|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): May I suggest that my right hon. Friend invites Opposition Members who are sceptical or nervous about the proposals to visit my constituency, in particular Gravesend town centre, which already provides high-quality affordable housing within a regenerated town centre for the key workers that we so desperately need? Given that north Kent is subject to a number of infrastructure investment projects, which are important for our future prosperity, will he underline his commitment to the fact that the consultation process will not be damaged by the streamlining of planning, which we all welcome? Will he assure me that my constituents' views will be heard?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes about Gravesham, which is an important area in the Thames gateway. I am well aware, although I have not seen some of it, of the excellent work that is done through the combination of the Housing Corporation and the local authority. I would like to see more of that. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend with responsibilities for regeneration will be leaving the Chamber after questions on the statement to visit the area that my hon. Friend represents. Perhaps he could then start the discussion.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): There will be great concern in my constituency about what the Deputy Prime Minister has announced this afternoon. I ask him a question about principle. Planning powers currently rest, rightly, with locally elected councils. What is the point of people continuing to vote in local elections if the councillors whom they subsequently elect can have thousands of houses rammed down their throats by regional quangos? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that establishment of the quangos that he has announced will require primary legislation?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I have not announced any new quangos today. We are talking about organisations that are in place. I want to bring in regional governance, which will make these bodies accountable. I understand that the policy of the Conservative party is to get rid of regional accountability and have more and more quangos. That is the Conservative party's history.
Accountability and planning are important parts of local democracy. We are not abolishing the process but strengthening it. There is controversy about the counties but we are not abolishing their planning role. We are abolishing structure plans, but we are giving the counties certain statutory powers that they already have in terms of mineral rights, transport and statutory consultation, for example. The counties are important, but the issue is about getting a proper balance.
I am trying to achieve a balance that is more effective and more efficient in terms of what the hon. Gentleman calls unwanted homes. I do not know what people feel when they hear Members saying, "We don't want any of these homes. We don't need them." Housing is a national responsibility, and the responsibility of the House is to provide it. Even if the people who need housing are not in his constituency, they are entitled to be considered.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): May I thank my right hon. Friend for the commitment that the Government have made to the welfare of Hastings, and especially today's decision that it will have the status of a millennium community? My right hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that these new communities will work only if transport infrastructure is available. Roads are not easy to build. Will he use his influence to ensure that the Strategic Rail Authority gets on with the job of electrifying the Ashford line and providing new signalling so that the millennium villages really can work?
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Where a local authority has an adopted plan, it having been adopted in entire conformity with the Government's guidance, does the Deputy Prime Minister intend to overrule its provisions? Is he to call in every development where the density is fewer than 30 houses per hectare? Will there be a size threshold? Does that run alongside or instead of the provision on social housing? What are the implications for the size of the inspectorate and the cost of it, public inquiries and delays in approvals?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I welcome the Government's commitment to improving and increasing the housing stock. Will my right hon. Friend turn his attention to the problems of inner London, where there is enormous housing pressure. There are very high rents in the private sector, enormous numbers of people are on waiting lists and, tragically, a huge number of people are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
Will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that local authorities have the resources to buy whatever land becomes available, and that that will apply likewise to registered social landlords? Above all, will he ensure that planning laws are so implemented that 50 per cent. of all residential development sites are used for affordable rented housing? At present, most of these sites are very small, and therefore are way outside the guidelines that apply elsewhere.
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I agree with the central thrust of my hon. Friend's point about providing more affordable homes in London. That can be achieved through smaller developments, as provided in the Mayor's London plan. We have not yet responded to that, but I believe that a great deal more can be done. I am in active discussions with London authorities about planning, resources and the framework in which these things are done.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I welcome the spirit of the Deputy Prime Minister's statement. The entire country needs more affordable low-cost homeswe certainly need them in the south-west. If affordable, low-cost housing is to be built for sale, we need the funds or we need to subsidise the developer. If Government funds are provided, the purchaser receives Government help. Without a covenant, the home will be sold on the open market and therefore will be lost for ever to the low-cost housing regime. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to subject every sale to a covenant, and so lock the house into low cost? If he does that, those living in it will never be able to afford to get on the housing ladder. How will the whole thing work?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I hope that I will be given more encouragement, given the spirit of the approach. It will be much better if we can get more co-operation, rather than the spirit of some of the earlier exchanges following my statement.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a difficult problem. There are various difficulties. For example, we are putting a great deal of money into areas such as Hull to knock down houses, but at the same time we are trying to get money to build houses in areas where they are needed. It is important to bear that in mind. We must ask whether unwanted houses should be knocked down and about the priorities given to using existing resources.
We appear to be trying to find money to meet the difference between the market price and affordable housing. That is not easy in areas such as the delightful one that the hon. Gentleman represents, where the demand is from people elswhere who want to move to them to retire. That raises the real issue of communities providing housing for those who live in the area. The same may apply in the south-east or in rural areas. People are being told, "I'm sorry, you can't live by your parents; leave the community." That is unacceptable, and it is as true in a rural area as it is in parts of the south-east, and I shall address the matter.
Under the right to buy, property in urban areas is bought at a very discounted price, but it is then sold back to the state at a high price when improvements are sought. That is costing us millions of pounds. We must ask ourselves, what is the proper balance? These are difficult questions, and I have no easy answers. The difference between the price of a house and what is affordable goes right to the heart of these matters. I shall address the question in the coming months and return to the House with what I think is a conclusion.
Paul Clark (Gillingham): I welcome the statement, which is firm and fair in terms of housing policy. Within the Medway towns alone, the council estimates that, over the next 20 years, 20,000 more homes will be required just to meet the immediate need of the indigenous population. One of the reasons for the housing crisis is that from the mid 1980s, for 10 years, the Conservative Government allowed developments of fewer than 20 houses per hectare.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's comprehensive approach in having a transport, social and environmental infrastructure. It will be delivered by Government Departments, but what steps is he taking with developers and other parts of the private sector to engage them fully in delivering the necessary infrastructure?