were intended to be developed quite quickly have, in fact, waited a long time for development. How will the HCA’s compulsory purchase powers work where there is an existing pathway programme?
Mr. Wright: I should be happy to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene again to clarify something. When he says the pathfinder programmes, does he mean urban renewal?
Alistair Burt: Yes, I do.
Mr. Wright: The whole aim is that the agency should work in consultation with local authorities and relevant organisations on issues such as housing market renewal. We should not forget that the agency will have responsibility for that function. I would imagine that there will be a dovetailing of the things that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The wider point about using CPOs to utilise under-developed land is an important one, and I hope that he would accept that regeneration vehicles need compulsory purchase powers to fulfil their objectives.
Alistair Burt: May I pick up on something the Minister has just said, because we may have missed something in last week’s announcement? Is he saying that it is proposed that responsibility for the housing market renewal initiative, which was criticised by a parliamentary Committee, should be taken away from the Department and given to the Homes and Communities Agency?
Mr. Wright: Yes, that is certainly the intention, and I thought I made that clear in earlier sessions. I apologise if I did not do so.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
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