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Tessa Jowell: I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier remarks about the football authorities' welcome recognition of the need to address the financial insecurity that many clubs now face. Although that insecurity was in part created by the immediate crisis arising from the failure of ITV Digital, it is more deep rooted and long standing than that. Obviously, the PFA will be an important party to any successful resolution of those discussions.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Carlton and Granada have refused to fund an orderly transfer and sale to new owners, thus pulling the plug not just on football clubs—including non-English clubs such as Cardiff City, which is in this weekend's play-offs—but on the 1,000 jobs to which my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) referred? Indeed, the loss of those jobs will also affect the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger).

Tessa Jowell: Obviously, the more orderly the sale of the company, the better for everybody, but it is not for me to comment on the conduct of negotiations between the administrator, Carlton and Granada, and ITV Digital.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, if a consumer buys a holiday in good faith and the company goes bust, they get their money back. Holiday companies must hold a bond or insurance, because the regulator—the Civil Aviation Authority—requires it. Will she and her colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry at least consider establishing a bonding regime in this fast-growing, high-risk and competitive marketplace, so that consumers who subscribe to services in good faith can have some protection from the private operators that take big risks at their expense?

Tessa Jowell: Without making a particular judgment on my hon. Friend's proposal, I can assure the House that, in the weeks ahead, all those with an interest in securing the future of the digital terrestrial platform, its consumers and employees will be looking at the lessons that can be learned from the events of the past two weeks surrounding the collapse of ITV Digital. Those lessons will be studied closely, and applied where relevant.

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Local Communities

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Kemp.]

11.57 am

Mr. Cox: We have listened to an important statement, and, given its length, I shall—in fairness to parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House who wish to participate in the debate—curtail greatly my intended speech.

In closing, I want to refer to an issue that relates to my constituency, but which is also relevant to the experiences of my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea and for Putney. I want to mention it now as I may well turn to the Minister for advice and support in the coming weeks.

London Members are fully aware that one great problem we face is that of affordable housing, whether to rent or to buy. It is a particular problem for key public workers in our constituencies. Last Friday, I met prison officers at Wandsworth prison. We talked about many issues, but in terms of the recruitment and retention of prison officers, one key issue for them is the lack of housing.

There are people in my constituency—people who were born in the borough—who need housing and who are on the housing list, but who are getting absolutely nowhere with Wandsworth council in securing the kind of accommodation that they and their families believe they are entitled to. My hon. Friends the Members for Battersea and for Putney can doubtless say the same. In fact, many of those people are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. There is no doubt that their quality of life is suffering because of the lack of suitable housing.

I turn to my main point, on which, as I said, I may seek the Minister's help. Wandsworth council plans to sell off a piece of land of more than 1 acre at the Ernest Bevin college in my constituency, as it is surplus to needs. I understand that the council has given planning permission to build houses on that site and there are many inquiries about the land. A local housing association that I have long been associated with has told the council that it is interested in purchasing the land and that it would take people from the council housing list to be tenants of the properties that it would build.

I have been told that Wandsworth council is not interested in that offer because it wants to sell the land to a private developer. It has been apparent for years to those who live in the Tory-controlled borough how detrimental its policies are to constituents. That relates to what the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said.

The Tory-controlled London borough of Wandsworth has no interest in providing social housing either to rent or to buy. Local people ask me as their Member of Parliament what action the council will take on the development of that land. If the local housing association is given permission to develop it, many people—possibly several hundred—would be able to live in a pleasant part of my constituency by either renting the property or paying an affordable price to purchase it. Without doubt, their quality of life, and that of their families, would improve greatly. That is why the issue is so important.

The constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has suffered more than mine from up-market housing development, which is always fully

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supported by the Tory-controlled council. However, I got involved in dealing with a scheme to build up-market housing in my area after plans to turn the psychiatric hospital in Tooting Bec into a shopping centre were turned down. The council instantly moved in and gave permission for developers to build the most up-market housing development imaginable. It had no concern whatever for the needs of local people.

The debate has been useful. We have been given the opportunity to cover a range of issues. Although I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to respond to my comments today, I will be in touch with her to see what help she and her Department can give me and my constituents to ensure that the views and needs of the local community on that housing development are listened to because, sadly, the Tory council in Wandsworth has not done that in recent years.

12.4 pm

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): According to statistics published by the urban taskforce, one in four citizens of urban areas believe that their neighbourhood has got worse in recent years, whereas only one in 10 people feel that they have seen improvement. The Government have recognised that by directing funding at inner cities to try to improve them, but the scale of the task ahead and the small sums of money that have been committed have not stopped the migration from our inner cities to our suburbs and smaller towns. That has been the trend in recent years and we should pay attention to it.

The outward flow from our main conurbations has many implications for the quality of life in surrounding communities. It has priced many people out of their local housing markets and put increased pressure on greenfield sites, yet 1.3 million commercial and residential buildings stand empty, and brownfield sites are drastically under-utilised.

Not only is the land and housing supply under severe strain but, as more people move further out of cities, transport is inevitably affected as well. The increasing number of cars on our roads and passengers on our trains is not due to the fact that the roads have improved or that the trains are cheaper, but because more people need to travel and commuting time has increased. It is already 40 per cent. higher than it was 20 years ago, and now, more than ever, people are moving over to a commuter lifestyle.

It is predicted that car traffic will increase by a third in the next 20 years, and pollution, congestion and general inconvenience can only increase as a result. Progress must be made to improve urban communities to halt the exodus from the nation's larger cities and towns. At the same time, we must improve our smaller cities and towns so that they can accommodate the new growth. Although the quality of life in local communities can be improved on many fronts, one of our most important priorities is to ensure that everyone has a place to live and that housing is of the highest possible quality.

Local councils can make a difference if they are given the opportunity. As housing needs vary greatly from place to place, greater discretion should be given to local authorities to invest directly or to attract investment in housing that is appropriate for their community. In addition, they should be given the power to set greenfield development levies, which can be put towards the

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reclamation of brownfield sites. By equalising the VAT charged on new build and refurbishment expenditure we can make renovation a more attractive option, and by strengthening the powers of compulsory purchase orders we can encourage the practice of putting empty buildings back into use.

It is imperative that we provide more homes, but we cannot ignore the fact that many existing homes are in dire need of maintenance and repair. Addressing that problem would improve the quality of life of countless citizens nationwide. When the Liberal Democrats took control of the London borough council of Islington, there was a £500 million backlog of housing repairs. Some estates had not been painted for 20 years. The situation is now much improved because the council has implemented a new 24-hour-a-day emergency repair service. It has also given council tenants the right to get repairs done themselves and to bill the council if it has not arranged for those repairs to be carried out in a timely manner.

Another key issue that needs to be addressed locally is safety and security in the community. When people feel unsafe walking about their own town, they cannot possibly enjoy a high quality of life. Even in areas where violent crime is not an issue, antisocial behaviour and nuisance crimes can impact severely on citizens' day-to-day lives. Clearly, more full-time police officers are needed, and the sooner the better, but there are other possibilities for dealing with smaller-scale offences. For instance, the establishment of community safety forces to co-ordinate the efforts of traffic wardens, estate and neighbourhood wardens, park superintendents and other public safety officials could help to foster a unified campaign against nuisance crimes.

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