Homes Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Raynsford: This has been an interesting debate, and I shall respond briefly to the points that were raised. The hon. Member for Bath and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton spoke about the need for effective strategies to cover housing needs in each area of the country. We wholeheartedly agree with that.

However, the Bill is not an effective vehicle for giving effect to any changes that may be appropriate to the present arrangement. First, there is a need for a full debate and discussion on what should be included in, and defined as part of, the strategic function of local authorities. We initiated that debate in our Green Paper last April and confirmed our commitment to the strategic role in our housing policy statement last month. We have received interesting proposals from the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Housing about the parameters of the strategic role. It is an important and useful concept, but it should be considered thoroughly and be the subject of proper consultation with all local authorities before we commit ourselves to changes in statute. We do not want to rush things by introducing it in this Bill.

Secondly, there are already housing strategies in place in every area, through the HIP mechanism, whereas homelessness strategies do not exist to the degree that they should.

I should like to add to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton—

Mr. Don Foster: Does the Minister rule out the possibility of a local authority meeting the requirements of new and existing legislation by producing a single strategy that relates to homelessness and other aspects of housing? Will it be possible for a local authority to provide the information in that way?

Mr. Raynsford: The Bill requires local authorities to produce a homelessness strategy, which must be a separate document. However, we would want it to be consistent with existing housing policy, rather than, in the unfortunate words of the hon. Member for Bath, colliding with it. If I may be slightly churlish about his speech, he discussed colliding the two, which was an unfortunate choice of language, but we wholeheartedly endorse the concept of consistency, because it is obviously required.

4.15 pm

Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman said ``eliding'', not ``colliding.''

Mr. Raynsford: As always, the right hon. Gentleman has come up with a correct textual analysis that gives us the precise phraseology.

The homelessness strategy could, of course, be part of a wider housing strategy. It could be produced as a single document in two parts, but that would not comply with the requirements of the Bill, because there would not be a distinct homelessness element that could be read separately. I hope that satisfies the hon. Member for Bath.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton discussed the impact of the introduction of the major repairs allowance. The figures show a considerable improvement in the resources available to his local authority and, indeed, to most local authorities, which is a result of the Government's changes. In 1997-98, the HIP allocation for the London borough of Enfield, which was the final one set by the previous Government, was £5.8 million. Through the capital receipts initiative, we increased that to £6.8 million; in the current year the figure is £10.3 million; next year, with the introduction of the major repairs allowance, total resources will be £14.5 million. That is an indication of the significant increases in investment that the Government have delivered to local authorities. We hope that all local authorities will make the most of the increased resources.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon expressed concern that housing strategy should cover a wider area than that of an individual local authority. We share that concern, which is why Government offices and regional offices of the Housing Corporation have been working together over the past three years to ensure that the preparation of regional housing strategies involves individual local authorities. However, we are also providing a regional dimension so that local authorities can develop their own strategies with proper regard to what is happening in surrounding areas. There is much evidence that decisions taken by one authority, especially in areas of low demand, can have a baleful effect on housing in a neighbouring authority. Therefore, a wider regional approach is, in our view, absolutely necessary.

Mr. Curry: That must be especially true in resort towns such as Brighton, which is on the south coast, or Scarborough and Bridlington, which are in my area. Those towns are at the end of the railway line and have a great deal of accommodation that is occupied only during certain parts of the year, which means that there is a great deal of temporary employment and accommodation.

Mr. Raynsford: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but that also applies to constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, the Under-Secretary of State, where there are problems of low demand. If a neighbouring authority decided to build new houses on a green-field site there could be a baleful impact on demand, so we wish to discourage that.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The south-west regional planning authority has imposed higher housing targets on Cotswold district council than the people of Gloucestershire would like. Will the same thing happen with homelessness targets? Will it be forced to have higher homelessness targets than it would wish?

Mr. Raynsford: The regional planning guidance does not impose targets on individual district councils. There is a cascade process in which the regional planning guidance sets the overall parameters for the region and indicates particular areas where it feels that there is the greatest need for development. In the south-west, the hon. Gentleman will know that there is a particular focus on the Swindon area, which is an area of considerable growth. There is also a need to consider housing provision in the area that abuts his constituency, close to the towns of Tewkesbury and Cheltenham and Gloucester. Those issues need to be considered at a regional level.

The next stage of the process is for indications to be given of the appropriate allocation for housing division between the counties. That is done by region. The cascade then goes from the county level to the individual district authority. That has been the procedure for some time. It allows a proper consideration of how the needs of a region can best be met and each authority can participate in the process to see what it can contribute. We are encouraging authorities to look at existing urban areas and we have issued guidance on capacity studies to explore the scope for redevelopment of brown-field sites.

That is all part of our commitment to ensure that a higher proportion of housing is built on brown-field, rather than green-field sites. The hon. Gentleman will know in relation to the south-west regional guidance that the Government increased the figure that was put forward originally by the local authority through the regional planning body for the proportion that is required to be built on brown-field sites. The Government have a clear commitment to meet housing needs, but in a sustainable way, making the most use of brown-field sites.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am delighted to have that on the record. I am sure that my local authority in Gloucestershire will study the Minister's words carefully. He Minister started off by saying that housing targets were not controlled by the south-west regional planning authority. He then gave a long explanation and eventually said that the individual authority would be told—the information cascading down from the regional authority, through the county authority to the district authorities—what housing targets it had to meet. That is clearly on the record. Can I ask him again to say whether homelessness targets will also be dictated by the south-west regional planning authority or the regional development agency or any regional government organisation that may be visited upon us in the unlikely event of a future Labour Government?

Mr. Raynsford: I hope for his own sake that the hon. Gentleman will be here to discuss with us the need for housing in the Cotswold area after the next general election, although if his party goes on in the way that it is he may well not. He must not misinterpret what I was saying. I was correcting his statement that a regional planning guidance dictated to each local authority what its housing figures should be. It does not. The regional planning guidance sets a regional strategic approach and indicates where it believes that the overall priorities for development should be. I referred specifically to areas of growth in the south-west region. The hon. Gentleman can shake his head at that, but it is the truth.

As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon knows only too well, as he was a planning Minister in the previous Government, the process by which that is translated into figures for individual local authorities is sophisticated but it does not involve a direction from the regional planning authority to the individual local district council. That was the only point that I was making. The homelessness strategy is developed by the district council. The hon. Gentleman need only look at the Bill to recognise that that is where the responsibility lies.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon rightly said that there was a wider dimension. It is important to take into account the views of neighbouring authorities. In response to his questions, I explained that our new framework to ensure that regional housing statements, prepared by the Government—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) sounds surprised, but he should know that they have been in place for the past three years. One of the first changes that we made when we came to office was to suggest that there was a need for a regional housing strategy to ensure that there was consistency between different local authorities and that the input of the Housing Corporation and registered social landlords was made on a strategic basis and was therefore most effective.

The hon. Gentleman appears to have only a faint understanding of the existing mechanisms. Although he may be an expert on the valuation of property, he might like to do further research with his local authority and county council about the mechanisms whereby liaison is achieved between all those who are in a position to contribute to the relief of homelessness. The district council is the body responsible for establishing the local homelessness strategy. The county council will be the social services authority and will have an obligation to co-operate. That is part of the framework of clause 16. There will be a need to ensure that registered social landlords co-operate, which we debated at length under the previous group of amendments. That can best be achieved by ensuring that the Housing Corporation and registered social landlords have a role to play.

The regional housing statement, which has been a characteristic of the past three years, is designed specifically to achieve more effective collaboration and a co-operative approach by those who have a role to play in considering the housing needs of a region and how they are best met.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 25 January 2001