Pickles Bizarre and Inaccurate Attack on Sustainable Housing Policy in Wales

The Minister for Middlesex 14th May Hansard

We do not need an alternative speech; we need to look only at Labour in government in Wales. Let us look at Labour’s record on housing there. Labour has failed to boost house-building starts by a mere 1% as compared to 19% in England. 

Labour in Wales hit the housing market with extra red tape, adding £13,000 to the cost of building a new home in comparison with England. Labour has cut the right to buy, abolishing it completely in parts of Wales. Labour has failed to introduce support for new home buyers. Their new-buy scheme will not start until next year.

Whether it be in England or Wales, Labour’s economic policy could be summed up, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, as “If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; if it stops moving, subsidise it”.

What is different about policy in Wales.  National policy mandates code 3 as a minimum for all homes, not just social housing.

The HBF claculates the cost of this as £2,900 per typical semi detached lot, without considering any capitalisable benefits from lower energy bills.

There was a consultation that ended in October last year on how to implement zero carbon standards from 2015, a white paper with detailed impact assessment is due this year with draft changes to national policy wales later in the year.

This is exactly the same position as in England as the DECC as recently reconfirmed its committment to some form of zero carbon standard from 2015, though we await with baitred breath its exact form.  Is pickles now saying we should not have any energy standards in new homes at all.

There is a genuine debate in Wales over whether a national enhanced standard will depress housebuilding in more fragile regions, but not policy conclusions have yet been reached.  Where does Pickles get his £13k figure from?

Predetermination and ‘Perception of Bias’

This DCLG letter to Winsor and Maidenhead is worth sharing

PREDETERMINATION, BIAS AND ADVICE FROM MONITORING OFFICERS
Thank you for your letter seeking my views on an advice notes from Monitoring Officers to
councillors, and how this interacts with the Localism Act. Whilst Ministers cannot give formal
legal advice (on advice), I am happy to provide my informal view.
Under the last Administration, the Standards Board regime undermined freedom of speech in
local government. This was compounded by a further gold-plating of pre-determination rules,
fuelled by misconceptions about the flawed regime, going far beyond what was reasonable or
legally necessary.
The Localism Act 2011 has abolished the Standards Board regime, and has also clarified the
position with regard to pre-determination and bias. Section 25 clarifies that a councillor is not
to be regarded as being unable to act fairly or without bias if they participate in a decision on
a matter simply because they have previously expressed a view or campaigned on it. The
effect is that councillors may campaign and represent their constituents – and then speak
and vote on those issues – without fear of breaking the rules on pre-determination.
In this context, I feel that blanket advice which states that councillors cannot participate in a
meeting purely because there is merely a ‘perception of bias’ or ‘risk of bias’ is potentially
wrong. It will, of course, depend on the individual circumstances, but the flexibilities and
freedoms laid out in Section 25 may apply.
It is worth drawing a distinction between pre- determination and pre-disposition.
Councillors should not have a closed mind when they make a decision, as decisions taken by
those with pre-determined views are vulnerable to successful legal challenge.1
1
Incidentally, where a councillor has a predetermined view because of having a disclosable pecuniary interest
in an item of council business, our guide for councillors makes clear that they may not participate in any
discussion or vote and that they should leave the room if their continued presence is incompatible with their
council’s code of conduct or the Seven Principles of Public Life.

However, before the meeting, councillors may legitimately be publicly pre-disposed to take a
particular stance. This can include, for example, previously stated political views or manifesto
commitments.
At the decision-making meeting, councillors should carefully consider all the evidence that is
put before them and must be prepared to modify or change their initial view in the light of the
arguments and evidence presented. Then they must make their final decision at the meeting
with an open mind based on all the evidence. Such a fair hearing is particularly important on
quasi-judicial matters, like planning or licensing.
More broadly, monitoring officers can offer advice to councillors. But the final decision about
whether it is right to participate in discussion or voting remains one for elected members.
Councillors should take decisions with full consciousness of the consequences of their
actions. I hope the Localism Act has injected some common sense whilst allowing for
genuine debate, freedom of speech and democratic representation.
I hope this is of assistance. Further to your suggestion in your original letter, I am placing this
letter on my department’s website in case it may assist councillors in other local authorities.
BRANDON LEWIS MP

Brandon Lewis MP

This is the first political statement I have seen which stresses the position made by many lawyers.  The localism act did not abolish the predetermination law merely allowing predisposition – which the courts had already allowed.

Where I have underlined should appear in the full council reports on all development plan decisions and should be read out by the leeader when making the motion.  Then they can avoid the hole that some leaders like that of Sheshire East have dug themselves.