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Construction Parliamentary Update - 27 June

A round up of all the construction news from Westminster over the last seven days

GENERAL

• London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that he appointed Sir Trevor Chinn as chair of the Mayor's Fund for London. (25 June)

• The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) released a consultation entitled ‘Decapitalisation rate used in non-domestic rating valuations in England’. The consultation closes on 16th September. (24 June)

PPP/PFI/FINANCE/PROCUREMENT

• The Commons Treasury Sub Committee held a hearing scrutinising the ‘Estate Management within the Chancellor’s departments, examining the cost and value of the estate owned or used, the effectiveness with which it is managed, the role of PFI and relationship between estate management and the relocation programme. Witnesses included HM Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and OGC. (25 June)

• Speaking at Social Enterprise London's Connecting London conference, David Richardson, strategic sales director at support services company Serco said he would consider forming third party companies with social enterprises in order to make joint tenders for public service contracts. (20 June)

PLANNING

• The Planning Bill passed through its remaining stages in the House of Commons. At the beginning of the week, fears arose over a rebellion by as many as 60 Labour backbenchers. Criticism focussed on worries over a loss of both local and national democratic accountability. The CBI warned that if the Bill fell, power cuts were a real possibility (Times).

• The Liberal Democrats said that Communities Secretary Hazel Blears was ‘bulldozing democracy’. However, in the vote the Government headed off the rebellion with concessions and only 15 Labour MPs voting against the Bill. Government concessions focussed on concerns over ministerial accountability. The new Independent Planning Commission will be reviewed after two years, with the option of bringing back ministerial decisions. (25 June)

• Peers asked the Government questions regarding the planning of eco-towns. (25 June)

CONSTRUCTION

• The Construction Confederation released a site safety pack. (25 June)

• Audit Scotland released a review of major capital projects entitled ‘How Scotland works: Review of major capital projects in Scotland’. Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said the report vindicates the Scottish Government’s decision to create the Scottish Futures Trust which was focussed on “the need to co-ordinate our capital investment more strategically”. (24 June)

• Work halted on construction sites in Newcastle last week as part of a Health and Safety Executive crackdown on unsafe practices. Inspectors visited 24 contractors engaged on refurbishment sites in the city and served four prohibition notices, stopping work due to concerns about working at height and electrical issues. (24 June)

HEALTH

• A report for the Commission for Rural Equalities said that polyclinics designed for urban environments could not be replicated in rural areas. (22 June)


HOUSING AND REGENERATION

• A report by the Local Government Association said that eco-towns were set to become the “eco-slums of the future”. (26 June)

• The Charity Commission warned housing charities that meeting the criteria for the Government's affordable housing investment programmes does not guarantee that their schemes are charitable. (26 June)

• The Scottish Government published its Local Housing Strategy Guidance. (25 June)

• The Department for Communities and Local Government announced a consultation on the next steps for Efficiency Performance Certificates. The consultation closes on 1st September. (25 June)

• Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George initiated a Westminster Hall Debate on ‘planning and housing estimates’. (25 June)

• The Scottish Rural affairs and environment committee agreed that its main enquiries for the year would be on rural housing and flooding. (25 June)

• The British Bankers Association’s May figures for main high street banks indicated that mortgage approvals in Britain fell 56% over the last year to a record low of 27,968. (24 June)

• The Welsh Deputy Minister for Housing, Jocelyn Davis, made a statement on Sue Essex's housing report. In a press statement the Minister said that a ‘programme of change’ was needed to deliver affordable housing. (24 June)

• Labour MP Andrew Smith opened a Westminster Hall Debate on the private rented sector in reference to his Oxford constituency. (24 June)

• English Partnerships announced an £11.3m investment from their National Coalfields Programme for Hesley Wood, Yorkshire for regeneration. (24 June)

• The Housing and Regeneration Bill was debated as it passed through the 9th day of Committee stage in the House of Lords. (23 June)

• In a range of cutbacks to scrutiny of Scottish public bodies, the Scottish Government announced that the Scottish Housing Regulator will stop cyclical inspections for housing associations and councils. (23 June)

• Philip Hollobone MP began a Westminster Hall Debate on the North Northamptonshire Core Spatial Strategy. (23 June)

• UKIP MP Bob Spink presented a petition in the House of Commons, opposing a small housing development in his constituency of Castle Point. (23 June)

• Some sites shortlisted to be England's first ecotowns were criticised for their lack of adequate public transport links and other shortcomings by the Eco-Towns Challenge Panel (Press Release, Guardian). (22 June)

• The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors launched research on housing for the ageing society. (22 June)

• Home Scotland announced it was searching for firms to bid for a building framework contract worth up to £30 million (CNplus.co.uk). (22 June)

• London Mayor Boris Johnson announced a £6m package for the regeneration of parks in London. (22 June)

EDUCATION

• Schools Minister Jim Knight answered a written question on planned academies in Lancashire. (25 June)

• It emerged that Sellafield nuclear power station will run an academy school. The NASUWT teachers' union criticised the plans (BBC). (23 June)

• DCSF announced that eight local authorities will be fast-tracked to join the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme from this summer. Enfield, Hounslow, North Tyneside, Rotherham, Southampton, Staffordshire, Walsall and Worcestershire were given the go-ahead. (22 June)

TRANSPORT

• The Office of Rail Regulation published its annual report and its railway safety statistical annual report. (26 June)

• The London transport committee its review of over-ground rail services in London. (25 June)

• The London Assembly agreed with Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s appointment of Tim Parker as Chair of Transport for London (TfL). (25 June)

• John Battle MP asked the Government for information on planned transport infrastructure in his Leeds constituency. (25 June)

• John McDonald MP tabled an EDM entitled ‘Heathrow and the high-speed rail alternative’. (24 June)

• Transport Minister Rosie Winterton announced a ‘£34 million’ Government contribution to a road building scheme in the Camborne-Pool-Redruth area. (23 June)

• Lord Bassam of Brighton moved that the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations laid before the House on 21 May be approved. (23 June)

• Network Rail said it will conduct a strategic review for building five new high speed rail lines. Conservative Transport Spokesperson Theresa Villiers spoke out in favour of high speed rail as a potential alternative to airport expansion last week. Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Norman Baker argued that the network was in need of expansion and challenged the Prime Minister on the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions. (22 June)

• Contractors were invited to tender for a highways framework for Blackpool Borough Council worth between £16 million and £30 million (CNplus.co.uk). (22 June)

• Transport Minister Rosie Winterton delivered a written statement to the Commons reporting on her attendance at the Transport Council of the Slovenian presidency in Luxembourg. The meeting included talks on quality of rail networks. (20 June)

WASTE AND UTILITIES

• Ofwat published proposals which would set targets for water companies that aimed to help customers save water. (20 June)

• Ofwat revoked Aquavitae Limited’s water supply licence following the company’s descent into administration. (20 June)

OLYMPICS AND 2012

• The London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) committed to a consultation with local residents to try to address concerns over the use of Greenwich Park in the 2012 Olympics. Last week Peers criticised the planned use of the park proposing that sites outside London should be used instead. (26 June)

• Umbrella body the NCVO said it will continue to police the Government's commitment not to raid lottery funds in the wake of predictions by the Olympic Development Authority that the 2012 Olympics budget will increase again. (25 June)

• A Report by ratings agency Standard and Poor said that the 2012 Olympics would have a ‘muted’ impact on London (Financial Times). (24 June)

• The London economic development, culture, sport and tourism committee received an update report from the London Development Agency on Olympics skills and employment. (24 June)

• The House of Commons posed questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, including Topical Questions and to the Minister of State for the Olympics, Tessa Jowell. During questions, the Minister defended Lend Lease’s ability to raise the money needed to finance the construction of athletes' accommodation. (23 June)

• Tessa Jowell released statistics on the numbers of local residents employed in Olympic construction projects. (23 June)

• The National Audit Office released their progress update on preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Liberal Democrat Olympic Spokesperson Tom Brake responded critically. (20 June)

FLOODING

• The Scottish Government published its Report on the Responses to Flooding Bill Consultation. (25 June)

• This week political activity on flooding surrounded the publication Sir Michael Pitt’s final review. The Pitt Review criticised the lack of a coherent national strategy as well as poor flood defences. Early in the week, Communities Minister John Healy hailed the Government’s achievements tackling the floods which occurred a year ago last summer. The Opposition parties were not so enthused by the Government’s record or the prospects for the future. In a statement by the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn to the Commons, Mr. Benn pledged at least £5m for "surface water management plans" in the highest risk areas and at least £1m on improving reservoir safety as part of a £34.5m allocation to implement the report's priorities. In the ensuing debate, Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth accused the Government of not preparing quick comprehensive planning for the flooding that is expected over the coming years. The Government’s Consumer Council for Water, the Met Office, Ofwat, the Environment Agency and The Welsh Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Jane Davidson all broadly welcomed the report. The Local Government Association responded defending the record of local councils. (24 June)

• Environment Secretary Hillary Benn visited Leeds and outlined plans to assist individuals and businesses to better protect their property from the impacts of flooding. The plans focus on advice about methods that help to keep flood water out of buildings and homes, and that reduce damage if water enters a property. Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Steve Webb reacted saying that the measures would not prevent homes being ruined by flooding. (20 June)

FUTURE EVENTS

Monday 30 June

• Welsh Assembly consultation on schools reorganisation closes.
• The Public Accounts Committee takes evidence in its enquiry into progress in preparing for the Olympics from Jonathan Stephens, Permanent Secretary, Dept for Culture, Media & Sport, Delivery Authority

Late June – early July DCLG publish annual report on Thames Gateway.

Tuesday 01 July

• Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) become compulsory for house sales in Northern Ireland
• The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee publish a report entitled British Waterways: follow up.
• The Culture Media and Sport Committee hold an evidence session in their enquiry into the Draft Heritage Protection Bill

01 – 03 July

• LGA Annual Conference

Friday 04 July

• Consultation on the allocation and management of the Building Schools for the Future waves 7 to 15 closes