Lord Taylor of Warwick’s speech in the House of Lords, 10th September 2020
My Lords, there is an old saying, “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow”. Housing has always been a barometer of a nation’s well-being. It is a practical sign of whether people are at the centre of a Government’s policies. Clearly, we need to stimulate regeneration of our towns and cities. The economy has to start moving again after months of lockdown in response to Covid. Furthermore, additional homes need to be provided more easily and with less delay.
I recall, when I was a barrister and district councillor, being involved in planning applications which were too often frustrated by red tape. Ironically, the original symbolic meaning of red ribbon and red tape in the Bible was that of faith and hope. In modern times we have turned that symbol on its head, to signify the opposite.
I have some practical questions about the PDR for the Minister. Would any utilities—for example electricity meters and water tanks—located at the top of buildings need to be moved? If so, how will this be achieved? How will complex building works be carried out with individuals remaining in residence on the lower floors? What evidence would need to be submitted to the local authority as part of the prior approval process? Is this likely to result in higher fees being levied for applications for prior approval?
The Government have admitted that more than half of respondents did not support that proposal. There were four main concerns. First, there was the lack of public consultation, then there was the potential poor quality of the homes. There were also problems with access and safety, and the potential negative impact on others nearby. In response, the Government have promised that they will “continue to engage with interested parties on the technical details”.
What does that mean in practical terms?
In September last year there were 216,000 long-term empty homes in England, which is more than 72% of the Government’s annual new homes target. Meanwhile there are more than 1 million families stuck on local authority waiting lists for social housing. In January this year there were almost 25,000 houses in London alone left unoccupied, the highest number since 2012. I am not against PDR in principle, but what are the Government doing to address the wasted resource of thousands of empty flats and houses, which could provide accommodation for homeless families?
The initials PDR also stand for the management term “performance and development review”. That is an annual review of how well a project is doing. I hope that in one year’s time the initials PDR will also mean positive dynamic results.