Communities and Local Government Questions

17th July 2017

Alok Sharma responds to MPs’ questions on housing.

Private Rented Sector

12. What assessment he has made of the effect of borough-wide licensing schemes for private rented sector landlords on standards and safety in that sector. [900513]

Licensing can be an effective tool where it is targeted at delivering improved standards and safety in the private rented sector for areas suffering from serious problems. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, in April 2015 further conditions for applying selective licensing were introduced.

Newham Council introduced the first borough-wide private rented sector licensing in 2013. Last week, the council applied to renew the scheme for a further five years. It has been very successful, enabling the council, working with agencies such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to concentrate resources on the small number of private landlords causing problems. Some 81% of Newham residents say it has been effective. Can the Minister reassure me that renewal of the scheme will get the go-ahead?

I can certainly reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the scheme will be considered on its merits and in accordance with whether it meets the strategy requirements in part 3 of the Housing Act 2004, which was, of course, introduced under a Labour Government.

In Bath, we have a high number of family homes that have been turned into student accommodation, often with very low housing standards, and students take them up because they have no choice. In the light of the Grenfell disaster, will the Minister ensure that student safety is protected, by encouraging councils to include compulsory electrical safety checks as part of these licensing schemes?

We want all landlords, whether they provide student accommodation or otherwise, to keep their tenants safe. As the hon. Lady will know, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at issues related to electrical safety.

The private rented sector has the poorest quality housing in my constituency. It is unregulated, and it needs looking at. I would very much welcome Manchester having a borough-wide licensing scheme like the one in Newham. I ask Ministers to take this issue very seriously, before we see safety concerns in the private rented sector as well.

If Manchester, or indeed any other area, wants to come forward with such proposals, they should make them known to the DCLG, and we will look at them on their merits.

Topical Questions

T2. More than 50% of fires in people’s homes have an electrical source of ignition, and the Department set up a working group last August to look at electrical safety in the private rented sector. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and others, including London Fire Brigade, Electrical Safety First and Shelter, that it is time for a more preventive approach to electrical fires, and that mandatory five-year electrical safety tests should be introduced as a matter of urgency in the private rented sector? [900527]

As the hon. Lady may be aware, a working group within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at precisely those matters. In the light of the Grenfell fire, the Prime Minister has made it clear that it should bring forward its work and recommendations.

T4. The Guinness Partnership is reviewing fire safety measures in its three high-rise buildings in Havant. If it concludes that new sprinklers are required, will the Minister join me in calling on private landlords to take responsibility and meet the cost of installing those sprinklers? [900529]

Obviously, the Guinness Partnership will need to determine, with the local fire service, what is needed to keep those properties safe. As the Secretary of State has made absolutely clear, where work is necessary to ensure the fire safety of social housing, a lack of resources should not prevent it from going ahead.

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T7. Overton, Oakley and Whitchurch in my constituency have produced really ambitious neighbourhood plans with generous housing targets, but those communities are now concerned about the infrastructure investment required to make the housing developments happen. What can the Minister do to help? [900532]

I commend my hon. Friend’s constituents for putting together neighbourhood plans—a great innovation that this Government introduced. In terms of infrastructure, I encourage him to get his local planning authorities to bid for the £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced earlier this month.

In my Cheadle constituency, Woodford neighbourhood forum is drawing up its local plan. However, there are concerns that the Greater Manchester spatial framework will override it. What assurances can my hon. Friend give neighbourhood forums that their plans will be given appropriate consideration?

As the Secretary of State reiterated, we made a commitment in the housing White Paper to protect the green belt. I cannot comment specifically on the plans my hon. Friend talks about, but I emphasise that plan makers need to consult their communities, especially in neighbourhood forums. Once a neighbourhood plan has been brought into force, it is part of the strategic development plan of an area.