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5 Feb 2003 : Column 291—continued

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): In Reigate and Banstead a regional daughter plan that contains the Deputy Prime Minister's house-building targets still looks like a top-down approach. Why does he know so much better than local politicians?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman's own Government were dictated to by their policy of predict and build. There is a long history of the previous Tory Administration imposing targets on local authorities, which did not like them. I said that that was unfair because central Government might be wrong. Central Government and local authorities must combine to agree on housing supply, and from time to time there is a great deal of disagreement. Our proposal to plan, monitor and manage was a way in which to decide who was right when demands for housing were made and how many houses were to be built. The areas that do not want any kind of housing will not be able to achieve what we believe to be the reasonable target set for the whole south-east region, which, with the change in density planning, can be met without new land take. That might mean that there will be fewer four-bedroom houses, but many more affordable homes for ordinary people to live in.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Following your strictures, Mr. Speaker, I have no time to say how excellent any of these proposals are, so I shall forget about that.

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Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell me when, in practice, people might be able to buy affordable houses that do not deplete our housing stock, but maintain it? On a small point, will he assure me that when the Tories start bleating on about "poor people", he will continue to have regard to families in my constituency, where, for example, five people share one bedroom but cannot move because social housing stock was sold off under right to buy?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We conducted a survey on those matters to see whether any damage had been caused by right to buy, and we found that many abuses of the system had been taking place in my hon. Friend's constituency. For three years, it became profitable for tenants to exercise the right to buy and, following neighbourhood regeneration, to sell the house on for the full market price. That abuse of the system, where there is a desperate need for housing, means that those houses do not go to people who live in them as owners, but that they are rented out at a very high rent that people cannot afford. That has reduced the availability of housing stock. We are therefore taking a number of actions, one of which concerns right to buy and the reduction of discounts so that it is not so profitable for a tenant to do a deal with a buyer who persuades them to do so, then come back to ask for public housing having received the money. That is an abuse of the system that was never intended to take place, and I hope that the Opposition would agree that we cannot condone it.

As for the time scale to which affordable homes will be provided, the amount of money that is available is £5 billion, with £1 billion for key workers, and we are considering its regional distribution. The number of affordable homes will depend on how we calculate those figures. The cost of replacing a house in the north is very different from that of replacing a house in London, and we must take those factors into account.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): What specific policies does the Deputy Prime Minister intend to put in place to ensure that these new communities do not simply become four more dormitory towns for London, adding pressure to already congested roads? What ideas do he and his Department have as regards ensuring that the affordability element of any affordable homes to buy can be passed on to the second and subsequent purchasers?

The Deputy Prime Minister: On right to buy, we have made our proposals, but that is not the end of the matter—we shall want to consider exactly what our surveys show. Many local authorities are telling me that they believe that the measure should apply to them instead of the 40-odd that I mentioned. I will have to assess that further, taking into account the hon. Gentleman's point.

On sustainable communities, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning and Local Government Select Committee produced a report on new towns that showed that although they were excellent in their time, unfortunately they became dormitory towns as people moved from place to place. We have to ensure that jobs are provided, that the infrastructure is in place—whether for roads, hospitals or schools—and that houses are better designed than

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they have been in the past and meet the energy and water resource requirements. I have seen all those things embodied in the millennium village concept, which will provide quite a contrast with towns such as Milton Keynes that were built to the old standards of the new towns: here are new requirements for a new millennium. That is what we intend to do, and that is what sustainability is all about. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report, which will give him more information.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I welcome the extra funding that is coming to the growth area around Milton Keynes, but I remind the Deputy Prime Minister that it is the strength of our local economy that is causing house prices to rise and requiring additional housing. We are not a dormitory town—anything but.

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) about the need to ensure that infrastructure is built at the same time as housing. My right hon. Friend proposes local development agencies in the Thames gateway to provide an overarching view on pushing developments forward. Will he consider such a mechanism in our area to ensure that development is delivered on time?

The Deputy Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I recently visited Milton Keynes and we had a good discussion about those problems with representatives from the local regional development agencies.

It is important that people in the community have some say about the priorities that are adopted. When there are three development agencies, all the signs may be that they will work together, but it is desirable to bring them together in one body to reach common agreement and to administer developments. We are doing that in the Thames gateway. I take on board my hon. Friend's point, and we will have further discussions with her.

My hon. Friend talks about more jobs leading to greater demand for housing in Milton Keynes. That is always a problem, but, at the same time, pockets of great deprivation exist in areas that are not normally associated with new towns. Although the general situation may appear to be good in such areas, we have to address the problems of social exclusion. That is important in the context of sustainable communities.

I say to my hon. Friend that in many areas different priorities will arise at different times. Milton Keynes is already a built-in community, and it is important that investment in infrastructure is expanded, but the Thames gateway faces a different set of problems. Given that it is a three-year programme, I had to decide on the main priorities in terms of how much money has to be put in now to create infrastructure prior to house building. We should not underestimate the amount of money that is needed—I do not want to mislead the House about that. We are back to the language of

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priorities. Over the next year or so, we shall try to ensure that we get the balance right—that we create sustainable communities that have the back-up infrastructure, as well as the housing.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): There is a huge unmet demand for affordable housing in the south-west, especially in Devonshire. Will the measures that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced lead to a reduction in funding for affordable housing in the south-west?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have already said that the amounts of money to be made available will be determined once we have assessed the pot of money for each region—in this case, the south-west. Key workers are largely found in the south-east, but I am sure that Devonshire might say that it has them too. The decision on the number of affordable houses to be built in the region will be based on the proportion of key workers there. I doubt that there will be any reduction in the resources in the hon. Gentleman's area: quite a lot of money is being proposed, but we must wait and see what happens. However, I remember that a number of local authorities in the south-west refused to meet the requirements, under regional planning guidance note 9, to build sufficient houses. Meeting need in an area is the way to provide enough houses.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): I welcome the £500 million being put into the housing market renewal fund. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that money has to be targeted and focused in the pathfinder areas if it is to be used effectively? What does he think of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Liverpool city council, which has spread the money over half the city, including areas that already receive funding under the new deal for communities? Most surprisingly, the city centre, a thriving housing market, is also included. Does my right hon. Friend consider that to be the best way forward for the pathfinder areas? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend say whether his Department has been party to the Treasury's discussions on housing tax credits?

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