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22 Oct 2002 : Column 184—continued

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is one of the few Labour Members who represent a semi-rural if not a rural constituency. Under almost any measure, the closure of shops, pubs, garages and post offices has accelerated hugely under this Labour Government. If there are not enough affordable houses in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, why does he not ask his council to consider a large-scale voluntary transfer? My council has used such a transfer and managed to build as many affordable units as it has sold. If there are too few affordable units in the hon. Gentleman's area, he should ask his council why it has not done anything about it.

Peter Bradley: I shall not address all the fallacies in that short intervention, except to say that Telford and Wrekin council has transferred its stock to a housing trust, which is not, incidentally, building new properties. Moreover, there are 180 Labour Members in rural and semi-rural seats, which is rather more than the Conservative party can muster in its entirety.

Matthew Green (Ludlow): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Peter Bradley: No, I would like to make progress, because other hon. Members wish to speak.

On the loss of social infrastructure, I referred earlier to the 450 village schools that were lost under the Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Cotswold may like to know that we have slowed that rate of loss from 30 a year to three. Even the

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hon. Gentleman's mathematics must lead him to accept that we are making real progress in our attempt to sustain rural communities.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Peter Bradley: I should like to make further progress. I want to draw attention to the recent Conservative policy initiative—perhaps rather more attention than the Opposition Front Bench would like. The hon. Member for Cotswold may talk about consulting now, but it is a little late. He should have spoken to the Rural Housing Trust, for example, before he published this ill begotten initiative. Its press release of 11 October begins and ends with an indictment of Conservative policy past and present. It says:

for it is he—

The press release continues:

That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made.

The highly respected chief executive of the Rural Housing Trust, Moira Constable, says in the press release:

There is already a blight on the provision of land for affordable housing in the country. Someone should tell landowners in rural England not to panic; there is a very slender chance that a Conservative Government will return, and the eventuality is made even more unlikely by this policy initiative.

I believe that the Government are on the right track, and so do most organisations that represent rural communities.

Matthew Green: The hon. Gentleman believes that the Government are on the right track. The Deputy Prime Minister's consultation paper would force Bridgnorth district council, which the hon. Gentleman and I share in our constituencies, into carrying out large-scale voluntary transfers, which their members have not, until now, supported.

Mr. Streeter: They have already transferred them.

Matthew Green: No, that is the Wrekin. The hon. Gentleman's constituency covers two councils.

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Does the hon. Gentleman support the Deputy Prime Minister's move to force Bridgnorth to make large-scale voluntary transfers?

Peter Bradley: The simple answer is that nobody can be forced to undertake a voluntary transfer: it is voluntary and depends ultimately on the vote of the tenants.

Let me put down some pointers for my Front Bench. We want more affordable housing in rural communities and the jobs that go with it, because that is the only way to prevent migration to towns. People who live and work in the same community send their children to the village school, do their shopping in the local store, transact their business in the local post office and relax in the local pub. We want more of the same from the Government. We want more Housing Corporation funding. We desperately need more flexibility in the planning system; we want a creative planning system, not one that simply focuses on development control. We want more of the same encouragement to parish councils to build the visions and consensus that will deliver the change we need in the countryside.

My plea to Ministers is to be bold and to listen to rural organisations and communities, unlike the Conservatives. Such organisations welcome development in the countryside as long as it meets identified need and is of the highest quality. I ask Ministers not to make affordable housing for rural communities dependent solely on planning gain. That will simply introduce yet more executive private housing that nobody wants in a rural community. We do not want crumbs from the table; we want equity for people in rural communities.

I ask the Government to consider how much the need for all kinds of housing could be met by requiring landlords to open up empty properties. I ask them at last to allow local planning authorities to distinguish between housing tenures and to recognise that housing, particularly in rural communities, must be where it is needed and not just on brownfield sites. I support the Government's impetus in recycling brownfield sites and ensuring that as much development takes place on them as possible. However, I do not want young people from village communities migrating to those brownfield sites because the only way to sustain those rural communities is to build in their villages. Finally, above all, funding for affordable housing needs to be increased.

I believe that the Government are doing many of the right things, but we need to accelerate the process in town and country alike if we are to ensure that no one in our society is denied the basic right to a home of their own.

6.56 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): I want first to apologise to my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for Witney (Mr. Cameron). They have waited, just as I have, throughout the debate, and because some of the speeches have been inexcusably long, they will not be called. I think the whole House would have liked to hear what they had to say.

Although I am delighted that you have called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I find it puzzling that of all the Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members who have spoken, no one has mentioned the very simple problem

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surrounding affordable housing, which is that we need a lot more houses. That is the basic problem. We need more homes for sale on the social and the open market. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in the 1990s that we needed 4.25 million new homes by 2011. The Deputy Prime Minister said that that figure was a bit high and rounded it down to 3.8 million. However, in the past five years, 687,500 new homes have come on to the housing market. I do not understand all these complicated formulae. It is a simple problem: we need many more homes. The Liberal Democrats do not say so because they know that the houses would have to be built on greenfield sites, and they do not want to lose votes. If the Liberal Democrats get in it is because they are populist; they do not want to talk about the reality.

If housing provision continues at its present level until 2011, the Government will fall short of their housing target by 50 per cent. The Deputy Prime Minister may say that we need 3.8 million houses, but we will get 1.9 million. That is where the problem lies.

It is pointless building new houses in areas where people do not want to live. In the past, Labour moved industry up to the north-west, to Halewood, and then built massive council housing estates. It did not work. As soon as there is a recession, private enterprise companies first pull out of is the places they have been put by the Government with the help of regional aid.

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