Housing and Regeneration Bill

[back to previous text]

Clause 30

Duty to act as agent in respect of derelict land etc.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Alistair Burt: I want to raise an issue that was brought to our attention by the CPRE, which wants to ensure that the work of English Partnerships on having an up-to-date register of brownfield land will be continued, especially given the amount of time and money that has been invested. It originally proposed that a new clause be tabled, which would have been headed, “The duty to monitor and promote the re-use of brownfield land”. The new clause would envisage the new agency identifying, collating and publishing up-to-date information on
“the availability, including type and location of previously developed (i.e. brownfield) land in England at district, regional and national level.”
That data would be kept under review and published annually, and the agency would
“promote the re-use and reclamation of brownfield land by acting as the Government’s statutory adviser”
on it. The CPRE made the following point:
“To make the best use of our brownfield resource, and reap the benefits in terms of urban renewal, it is vital that English Partnerships’ work on the National Land Use Database and National Brownfield Strategy continues. Given that housing is the HCA’s priority, CPRE fears this work could be sidelined should the HCA face pressure to deliver housing numbers or cut costs. This would be short-sighted, given the huge resource brownfield land represents and the need for action to tackle brownfield blight and dereliction in ways which can improve the quality of life of existing communities.”
I wish to take the opportunity to reiterate how important that work on brownfield land is, and that it should be continued by the agency, whether or not under the specific powers in clause 30 on its duty to act as an agent in respect of derelict land or elsewhere. I know that the CPRE will appreciate that.
Mr. Wright: I will be brief. I can confirm that that will fall within the Homes and Communities Agency’s objects, and there is no reason why it should not be continued. The hon. Member for St. Ives made a similar point during the oral evidence sessions. Having said that, although I want to provide reassurance that the regeneration activities and programmes carried out by English Partnerships will continue, as they will be fully within the agency’s remit, I do not want to tie up too much the specific managerial responsibilities regarding where the money and resources will be allocated.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Lembit Öpik: The clause means that the HCA can do anything—make films, run shops, go fishing—because it
“may carry on any business.”
I do not have a particular problem with that; my only concern is the risk of mission creep. It is important that the HCA is focused on its primary duty, in line with the objects that we agreed in an earlier sitting. I seek assurance from the Minister that it will not be expected to over-reach itself, going way beyond the original intentions of the Bill.
Mr. Wright: Yes, I can confirm that the agency will be able to do anything that it likes. However, it must be purely within its objects. That has been made very clear.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Community services
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Sir George Young: I rise briefly to see whether I can settle a score with the Minister. Does he agree that clause 33(1) comprises a list? Does he remember what he said a few sittings ago about the problems of lists—that they elevate one strand above another? He said:
“Singling out any specific strand of housing would place a duty on the agency in relation to that type of housing.”——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 159.]
Yet on community services, apparently lists are all right. The list is not comprehensive at all; there is nothing about training, pre-school or sport. Can the Minister provide a cogent explanation of why, earlier in the Bill, lists were out, but at this stage, lists are in?
Dr. Blackman-Woods: Can the Minister confirm that subsection (1)(d) will mean that the HCA should pay attention, in determining what is an attractive environment, to the need for communities that are being developed or regenerated to have a sensible provision of open and recreational space? I am sure that he is aware that some local authorities, such as mine, in Durham city, seem determined to build on every single open space available, regardless of the views of the local community or the impact on it. Will he confirm that the HCA will not be similarly encouraged?
Andrew George: (St. Ives)(LD) I enjoyed the point made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire about the clause being a veritable list. Indeed it is, but it does not include provision of housing. The objects of the HCA in clause 2(1)(c) make reference to the
“development of communities in England or their continued well-being”,
which clause 33 is clearly intended to address. My questions for the Minister return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire made a moment ago about constraining mission creep. Who will decide how to apportion the agency’s resources so that it can concentrate on its primary purpose? How will it make those decisions? How will it fund the provision of cemeteries and recreational services? How will those interplay with the role of local authorities? Will it undermine statutory provision elsewhere, or bail out local authorities from those provisions?
A moment ago, in relation to the stand part debate on clause 30, the Minister referred back to questions that I raised about the continuing work of English Partnerships in relation to the provision of work spaces, which is not mentioned specifically in the list in clause 33. One would assume, therefore, that it has been overlooked in the list. This is purely a probing stand part debate, but it would be very helpful if he could address the need for clarity in the interrelationships between the HCA and the communities that it will serve.
Mr. Syms: I rather agree with the last points made. If there is going to be a major development, support services will be needed. One can easily see a need for security guards and so on. However, under the terms of clause 33, existing businesses might well face competition from organisations supported by the HCA. My concern is whether there is a code of conduct, because, for example, if the HCA sets up a transport service in competition with a private business, it might be unfair. I shall not labour that point, but I am concerned that the moment that we allow an organisation to enter into any business, we might come up against small businesses.
Mr. Raynsford: I have been goaded by the comments on the lists made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, so I shall add my two penny’s worth. I have no objection to the list set out in clause 33(1), which seems to provide a broad definition of the kind of community services that are likely to be supported by the HCA. It could be said to be a cradle-to-grave definition, although there seems to be a rather strong emphasis on the latter end of that process, given that “cremation or burial services” are specifically identified. I referred back to clause 31 and was surprised that the only listed business is undertaking. I wonder whether that meant the particular service being considered in clause 33(1)(g)(iv). However, on the assumption that it will genuinely be cradle to grave and that there will be no bias against the provision of maternity services, when appropriate, I give my strong support to the clause.
6.45 pm
Alistair Burt: This has been a nice little debate to take us to the end of this afternoon’s proceedings. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire could make an intervention modelled closely on the intervention that he made earlier in Committee, to which I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich responded. It is the end of the day, so it is perhaps appropriate that we consider burial and undertaking services. Moreover, perhaps that highlights the dying embers of a Government who are peacefully drawing to their close, and why the services that are listed have drifted quite subconsciously in that direction. I can well understand how such a subliminal sense has affected Labour Members.
However, I have two things to add to the general merriment about such a lovely catch-all clause. I wish first to ask the Minister quite a wide question, but it is based on the measure to which the hon. Member for City of Durham referred when talking about providing safe and attractive environments. Will anything in the new agency act as a driver to ensure the provision of more family housing? We covered that matter in the evidence sessions and it has come up before in general debate. Developers know that at the moment, one-bedroomed and two-bedroomed apartments fly out the window in certain areas. They cannot build and get rid of them fast enough.
Family housing is much needed to ensure that there are mixed and balanced communities, but few provisions drive developers in that direction. Will the Homes and Communities Agency be any more successful in delivering the main object of the agency stated at the beginning of the Bill, and comply with the clause to provide safe and attractive environments?
My second point is similar and relates to design. I hope that the Committee does not mind if I use as a brief not a piece of paper but an electronic device, because it contains information that, had it been written down, I would have used in the same way. I shall be quick. Critics of the Bill are disappointed that it does not contain specific mention of design, and I wonder whether the phrase
“provide safe and attractive environments”
will allow the agency to take more notice of my proposal. The Minister said earlier that the Academy of Sustainable Communities was coming inside the agency, but no reference is made to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. A recent CABE report drew attention to a problem that highlighted the concept of safe and attractive environments.
Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend is raising a good point. As I understand it, Bedfordshire police have an architectural consultant who consults on schemes mainly from a point of view of safety, but also on the quality of particular estates that are built in my hon. Friend’s county. To meet some of those objectives, design and indeed input from other bodies are important.
Alistair Burt: Such matters have come up in the margins of our discussions. They were referred to in our evidence session, but now is the appropriate opportunity for the Minister, in responding to this short debate on clause 33, to illustrate how important design is to him and to the general welfare of communities, particularly in respect of safe and attractive environments.
I draw attention to a recent CABE report, which was published in December. It reveals that although new home owners like their homes, almost half miss a sense of community spirit. The report is titled, “A sense of place” and based on an Ipsos MORI survey of more than 600 residents of 33 new housing developments. It points to a quality blind spot that suggests that house builders and planners need to work much harder to create a sense of place. Paradoxically, although 91 per cent. of respondents were satisfied with their new home, there was widespread dissatisfaction with the wider development. The report states:
“45 per cent say that”
their neighbours
“go their own way rather than doing things together and trying to help each other”,
“40 per cent thought that there was not enough public open space”,
which was the point made by the hon. Member for City of Durham, and that
“48 per cent thought there was not enough play space”,
or perfect places to get to know each other. More than a third of residents thought that their neighbourhood
“was unsafe for children to walk, cycle or play in”,
and almost a third thought that it
“did not have a distinct character”.
Those resident survey findings are consistent with the problems of layout, character and public space that CABE identified in its first national housing audit, which was completed in February 2007.
Mr. Love: I saw the results of the CABE study. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we looked up and down the country, we might find estates, towns and cities that have been redeveloped since 1945 that won awards at the time, but are now considered blighted? If we are to address the issue that he described, we need to do more than find a new design or architect; we need to build new estates in consultation with the people who will live on them.
Alistair Burt: Very much so. The hon. Gentleman made an extremely good point. It is difficult for professionals or laymen and women to look at designs and say what will work in 20 or 30 years. However, it is clear that if we do not pay attention to design or look at the mistakes of the past, and if we are driven by targets of numbers, there is a danger that the things we are discussing will be squeezed out. Will the Minister reassure us that concerns about the quality of design and new estates will be at the forefront of the Homes and Communities Agency, and that concerns that it will be a purely target, numbers and unit-driven agency that at the behest of Government has to get its numbers up, will not come true? We hope that there will be a place for design and some reassurance that that will be brought into the body of the agency in some manner. That would be helpful.
Mr. Wright: I have enjoyed the debate, which has been good natured and well meaning given that it has come at the end of the day.
I detect two main themes: first, the list principle and, secondly, the importance of design. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire rightly criticised me in a gentle manner on the list principle. We can go back to our similar debates on infrastructure—I draw his attention to clause 2(3), which sets out what infrastructure means. Essentially, the measure is based on the same principle and will avoid doubt. That is entirely what clause 33(1) will do. I mentioned the thriller in Manila last time, and I enjoyed the two Privy Councillors joshing again. However, the measure will avoid doubt as much as possible.
Hon. Members mentioned the importance of infrastructure and the relationship that other providers, such as Government Departments, will have with the agency. It might be that a site is not attractive to a developer because, for example, there is a lack of transport access, but if the agency delivers the necessary infrastructure, a private developer might take on the wider development. Therefore, if the HCA builds the infrastructure, the wider development may be more viable for the private developer.
It is reasonable for hon. Members to ask whether the measure provides a facility that Government Departments or local authorities should provide—that point was made by the hon. Member for Poole. The agency will work in conjunction with the Departments and authorities that lead in such areas. The Government see the agency as complementing the activities of those bodies and as helping to drive forward regeneration and housing where necessary, as opposed to leading on those matters.
I suggest that we have provided guidance with regard to planning policy statement number 3, which is about housing. Frankly, local authorities need to be more robust in rejecting planning applications that do not come up to the standard for design and quality. Local authorities should be forthright and it is right that they should play the lead on that, but I agree with what the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire said and reiterate the point about the Academy for Sustainable Communities. I think that the agency will be working with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to ensure that we drive up quality, but his point is well made and I agree with every word he said.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 16 January 2008