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Decent Home Standard

3. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What his strategy is for meeting the decent home standard. [198434]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): In 1997, we inherited 2 million non-decent homes. Since then, more than £18 billion of public and private money has been invested to reduce that number by more than 1 million. That means 650,000 homes with new central heating, 240,000 new kitchens, 180,000 new bathrooms, making a real difference to people's lives—people who suffered from the massive disinvestment of the previous Administration. We remain on track to deliver our commitment to make every home in the public sector decent by 2010.

Mr. Love: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on attaining 1 million improved homes earlier this year, but there is considerable concern about the lack of affordable accommodation for key workers in Greater London. What steps is he taking to ensure that they can have decent, affordable accommodation, so that we do not continue to lose key workers from the capital?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is indeed a very important problem. The first tranche of the starter home initiative delivered about 10,000 affordable homes under the key worker programme. We have also established a new programme—the key worker living programme, which began in March 2004—and 16,000 people will benefit from it. In the borough of Enfield and my hon. Friend's constituency, about 120 people have already been helped by that programme and 264 further applications are being dealt with at the moment.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that Macclesfield borough council achieves a housing standard far in excess of the decent housing standard. It is known in his Department as the Macclesfield standard. Will he ensure that Macclesfield borough council continues to get sufficient resources to enable it to continue to manage its own housing stock and not force it into a large-scale voluntary transfer, against the wishes of tenants, who have my support?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am glad to hear of the new Macclesfield standard. It is a pity that it did not apply throughout the previous Administration, which is why we inherited 2 million houses of a non-decent standard for which the programme has been developed. It is true that we gave a choice to tenants as to whether they would like to opt for the transfer programmes that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Those transfers have brought in something like £18 billion-worth of money from the public and private sectors and allowed us to implement the programme more quickly. We leave it to the tenants to make a decision and three quarters of those asked have voted overwhelmingly to adopt these programmes.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of a ward in my constituency called
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Jaywick Sands because I have made the Department aware of the fact that some people in that area are living in 1930s holiday homes. The area has deteriorated for several years under the control of Tory Essex county council and Tory Tendring district council. My constituents are looking to the Government to make a difference. Will he assure them that he will look at the area specifically so that the local people have a right to a decent home to live in?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not know the full details of the point made by my hon. Friend, but I will certainly look into the matter and write to him. One of the difficulties that we inherited is the fact that, in the last five years of the Tory Administration, they slashed housing investment by half. We doubled it in the same period after. That is the real difference, and that is why people look to this Government to make a real difference on housing.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the programme for decent homes for key workers should not be restricted just to those who work in the public sector? It should cover those who work in catering, cleaning, retail and other low-paid jobs in the private sector.

The Deputy Prime Minister: To be honest, matters of state aid are involved, but the hon. Gentleman makes a decent point about a broader definition of key workers. We have established a certain key worker definition at the moment, and we are following that. We hope to make a statement about housing matters shortly.

County Councils (Planning)

4. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What plans he has to strengthen the planning powers of county councils. [198435]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope): The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, 2004 and supporting regulations provide for county councils to have an extensive role in the new planning system, which came into force on 28 September 2004. It would be premature now to be considering further changes to county councils' planning powers.

Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that Norfolk is having forced on it nearly 100,000 extra homes? Is he aware that this will put intolerable new pressure on already overstretched services and infrastructure? Is he aware that my constituents want more affordable housing, but they do not want thousands of more executive-style homes that are occupied by second home owners? Surely it would be far better if such key decisions were taken by a county council that is directly elected by local people.

Phil Hope: The importance of regional planning has been recognised by successive Governments—his Government in the past as well as by this Government. That is why we have to address major regional transport
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and housing issues across a region as well as within individual local areas. The fact is that one of the key benefits of this Government's regional planning policy has been the investment of £3.9 million for housing in King's Lynn and west Norfolk. That is providing homes for key workers and affordable housing for people in the hon. Gentleman's area.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend comment on the fact that there has been a democratic deficit for my constituents and others in the metropolitan counties since Mrs. Thatcher removed those councils? We do not have planning or any other sort of powers, because we do not have a county council. Will he comment on that?

Phil Hope: I understand my hon. Friend's concerns. We are trying to ensure that local authorities have the ability to undertake the responsibilities that they are given. A key part of having the ability to deliver those functions is having the resources to do so. She will know that, since 1997, local authorities across the board have received an increase of 30 per cent. in funding from the Government. Local authorities suffered desperately to deliver services under the previous Administration who cut funding by 7 per cent. in the previous four years.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the South East England regional assembly draft housing numbers plan is out—it is a pretty shoddy affair. It is lightly done and ignores a few basic factors, of which I shall cite two. First, the extrapolation of growth from the past ignores the fact that after land has been built on, it has gone, so the continuation of that process threatens the green belt. Secondly, economic growth in the south-east is based on productivity to a greater extent than actual given numbers. Will the Minister reflect on his first answer and recognise that county councils need a strengthened role, even if they must save the dignity of the Deputy Prime Minister and put things through the regional assemblies?

Phil Hope: The fact is that the South East England regional assembly has a Conservative majority and is chaired by a Conservative councillor, so the hon. Gentleman is criticising his own party. Perhaps he should hold a debate inside his party and decide how it should deliver the affordable homes in the south-east that are desperately needed by people with sons and daughters who cannot afford to find a place to live in their areas.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): In Nottinghamshire, some planning matters go to the county council for decision and some go to district councils. Will the Minister make the situation much easier for my constituents by giving us a ballot on a unitary authority so that we can enjoy the benefits that most of the country does?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend will know that we recently published our "Local Vision" documents, which describe the outline of our proposals for the future strengthening of local government and the role that local government can play in leading and empowering
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communities and working in partnership with other agencies. Included in the 10-year vision is a debate on the future structure of local government, and I look forward to the contribution of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to that debate.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The Minister will recall that Liberal Democrats fought against taking planning powers away from county councils to the last when other parties had thrown in the towel. There is now no early prospect of any regional planning boards becoming properly accountable. Will he revisit that matter, recognise the strength of our arguments on democracy and local government, and give planning powers back to English county councils?

Phil Hope: Once again, we see the Liberal Democrats moving from one position to another. There is no mistaking the fact that their national position is different from their local and regional positions. The previous system was hopelessly bureaucratic, but the new system gives county councils clear powers on sub-regional policies and responsibilities for surveying in their areas. It allows them to produce new waste and mineral plans and to form joint committees with other authorities on key aspects in their areas. To go back to the older system would be to go back to delay and conflict, and that would fail to deliver the housing and infrastructure that the Government are delivering.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Minister talks as though the vote in the north-east was a hiccup on the road to regionalism rather than its death knell. Does he not understand that denial is no substitute for a policy? He and his hon. Friends made it clear on countless occasions that the transfer of planning powers from counties and other authorities to regional bodies was done in preparation for an elected regional assembly. Those unelected bodies have no legitimacy in doing the Government's bidding by bulldozing over our countryside. Their powers must be returned to the people. Does the Minister understand that while he and his colleagues might run from the decision of the people of the north-east, they cannot hide from the verdict of the people?

Phil Hope: That was an interesting contribution from a member of the Conservative Front Bench because the Conservative chair of the East of England regional assembly said that such Tory criticisms

Such crass misunderstanding has been repeated today. The Conservative party published planning guidance in 1992 that said:

Conservative Members now want to sweep that aside, but the consequences of that would be that housing, transport and infrastructure would be taken away from every single one of their constituencies. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to come to order. I know how difficult it is.
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