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Written Statements

Friday 28 November 2014

Business, Innovation and Skills

EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade)

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): My noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Minister for Intellectual Property (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) has today made the following statement.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) took place in Brussels on 21 November 2014.

I represented the UK on all the issues discussed at the meeting. A summary of those discussions follows.

The EU’s High Representative Vice President addressed the Council to say she hoped to participate as much as possible in future Trade FACs in order to co-ordinate trade and foreign policy, emphasising among other things the political aspects of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) implementation with the eastern neighbourhood.

Two legislative items were discussed:

Protection of the European Union against dumped imports.

The presidency and the Commission expressed disappointment that no compromise has been found between member states on this file.

I, along with the other trade liberals, reiterated that no package could be considered balanced that restricted the use of the Lesser Duty Rule (LDR). I reminded the Council that EU producers and consumers had been saved millions of euros thanks to the LDR, and limiting it could harm EU growth.

Some member states argued that removing the LDR in certain circumstances would create a level playing field. Other member states took positions between these. The presidency concluded more work was needed on this file.

The International Procurement Instrument.

The presidency took stock of progress on the International Procurement Instrument (intended to permit the EU to close a procurement market where a non-EU country’s procurement market was similarly closed). The presidency highlighted its compromise proposals, which reflected the European Parliament’s amendments, and reiterated that access to the EU’s public procurement market needed to be used as leverage in negotiations with third countries. The presidency invited the Commission and European Parliament to consider further. Trade Commissioner Malmstrom spoke in support of the Instrument.

Non-Legislative items:

WTO - Doha Development Agenda (DDA).

Along with other member states I warmly supported the Commission’s report that the DDA work programme implementing the outcome of the December 2013 9 Ministerial Conference in Bali seemed set to get back on track, following the recent agreement between the US and India on how to unblock the stalemate relating to food security in the proposed trade facilitation agreement. Along with other member states, I warmly supported this.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP the EU-US Free Trade Agreement).

The presidency (Calenda) emphasised the economic and systemic importance of the deal. The aim remained to conclude an ambitious agreement rapidly, ahead of a change in US administration. TTIP was also a way to unlock growth without spending taxpayers’ money.

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Trade Commissioner Malmstrom reiterated her transparency announcement of earlier in the week, that access to TTIP texts would be expanded and TTIP negotiating proposals would be made public. Busting myths was agreed as important. For example, it was agreed that TTIP would not threaten national public services, such as the NHS, as policy over such public services would remain a matter for member states.

All member states agreed on the importance of the deal. I urged the Commission to use the window of opportunity before the end of the President Obama Administration, and welcomed plans for increased transparency.

EU-Japan and EU-Vietnam.

Commissioner Malmstrom presented the state-of-play in the negotiations with Japan. The FTA, worth potentially over €40 billion (£31 billion) to the EU in the long term, was a high priority. Discussions had been challenging recently but successful and would now speed up. Both sides wanted to reach political agreement in 2015.

On the EU-Vietnam FTA, the Commissioner reported that negotiations were going well and remained confident about conclusion in spring 2015.

Communities and Local Government

Small-scale Developers

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): I would like to update hon. Members on the action that the Coalition Government have taken to free up the planning system and the further new measures we are now implementing to support small-scale developers and help hard-working people get the home they want by reducing disproportionate burdens on developer contributions.

Section 106 obligations imposed on small-scale developers, custom and self-builders

We consulted in March this year on a series of measures intended to tackle the disproportionate burden of developer contributions on small-scale developers, custom and self-builders. These included introducing into national policy a threshold beneath which affordable housing contributions should not be sought. The suggested threshold was for developments of ten-units or less (and which have a maximum combined gross floor space of no more than 1,000 square metres).

We also proposed a similar policy for affordable housing contributions be applied to all residential extensions and annexes. Rural exception sites would be exempted from any threshold introduced following consultation. Our consultation asked whether the threshold should be extended to include the tariff style contributions that some authorities seek in order to provide general funding pots for infrastructure. We also consulted on restricting the application of affordable housing contributions to vacant buildings being brought back into use (other than for any increase in floor space). This latter proposal was to boost development on brownfield land and provide consistency with exemptions from the community infrastructure levy.

We received over 300 consultation responses many of which contained detailed submissions and local data. After careful consideration of these responses, the Government are making the following changes to national policy with regard to Section 106 planning obligations:

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Due to the disproportionate burden of developer contributions on small-scale developers, for sites of 10-units or less, and which have a maximum combined gross floor space of 1,000 square metres, affordable housing and tariff style contributions should not be sought. This will also apply to all residential annexes and extensions.

For designated rural areas under Section 157 of the Housing Act 1985, which includes national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, authorities may choose to implement a lower threshold of 5-units or less, beneath which affordable housing and tariff style contributions should not be sought. This will also apply to all residential annexes and extensions. Within these designated areas, if the 5-unit threshold is implemented then payment of affordable housing and tariff style contributions on developments of between six to ten units should also be sought as a cash payment only and be commuted until after completion of units within the development.

These changes in national planning policy will not apply to rural exception sites which, subject to the local area demonstrating sufficient need, remain available to support the delivery of affordable homes for local people. However, affordable housing and tariff style contributions should not be sought in relation to residential annexes and extensions.

A financial credit, equivalent to the existing gross floor space of any vacant buildings brought back into any lawful use or demolished for re-development, should be deducted from the calculation of any affordable housing contributions sought from relevant development schemes. This will not however apply to vacant buildings which have been abandoned.

We will publish revised planning guidance to assist authorities in implementing these changes shortly.

By lowering the construction cost of small-scale new build housing and home improvements, these reforms will help increase housing supply. In particular, they will encourage development on smaller brownfield sites and help to diversify the house building sector by providing a much-needed boost to small and medium-sized developers, which have been disproportionately affected by the Labour Government’s 2008 housing crash. The number of small-scale builders has fallen to less than 3,000—down from over 6,000 in 1997.

We estimate that the policy will save, on average, £15,000 in Section 106 housing contributions per new dwelling in England—some councils are charging up to £145,000 on single dwellings. Further savings will be made from tariffs, which may add additional charges of more than £15,000 per dwelling, over and above any housing contributions. Taken together, these changes will deliver six-figure savings for small-scale developers in some parts of the country.

The Home Builders Federation confirmed that these changes will provide a boost to small and medium builders, stating:

“This exemption would offer small and medium-sized developers a shot in the arm. The time and expense of negotiating Section 106 affordable housing contributions on small sites, and the subsequent payments, can threaten the viability of small developments and act as another barrier to the entry and growth of smaller firms”

Similarly, the Federation of Master Builders said:

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“The new ten unit threshold for affordable housing contributions is a sensible and proportionate approach to help alleviate the pressure on SME house builders who have been squeezed out of the housing market in recent years. This is important because without a viable SME house building sector we won’t be able to build the number of new homes that are needed to address the housing crisis”

Promoting custom and self-build housing

These changes to Section 106 policy complement the Coalition Government’s wider programme of reforms to get Britain building, including measures to actively support the custom and self-build sector that will help people design and build their own home.

Specifically, we have exempted custom and self- builders from paying the Community Infrastructure Levy. The £30 million investment fund for custom build homes has so far approved or is currently considering loan funding of £13 million. We have launched a new £150 million investment fund to help provide up to 10,000 serviced building plots. The first bidding round closed in September and applications received are currently being assessed by the Homes and Communities Agency.

In addition we continue to work in partnership with industry to provide better support and information to custom and self-builders and we are helping community-led custom projects by enabling them to apply for £65 million under the affordable housing guarantee programme and £14 million of project support funding.

We are also providing £525 million through the Builders’ Finance Fund (2015-16 to 2016-17) to provide development finance to unlock stalled small housing sites. A shortlist of 165 small housing schemes was announced on 8 September. We are also opening up the Builders Finance Fund to support small building firms schemes, from five units in size upwards.

We also published a consultation on the Right To Build in October. The idea is simple: prospective custom builders will have a right to purchase a plot of land from their local Council to build their own home. To underpin the consultation we are working with a network of 11 Right to Build vanguards to test how the Right can work in practice and we are supporting the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Richard Bacon) Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Private Members’ Bill which has now passed its Second Reading in this House.

Getting empty and redundant land and property back into use

We have introduced a range of measures to help communities get empty and surplus land and property back into productive use.

We have reformed permitted development rights to cut through complexity, free up the planning system and encourage the conversion of existing buildings. The changes help support town centres, the rural economy and provide much-needed homes.

Changes to Community Infrastructure Levy rules now provide an increased incentive for brownfield development, through exempting empty buildings being brought back into use. To assist extensions and home improvements, we have also exempted them from Community Infrastructure Levy, stopped plans for a so-called ‘conservatory tax’, stopped any council tax revaluation which would have taxed home improvements, and introduced a new national council tax discount for family annexes.

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We expect implementation of these measures to have a significant positive impact on housing numbers by unlocking small-scale development and boosting the attractiveness of brownfield sites. This will provide real incentive for small builders and to people looking to build their own home. They will increase house building and help reduce the cost of such housing.

These latest policy changes illustrate how this Government continue to deliver the reform to our planning system which will enable more houses to be built, giving more power to local communities, helping people move on to and up the housing ladder.


HGV Speed Limits

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I have today (28 November 2014) announced that the Government intend, following a public consultation, to increase the national speed limit for heavy goods vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes on dual carriageway roads from 50 mph to 60 mph.

This complements the decision that the Government have already announced to raise the national speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes on single carriageway roads, and is part of a wider package of associated measures that the Government are bringing forward to continue to increase economic efficiency and remove outdated restrictions.

The national speed limit increase on dual carriageways will modernise an outdated regulation dating from the 1980s, better reflecting the capabilities of modern HGVs. It will help to free professional hauliers from unnecessary regulation.

The change will ensure that HGV speed limits are proportionate and better aligned with the limits for HGVs on motorways and single carriageways, and with other vehicles such as coaches and cars towing caravans. Our evidence indicates that actual average speeds are unlikely to change in response to the change in national speed limit. Our impact assessment, which has been scrutinised by independent experts, concludes that there is not expected to be an adverse effect on road safety, but we will be monitoring the impacts closely.

The speed limit increases for HGVs will be implemented via a change in the law to be put to Parliament during the next few months, with implementation scheduled for 6 April 2015. The existing limits continue to apply until the change has been put into effect. The amended speed limit will cover dual carriageway roads in England and Wales, unless specific lower local or urban speed limits are in effect.

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The Department for Transport is publishing the summary of dual carriageway HGV speed limit consultation responses. The Department is also publishing an impact assessment.

Copies of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Work and Pensions

Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Levy

The Minister for Disabled People (Mr Mark Harper): I am pleased to announce that the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (Levy) Regulations 2014 come into effect today. These regulations require active insurers to pay an annual levy based on their relative market share for the purpose of meeting the costs of this scheme. This is in line with the commitment by the insurance industry to fund a scheme of last resort for sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma who have been unable to trace their employer or their employer’s insurer.

The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme was established under powers set out in the Mesothelioma Act 2014 to make payments to eligible people with diffuse mesothelioma (diagnosed on or after 25 July 2012), or eligible dependants of people who have died of this disease before they made a claim under the scheme. The scheme began taking applications on 6 April 2014, and started making payments from 1 July 2014. By October 2014, the scheme has received 232 applications and made 131 payments, totalling £16.5 million. The average payment to date is around £126,000.

I can also announce today that the total amount of the levy for year one, covering the estimated costs of the scheme in the financial year 2014-15, will be £32 million. This amount will be payable by active insurers by the end of March 2015. The payment amount an active insurer must pay in the financial year will be determined according to their relative market share for the calendar year two, years before the reference period.

This estimate uses data from the first seven months of the scheme’s operation and is assumption based. As this is a demand-led scheme the final costs for the first year of operation may vary from this estimate.

Individual active insurers will be notified in writing of their payment amount (i.e. their share of the levy), together with how the amount was calculated and payment arrangements.

For many years, sufferers of this terrible disease who cannot trace employers or insurers have been left without recourse to compensation. I am proud of what Government and stakeholders have achieved in delivering the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme and I hope that Members of both Houses will welcome this announcement and will give the scheme their continued support.