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Mr. Sanders: The target is a national one; we should not expect every local authority to reach that figure. The

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hon. Gentleman should be better informed about Torbay, because it has a higher percentage of homes on brownfield sites than any other local authority in the whole of the far south-west. Torbay should be congratulated for having achieved that.

We would levy a greenfield development tax to bring closer the relative costs of greenfield and brownfield development. Will the Minister consider that proposal? We need a strict hierarchy whereby empty housing is restored to use, redundant buildings are converted into homes, more flats are built over shops and existing infrastructure is exhausted before new greenfield sites are considered.

Top-down solutions have proven ineffective. Global figures set by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are not helpful. We would place a duty on local authorities to assess local housing needs in partnership with developers, social housing providers and private landlords. Their findings, together with those of all local authorities, would be combined regionally in order strategically to plan future housing growth. I am sure that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler) would warm to that idea, because it meets her criterion of the greater involvement of people in decisions that affect their lives.

We would also take a firm line on second homes. In areas where they are concentrated, they inflate prices beyond the ability of local people to pay, they threaten local shops and services and they reduce the income of local councils. We would allow councils to remove the council tax rebate on second homes and, in areas where the ownership of such homes is squeezing out local home buyers and causing other social and economic problems, we would permit councils to introduce a premium of up to 100 per cent. on the council tax, or a flat-rate tax on second homes. Again, I think that the hon. Member for Castle Point will warm to that idea.

The revenue would be kept in the local area to subsidise bus routes, village schools and other services threatened by a part-time population. We would also allow councils to require change of use planning consent for the transfer of a full-time residence to be used as a second home.

Mr. Steen: Would the hon. Gentleman ban second homes?

Mr. Sanders: We would not ban them, but we would not reward them as the current system does.

More needs to be done to bring existing houses back into use. We would strengthen compulsory purchase powers for local authorities on properties left empty without reasonable cause for more than 12 months, changing the restrictions on data use so that housing departments can access council tax and revenue department data in the same authority, to identify owners of empty properties.

We would also restore mandatory improvement grants to unfit houses. Such grants would be subject to the property remaining in tenanted occupation for at least three years after the award of the grant. I should like to hear the Minister's views on that proposal, and on our proposal to end the anomaly whereby VAT is levied on renovation and repair, but not on new build.

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The debate should be about meeting housing need; that is just as important in the north as it is in the south-east--it is important everywhere. If an excessive number of houses is built in the south, that will attract more people to move south to take up surplus jobs, thus further exacerbating the decline of our urban centres. We need to consider ways of encouraging work and prosperity to move to areas with an existing infrastructure that has already been paid for. That means tackling urban renewal head-on, and not merely filing the work of the eminent Lord Rogers and his urban task force to gather dust on a shelf, while the trend away from urban living continues unabated.

Without a creative and determined approach to revitalising urban centres throughout our country--not only those in the north--the south-east will find it increasingly difficult to protect its remaining green spaces. Work needs to be done to manage the expectations of the growing number of small households, because it simply is not possible for everyone to own a three or four-bedroomed detached house with a double garage. Pilot projects must be developed to demonstrate that higher density living can be an attractive alternative for both home owners and those in various forms of social housing tenure.

The Liberal Democrats believe that we should focus on and speak up for those who do not have a decent home and could never afford to buy one. It is essential that the House and the country at large realise the great social cost of failing those people. The impact on people's lives of inadequate housing ranges from family breakdown to impaired educational achievement of children living in that housing. Mental and physical health can be affected and poor general health is often a result. That costs the state a great deal, not only in wasted talent, but in strict financial terms: it has been estimated that the costs of ill health resulting from poor housing put £2 billion on the national health service bill.

We are now 2,000 years from no room at the inn. I hope that the House will ensure that, just before we enter the 21st century, there is room at the inn for the thousands who regularly sleep rough or suffer the misery of inadequate housing. That should be central to today's debate. Despite the Conservatives' cheek in tabling the motion, the Liberal Democrats will support it because the Government have so far failed to respond adequately to the concerns expressed in it and to those that I have outlined in my speech.

5.22 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Even after two years as a Member of Parliament, I am staggered by the effrontery of the Conservative case set out in the motion, especially the crocodile tears shed over

It was the Conservative Government under Mrs. Thatcher who were largely responsible for those ills.

The motion ludicrously suggests that people are being

The Conservatives know perfectly well that the Labour Government have set a 60 per cent. target for new homes built on recycled land, released extra single regeneration

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budget funds for urban renewal and invested in education action zones and housing action zones, precisely to improve the quality of life of city dwellers and to encourage more people to stay in or move into cities. The Government are also encouraging local authorities to control the traffic in urban residential streets through the creation of home zones, so that families are encouraged to stay in cities by the feeling that they are safe there.

I am sorry that most Conservative Members who represent the south-east stayed in the Chamber only to barrack my hon Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and have since found better things to do. As a Labour Member of Parliament representing the south-east, I shall explore the impact of Conservative policies on the south-east. I totally reject the notion that the south-east needs no further growth and that no homes are needed for the region's young people. Of course, I would say that as one who represents a city with the highest proportion of young people in the whole of the UK.

I also reject the notion that, if no development is allowed in the south-east, the jobs being created in that region will go to other regions. It is not a question of north versus south, but one of north and south. The south-east is the most affluent region of the United Kingdom, but in European terms it is not especially affluent and there is huge scope for further economic growth. In any case, as Labour Members representing south-east constituencies know, not everyone in the south-east shares in the region's general affluence.

I strongly support Labour's strategy on regional development agencies, because it will ensure that there is appropriate economic development tailored to the strengths of every region. The south-east needs an RDA to deal with its problems, including pockets of disadvantage, incredible congestion--the result of an inadequate public transport infrastructure inherited from the previous Government--and skills shortages: the south-east contains a significant number of people who are, in effect, unemployable despite there being jobs to spare, because they lack the skills necessary to take up the vacancies. It is incredible that the Opposition wish to abolish RDAs and the new deal for the unemployed, which is especially important in constituencies such as mine in helping those who are currently excluded from sharing in economic prosperity to participate in a dynamic local economy.

I want to argue for planned development as opposed to the laissez-faire Conservative policies of the past, and the NIMBY-ism writ large in the Opposition's current proposals. I will use my city, Milton Keynes, to argue that case. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) left the Chamber after taking it upon himself to speak for all Buckinghamshire Members of Parliament. I presume that he forgot to consult two of us before speaking on our behalf.

Milton Keynes is an incredibly successful example of the planned environment. It has grown from a city housing 40,000 people in 1967 to one that is home to 207,000 people. Its ultimate population is meant to be 250,000, and that figure should be reached in the next four or five years. Milton Keynes is successful because individual neighbourhoods are superbly landscaped. The landscaping includes rivers, lakes, which have been created to improve the environment, green walkways, cycle ways and parks. It is reminiscent of the work of Capability Brown, but a modern Capability Brown for the people, not for the aristocracy. It incorporates many historic monuments and

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mediaeval churches in such a way that they complement and enhance the environment of the people who live in that modern city.

Milton Keynes is especially successful because its housing was built in tandem with other necessary facilities such as schools, shops and community centres. That is different from other housing developments such as the huge early example in Reading, where housing was developed with no thought for the other facilities that people needed. That had lamentable consequences for the residents, who might have had nice, affordable houses, but lacked the necessary support structures.

As well as the physical structures of Milton Keynes, a proper community workers' system was established there. Every family who moved to Milton Keynes received a welcome pack, which gave information about the available facilities and offered help with contacting local GPs and other services.

Our city is amazingly successful. Its diverse economy is based on a range of industries and many headquarters of British and overseas firms are situated there. The industries include engineering, distribution, food processing, information technology and design firms. Successful inward investment from the European Union and the far east has been made in Milton Keynes. For example, 10 per cent. of all Taiwanese investment in the United Kingdom is in Milton Keynes and contributes to our employment base.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has gone on record as saying that he would not like his constituency to resemble Milton Keynes. In the past month, the city's new regional theatre opened. It is a superb theatre, which I invite him to visit with his constituents at his expense. This week, the theatre is hosting the Glyndebourne festival.

Our wonderful art gallery is currently hosting a Gilbert and George exhibition. It is the only UK art gallery where one can see that exhibition, which will travel to the United States. The next time that the hon. Member for Ashford compares my constituency unfavourably with his, he should ensure that his constituents know that he is saying that he does not want them to have a nice art gallery or theatre, or a thriving economy.

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