Clause 41 - Limitation of estate management charges: reasonableness

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 30 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire 9:25, 30 Ionawr 2024

I beg to move amendment 145, in clause 41, page 66, line 28, at end insert—

“(c) only where they are incurred in the provision of services or the carrying out of works that would not ordinarily be provided by local authorities.”

This amendment would mean that services or works that would ordinarily be provided by local authorities are not relevant costs for the purposes of estate management charges.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 150, in clause 41, page 66, line 28, at end insert—

“(c) where they are incurred in the provision of services or the carrying out of works, only where the requirement for those services or works is not the result of defects in the original construction.”

This amendment would ensure that services or works on private or mixed-use estate that are required as a result of defects in its construction are not relevant costs for the purposes of estate management charges.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I remind colleagues that we have moved from the clauses that relate to what was termed the “feudal” system of leasehold to the rather more modern problem of estate management charges, which in large part, although not exclusively, are incurred by those who own their homes. Essentially, the charges have arisen because of issues to do with adoption by local authorities. They are charges for a range of services in what might be termed, but are not necessarily, public areas, and for what might be, but are not necessarily, services or provisions that would normally be provided by a local authority.

It is worth bearing in mind how rapidly the issue of estate management charges has grown. From being essentially non-existent, or at least very rare, I think the charges now cover at least 1 million or 1.5 million homeowners—perhaps the Minister will tell us it is an even higher number. One issue is that we are essentially creating a two-tier society of council tax payers: people who pay council tax once to cover a range of public services, and residents in parts of our country who pay for those services twice—once through their council tax and again through their estate management charges.

The provisions in part 4 deal with a number of changes that seek to improve the rights of those subject to estate management charges and to improve access to redress. I commend a number of my local residents and councillors, most importantly Councillor Jim Weir of Great Denham, as well as 30 of my Conservative colleagues who wrote with me to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State to ask them to include the provisions in the Bill. I am grateful to them for doing so. Most particularly, I thank the former Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch—and the current Minister for their help and guidance on these matters. The provisions will enable us to make a great amount of progress. However, it is clear—and it was clear from the evidence the Committee received—that there is another path, or at least it is clear that the public also desire to abolish or reduce the current system of estate management charges, rather than improving it and the rights that people have. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve.

At issue is the matter of adoption. In the summary on page 4, paragraph 2 of the Competition and Market Authority report that looks into estate management charges and other issues, it states that

“evidence gathered in our market study to date has shown that, over the last five years or so, amenities on new housing estates that are available for wider public use (ie not for the exclusive use of households on the estate), are increasingly not being adopted by the relevant authority. This appears to be driven by the discretionary nature of adoption, housebuilders’ incentives not to pursue adoption and by local authority concerns about the future ongoing costs of maintaining amenities”.

That gets to the crux of the issue. The decision process for creating estate management charges takes place in a cosy discussion between the developers of new estates and the local authorities, both of which have an interest in ensuring that they are not the ones to carry the cost for a range of communal services. Guess who ends up paying the bill? It is homeowners up and down the country, who have no role in that cosy discussion. I wish to influence that cosy discussion through my amendment.

It is tricky to change the process of adoption, and I think you would consider it out of scope, Sir Mark, if we sought to do so in the Bill. In the evidence session, I heard colleagues talk about some of the risks involved in leaving councils with unadoptable roads and poor-standard infrastructure that the council tax payer has to pay to bring up to standard. No one on the Committee wishes to see that happen. My amendment would not force adoption, then, but essentially take the payer—the householder or homeowner—out of the equation for paying for those costs. It would exclude services or works that would ordinarily be provided by local authorities so that they would not count as costs that could be incurred by estate management charges.

My hope is that the amendment would pour a dose of reality on to developers by saying that they could no longer pass the buck for the costs of poor-standard infrastructure used by the public to homeowners on their estates. They would have to bring them up to standard, and then councils could adopt them.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is a pleasure to continue our line-by-line consideration of the Bill with you in the Chair, Sir Mark. I rise to speak to amendment 150, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale. As we have heard, part 4 of the Bill deals with the regulation of estate management. The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire provided an extremely comprehensive overview of the problem and its prevalence.

The distinct set of problems faced by residential freeholders on private or mixed-tenure estates that part 4 seeks to address is well known and well understood. Those problems include: excessive or inappropriate charges levied for minimal or even non-existent services; charges imposed for services that should by right be covered by council tax; charges that include costly and arbitrary administration fees; charges hiked without adequate justification; and charges levied when residential freeholders are in the process of selling their property.

In addition to a general lack of clarity and transparency about how estate management charges and fees are arrived at and how they break down—these problems are not dissimilar to those experienced by long leaseholders in respect of service charges—residential freeholders on privately owned and managed estates clearly suffer from inadequate transparency in other unique respects. For example, as I have said in past debates on the subject in the House, it would appear to be fairly common for residential freeholders not to be notified of their future liability for charges early in the conveyancing process; many learn of their exposure only at the point of completion. Even in instances in which residential freeholders are notified about their future liability in good time, many have to confront the fact that their contracts do not specify limits or caps on charges and fees.

There is clearly a distinct problem with management fragmentation on many privately owned estates that have been constructed throughout the country in recent years, with residential freeholders even on relatively new estates frequently having to navigate scores of management companies, each levying fees for services in a way that further exacerbates the general lack of transparency and potential for abuse that they face in respect of charges and fees. Underpinning all those issues of concern is a fundamental absence of adequate regulation or oversight of the practices of estate management companies and the fact that residential freeholders currently do not enjoy statutory rights equivalent to those held by leaseholders.

There has been a broad consensus across the House for some time that residential freeholders on new build private and mixed-tenure estates require greater rights and protections, and the Government have recognised publicly—for at least six years, by my count—that they need to act to address the range of problems that freeholders face. Labour therefore welcomes the Government’s decision to use the Bill to create an entirely new statutory regime for residential freeholders based on leaseholders’ rights and is fully supportive of the intent behind the provisions in this part of the Bill.

Although part 4 sets the broad framework for regulating estate management, much of the detail necessary to bring that framework into force will come via regulations. We take no issue with that, and do not intend to pre-empt the regulations by attempting to prescribe a series of requirements on the face of the Bill. However, we believe that, where possible, we should seek to use part 4 not only to provide greater protection to residential freeholders who live on the estates, but to contribute to a reduction in the prevalence of such arrangements—a point that the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire was driving at.

Although additional protections of the kind introduced under part 4 will almost certainly still be required, in its “Private management of public amenities on housing estates” working paper, published on 3 November last year, the Competition and Markets Authority stated that

“we consider that reducing the prevalence of private management arrangements would be the most direct route to address the root cause of our emerging concerns”.

The CMA made it clear in that working paper that reducing the prevalence of private management arrangements would require a mix of legislative and policy changes more fundamental than the introduction of regulatory protection, and drew attention to the fact that it would result in a wider set of consequential changes, not least the potential for

“significant impact on local authority finances and resources at a time when local authority funding is already stretched.”

That is why, while we very much sympathise with its intent of ensuring that residential freeholders on private or mixed-tenure estates are not charged for services that should by right be covered by council tax, we have reservations about amendment 145. We are concerned that it will, in effect, force local authorities to adopt public amenities on new housing estates, irrespective of circumstance, or—if compulsion is not the intent of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire—would see those amenities degrade and deteriorate as a result of not being maintained by either the private management company or the local authority.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his detailed look at my amendment. First, will he explain to the Committee where he sees compulsion on local authorities in the amendment? I cannot see it. Secondly, will he explain why his more material concern about the possibility of items degrading and estate management not doing anything would not be addressed by the strengthening provisions that the Government are putting in the Bill on behalf of homeowners?

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Under my reading of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, if it is ensured that services or works that would ordinarily be provided by local authorities are not relevant costs for the purposes of charges in this part, who will pick up the bill? If the local authority is not compelled to adopt the amenities, our concern is that no one will maintain them. To address his point directly, I worry that his amendment would not ensure that the private estate management company picks up the charge. I will come to why I think our amendment is a superior way of addressing this very real problem.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. It may interest him to know that I was on a private estate in Kingswood at the weekend, for some reason. It soon became apparent that the developer had gone into liquidation and the estate was being run down in a quite dreadful way. As my hon. Friend said, in that situation, the developer itself and the management of the estate had, to all intents and purposes, ceased—residents were very voluble on things not being done—but the local authority had not adopted the road in the first place, and the services were suffering accordingly.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are all driving at the same point. I was very much taken by the CMA’s conclusion that reducing the prevalence of these arrangements requires a combination of the mandatory adoption of amenities and putting in place corresponding common adoptable standards. If we do one without the other, we risk some unintended consequences.

My concern about the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire is that we cannot simply remove from estate charges costs that should in an ideal circumstance be borne by local authorities and then expect the private management company to simply pick them up. I fear that the more likely scenario will be that the amenities are not properly maintained. That is a real concern, and should be for residential freeholders on the estates. As the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire outlined, there are some good reasons why local authorities are reluctant to adopt public amenities on private or mixed-tenure estates.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

I would hate to detain the Committee because we have a lot to go through, but let us understand the economic process here. Initially, the local authority and the developer will work out whether to adopt roads. The developer will then have to decide whether to set up an estate management company, which may or may not deliver facilities and services that would normally be covered by council tax. If the amendment is part of legislation, no property manager in their right mind will accept taking on the responsibility because they will not wish to be liable. Here is the flow of responsibility: one cannot lumber home owners with the cost, the property manager will not be lumbered with the cost for the reasons outlined—it may go bust—so the developer will then have to recognise that there is nowhere for it to turn.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We fundamentally disagree on where the logic chain leads. I do not think that, on the basis of the amendment, the developer will be forced to pick up the costs. It is far more likely that they would build below what would be considered a common adoptable standard and then leave residential freeholders to live with substandard amenities. We could debate this further, but that is my take on the hon. Gentleman’s amendment: it would not force the management companies to do that. That is a real concern.

As I said, there are a variety of reasons why local authorities often do not take on responsibility. The most common one is that the public amenities on new housing estates are not built to a determined, adoptable standard. In those circumstances, one can hardly blame the local authority in question for a reluctance to adopt roads and common services that it will have to repair and maintain a great cost. My central argument is that if we are to reduce the prevalence of these arrangements, we must ensure that we introduce a common adoptable standard for public amenities on estates at the same time as we require mandatory adoption, as the CMA advises.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Ceidwadwyr, Walsall North

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Sir Mark. The civil engineer in me rises to agree with the hon. Gentleman completely; it is slightly embarrassing that we once again find common cause. The point is well made: if a set standard is identified that will be accepted universally by councils as one they would be prepared to adopt, and forced on the developers, the developers will meet that standard, but if they are left with any opportunity to build something substandard, they will always take it and they will frequently try to go further and not even meet the standard that they have prescribed in their own design work. I am sure that all Committee members will have seen examples of that in their constituencies. I again find common cause, and I hope the Minister considers these points.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; it is a habit that I hope he continues because I think there is common ground here. When it comes to common adoptable standards, Ministers have often put it to me—the Minister no doubt will; previous Ministers have done—that local authorities have the tools they need to drive up the standards of public amenities that are constructed, but there is clearly something going wrong in that they are not ensuring that those standards are in place. As a consequence—not in every instance, but in many—local authorities have good reason to be reluctant to take them on.

We have tabled amendment 150 in an attempt to challenge the Government to consider how they might utilise the regulatory framework introduced by part 4 to drive up the standards of public amenities on the estates in question—that is the other half of the equation that I think we are all agreed we need. Our amendment would ensure that services or works on private or mixed-tenure estates that are required as a result of defects in construction are not relevant costs for the purposes of estate management. I think that, rather than the amendment of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, would be the incentive that developers need to ensure that high standards are in place at the point that they hand the estate over. Ours is consciously a probing amendment and I hope the Minister will understand and appreciate the problem that it attempts to address, as does the hon. Member’s amendment. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on it.

Photo of Alistair Strathern Alistair Strathern Llafur, Mid Bedfordshire

I rise briefly to add my weight to the comments of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. I wholeheartedly share the concerns on this issue expressed by my Bedfordshire neighbour, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire. I know that, like me, he has received a lot of correspondence from constituents who find themselves with a variety of challenges and exposed by a situation whereby regulation simply has not kept pace with best practice.

As the CMA outlined last year, we have gone from a situation in which it was simply the norm that estates were adopted by the local authority to one in which that is far from the norm. In the last week, I have spoken to residents right across my constituency who have faced incredibly high service charges. Estate management companies are looking for the next frontier for their rent-seeking behaviour, often by charging fees for services that would normally be covered by council tax. Such is the fragmentation on estates, as the shadow Minister set out, that they sometimes even duplicate the fees charged by other management companies on the same estate.

Alongside that, there is a lack of quality provision, because residents do not have the same level of recourse or challenge as they would in the case of a local authority, which could ensure that services were delivered in an effective, timely and transparent way.

Finally, there are challenges around the sale of properties. The opaqueness of some of the fees arrangements and, frankly, the shoddy standard of the work that often results mean that residents can face real challenges when moving house. Last year, the CMA set out the real necessity of Government action on the issue. It gave some good reasons, which both the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire and the shadow Minister have set out. I will not duplicate what they said about why the issue requires Government action, rather than leaving it to the CMA or other actors.

I welcome action on the regulatory side to drive up standards, empower homeowners and correct some of the persistent power imbalances that enable such exploitation. However, as the CMA has set out, those power imbalances, and the inherent inequity of the relationship between a management company and individual freeholders, mean that some of the challenges are likely to persist, absent removing them at source, which would mean enabling estates, finally and with confidence, to be adopted.

I share the desire of the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire to drive change as quickly as possible, although I am afraid I share the shadow Minister’s concern that the hon. Member’s amendment might do so in a way that left homeowners in a situation in which their estates were not well maintained. It could actually exacerbate some of the challenges of requiring homeowners to ensure that public areas are built to a common standard.

If we cannot resolve the issue now, I urge the Minister and the shadow Minister to go away and think about actions to tackle it, whether that is in the Bill or in other legislation. It is one of the biggest emerging challenges facing new towns and new communities, such as those in Mid Bedfordshire, and we should not enable such practices to continue. Exactly the same logic that the Minister set out last week—cracking down on rent-seeking behaviours in other areas, which the Bill does good work on—applies here. I urge him and my Front-Bench colleague to continue their work with renewed vigour, so that the Bill and subsequent legislation can tackle the issue once and for all.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North 9:45, 30 Ionawr 2024

The Minister will recall that in response to a Government consultation in 2018, the Government committed to introducing a section 24 right for freeholders on housing estates, but that has not appeared in the Bill. It would have given those freeholders the right to go to a first-tier tribunal and appoint a court protective manager. The Minister and his officials may wish to reflect on and remedy that failing in the Bill. However, even that would be an imperfect measure, because it would not ensure that leaseholders in homes on estates had the same rights as leaseholders in a development block, for whom the Bill seeks to facilitate the right to manage. Will the Minister look at that issue and ensure that that provision is realised?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark, and it is good to continue debating these issues this morning. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have raised such important points. I do not think that the disagreement between Members on any of the Benches is about whether there are issues; the question is rather about the technicalities of how to approach them, what to do and what is proportionate.

I will talk briefly about the amendments. Although the Government cannot accept them now, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the shadow Minister will listen to the points that I make; the broader point is that I am listening carefully and have a lot of sympathy for the underlying point, which we are all trying to solve. The question is about how we do it and whether we need to go further.

There was an extended debate between my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. I will not try to repeat that, but not because I do not want to give due regard to everything that my hon. Friend put on record or to his underlying point. He is absolutely right that there is a problem; we all see it in our constituencies. The challenge, as I see in my constituency of North East Derbyshire, is that there is now a move towards greater estate management outside the demise of the local representation of the state. It works in some areas and for some elements, but there are specific areas and specific estates in which it clearly does not work. We have all heard the stories about the issues that are visible.

In the past, it would have been typical for local authorities to have adopted estates, but that is moving further and further away from reality. There is a question about whether there are some elements of estate management where it is reasonable to have some kind of arrangement outside the aegis of the state, but equally I accept the argument that that has gone too far in certain areas.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

I have listened carefully to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire for his reference to the work that we did together.

I want to ask the Minister to expand a bit more on his comments, as I am sure he will. The argument has often been made that if we make clear to the people who are buying those homes what they are actually getting into, and if we give them a schedule of charges, the regime will be more acceptable. That is the heart of the issue: if customers know what they are buying, presumably they can freely choose whether to buy that property or a different type of property.

I think we all agree that there should be freedom of choice and that the buyer should take responsibility for their choices. However, does the Minister think that the current regime and framework are adequate to provide choice? My personal view is that we do not have that, and that that is at the heart of the problem. But even if we provide that choice, a fundamental philosophical problem remains. I am interested in his view on the balance of those two issues.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a huge amount of knowledge, expertise and background in the subject. She is right to highlight the tension with agency. As long as there is sufficient knowledge in the decision being made, the logical extension is that the decision was made on the basis on the preponderance of the facts, and people should therefore be willing to accept the consequences of their choices.

Equally, through colleagues and in our postbags, we have all seen the reality that this does not work in all instances, and it is not necessarily clear where it works. We have examples of where an indication was given about some of these things, but the reality is very different from what may have been said during the sales process. A different estate manager may take over, the developer may disappear or things may change. The reality of what happens on the ground with estate management charges can be very different from what has been talked about.

The question is therefore not whether there is an issue, but how we drive up standards. Clause 41, which I will address in a moment, seeks to drive up standards through transparency. There is a perfectly legitimate question—it has been correctly posed via the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, and has been outlined by the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire and others—as to whether that is sufficient or whether additionality is needed. Although I cannot accept the amendments today, because I think that there are genuine questions about whether they would work, the Department wants to continue looking at the issue. I would be happy to talk about it at a future stage.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Ceidwadwyr, Warrington South

I am listening carefully to the debate. Warrington is a new town. Over the past 60 years, about 100,000 homes have been built in total. From looking carefully at the borough council’s own details on estate adoption, it is clear that there are currently 13 estates that are not adopted, where there have been agreements in place with the council but, for all kinds of reasons, developers are not doing anything. One problem seems to be that in many cases the estates are built out over many years and things change. Some estates have been building for 13 years. The builders have changed, the involvement of council officers has changed and the structure of how things are built out has changed.

There seems to be no redress for householders so that what was promised in the first place can be delivered. That is a real problem. When the Minister is looking carefully at the issue, can he bear in mind that it is not a straightforward case of “The developer promised to do this, but they haven’t”? Things can change dramatically over time, and there is a complicated path. I think that that is what the Minister is saying; it is certainly my experience in Warrington.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the Committee will indulge me, I have personal experience of examples of this in North East Derbyshire, and I know the complexity involved in getting this correct. I have an estate by an unnamed developer in the south of the constituency, near Wingerworth, where this discussion is going on already. Before Christmas, I spent two hours talking to representatives of owners on the estate and to the estate management company itself. I recognise the complexities on an estate that was being managed relatively adequately from afar but clearly still had issues.

The second example—this is why we have to be so careful to get this right—is from the other side. Fenton Street in Eckington has been unadopted for more than a century. The residents recognise that it is unadopted and have bought their houses understanding and acknowledging that. Possibly it was been adopted many decades ago, but there is no record.

We have to make sure that this works for everybody. In an ideal world, everybody would be scooped up and this would all be fixed in one fell swoop with whatever a benevolent Government could do, but that is not the reality of the choices that we face. Nor is it often the reality of what happens when a Government try to do things that work in the way that we all intend. Although I understand the intention behind the two amendments, I encourage hon. Members to withdraw them.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Llafur, Brent North

The Minister has not responded to the point about a section 24 court-appointed manager. Would that not give a power enabling redress for residents in situations such as the one he outlines, where there has been a complete failure to adopt and maintain? Will he commit to considering that point as part of the mix?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

We may touch on some of those elements under later clauses. The hon. Gentleman’s core point is about whether the Government are willing—without providing any guarantees in this place—to look at additionality. Of course we are. There are the usual caveats, which I have explained in previous sittings, about what we can do, how we do it, and the priorities, but this is an area in which we are listening carefully.

In conclusion, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich to consider withdrawing their amendments. I hope that they have heard that I am serious and willing to look at the issue again, although I cannot offer guarantees at this stage.

I will turn briefly to clause 41, to put on the record exactly what the clause contains and what we are voting for. Freehold homeowners on private and mixed-tenure estates who pay estate management charges have fewer protections than leaseholders paying the service charges that we have spoken about. Clause 41 will introduce limitations on what estate management companies can charge homeowners through estate management charges. Subsection (1) states:

“Costs incurred by an estate manager are relevant costs…only to the extent that they are reasonably incurred.”

Clause 41 will ensure that where these costs are incurred in the provision of services or the carrying out of works, they will be relevant costs only if the services or works are of a reasonable standard.

Subsection (2) makes it clear that when an estate management charge is payable in advance, only reasonable costs are payable. Furthermore, after reasonable costs have been incurred, any necessary adjustment must be made to the charge by repayment, reduction of subsequent charges or any other method. Those new rules are equivalent to requirements in the leasehold regime and provide homeowners with more confidence that they will not be overcharged. We seek to provide increased protections for homeowners through the clause. I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:00, 30 Ionawr 2024

Amendment 150 was a probing amendment. I take on board the Minister’s statement that the Government are looking at the issue and that they do not believe that this legislation is the appropriate vehicle to deal with it.

If the Minister is willing to respond again, I would like a bit more clarity on precisely why in many cases amenities on estates are not being built to an adoptable standard. I think we all agree that we would like to see such a system. The Minister introduced a different problem, namely circumstances in which residents might not want their amenities adopted; I think that that would be a relatively small number of estates, but we would have to account for them. In general, we want to reduce the prevalence of arrangements and see adoption becoming mandatory in most circumstances.

Will the Minister expand on why the Government think the common amenable standards are not being met across the board? In a previous debate, the then Minister stated:

“The local authority has powers to ensure that developers build and maintain communal facilities to the standards and quality set out in the planning permission.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 132WH.]

Is something going wrong with the standards that most local authorities require at the planning permission stage? Is the section 106 agreement breaking down in some way? What is the reason? That might give us an insight into the solution that the Government have in mind and into why common adoptable standards are not currently the norm.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are a variety of scenarios. I am not sure that residents of Fenton Street would not take the opportunity to adopt if they were given the opportunity; it is more about the broader challenges of getting a single coherent answer to a very complicated set of questions that have come about in the past few decades or over a longer period.

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point about the outcome of the planning system. Everybody, irrespective of party, would want the planning system to work to a point where there are common standards for roads and public spaces. There is an interesting question as to why that is not the case. It is an area that as a Minister I intend to look into in more detail.

The question is whether is it a systemic problem or a matter of individual circumstances, where it is working okay in some areas but not in others. Anecdote leads to bad policy and bad law, but in my experience as a constituency MP it has worked in a number of areas and not in others. That suggests that there is variability and that it is therefore not a systemic issue, but that might be different elsewhere in the country. It is an area that I think we should look at more; I am not sure whether it needs legislation. That is an open question, but it is definitely something that I am keen to understand more.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

I have listened with interest to hon. Members’ contributions, particularly in respect of my amendment 145. I strongly believe that we need to close down the trend to create two tiers of council tax payers —those who pay once and those who have to pay twice—and ensure that we all pay only once. My amendment would directly address that issue. I would therefore like to put it to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 14 Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill — Clause 41 - Limitation of estate management charges: reasonableness

Ie: 1 MP

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.