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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): The East of England regional assembly produced a draft spatial strategy in November, which included modest increases in house building figures. The Government will give their response to the proposals in the course of the public consultation that is under way and will be followed by an examination in public later this year. Of course, if the Conservative party were to come to power during that period, its planned £1 billion cut to the housing budget would mean fewer homes for the sons and daughters of hard-working families in the east of England, less affordable housing and more homelessness.
Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister not aware that his house building targets for East Anglia have met overwhelming oppositioneven the East of England regional assembly rejected them? Does he not understand that people in Norfolk want more affordable housing for local people, not thousands of ugly four-bedroom homes on greenfield sites that will be bought by commuters, second-home owners and retired people?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the East of England regional assembly voted in favour of the new planning figures before the Tories on it voted against them a fortnight later. He talks about affordable housing, but the fact of matter is that the east of England
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region has received the highest increase in new investment for affordable housing50 per cent.of any region in the country. Under the proposals in the James report, all that investment would be removed, so what would the hon. Gentleman say to his constituents whose children are desperately in need of homes in which to live?
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Could those representatives and the representatives of all other Tory authorities be advised of the implications not only for housing but for a range of Government initiatives directed at the poorest sections of society if the act of wilful vandalism promised by the shadow Chancellor were ever to be visited on the Department?
Keith Hill: My hon. Friend is entirely right. That set of proposals would devastate investment in our cities, investment in housing and investment in essential local services. The Conservatives will be held responsible in the months ahead, and we look forward to their having to account to themselves and their electorate for such devastating proposals.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I point out to the Minister that his Government's record on building social housing and reducing homelessness is a good deal worse than that of the last Conservative Government? May I serve notice on him that the people of Great Bromley, Elmstead and Frating do not want a Labour-inspired new town imposed on rural Essex? Rural north Essex is not for sale.
Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman ought to revisit his statistics. The Government are investing three times the level of funding for new social housing that we inherited in 1997. Under the new proposals only an additional one in eight new homes is proposed for the east of England region. If those homes are not to be delivered, he must explain to families in his constituency why their children, who are so desperately in need of new homes, will not receive them and why the Conservative party opposes that provision.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope):
The Department is fully committed to improving the quality of the private sector housing stock by encouraging, through financial support and guidance, the development of innovative housing renewal policies by local authorities. In particular, the Department is supporting the work of the four councils awarded beacon status for housing renewal in 2004. I am pleased to put on record the excellent leadership role played by Bristol city council as one of those four beacon authorities.
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Valerie Davey: Indeed. Bristol city council's housing section has been awarded additional funding, particularly in connection with training for the health and safety ratings system, and in relation to houses in multiple occupation it has involved the police, the fire service and the university in that training. Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the department's staff for the quality and range of the work that they are doing?
Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is right. I am delighted to congratulate the staff of Bristol council and its partnership agencies with which they have been working to protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable tenants, who are at the forefront of our drive to improve housing conditions. We would like other local councils to follow the example of authorities such as Bristol in establishing those strong partnerships so that we can protect vulnerable families in high-risk housing. Such families would suffer most from the £1 billion cuts to housing budgets that the Opposition would inflict on local authorities, were they ever to get into power.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Is it the Minister's experience after two years that the Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order 2002 is working better than the old Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996? If so, will he say how many properties have benefited in kind or in cash, excluding those that were being helped and continue to be helped by disabled facilities grantsabout 27,000 grants a year?
Phil Hope: I may not be able to give a detailed reply now to the hon. Gentleman's questions about people with disabilities, but the regulatory reform order on housing renewal has been very successful. It has given housing authorities greater discretion in giving grants, loans and equity release packages to homeowners, as well as the grants. We set a target to increase the proportion of vulnerable households in the private sector who live in decent homes from 57 per cent. in 2001 to 70 per cent. in 2010. That is good news for those vulnerable households. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the details that he asked for. I might also include in the note the potential impact of the £1 billion cut in housing budgets that the Tory party would inflict on those vulnerable households and families.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
(Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend would like to identify as an example of good practice the work of Sheffield city council and tenants' representatives in the city in consulting on and then developing and creating the citywide and area arm's-length management organisations, which will certainly improve the city's housing in the next few years and bring it to a decent standard. Will he give an assurance that, as part of the internal review on ALMOs, there will be no reduction in the funding available to ALMOs to create decent homes, and that there will be no attempt to remove the right of ALMO tenants to have their homes remain in the ownership of the city council, which is one of their most important features?
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Phil Hope: I am happy to congratulate Sheffield on its excellent record. The important feature of an ALMO is that the stock remains in the ownership of the local authority. There are now 50 ALMOs covering a total of some 700,000 council homesabout one in three of all local authority stock. That is a remarkable achievement. Those homes are being improved. Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spentwith another £2 billion being invested to upgrade homes in the social sectorto ensure that vulnerable people, people from all walks of life, have decent homes in which to live.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): Local authorities have a range of enforcement powers available to prevent inappropriate development. They need more powers to be able to take swift action to prevent damage from being done, and that is why we are introducing temporary stop notices. We also expect local councils to do more to identify appropriate sites so that Gypsies and Travellers have somewhere else to go.
Ann Winterton: Middlewich and the surrounding areas in my constituency have been blighted over a number of years by illegal encampments, and local residents believe that the Human Rights Act 1998 militates against the law-abiding citizen. Notwithstanding the Minister's reply, even more robust powers are needed to allow local authorities to seize and remove illegally parked caravans, and to allow courts to levy fines that
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Lady will know that I obviously cannot comment on the details of her individual case, but I can say that local councils have powers to remove caravans at the end of the planning process, for example, and the police can take action where there are unauthorised encampments. I disagree with her concerns about the Human Rights Act, which insists that the rights and responsibilities of Gypsies and Travellers be considered, but also the rights and responsibilities of the settled community. The real underlying problem here is that we do not have enough appropriate sites for Gypsies and Travellers to move on to. If we expand the number of appropriate sites, it will be possible to take much swifter action. More enforcement is needed, but that needs to go hand in hand with local councils doing more to identify appropriate sites as well.
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
(Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is the lack of sites for Travellers, and is it not high time that local authorities were forced to provide sites and to ensure that under the planning system Travellers can buy land to provide sites?
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Yvette Cooper: The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which my hon. Friend chairs, has done some important work on the issue. I agree that we need more sites, and that is why we are consulting on new planning guidance, which would oblige local authorities to identify sites in their local plans, and if they did not the planning inspector would be able to intervene.
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