Welcome to Spotlight on Westminster (Eastern Region) where DevComms Director Charles Bushe reports on what MPs in Essex and Cambridgeshire have been up to over the past month. This is part of the Spotlight on Westminster series, which provides monthly updates on MPs across various regions of the South East.

Starting in the House of Commons on 5th January, Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford, Con) said that housing development and associated infrastructure remains the ‘most controversial issue in my constituency’, during a debate on New Homes.

He branded the UK housing market an example of ‘near market failure’ and said that housing delivery is being held up by 1 million extant permissions (with half on brownfield sites), rather than by ‘nimby local authorities’.

Mark Francois continued by calling for a full inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority on ‘over-concentration’ in the UK house building industry, which he said is dominated by ‘half a dozen’ major housebuilders, and saying that it is ‘disappointing’ that the Government couldn’t give any indications on when the Planning Bill would come forward.

The following week, a debate was held in the Commons regarding Building Safety. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Con) asked whether, alongside the issue of flammable cladding, the Government could look more generally at other building defects. Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) responded to say that the Government’s intention is that ‘those who are ultimately responsible…pay in order to make it safe’.

Within the same debate, Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge, Lab) talked about the ‘misery’ of people in Cambridge who find themselves ‘trapped’ in buildings that were not built to the ‘expected standards’. He said this relates to ‘fire breaks and so on’, as well as cladding, and asked Michael Gove how people will be ‘freed from that trap’.

The Secretary of State responded by saying that the withdrawal, and replacement, of the consolidated advice note (which provided advice to building owners on how to assess risks and safety) should help. National media has since reported that lenders have ‘rejected’ this move by Government and will continue to require a fire safety check to lend on mid-rise flats.

Staying with cladding, John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Con) and Will Quince (Colchester, Con) welcomed the Government’s announcement that leaseholders in buildings over 11m will not be responsible for costs to fix cladding issues. John Baron said that he is ‘encouraged’ by ‘steps in the right direction’ and Will Quince said that the Government is ‘bringing this scandal to an end – protecting leaseholders and making industry pay’.

In North West Cambridgeshire, Shailesh Vara (Con) recently met with ‘community leaders’ to discuss their opposition to a proposed 4.6million square feet warehousing development being brought forward by Newlands. He said that the proposal is ‘in breach of the Local Plan’ and that to disregard this would ‘make a mockery of the process’. The meeting was attended by County, District and Parish Councillors from around the area.

Turning to local governance, Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden, Con) commented on local council reorganisation in her role as Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. She said that some council reorganisation proposals have been drawn up because local authorities have ‘run out of ideas’ rather than because it is ‘really going to deliver’. She said that reorganisation should only happen when ‘we can really see the benefits, not just because it’s something to do’.

And in other news…

  • A by-election will be held on Thursday 3rd February for the Southend West constituency, which has been vacant since the sad death of Sir David Ames in October last year.
  • In North West Cambridgeshire, Shailesh Vara (Con) accompanied the Minister for Rail at the Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris) on a visit to the new Werrington Rail Tunnel. Shailesh Vara called the tunnel a ‘welcome asset’ for the local railway network. Paul Bristow, the Conservative Member of Parliament for neighbouring Peterborough constituency, also attended.
  • Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire, Con) wrote to the Planning Inspectorate, in conjunction with West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock, to raise concerns over an application by Sunnica for a new solar energy farm. They highlighted particular concerns around the ‘quality and substance’ of the engagement process and the lack of briefing to local MPs.

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