Planning Bill

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New Clause 25

Use Class Orders
‘(1) The local planning authority may, when it deems it appropriate to do so, report on the effectiveness of the Use Class Orders available to it in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.
(2) In a report published under subsection (1) (“the Use Class Order report”), the local planning authority may submit to the Secretary of State proposals for new Use Class Orders to be made under sections 55(2)(f) and 333(7) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
(3) The Secretary of State shall consider the Use Class Order report within four weeks of receiving it and may—
(a) order that new Use Classes be made under sections 55(2)(f) and 333(7) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to reflect proposals made in the Use Class Order report, or
(b) reject the proposals made in the Use Class Order report and publish the reasons for that rejection in at least one local newspaper circulating in the relevant area.
(4) Where the Secretary of State uses her power under subsection (3)(b) the Secretary of State shall have a duty to meet with the local planning authority within four weeks of the Secretary of State’s decision.’.—[Dan Rogerson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Dan Rogerson: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause deals with a subject very close to my heart, and I know that it is close the hearts of a number of hon. Members across the House who are experiencing problems with the unsustainable increase in second homes in their constituencies. The issue that most applies to me, as a local Member of Parliament, in terms of use class orders, is that of second homes. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) would say the same. There are also related issues that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) has raised with regard to “studentification”. A number of other hon. Members are working with her on that issue in urban areas where there is great pressure on local housing stock from the growing student population.
The new clause would give local authorities the power not to create use class orders of their own accord, but to work with the Secretary of State to see whether they could be used as part of a solution to a particular local problem. As the hon. Member for Beckenham has said in the past, the drafting of Opposition proposals may not be entirely watertight, so I am looking for anything that the Government can offer in terms of an intention to re-examine this issue.
This matter has been raised in a number of reports. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) is working with the Government at the moment on affordable rural housing. Elinor Goodman's commission, which reported a while ago, mentioned the potential for using planning powers to restrict the growth in the number of second homes. I have debated this issue in the past when speaking on housing for the Liberal Democrats. At that point, the Member for Beckenham raised concerns about seeking to control the market through use class orders and said that people had a right to own second homes. I am not seeking to restrict people's rights in that regard, but we have to take account of the fact that there are areas where a particular class of property, which is not currently defined within a use class order, is distorting the local housing market or the local environment in some way.
Elinor Goodman's report talks about examining use class orders as a way of distinguishing between a second home and a home that is being used as a full-time residence. There is great merit in pursuing that. I therefore seek some assurance from the Minister that that suggestion is not being entirely discounted and that it will be examined for the future. I do not believe that just looking at tax alternatives will solve this problem. We can continue building affordable housing and increasing development, but if the housing market continues to be distorted by the bias towards second homes in some areas, we will not save those communities for the future. I hope that the Minister has some good news for me.
Mr. Llwyd: I support the new clause. This is another matter that has exercised hon. Members in the House for some time. I introduced a ten-minute Bill 10 years ago, proposing exactly the same thing. The Government are now concentrating on affordable homes. I am afraid that second homes pose a great difficulty, because where there is a preponderance of them we find that villages are dying, local amenities are being cut and basic services, such as local schools, post offices, village shops and garages, for example, are fast disappearing. I fully support what the hon. Member for North Cornwall is trying to do with the new clause.
The problem of rural depopulation was recognised by the House not so long ago, when we legislated to allow rate relief for rural retailers. That was welcome, but it is not enough, because the second homes factor exacerbates existing problems. They are socially divisive, as they are empty for most of the year and are therefore of little benefit to the community. They do not assist the viability of village retailers, because their occupants are only there for a few weeks or months of the year. They also bring with them social problems. The usual scenario is that second homes are purchased by those who can afford them—the owners often earn salaries that are many times more than the average salary of those in the local community, and they are able to pay the asking price without quibble—while locals are left in the wake, wondering when, if ever, they will be able to enter the property market and buy a house in their own community, very often in an area in which they were born and brought up.
5.30 pm
The problem is evident in villages in Kent, the Cotswolds, Somerset, Cumbria, Cornwall and throughout the UK. In Wales, the problem has an added dimension, because it directly dilutes the indigenous culture and language, which is of great concern to all those who hold them dear. My answer is that there should be a use class order for a property that is not occupied throughout the year. The local planning authority could decide, for example, what percentage of such homes is viable in any given community. It would be unwise, if not silly, to legislate for a certain figure throughout Britain, because that clearly would make no sense. There are some seaside towns that, for the past century, have had a huge number of second homes, which they have been coping with reasonably well. However, some rural villages are dying because of the preponderance of second homes. That is not just the view of the hon. Member for North Cornwall and myself. Many hon. Members throughout the House are coming to that view now.
The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs reported back in 1994 that redefining the use class order is one tool that could be used to assist in delivering affordable housing in rural areas. It is tragic to see villages dying on their feet and, worse still, youngsters being unable to live in the villages in which they were born and brought up. Such an order is not the absolute answer—I am not saying that if such a move was accepted by Government, all affordable home problems would disappear; that is absolute nonsense—but it would be a great step forward. I remember when the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon was a Minister in the Department of the Environment. He was persuaded of the efficacy of such an order in helping to create more affordable homes. Unfortunately, there was further deliberation in Cabinet and the measure did not go forward. Therefore, the suggestion is not an eccentricity of the hon. Member for North Cornwall and his fellow Celt from Wales. It is a real problem, and this is a real answer. It is not the ultimate single answer, but it would assist the Government in their stated intention of providing affordable homes for all.
Mr. Dhanda: I do not know whether I should declare an interest as someone who has dined at Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow—and very good it was, too.
Mr. Benyon: Very new Labour.
Mr. Dhanda: I can promise the hon. Gentleman that it was long before I became an MP. I am very sympathetic to the arguments of both hon. Gentlemen, but I disagree with the use of use class orders, because they are not the right vehicle or tool to achieve what they are talking about for their communities. The principal issue in categorising land for use class orders is whether there is a material change in the use of land between one use and another, which we do not get in the same way with second homes. There is nothing to distinguish a first home and a second home in that respect.
Mr. Dhanda: That is useful, but use class orders are about what distinguishes properties in planning terms. That is the difference. Local authorities may well keep registers, and there may be differences between first homes and second homes—the question of where people pay tax, and so on. In planning terms, however, they are not distinguishable. For example, a Woolworths and a WH Smith are in the same class in planning terms, whereas fast food restaurants are in a different class. That is a fundamental difference.
We do look at use class orders, consult with local authorities and make changes. Although I am sympathetic to what the hon. Members are saying about their communities, with regard to planning—which is what the new clause, the clause and indeed the Bill are about—first homes and second homes are indistinguishable. That is why I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the new clause is not relevant.
Dan Rogerson: I am disappointed by that response, though not entirely surprised, as I have heard it before. I was, however, present at a debate in Westminster Hall in which the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills spoke about the issue of studentification, to which I referred earlier.
Mr. Dhanda: As I understand it, in planning terms, my right hon. Friend is right, because there is a definition of houses in multiple occupation. We are going to do more work later in the year around defining use class orders to do with houses in multiple occupation. That will not, however, remedy the problem with distinguishing between first homes and second homes, by which I assume he means wealthy people who live in one part of the country and have a holiday home elsewhere.
Dan Rogerson: During the debate to which I referred, we discussed the issue of different uses within the residential category. I am intrigued by the idea that there is a bigger difference between an HMO and a house being used for full-time residency—which may both be used full-time—than between those and a home that is not being used as a residence but as a place where people can stay from time to time. This requires further examination.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy made an excellent contribution describing in some detail the soul-destroying effects of second homes on local communities. There may be other categories of which I am unaware, in commercial application and so on, where planning regulations and use class orders have not kept up with the way society has changed. I believe there is potential for local application, in consultation with the Secretary of State, by piloting these sorts of things, which can solve local problems, in local areas. As this is something I believe in very passionately, I seek to test the Committee’s opinion, and wish to press the new clause to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 9.
Division No. 21 ]
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Rogerson, Dan
Betts, Mr. Clive
Clark, Paul
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Healey, John
Mole, Chris
Sheridan, Jim
Watts, Mr. Dave
Question accordingly negatived.
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