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22 Oct 2002 : Column 184continued
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.
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
Peter Bradley: I should like to make further progress. I want to draw attention to the recent Conservative policy initiativeperhaps 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:
In rural areas, where land use is becoming a fiercely debated topic, the Trust has been successful in persuading land owners to provide agricultural land for small developments of affordable housing on condition that they will be retained for local people in perpetuity. If land owners believe that houses would change hands at high prices and be sold to outsiders, forcing out people from the village, they will be extremely reluctant to support such projects."
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.
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.
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
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.