As I have had the chance to digest it overnight, I can say that there was much to welcome in the Government’s Building Safety Bill, unveiled yesterday. I would like to thank my constituents in Portishead for taking part in the consultation; it seems that their voices were listened to. I particularly welcome the fact that there will be no EWS1 form for buildings under 18 metres, and that there will be increased duties on developers, construction companies, building owners and managers. Those who create the problems should pay to sort them out. I welcome the increased right of redress for shoddy workmanship extending to 15 years, and the increased right of building owners and leaseholders to seek redress through the Building Safety Regulator. I also welcome the potential for binding arbitration, to avoid disputes going to court. We will look for further detail during the Bill’s passage, but redress must not be determined by those who can afford to go to lawyers.
The issue remains, however, about the bills that are still dropping through my constituents’ letterboxes today. Even if the abuse of systems such as waking watch is redressed, we need to look at how to compensate leaseholders through the money already allocated by the Government. We in North Somerset will also be paying close attention to the forthcoming planning Bill. I will be looking to see that there is continued, if not increased, protection for the green belt. Green belt serves five purposes, according to the planning guidelines, including to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas, to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another, and to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment. In North Somerset, the application to build on the green belt at Chapelfield Lane will be seen by residents over our whole county as an indication of the council’s approach, and I will not hesitate to ask the Secretary of State to call that application in if it seems that our rainbow coalition council is intent on vandalising the green belt, in clear breach of their election promises. We will also be looking, in the planning Bill, to see whether there are proposals on build-out. Many Members across the House feel that it is a scandal that big companies are building up land banks, then not building the houses for which they have permission, leading the Planning Inspectorate to instruct councils to release more land for building. This Catch-22 has to end. With all due respect to the Government, I would suggest that no build-out clause equals no Bill.
Finally, in wishing everyone a happy and safe recess, may I say how much I am looking forward to coming back to a normal Parliament in the autumn? Despite all the best efforts of those involved, this Parliament has not held the Government to account in the way that it should; the Government need to be held to account. It will be wonderful when we get back to having a length of time in which to develop arguments greater than the attention span of the average “CBeebies” viewer.