COVID-19, Economy, Fiscal Responsibility, House of Lords, Speeches

Business and Planning Bill

Posted by Lord Sheikh

My Lords, the pandemic has severely affected the economy of the country and, of course, caused immense disruption to the lives of people and businesses. I commend the Government for implementing the job retention scheme, providing help for the self-employed and small businesses, and, furthermore, arranging government-backed loans. ?However, the pandemic affected 75% of the hospitality sector and there has been a 90% reduction in its turnover. In the construction industry, smaller companies have particularly suffered; some 25% of these organisations have paused or ceased trading. I therefore welcome the Bill, which will enable us to trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help support the well-being of the people. I welcome the provisions that relate to cafés, pubs, restaurants, licensed premises, government-backed loan schemes, vehicle testing, driving licences, construction works and planning permission.

We have more than 130,000 pubs, restaurants and cafes, which employ over 2 million people. They are the lifeblood of our high street; they not only create employment and generate income but enable people to go out and mingle with friends and relatives. I commend these organisations on their ingenuity and for revising their arrangements to comply with social distancing rules. However, I have a slight concern about the safety of the staff; I hope that this is ensured. I worry that allowing premises to have tables and chairs outside may cause nuisance on the pavements and in the neighbourhood. I am also worried about access and passage for blind and disabled people. Allowing licensed premises to make off-sales of alcohol could lead to anti-social behaviour. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on the issues that I have raised. Has there been any consultation with disabled and blind groups? Do local authorities have appropriate powers to deal with anti-social behaviour as a result of the changes?

I am pleased to note that there are provisions in the Bill to kick-start the construction industry, which contributes about 9% of our GDP. I understand that there are more than 1,000 unimplemented major residential planning permissions. As we propose to extend planning permissions and listed building consents, it is hoped that the construction industry may be able to build more than 60,000 new homes. As regards staggering the hours for construction work, my concern is that this could create nuisance for the neighbours. Is there a grievance mechanism to deal with complaints where there are disturbances?

I note the easing of requirements for accessing the Government’s bounce-back loan schemes. In this regard, I feel that lenders should have an understanding and compromising attitude to any difficulties with regard to repayments; the customer must be regarded fairly. I ask my noble friend to comment on this point as well.

Local authorities will be involved in putting into practice the provisions set out in the Bill. Do they have the capacity and the right attitude to deal with what is being proposed? They are already under a great deal of pressure. What additional help will be provided to them by central government? Finally, I reiterate that I fully support the Bill.


Link to full debate on Hansard. 

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